By Scott Keith –
I recently heard a preacher say that it is possible for preachers and teachers to “Gospel souls right into hell.” I really don’t wish to mischaracterize or impugn what the preacher was trying to communicate, but, needless to say, I was a bit shocked.
I think his concern is that there are preachers and teachers out there who focus too much on the Gospel. That they, in effect, never actually preach to their hearers the immutable Law of God. He believes that these “False Preachers” never preach that apart from Christ, all are dead in their sin and trespasses and that God’s wrath sits justly upon them. These preachers then never actually preach the words of Paul in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…” As an example, he stated that phrases like, “Everything is Going to be OK,” and “You are Forgiven” mislead people, leading them to believe they are in fact “OK,” or “Forgiven” when they are unrepentant and still in their sin.
If this is truly happening, I would agree that there is a problem. A big one. But is the problem that people are being Gospeled into Hell? I’d answer emphatically, no! I do not think that it is possible to Gospel people into Hell. I believe that what some suffer from (at times me, too, I’m sure), and what my Sunday morning preacher suffered from is a confusion of Law and Gospel. To say that people can be Gospeled into Hell is a paramount example of Law-Gospel confusion as it implies that what is needed to save is a little more Law. Thus, in the above scenario, the Gospel condemns, and the Law saves.
My question is this: Is this what the Scriptures teach? No, surely not. The Scriptures clearly teach that Gospel proclamation does not condemn, but rather it is the only proclamation that has the power to save, because with it comes the power of the Holy Spirit who creates, engenders, and sustains in us saving faith. Thus, verses such as: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16) As well as: “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Romans 10:17) And finally: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) Obviously, many others could be listed in support of this idea. In fact, this is how the Scriptures speak concerning the Gospel of Christ.
The Law then, though it does many things—restrains, exhorts the Christian unto righteousness, punishes—always rightly accuses and condemns sinners of their sin before a righteous, holy, and just God.
The Scriptures support the idea that the Law condemns in verses like: “realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane…” (1 Timothy 1:9) And: “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.'” (Galatians 3:10) Also: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law, we become conscious of our sin.” (Romans 3:20) And finally: “For through the Law I died to the Law so that I might live to God.” (Galatians 2:19) The Law kills, and condemns. It does not save, and it alone condemns to the point of damnation. Again, on this, the Scriptures seem quite clear.
So, what is the point I am trying to make and what was the point my preacher this Sunday was attempting to preach? I think the point is that both Law and Gospel need to be proclaimed. To this, I shout a loud, Amen! The Law kills, and the Gospel makes alive. When we covered this topic with Pastor Paul Koch on the Thinking Fellows Podcast on the episode entitled, “Preaching the Law and the Gospel,” Paul quoted one of his seminary professors by saying: “The preacher is the hitman and midwife of God.” Meaning, that the preacher kills with the Law and brings to life with the Gospel of Christ. Again, Amen!
So then, saying that people can be Gospeled into Hell mischaracterizes how God works through His Holy Law and by His Saving Gospel of Christ. Once more, the Apostle Paul (not Paul Koch) is helpful here when he says: “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His Own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4)
So, for those who are in Christ, who no longer are judged by the condemning weight of the Law, but are judged righteous because of Christ’s death and resurrection for them, everything will ultimately be OK. This is true only because they rely on Christ alone. Proclaiming to sinners that their only hope is in Christ alone will thus never send people to Hell. It literally cannot because it is the power of God unto righteousness for those that believe. (Romans 1:16) Why do they need Christ as their only hope of salvation? Well, because they are poor miserable sinners and apart from standing in Christ, the Law will justly accuse and condemn them of their sin.
Law and Gospel, Gospel and Law. Rightly discerned but not divided. Both are a part of God’s holy word and counsel. Both need to be preached to Christian and non-Christian alike. One kills, and the other brings to life. But please know, that if you stand in Christ, if He alone is your only hope for salvation, if you rely on His righteousness and not your own, that faith is counted to you as righteousness (Romans 4:5), and you are saved. You are forgiven. You are a child of God. Your salvation is in His hands, and you are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. And praise be to God for our salvation given to us by His grace only on account of our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus.