I regularly hear words of alarm and outrage from some of Jesus’ followers who embrace a gloomy view of the world. Confession: I used to hold that viewpoint, too. It’s all tied into a futurist understanding of Revelation and Bible prophecy, which teaches that things will worsen until Jesus returns. I used to look for evidence that everything was deteriorating, but I eventually woke up because history and the present world tell a different story. For the most part, the world is a better place to live now than ever in human history.

And so, when I hear people say, “Every year, it gets worse and worse,” I find myself reacting to this so-called “Christian” form of outrage. Some of Jesus’ followers feel compelled to be incensed about something as fuel to keep their faith alive. I don’t believe this is an appropriate way for God’s people to live.

Amazing Insight

Consider what it would be like to build a church in a corrupt and dreadful place next to a temple that was dedicated to an idolatrous god that was worshipped by people having sex with prostitutes and animals. That story is reflected in Jesus’ incredible discussion with his disciples in Caesarea Philippi, near a mountainous region containing Mount Hermon, Israel’s largest mountain.

Matthew tells us that Jesus asked his disciples what people were saying about him. They told Jesus that people’s opinions were mixed, with some believing Jesus was John the Baptist reincarnated. Others thought Jesus was Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets who had returned from the dead.

Jesus then asked his disciples for their thoughts on his identity. Peter answered first, of course, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Play on Words

Jesus told Peter that his insights had a heavenly origin, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

The Play on words in the original manuscript was between Peter (Petros), a rock that can be thrown, and Rock (Petra), a large mass rising from the earth. Matthew 16:18 could be translated as, “I tell you, Peter, that you are like a little stone, but on this massive mountain of the revelation of who I am, I will build my church.” The Church was and is established on the foundation of Jesus the Messiah.

The Worst Place

So, what are the gates of Hades that will not overcome Jesus’ Church? As mentioned, this conversation occurred at Caesarea Philippi, ancient Paneas, “The city of Pan.” In Jesus’ day, a temple to the goat god Pan was at the centre of town.

Pan received worship through intimate acts with goats. The court in public view outside the temple was called the Court of Pan and the Nymphs. Nymphs are creatures of fantasy, like elves or fairies and were thought to be a large group of inferior divinities. Today, the word can refer to a woman who suffers from hypersexuality, a mental illness.

Pan’s temple was set on the side of a gigantic rock face. Next to it was an enormous cave where the Jordan River originates and flows to the Dead Sea. The cave was called the “gates of Hell.” The priests of Pan would say that if you did not worship Pan to his satisfaction, he would open the cave and swallow you into Hell.

For the disciples, this was an evil place, and this is where Jesus says, on this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. In other words, think of the most formidable and least likely place to found a church; that is where the Church will thrive.

Worth Considering

I find it fascinating that of all the places where Jesus could initiate his Church, he chose that place. It’s a truth that resonates through the centuries right down to our time.

The Church has had the worst of things thrown at it. It’s been outlawed and oppressed, and its people persecuted and martyred. Sacred books and Bibles were burned or banned. Add to that the trouble we’ve brought on ourselves – immoral and abusive pastors and priests, Church splits, discrimination against minorities and selfishness, always wanting everything our way. It’s a miracle that the Church still exists, but here we are.

My encouragement to you is simple: while some awful things are happening in the world right now, the world is much better than it was. If you follow Jesus, Set your mind on things above, not earthly things. Jesus affirmed that His Church would be built on the rock where the darkest rituals occurred, and it would prevail. Live in faith, not fear and be encouraged.


Whether you’re Roman Catholic or not, you’ve probably heard of a place called Purgatory. It’s a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of those who die in grace, in friendship with God, but are compensating for some venial sins before going to heaven. It’s an antechamber of Hell, a place of divine cleansing (purging) from which some will eventually emerge as redeemed and united with God.

According to Roman Catholic theology, the living can hasten the purification process through prayers and charitable works on behalf of the dead.

Developing Doctrine

The doctrine of Purgatory was developed during the Dark Ages in the late 500s. The suffering in Purgatory is twofold: physical pain and separation from God. The ideology was primarily based on one passage in the Apocrypha and one in the New Testament.

