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FEAR OF HELL LEADS TO
DOCTRINAL BELIEF - NOT TO CHRIST

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Morning, January 18, 2004


"The devils also believe, and tremble" (James 2:19).


Sometimes a lost person will become terrified of Hell and yet not experience conversion. This has often been the case with atheists when they were dying. It also happens with small children, and sometimes with those who are older. The fear of Hell fills their minds. They experience horror. Yet, in time, these horrible thoughts disappear and they go back to a state of spiritual sleep without a conversion.

Parents who have small children often do not understand this. They often think that their child wants to be saved - when, in fact, the child is only frightened of Hell. Why? Because fear of Hell alone does not lead to salvation in Christ.

In this day of apostasy, decisionist pastors often think that the fear of Hell is a sign that the person is ready to be saved. Decisionist pastors will usually be so delighted that the person is afraid of Hell that they will immediately lead the person to say the "sinner's prayer," and then baptize him, and receive him as a Christian. This adds many lost people to the churches, because conversion does not happen that way.

I have to caution you, if you are still unconverted. A fear of Hell is no sign that you are about to be converted. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. It may make you feel more comfortable in your lost state. You may take comfort in the fact that you once had a great experience of the fear of Hell. You may confuse that with conviction of sin, that leads to conversion.

Sometimes parents will pray for their children to fear Hell. Often their praye7rs are full of Hell. They will often pray, in their children's hearing, for them to be saved from Hell. This is not wrong in private prayers, but I think it may do harm to the child who hears such prayers. Children are often led, in this way, to think that Jesus died to save them from Hell. Their whole thinking may become focused on escaping from Hell. When such a child says, "I want to be saved," he means "I want to be saved from Hell."

What's wrong with that? Well, it turns the gospel upside down - and points the child in the wrong direction. That's what is wrong with it! Salvation from Hell is not the primary goal in true conversion. Salvation from Hell is only a byproduct. Jesus came to save us from sin - and we are saved from Hell only as a byproduct of being saved from sin. When escaping Hell is the primary object in a person's mind, sin is only "tacked on" to "get the words right." The person knows he should say "sin" - but his real objective is to escape from Hell.

To understand what this means, we will consider three things in the Bible. First, the demons believe in Hell. Second, the fear of Hell leads to doctrinal belief. Third, the first work of the Holy Spirit is to convince of sin.

I. First, the demons fear Hell.

Look at our text again, the second half of James 2:19.

"The devils also believe, and tremble" (James 2:19).

The four gospels and the Book of Acts give us the words of demons several times. In Matthew 8:29,

"…they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?" (Matthew 8:29).

This shows that the demons knew about the Last Judgment, which they called "the time." It also shows that they knew about the torment of Hell. Luke 8:28 tells us that the demons cried out and fell down when Jesus came near. Then, verse 31 says,

"…they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep" (Luke 8:31).

"The deep" here refers to "the bottomless pit," spoken of in Revelation 20:1, 3. The demons feared being cast into the bottomless pit of Hell.

This illustrates our text perfectly,

"The devils also believe, and tremble" (James 2:19).

But the demons do not get saved when they tremble. They fear Hell, but this fear does not lead them to salvation. I cannot take time to go into demonology in this sermon. But the Bible indicates that the demons are "reserved unto judgment" (II Peter 2:4; cf. Jude 6). They have already been given up by God. They are already doomed, and cannot be redeemed. They are eternally lost.

And so we see that, although they tremble in fear of Hell, it does them no good. The Apostle James says,

"The devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know,
O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" (James 2:19-20).

In this verse he is speaking of "faith" as mere mental assent to the truth. The demons believe mentally in Hell, but it does not produce Christian "works" in them any more than mental belief in judgment produces conversion in a lost human being.

Jesus said,

"This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (John 6:29).

This, I think, is missing in the "faith" of demons and humans who "tremble" at the thought of judgment. The work of God, in drawing a lost person to "believe on" Jesus does not come as a result of trembling over judgment. Fear of Hell alone does not lead to conversion.

II. Second, the fear of Hell leads to doctrinal belief.

Fearing Hell leads to doctrine, mental agreement with the Bible, but not to Christ, Himself. Isn't this what the Apostle James meant?

"Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" (James 2:19-20).

If that isn't what he meant, what did James mean? I think it is clear that believing what the Bible says about the judgment of God may very well lead to fear and trembling, but it will not, of itself, lead to the work of God in believing on Jesus.

Luther, Bunyan, Whitefield, Wesley, and Spurgeon all trembled at the thought of judgment, but were not converted as a direct result of that. It is true that the fear of Hell may be the beginning of awakening, as it was with these men. But it is not the experience they had immediately before their conversion. Their minds had to be moved away from the fear of Hell to their own sinful natures, and sinful acts. Their hearts had to be moved, from the fear of Hell to anguish over their sin. Read the accounts of the conversions of these famous Christians and you will see that this is what happened to them.

