“If There’s No Hell then I Will Sin All I Want!”

One day I spoke with an elderly believer who was a fundamentalist all her life, and the issue of hell came up in such a way that I shared with her that I didn’t believe eternal punishment in burning hell existed.

Her response was, ‘If there were no hell, then I would sin all I want.’

She is not alone. Many times I’ve heard believers say that if there is no hell then there is no motivation for morality. How sad! If the only motivation we have to live for God is to avoid eternal punishment, then I question whether we are truly living for God at all.

It is our heart, our inner being, that concerns God and not our conformity in order to avoid punishment.

outer darkness

Legalism is not Morality

These kinds of statements are often made within a legalistic world-view where morality is seen as keeping religious rules that are presumably from God. Sure, if I were still a legalist and discovered God was not going to punish me in hell, then I would start attending movies, dancing, or going mixed-swimming at the beach. But these are not moral issues; these are just rules. When morality is understood as observing religious rules, a true concept of morality is often absent.

As a fundamentalist, I didn’t really distinguish between morality and keeping religious rules; it was all the same to me. But while losing fear of hell might allow me to do things I would not do as a legalist, it would not lead me to cheat on my taxes, steal from others, or kill someone.

Even though I considered all ‘sins’ to lead to hell, losing the threat of hell would not make me a liar or a rapist, because there is such a thing as morality—apart from keeping rules. Hopefully, this would also be true of most legalists who lose their fear of hell.

Yet the question arises: ‘If there is no punishment in hell, then what is the motivation to not sin? Why not do whatever we want?’ The question is a good one and should be answered.

Many believers think the motivation for morality is to keep God happy, and they do this by:

  • Keeping religious rules
  • Believing the ‘right’ doctrines
  • Saving sinners

Otherwise they could be in danger. Let’s focus for a moment on how fear of hell impacts how we go about sharing Jesus with others.

Sin, Hell, and Evangelism

To those who believe in hell, ‘saving sinners’ is a great responsibility. It is commanded by God, and his commands must be obeyed; but it is also motivated by the terrible consequence of letting ‘unsaved’ people burn in hell forever. This is a heavy responsibility, and it affects the way we reach out to unbelievers.

Some churches preach against sin from the pulpit each week with threats of hellfire and damnation, and they urge people to give up their sins and pray to be saved. Other churches send out members to witness to others and try to get them to pray the ‘sinners’ prayer’. The presentation usually focuses on their sinfulness, and hell often comes up or is implied.

I did this for many years, and I was good at it—before I gave it up.

In my opinion, these approaches to sharing Jesus are very negative, intrusive, and often alienating. I understand their motivation to do this if every person who does not accept Jesus burns in hell forever—what an awful thought! And if they don’t convert the person they are responsible for that person’s eternity in hell.

There must be a better way of sharing Jesus, and there is—and it doesn’t involve hell at all. Mark chapter 1 tells us about the beginning of Jesus’ work:

Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

He shared with them the good news of the kingdom of God. He didn’t mention sin or hell; he only invited them to repent (change their thinking and priorities) and believe the good news of the kingdom. There is nothing negative, intrusive, or alienating about that.

Evangelism is simply sharing the good news. For me the good news contains at least 5 elements:

The Good News of Jesus

This is GOOD news, not news of a way to escape some terrible punishment. Does this mean that everyone will be with God in the afterlife? No; not if they don’t want to. I don’t think God will compel people to be in his presence against their will, but he will not punish them.

What is Our Motivation to Live Morally?

The challenge remains: ‘If there is no hell then there is no motivation for morality.’ This might be an honest expression, but it makes a false assumption that there is no reason to live morally other than to avoid punishment. Most people already know this; deep inside they know it is wrong to murder people, to force women and children into slavery, to burn down someone’s house, or to steal a TV from a store.

We know this, but some do these things anyway for their own benefit or in revenge. And why not, if there is no eternal punishment? The worst that can happen is they might be imprisoned or executed.