The Apocryphal reference is 2 Maccabees (Date: 124 BC) 12:44–45, “For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore, he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.”

Regarding the believers’ judgment, Paul wrote, “It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work…If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”

Add to that Hebrews 12:29, “our God is a consuming fire,” and, according to Catholic interpretation of these verses, the souls of the departed are purged and purified by fire in Purgatory.

Correct Understanding?

Though it is not necessary to interpret the Corinthians text to mean the fire of Purgatory, it was common among the Latin Fathers to understand this fire as a reference to some short-lived punishment and purification before the final salvation. Examples of this explanation can be found in the writings of Augustine and Caesar of Arles.

But Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 3 is symbolic. He writes about building on a foundation already laid, Jesus Christ. The way Jesus’ followers build on that foundation is in view here. Our building material is our good works. Paul says they are like gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw. On the Day (presumably Judgement Day), the quality of people’s works will be brought to light, being “revealed with fire.” His allegory is powerful when considering what fire does to these various materials. Wood, hay and straw are ruined, while gold, silver, and costly stones are refined.

While none of this is literal, Paul’s meaning is clear. What Christians do now has eternal ramifications, but our salvation is never questioned because we are not saved by works but by God’s grace flowing through faith alone: “If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved.” The loss is an absence of reward.

Consider Jesus’ words to the repentant thief on the cross next to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43). This man had done nothing to bring that was any good, but Jesus promised him direct entry to the paradise of God. No purging was necessary to pay for his sins because Jesus forgave him completely.

Why Fire?

Scripture frequently uses the symbol of fire when discussing the judgment and reconciliation of all things. Christians hold various views on the nature and purpose of the fire.

Those who believe in eternal conscious torment (ECT) believe fire is punitive. ECT adherents believe Hell is forever, and people will never be able to escape the agony of the flames. It is, in my opinion, a horrendous concept that contradicts the nature of a God who IS love.

Conditional immortality (also known as annihilationism) teaches that fire destroys. Those who believe this do not consider the human soul immortal, which is why Jesus gives eternal life as a gift. On Judgement Day, the unrepentant are sentenced to finite punishment and then cease to exist.

Finally, there’s the teaching of universal salvation and purgatory which view fire as purifying. People suffer a time when their sins are thoroughly cleansed. Eventually, everyone is granted access to paradise to enjoy eternity in God’s presence.

Each of these views has scripture to support them. I’ve written about this in more detail here.

Where to from here? Please do some personal study if this topic interests you. Whatever you believe, never use it to provoke fear in others or as an excuse to live a reckless life. We don’t love God because we want to escape Hell. We love Him because He first loved us.

Suggested Reading

Four Views on Hell (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) (Zondervan)

I have always believed and taught that people can only “get saved” during this lifetime. After all, “People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). But is it that simple? Well, not really.

Over the past few years, several questions have bugged me:

  • What happens to the souls of people who die before they can attempt to make it right with Jesus?
  • Do they have an opportunity to respond to Jesus Christ after they die but before the day of judgment?
  • What about people who die without ever hearing about Jesus?
  • What about those who had terrible experiences with Christians or the church and dismissed faith, God, and Jesus? Like the victims of child abuse, for example.
  • What about someone who would have got saved but died before they responded? For example, they died at age 18 but would come to Jesus if they’d lived to 22.
  • What about those who cannot understand and embrace the gospel through lack of maturity (kids) or mental capacity?
  • Does anyone have a second chance?
  • Can people respond to Jesus and be forgiven after they die?

The standard answer is NO. But, for those of us who are not satisfied with simple black and white answers, let’s dig deeper. Please note that I am discussing this because we need to talk about it. I’m not saying that there is categorically a second chance concerning salvation after death.

My Story

When I was 19, I was hitchhiking around Australia. I accepted a lift with a truckie in Northern NSW. A couple of hours into the trip, we were involved in a head-on collision with another truck. The two guys in the other truck died. I survived, as did the driver of the truck I was in. I was an atheist. Six weeks later, I accepted Jesus as my saviour. That was the start of my Christian Journey. You can watch the whole story here.

