Do pastors tend to waffle too much when they talk about God’s eternal judgment? Instead of giving straightforward yes or no answers, do they stick to vague generalities to avoid saying things that people don’t want to hear? Should they be more blunt about the topic of hell?
Of course, all pastors should strive to give a clear, biblical answers to people’s questions about God. And the apostle Paul makes it clear that even those who never hear the gospel of Jesus Christ are accountable to God. Nature itself shows everyone that God exists and is a righteous judge, so all people are “without excuse” (Rom. 1:19–20). Psalm 19:1–2 also tells us that God speaks through his creation: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”
God has revealed himself as the creator and judge.
But people, both as individuals and societies, suppress this naturally revealed truth about God, so they are justly condemned. Paul’s letter to the Romans says this clearly (Rom. 1:18).
But when we’re thinking about whether a particular person was saved and want to say clearly yes or no, we should be careful. We’re going to be surprised when we get to heaven. Jesus said, “I tell you, many will come from east and west, and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:11–12). Elsewhere, Jesus says, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matt. 19:30).
When we try to make these kind of judgments, we’re often wrong. Jesus says that you might look at the religious leaders and think they’ve got a direct line to God, but actually those guys are going to be cast into outer darkness. Who is entering the kingdom of God before them? The tax collectors and prostitutes. So, we should be slow to make judgments about the eternal state of other people.
Paul says, “It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Cor. 4:5).
We have a limited perspective here on Earth. We don’t see everything God sees. We don’t know everything God knows. We know that people are saved solely through Christ and the gospel. And we know that the whole world is justly condemned for having rejected the truth God has revealed to them. But we need to be careful about saying, “Those people must all not be saved.” God is the judge.
So, as pastors, we need to exercise wisdom. We shouldn’t waffle where the Bible is clear, but individual judgments are things we need to leave up to the true and living God. And everything he does is right.
We know that only those who are in Christ will be in heaven. Anyone outside of Christ isn’t going to be saved. That’s why proclaiming the gospel is so important.