Part of the Minutes With Messiah web site, in fact the part that gets the most visitors, is a question and answer section. I allow people to ask Bible related questions and then try to answer them from the Bible. Some people try to turn it into a “Dear Abby” style advice column, and I try to explain that they need to talk to a trained counselor. Others use it as a forum to preach their own pet doctrines to me. Among the legitimate questions, though, many take the form, “Will God punish me if…?” Some are more direct. “Will I go to hell if I…?” The end of the sentence usually has something to do with sex outside of marriage. They may also end with such things as smoking, drinking, being a man who wears his hair in braids, or any of a number similar things.
Most of the time I simply answer their direct concern. Occasionally I will preface my answer by addressing the underlying question. The following is the answer I would like to give.
Will you go to hell if you [hang wind chimes/don’t give to the homeless guy on the street/don’t go to church/etc.]? I don’t know. You really haven’t given me enough information.
I do know this. If you are old enough to be asking this question, then any sin you commit now is probably not going to cause you to go to hell. Chances are you have already sinned enough to merit God’s eternal punishment.
How many sins does it take to merit that punishment? Just one. “I don’t kill people, perjure myself in court, steal, or worship idols. What sin is that one?” It doesn’t matter what sin it is, as long as it was your first one. All those others after sin number one are just icing on the cake. You get them for free, in a sense.
What it comes down to is this. If you have sinned, even once and regardless of the nature of the sin, God has to punish you for eternity. Sounds harsh? Consider who God is. He is so pure and holy that he cannot abide the least sin. His demand is, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet 1:16)
Now you are going to ask, “then does that mean I might as well just keep sinning?” That is the way I play basketball. My philosophy is that if I am going to foul out it won’t be on a simple touch. If I’m going to foul out I’m going to take somebody with me. (That is also why I rarely play basketball.) The problem with that thinking is that it doesn’t address the problem. Why enter the game thinking you are going to foul out? Instead of saying that you are going to hell anyway, why not find a way to heaven instead?
So now you say, “I want to go to heaven, but since I have all these free sins coming I might as well use them.” This is the “sow your wild oats” theory. It might work, if you know what day you are going to die. The danger of deathbed repentance is that you might not get that far. “Fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.” (Lk 12:20) “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.” (Matt 24:42)
“So if one sin is enough to send me to hell, how do I get to heaven?” Now that is the idea. Instead of saying, “will I go to hell if,” how about thinking how to avoid it altogether? The amazing thing is that God wants to forgive you. In spite of your sin, God wants you to come back to him. He made it simple. He punished someone else for your sin; his own son died in your stead. Instead of asking how to get to hell, return to God on his terms. Believe that God will forgive you. Turn away from all appearance of sinwhat the Bible calls repentance. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9) Access that forgiveness through immersion (baptism), and walk in his way. “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Rom 6:3-4) Then you won’t need to ask about hell or punishment. You will have another goal in mind.