What if I had died in that accident. Many Christians would have suggested I’d have gone to hell. Forever! Was I just “lucky?” What about the guys who died? Unlucky?

The Alternative

As I dug deeper on this topic, I realised that my questions had a name ~ Post-mortem salvation. Believers in this doctrine credit Scripture as teaching that each person’s destiny is NOT fixed at death.

Consider section 847 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.”

Does God give second chances?

What does the Bible say?

Micah 7:18 says, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.”

Matthew 12:32, “Whoever says a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

Can certain sins be forgiven in the age to come? Jesus certainly infers that there are.

Paul’s Perception

Ephesians 2:7, “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 2:10–11, “[In] the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

People in the ancient world believed the earth was a flat disc and the atmosphere was a dome. It certainly looks that way to the naked eye and, without the benefit of science, one could quickly come to that conclusion. The heavens were above, and the grave, the place of the departed, was “under the earth.” Paul teaches that IN the name of Jesus, every knee should bow ~ EVERY knee, on earth, above and below it. That is the reconciliation of ALL things (Col. 1:20).

Peter’s Perspective

1 Peter 3:18-20, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey.”

“Proclaimed” is almost always used as ‘preaching the good news.’ In the days between his death and resurrection, Jesus declared the gospel to ALL people. His descent into hell (as per the Apostles’ Creed) accounts for the problem of God’s justice by providing an opportunity for everyone to hear the message of redemption from Jesus Himself. In other words, people received a second chance.

In the following chapter, Peter states, “For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does” (1 Peter 4:6). About this verse, Martin Luther wrote, “This is a strange text and certainly a more obscure passage than any other passage in the New Testament. I still do not know for sure what the apostle meant.” The inference is that Jesus, while dead, offered salvation to all who had died before his time.

Since the Resurrection?

  1. What about people today that have NEVER heard the gospel? Do THEY get a chance to listen to and respond?

In 1522, Martin Luther wrote a letter to Hans von Reichenberg about the possibility that people could turn to God after death: “It would be a completely different question to ask whether God could grant faith to a few at the moment of their death or after death and thereby save them through faith. Who would doubt that he could do this? But no one can prove that he does do this.”

Some final questions

Is God’s forgiveness limited? When Peter asked Jesus how much he should forgive someone who offended him, he suggested seven times would be a good number. Jesus disagreed and advocated for seventy times seven, a hyperbolic way of teaching unlimited forgiveness. Does Jesus practice what he teaches? How about “love your enemies?” Does Jesus do that too? Does God’s love fail even though “God is love” and “love never fails” (1 John 4:8; 1 Cor. 13:8).

What Revelation reveals

In Revelation 22, we discover a city whose gates never close, and the wicked are outside the gates. The following verse is a marvellous invitation: “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the gift of the water of life.” The redeemed don’t need this invitation. They already “have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” Is not the invitation for the unredeemed, those outside the city gates, as a constant offer of forgiveness and life?

Theologian Bradley Jersak puts it this way, “It’s simply that he’ll always love you, with a love that even outlasts and overcomes death (Song of Solomon 8). The Bible at least hints (Rev. 21-22) that the prodigal Father will wait for you, invite you and keep the doors open for you until you’re ready to come home. He’ll wait for you forever.”


It’s an awful thought that God would actually create some people for the very purpose of tormenting and torturing them for all eternity, but that’s what some Christians and churches believe, even today!

The belief that God predestines some people for hell comes from what I believe to be a misinterpretation of Romans chapter 9, which has been the subject of some controversy over the centuries. John Calvin and his followers used Romans 9 as proof of God’s predestining some people for heaven and some for hell (before they’re even born!).[i] This is not what Paul is teaching in the three illustrations he uses in this chapter:

  1. God loves Jacob and hates Esau
  2. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, and
  3. Clay in the Hands of God

(Please note, it would be helpful for you to read Romans 9 before reading the rest of this blog).

