The recent firestorm over hell is summarized here and here. It is not new that someone would question the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell for people who never come to Christ by faith. Sadly, it is not new that even professing Christian ministers would question such a doctrine.
But with such controversy comes a new opportunity to affirm the truth of God’s Word. Challenges to traditional Christian teaching awaken the saints to doctrines they may have overlooked, provoke fresh examination of the Scriptures, and stir reaffirmation of God’s truth in the hearts of God’s people.
With that in mind, let us consider how hell is an important part of the gospel message. If you lose hell, you lose an essential part of the good news. When you get rid of hell, you gut the gospel.
John 3:16 may be the most well-known Bible verse and rightfully so. Here the gospel is presented simply and clearly.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ESV)
The good news is that God, in love, sent His Son to provide eternal life for those who believe in Him. But there is one more part: whoever believes in Christ “should not perish.” So the gospel of God’s Son dying on the cross for our sins provides both the gift of eternal life and the deliverance from perishing.
The word “perish” in this verse means to be lost, ruin, destroyed; to be delivered up to eternal misery. “Perish” is a strong term depicting the everlasting punishment of hell. And it is the fate of all who do not repent of their sin and turn to Christ. Jesus Himself said, “I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3 ESV). Thus He warned, “Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28 ESV).
Jesus came to save people from their sin. This includes the condemnation and penalty of sin. The just penalty for sin is eternal death – perishing in hell. So when we say that Jesus came to save people from their sin, this also means that Jesus came to save people from hell.
But if you reject or redefine eternal perishing in hell, you remove half of what makes the good news so good in John 3:16. Whoever believes in Christ will not only have eternal life; but also, whoever believes in Him shall not perish. The Savior does not only save us unto something; He also saves us from something. And that is very good news indeed.