If you’re in heaven, you are in better place where there is “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Tears and suffering are over forever. But according to Jesus, not everyone goes to heaven. Christ said, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it (Matthew 7:13-14, NLT, my emphasis).
If you end up in hell, the suffering is infinitely worse than anything you might experience in this life. Christ described hell as a place where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:48).
In three previous posts I’ve talked about the reasons why people may fear death. But this last one, fear of divine judgment, is the most important one. People should fear being punished for their sins.
What if, when you died, you faced perfect justice. What if an indelible record of your every sin was recorded somewhere, and played back to you on that day? Every selfish thought, every shading of the truth, each time you manipulated circumstances and other people to your advantage - all stored up for judgment.
What if, when you thought no one could see you, when you thought no one would ever find out, when you acted on your selfishness or lust or greed - what if it would all be revealed in unflinching detail one day?
What if the Ten Commandments were actually the standard? What if God had been watching all this time, and holding you accountable to that standard, but not just in outward behavior. Jesus said it’s not just the physical acts that break those commandments. He said we become guilty of murder when we’re angry enough to kill, guilty of adultery when we lust in our hearts (see Matthew 5:21ff).
Some people, of course, don’t fear death at all, and certainly do not fear judgment. They’re wrong. They should.
The only remedy for the justifiable fear of judgment is Jesus Christ. Jesus came to earth precisely because sinners like you and me deserved only hell and had no hope of heaven. Christ's life, death and resurrection was a rescue mission. He gave His life “a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
So for the Christian, there is no need to fear death because our punishment has already fallen on Jesus. But if you do not believe in Jesus, you should be afraid! Only Christ can save you, and He saves everyone who comes to Him. (You could check out Two Ways to Live for a summary of what it means to believe in Christ.)
I have a thought for any Christ-follower who struggles with this fear. Read Romans 8:31-39. And then write the verses out in your own words – make them your own, because they are.
Here’s my own short paraphrase:
I no longer fear punishment for my sins because God Himself, the Judge of all things, is on my side. And if that is so, who could ever be against me? (Romans 8:31). If God has already extended His grace to the extreme by sending Christ to die in my place, there is nothing He would not do to bring me safely home to Him! (Romans 8:32)
And who is there, in the entire universe, who could bring a guilty charge to me as one of God’s chosen ones? God has already declared me right in His sight! (Romans 8:33). So who is there, in all of heaven or earth or hell itself, that could possibly condemn me? The center point of history is Jesus’ atoning death for sinners like me. And not only that – He beat death, the devil, and hell itself, by being raised from the death! And not only that, but He sits at God’s right hand and intercedes for His own. Jesus is praying for me! (Romans 8:34)
So in the end, any fear of punishment comes down to this: what could ever separate me from the love of Christ? Because that love has already braved and conquered human frailty, a fallen world system, corrupt religion and government, the devil’s attacks, and God’s just and terrible wrath against me for my own personal record of sin, rebellion, pride, lust, and selfishness.
Nothing and no one, can ever separate me from that love. Not life’s trials and heartaches, not persecutions or the evil that men might do to me, not the supernatural world itself. And not death! (Romans 8:35-39)
I will not fear death. Death will be my happy journey home to Him who loved me from the beginning and never let me go.