God Loves Jacob and Hates Esau

The word translated as “hate” can also mean, “to love less” or “put in second place”. “Love” infers a positive relationship whereas “hate,” indicates a lack of relationship. It’s important to note that God’s choice of Jacob had nothing to do with salvation, but rather with who would be the Father of the Nation of Israel. This honour first belonged to Esau, but he chose short-term satisfaction over long-term blessing. “Esau despised his birthright” (Genesis 25:29-34).

The author of Hebrews describes Esau as a godless person “who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done” (Hebrews 12:16-17).  

Romans 9 is not teaching about salvation but rather is speaking about the nations that resulted from Jacob and Esau. God has chosen people for greater or lesser degrees of service often based on their willingness, choices, and behaviour. Paul is addressing service rather than salvation.

The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart

The apostle’s second illustration is the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Hardening is a symbolic word which means “to twist” in the same way as you would ring out a dishcloth. When you ring out a cloth, you find out what’s in it. Through the ten plagues, God twisted Pharaoh’s heart to squeeze out what was inside, simply revealing what was already there!

Clay in the Hands of God

The final illustration is “Clay in the Hands of God” quoting from Isaiah chapters 29 and 45 as well as Jeremiah 18. “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?”

Once again, the apostle is speaking about serving God rather than salvation. God does not create some people so that He can damn them to an eternal hell. If that were true, he’d be contradicting his nature as well as the entire intent of the Gospel that is very clearly for ALL people. Why would Jesus die for everyone if everyone could not access salvation?

The Apostle finishes this chapter by quoting from Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16, “As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”

Zion was the hill in Jerusalem that lay opposite Mount Moriah on which the temple stood. On Zion was built the palace of David and the seat of justice. Sometimes Zion was applied to the whole city of Jerusalem as well as the Jewish people. Paul uses the symbolic language of a foundation stone that God would lay from and for the Jews.  A rock of salvation for all, but to many of the Jews, it became a stumbling block because they wanted to be right with God by obeying the Law rather than by trusting in Jesus as their Messiah.

Paul continues this same theme in chapter 10 of how Israel came to miss salvation while the Gentiles found it. The Jews are zealous for righteousness, but their zeal is misguided. They’re trying to be right with God by obeying the entire law, but that’s impossible. Paul says, “It’s not that hard” because “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

Being right with God is not impossible like trying to get up to heaven to bring Jesus down or to bring Jesus back from the dead. God has already done this for us by his power. Salvation is simple, accessible and available just like the words you speak. Being right with God is achieved by declaring Jesus to be Lord – words that flow out of a heart that believes God has done the impossible by raising Jesus from the dead. Paul uses the word “everyone” twice in this chapter to declare that the gospel is not just limited to some people.

God doesn’t make some people be objects of wrath to be eternally tortured, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Now that’s Good News![ii]


[i] According to the Catholic Encyclopedia Calvin taught, “God for His own glorification, and without any regard to original sin, has created some as “vessels of mercy,” others as “vessels of wrath.” Those created for hell He has also predestined for sin, and whatever faith and righteousness they may exhibit are at most only apparent, since all graces and means of salvation are efficacious only in those predestined for heaven.” Others credit Augustine as the author of this heresy. In Christianity, the doctrine that God unilaterally predestines some persons to heaven and some to hell originated with Augustine during the Pelagian controversy in 412 CE.

[ii] Consider also 1 Timothy 2:3-4, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” And 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord … is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” That is the desire of God.



A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog responding to some comments made by Wallabies superstar Israel Folau. [1] He was asked on an Instagram post what he thought God’s plan was for gay people.  Israel’s answer was, “HELL … Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.”  He later wrote, “My response to the question is what I believe God’s plan is for all sinners, according to my understanding of my Bible teachings.”  In my blog, I respectfully disagreed with Israel Folau’s understanding of God’s Plan and explained why.