But for us who choose to live morally, the answer is within us. We don’t do such things because they hurt people. Our attitude is not be to take advantage of others; our attitude should be one of empathy and compassion. Wise people of all ages and throughout the world have said something like, ‘Treat others as you want to be treated.’

Jesus said this too but went further in saying, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. This may seem difficult, and it is; but, as we realize the unbridled love the Father has for all of us, his love wells up within us. And, as we internalize his love, we can begin to see others as the Father sees them and truly love them as we do ourselves—with empathy, compassion, and concern.

This is the motivation to live morally—recognizing that people matter and that we should not be agents of harm but agents of love, acceptance, and support.

This love does not need to be guided by religious rules or threats of eternal punishment.

Articles in this series: Sin and Forgiveness

The Story of Sin and Salvation—Common Baggage Version (CBV)
What is Sin but Pain and Alienation?
Addressing Sin in the Old Testament
The Prophets Begin to Talk about Sin in a New Way
What Does Jesus Say about Sin? Not Much!
The Misguided Concept of ‘Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin’
What does Jesus’ Death on the Cross Do for Us?
How Substitutionary Atonement Fails

Why Did Jesus Die on the Cross?
Does Jesus Tell Us to Judge People in Matthew 18?
Are Sins Primarily Sins against God?
“If There’s No Hell then I Will Sin All I Want!”
Problems with the Sinner’s Prayer
What does the Story of Eden Tell Us? Is it about Sin?
We Do Not Inherit Original Sin from Adam
Original Sin or Original Self-Centeredness?
Who Does God Refuse to Forgive?

See also:

What Does Jesus Think of Sinners Today?

*****

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This entry was posted in fear, God, hell, Jesus, legalism, love, sin, the Good News, witnessing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

58 Responses to “If There’s No Hell then I Will Sin All I Want!”

  1. Perry says:

    ” ‘saving sinners’ is a great responsibility”: I, like you, have given up the idea I need to be constantly getting people to pray the sinner’s prayer. IMO, many folks do it out of a subconscious motivation to win validation of their religion, i.e., if I can get other folks to join me in my beliefs, my religion must be true. When I was a teenager, my church & others would sometimes take young people to the bus station in our town to witness to people. I guess people at the bus station and their lower economic status needed saving more than more affluent folks. Kinda sad & funny, too.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Perry, I think you are right that converting others is some sort of validation of one’s beliefs. And when you build your own tribe by converting the enemy, it produces quite a feeling of accomplishment. I think another thing is the notch-belt. Every person I bring in is a notch on my spiritual belt. I tried not to think this way, but I still tried to keep count.

      When I got to heaven, I was sure a sizable group of people would rush up to me and thank me profusely for bringing them to Jesus–that is until I realized it would be more likely that I would be rushed by a group saying, ‘Why did you bring me to Jesus and then abandon me. I never saw you again and I needed help to get started.’ But that’s another story.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Chas says:

        Tim, this is another area in which the Bible is the problem, since the ‘Great Commission’ appears to require all believers to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Like you I do not try to evangelize everyone: only those whom God has prepared for the message.

        Liked by 2 people

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Agreed, as a group we are to reach the world. It is not a mandate for each of us. And we are to reach out to those who are willing to hear; not badger everyone we meet.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I don’t see the Bible as the problem, but how some have interpreted and applied it. To take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth… but what and how we understand “the Gospel” makes all the difference in the world and heaven, in what we are sharing with others, and how we are sharing it with them. What and how we are modeling it before them, by the witness of our lives, our actions, our words.
          Take the Gospel, the Good News, to the ends of the Earth, not take bad news, you are going to hell if you don’t blah blah blah.

          Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Agreed, Jenell! I especially like you conclusion: ‘Take the Gospel, the Good News, to the ends of the Earth, not take bad news, you are going to hell if you don’t blah blah blah.’