Listen to the story of Martin Luther, the great reformer. In 1505 Luther was having serious thoughts about God. He spent much time in prayer. During a terrible thunderstorm, with lightning bolts coming down around him, he fell to the ground and vowed to become a monk. He entered a monastery where he fasted and scourged himself to mortify the flesh. But he had no inner peace. He became so guilty over his sins that he ate little and slept little.

Two elderly men counselled him. One of them, John Staupitz, said, "Look at the wounds of Christ, to the blood that He has shed for you. Instead of torturing yourself because of your sins, throw yourself into the Redeemer's arms." But Luther held back and went on under terrible conviction of sin. Then one day an old monk reminded Luther of the words of the Apostles' Creed, "I believe in the forgiveness of sins." Luther agreed that this was true. "Ah," said the monk, "You must believe not only in the forgiveness of David's and Peter's sins, for even the devils believe. It is God's commandment that we believe…thy sins are forgiven thee." "It was at this moment that the light dawned in Luther's soul and he found peace" (Frederick S. Leahy, Great Conversions, Ambassador Publications, 1999, pp. 14-15).

Luther had been afraid of Hell all his life. But it was not until he became painfully aware of his sins that he came to Jesus and was converted. Psalm 51:13 says,

"Sinners shall be converted unto thee" (Psalm 51:13).

In his exposition of those words, Luther said,

It is necessary, if you would be converted, that you become terrified, that is, that you have an alarmed and trembling conscience. Then, after this condition has been created, you must grasp the consolation that comes not from any work of your own but from the work of God. He sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world in order to proclaim to terrified sinners the mercy of God. This is the way conversion is brought about. Other ways are wrong ways.

Notice what Luther meant by "terrified." He meant terrified of sin, "that you have an alarmed…conscience." It is not the terror of Hell, but the terror of conscience over sin, that leads to true conversion. He said, "This is the way conversion is brought about. Other ways are wrong ways."

Fear of Hell, without conviction of sin, leads to doctrinal belief about Christ, rather than to Christ, Himself. Note that John Staupitz said to Luther, "Instead of torturing yourself because of your sins, throw yourself into the Redeemer's arms." But it should be remembered that a person who is not tortured inwardly for his sins will not "throw himself into the Redeemer's arms." Which brings us to the last point.

III. Third, the first work of the Holy Spirit is to convince you of sin.

Jesus said,

"When he is come, he will reprove [convince] the world of sin"
     (John 16:8).

This is the first thing the Holy Spirit does in conversion. If you are not convinced of your sin, you will continue to play word games with the gospel. Turn to James 4:8-10. Let stand and read these three verses aloud.

"Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up" (James 4:8-10).

You may be seated.

There is a good deal of law in this passage. Good. You need this law - to convince you of sin.

You may say, "How can I draw near to God?" You may say, "How can I cleanse my hands? How can I purify my heart?" Good. I am glad you are asking that. Keep asking it. Such questions drive a serious person to be "afflicted and mourn." Such questions, if thought about seriously, will turn your laughter to mourning, "and your joy to heaviness."

"Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up" (James 4:10).

When God's Spirit has shown you your sin, and your own inability to save yourself from sin, you will be humbled. When you are truly humbled, then God Himself "will lift you up." God will lift you up to "heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6).

Before you are humbled you cannot be lifted up to "heavenly places in Christ Jesus." You cannot learn to be lifted up to Christ! Fear of Hell will not lift you up to Christ! You must be humbled for your sin. You must be brought to a place of horror over your sin.

Let us stand and read James 4:9-10 again.

"Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up" (James 4:9-10).

Only by being convinced of your sin, and humbled by your sin, only by horror over your sin, will you ever see why Jesus

"was wounded for our transgressions [and] bruised for our iniquities" (Isaiah 53:5).

Only when your sin becomes unbearable will you "Look at the wounds of Christ, to the blood that He has shed for you." Only when your sin terrifies you will you "throw yourself into the Redeemer's arms." "This is the way conversion is brought about. Other ways are wrong ways."


(END OF SERMON)

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Ephesians 2:1-7.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:

             "Amazing Grace" (by John Newton, 1725-1807).


THE OUTLINE OF

FEAR OF HELL LEADS TO
DOCTRINAL BELIEF - NOT TO CHRIST

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

 

"The devils also believe, and tremble" (James 2:19).

I.   The demons fear Hell, Matthew 8:29; Luke 8:31;
Revelation 20:1, 3; II Peter 2:4; Jude 6;
James 2:19-20; John 6:29.

II.  The fear of Hell leads to doctrinal belief,
James 2:19-20; Psalm 51:13.

III. The first work of the Holy Spirit is to convince you
of sin, John 16:8; James 4:8-10; Ephesians 2:6;
Isaiah 53:5.

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."