One of the primary purposes of blogging is “to present a person’s thoughts, feelings, opinions or experiences.”  [2] That’s what I attempt to do each week and, unlike some bloggers, I open my blog for others to comment to generate a healthy discussion on the issue.  While some of those commenting lack virtues such as kindness, gentleness, and self-control, most add to the conversation with their comments, questions, and suggestions.  It’s one of those comments that form the basis of this blog.

In response to my blog on God’s Plan, one reader suggested I was wrong because of Paul’s words in Romans chapter nine:

“Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honourable use and another for dishonourable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory…” (verses 21-23)

The person’s comment went on to suggest, based on these verses, that God makes some people for Hell while He makes others for Heaven (glory).   Romans nine has been used for centuries to teach this untruth.  Any church that includes the word “Reformed” in its name probably has this as a fundamental doctrine, which is enshrined in the Westminster Confession of Faith…

“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.” [3]

Now, if this were true, which I don’t for a moment think it is, this view contradicts both the Nature of God and His Word.  Consider John 3:16, that teaches “This is how God loved the world …” and goes on to explain that salvation comes through God’s Son, Jesus, which is God’s Plan for the world God loves.  In other words, God doesn’t make some people for Hell; He has provided salvation, and eternal life and made both available to all.

In the context of the Day of Judgement, the apostle Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that ANY should perish, but that ALL should reach repentance.”  I agree with Israel Folau about the importance of repentance [4] in order to access God’s Plan, but I maintain that God’s Plan for people is NOT Hell, because God is not willing that ANY should perish.  God “wants ALL people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”  [5]  In fact, “EVERYONE who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [6]

The Reformed view of Romans 9 also contradicts the nature of God who “is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation.” [7] James warns us not to “be deceived” about God’s unchanging goodness. [8] God is good and always good; He doesn’t make people and prearrange for them to be tortured forever in burning sulphur, don’t be deceived!

So, what is Paul referring to in Romans chapter nine?  It’s important to realise that Paul wrote a letter to the Roman Church. This letter didn’t have chapters and verses. In fact, these weren’t added to the New Testament until 1551.  These coordinates are a great help in locating various parts of the Bible, but they can also be a hindrance because we tend to read the Bible in bite-sized pieces and ignore context.

The Letter to the Roman Church was written by Paul to communicate the beauty and depth of the grace of God that is available to Jew and Gentile alike.  The first chapter highlights that all Gentiles are sinners; chapter two emphasises the sinfulness of the Jews, and chapter three teaches, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” [9] Upon this dark background of human sin, Paul places the gem of grace, and it stands out like a diamond on black velvet.  Salvation by faith in God’s grace is God’s plan for every person says Paul – not just for the Jews (as many Jews believed in the First Century) but also for the Gentiles, the people of all nations.

This theme continues through the first eleven chapters of Romans.  In 9:21-23 Paul is referring to Isaiah 64:8, “O Lord, you are our Father.  We are the clay, and you are the potter.  We all are formed by your hand.”  These verses are not teaching that God is arbitrary in choosing some and damning others. Paul is not speaking of individual people here at all but is instead instructing the church that God is Sovereign and can resolve to save Gentiles as well as Jews ~ a truth that was excellent news in the predominantly Gentile City (and Church) of Rome, and truth that is Good News to all people today.  In fact, the next verse in Isaiah 64 is the clincher, “Don’t be so angry with us, Lord. Please don’t remember our sins forever.  Look at us, we pray, and see that we are ALL your people.

If you are seeking forgiveness and a relationship with your creator, be comforted that He is not a torturing tyrant but a wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God, and it is His kindness that is intended to turn you from your sin. [10] Come toward Him and He will run to you and adopt you into His family. It’s the best decision you’ll ever make.


[1] https://baysidechurch.com.au/israel-folau-and-gods-plan/

[2] https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-purpose-of-writing-a-blog


[4] On the topic of repentance, I encourage you to read my blog, “They need to repent.

[5] 1 Timothy 2:4

[6] Romans 10:13 in which Paul quotes Joel 2:32.  The context here is the wonderful truth that Jews and non-Jews are all included in God’s plan, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” (Romans 10:12, quoting Isaiah 28:16)

[7] Psalm 145:9

[8] James 1:16-17

[9] Romans 3:23

[10] Romans 2:4

A few weeks ago, Wallabies superstar Israel Folau caused an online furore stating that gay people will go to hell unless they repent.  His comment was in response to a question from an Instagram user, Mike Sephton, who asked: “what was gods [sic] plan for gay people??”  His comment has since been deleted, but Folau replied to him before the comment was removed: “HELL … Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.”

The background of this exchange is worth noting.  Two weeks before the post, Folau tore his hamstring quite severely in the opening minutes against the Brumbies and was told he would be on the sidelines for a month. Naturally, he found missing three or four games so early in the season to be disappointing and frustrating, but, by his admission, he “accepted the news and started looking ahead.”

That afternoon he posted the following on Instagram, referring to James 1:2-4: “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, because the testing of your faith produces endurance … so that you may be lacking in nothing.”

The question about God’s plan for gay people was asked in the thread of that post.  Folau later wrote, “My response to the question is what I believe God’s plan is for all sinners, according to my understanding of my Bible teachings.”

I want to make it clear that this blog is not written to criticise Israel Folau.  I’ve not met him, and I don’t stand in judgement of him.  I also uphold his right to free speech, to state what he believes the Bible teaches, and to answer questions as he sees fit.  He is a Christian man and, as such, he is my brother in Christ.  I encourage you to read his follow up piece, “I’m a sinner too,” in which he humbly gives some helpful context to his earlier comments.1

What I want to address in this blog, however, is where I differ from Israel Folau about “God’s plan.”  His answer went straight to addressing sin, and so the plan of God for sinners is hell.  My question is, “Is hell God’s plan for people?”  The simple answer is “no.”

Do I believe in hell?  Yes, I do.  But hell is NOT God’s plan for people – forgiveness, salvation and reconciliation are.  That’s why the apostle Paul wrote these words to Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people … [because] this is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).  It appears that God’s plan is for His people to be deeply committed to praying for others “to come to a knowledge of the truth”.  God’s plan for people is to know the truth, not go to hell!

In another letter, the apostle wrote, “this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ.  And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them.  And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.   So, we are Christ’s ambassadors…” 2

There’s some great truth in these verses about God’s plan for the human race.  “Reconciling” (in the original Greek language) was an accounting term that referred to the correct exchanging of money.  If you’ve ever visited a foreign country, you’ll no doubt have had the experience of exchanging Australian dollars for the local currency, and you’ve checked to make sure you haven’t been short-changed.  That’s what God has done for every human being “through Christ”.  His plan was not to short-change us because we are sinners; in fact, while He was counting out righteousness (right relationship with Himself), He was NO LONGER COUNTING PEOPLE’S SINS AGAINST THEM.  How sad it is then that so many Christians today are known as sin counters.

The apostle also says that those of us who have been reconciled to God through Christ, have now been given the message of reconciliation as though we were Christ’s ambassadors.  If you are a Christian, your central message is that of reconciliation. You are Christ’s ambassador, that is, a person who is respected as trustworthy and knowledgeable to communicate the opinion of the one they represent; in this case Jesus Christ. 3 If God doesn’t count sins, why should His people?  If God’s plan is reconciliation why should any of us communicate His message as hell?

Sadly, people in Australia read comments like those from Israel Folau and, once again, hear a message from a Christian that is not a Christian message at all.  God’s plan for people is not hell.  God’s plan is reconciliation. After all, that’s the wonderful message He has given His people to share with the world.  It’s good news not bad.  It’s a message that attracts and does not repel.  Let’s get the message right!


[1] https://www.playersvoice.com.au/israel-folau-im-a-sinner-too/#oHXjioBHOeQuoX8Q.99

[2] 2 Corinthians 5:18-20

[3] http://biblehub.com/greek/4243.htm


I was talking to a couple from Bayside Church recently and they were telling me about a conversation they’d had with another Christian.  I guess they were just checking with me if what they were being told – on a number of subjects – was accurate or not.  One of the topics that came up was hell.  This couple had never heard that there are differing views amongst Christians about hell, its existence and its duration.  They’d always thought that every Christian believes in hell as separation from God that leads to unending, conscious torment.  I explained to them that there are three main views on hell.  It’s these views that I will briefly explain in this blog.  Each view is distinct because of the way they view the purpose of the fire of hell: whether the fire is torturing (traditionalist), purifying (restorationist), or consuming (conditionalist).

The Traditionalist View is the only one most Christians today have been taught.  It was what I heard when I converted to Christianity in my late teens and early 20s and I didn’t question it.  It’s what I was taught in Bible College and it was the one I’ve held to and taught over my 30 years as a pastor – but with increasing difficulty.  You see the traditional view teaches that hell is unending, conscious, agonising punishment for those who reject God’s salvation through Jesus – or for those who never accept Him even if they’ve never heard of Him.  Some Christian teachers and pastors have used the doctrine of hell to motivate believers to spread the Gospel:  “If people die without Jesus they go to a lost eternity.”  “If you were to die tonight do you know if you would go to heaven or would you be lost in hell?”  With the traditional view, hell is punitive and there’s no possibility of redemption, ever (Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:10, 14-15).

The Restorationist View also called Universalism (and includes the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory) sees hell as a place of divine cleansing and ultimate redemption.  Like a father disciplining his child, hell is seen as a place where God corrects the wayward sinner until they see the error of their ways, repents and asks for forgiveness.  At that time the person’s punishment ends and they are allowed into the eternal kingdom of God because of the salvation Jesus has achieved for all people (Titus 2:11; Romans 1:16).  In the end, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10).

The Roman Catholic teaching on purgatory states, “As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offences can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.”  Contemporary theology around purgatory talks about it being a personal encounter with God in order to ready God’s people for full union with him because of the effects of any unresolved sin that they may carry.  Thus purgatory is an experience of “cleansing” through Christ. Modern theology dispels ideas of painful fire, but rather speaks of purgatory at a moment when we are brought before the intense light of God, which “burns” away our blockages to him.  Any “pain” would only be the pain of seeing our sin before the absolute goodness of God, which is now revealed to us in full light.

The Conditionalist View (also called annihilationism) is the view of hell as a conditional or temporary situation for those who die without accepting Jesus’ salvation.  This view is once again finding increasing support amongst those who find an inconsistency between the doctrines of everlasting punishment and of a God of love, grace and forgiveness.  John Stott, one of the Evangelical church’s most influential leaders of last century, leaned towards the conditionalist view towards the end of his life.  He wrote these words concerning eternal hell, “I find the concept intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterising their feelings or cracking under the strain.”  To many people the traditional view of hell appears to be totally inconsistent with the character of God who asks us to forgive our enemies, be merciful and turn the other check – does God not practice what He preaches?

When speaking of the fate of unrepentant people, the Bible uses words such as death, ruin, perishing and destruction.  The symbolism of fire suggests being consumed rather than being endlessly tortured.  In this view, “eternal punishment” refers to the results of the judgment being everlasting rather than the person being endlessly punished.  The judgment on the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah is used as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire (see Jude 7).  The cities were annihilated and the result of their punishment was eternal.

The traditional view can be traced back to the philosopher Plato who viewed the human soul as indestructible.  But the Bible does not teach the immortality of the human soul.  In fact, the Scriptures say, “God alone has immortality” (1 Timothy 6:16) that’s why eternal life is a gift granted because of Jesus’ death and resurrection (Romans 6:23) in which He “tasted death for everyone (Hebrews 2:9).

I have written this blog to educate people to the fact that there is more than one view on the subject of hell.  I encourage you to study the Scriptures and, if you’re interested in knowing more, read widely on the various views before making your own mind up.  Whatever you believe never use it to generate fear in others, or as an excuse to live a sloppy life.  We don’t love God because we want to escape hell.  We love Him because He first loved us.

Suggested Reading

Four Views on Hell (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) (Zondervan)

The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment (Edward William Fudge)

The Great Divorce (C.S. Lewis)