            Like

  2. tonycutty says:

    “What is Our Motivation to Live Morally?” – I think that also a person living a life truly led by the Spirit will automatically lead a moral life. This is part of the reason why ‘works’ figure so prominently in both the Gospels and the Epistles, and yet are not part of the ‘Grace’ message of unconditional, non-behaviour-based salvation. It’s like saying that ‘by their fruits you shall know them’. The fruit is both evidence of a Spirit-led life and at the same time it is attractive to those who are looking for God in their lives. And even to those who are not. They see the fruit and they think ‘I want some of that!’.

    One offshoot of this, of course, is unfortunately that religious people make it their business to not only be ‘fruit inspectors’ but also they expect to see the fruits manifested as good behaviour, and they judge those who exhibit fruits of either insufficient quantity or inadequate quality to satisfy their personal expectations. These people, as usual, have it back-to-front. The fruit is not there for them to judge; more than that, they themselves may try to live good lives and thus exhibit their fruits, in their own strength. This is a counterfeit of the real thing of life in the Spirit and letting Him live His life in you. Fruit by works is not the fruit of the Spirit; it’s the fruit of the Flesh.

    More on this here: http://www.flyinginthespirit.cuttys.net/2016/03/19/law-no-longer/

    Great post, though, Tim. As you know I am reading the book ‘The Lie of Hell’ by Roger Harper, and its pretty heavy going. Your post is a breath of fresh air that keeps me on track. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Tony, your comment has a lot of insight. I agree that living morally is not something we do on our own; the spirit does work with us. I don’t use this expression, though, I usually talk about being filled with the love of God and it affecting the way we treat others. Same thing.

      However, I do think we need to cooperate with the spirit; our loving people does not happen without cooperating with the spirit. We need to be sensitive and ready to treat people with empathy, compassion, and care. And I know believers who don’t cooperate; they let their personal attitudes rule instead; they need to grow in love.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Chas says:

      Just an observation. Even someone who is doing good by works is probably being better than someone who is not trying at all.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: “If There’s No Hell then I Will Sin All I Want!” - Jesus is Lord

  4. michaeleeast says:

    I would question whether a person who is moral in order to avoid hell is moral at all?

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      I agree with you, Michael. Being good out of force does nothing for the heart; it is both a pretense and a burden.

      Like

  5. mark says:

    When I made and exit from fundamentalism and began to De-convert from “Western Christianity”, I asked myself “what now”? If I no longer believe the Bible as the actual Hand written word from GOD and realize it’s just the writings of mere mortal men trying to explain the ancient world….”what now” How do I live and act…?
    When I shed the baggage of “mans” church, a dear and cherished friend that has /had always looked up to me in Christianity asked “now what will you do?”, “Will you start drinking and living immorally to do as you see fit in your own eyes”
    I already knew how I was going to live my life. I answered my friend with a question. I asked;…”If today you were told that by serving GOD you would get no promise or guarantee of Heaven,..that you would receive no eternal blessings… ..that instead of a crown of life, all you would have would be a meager life of servitude in helping others or maybe just an ordinary dull life,….would you still believe and serve GOD or would You go Your own way into sin?” In other words keep doing it for free with no reward or compensation.?
    The next day my friend, whom I will call Richard, Came to me and told me he had a very rough and sleepless nite pondering my question I gave to him. He said he had started to see the question and questions I had been asking recently as a very possible or probable reality….(that story another time perhaps) and it had bothered him greatly. He said he would still serve GOD by being the good steward that in his heart and soul he knew was correct . That was the start of his BAG DROPPING.

    Yes my life changed by letting it all go…but I still believe and serve GOD by loving others as I want to be loved….I sin no more…nor do I sin any less than before.
    There is a theory in religious studies that suggest the scriptures talk of 2 seed lines…. as an example from the NT, Jesus told the Pharisees, “Ye are of YOUR father the devil”. Make of that what you wish it can’t be definitively proven either way.. But in my own 60 years I have seen good and pure peoples from other land and other faiths………and I have seen pure evil as well, up close and personal. When we drop the “Baggage” we must go even farther and consider other ideas as to whether or not they hold water or if they are even plausible.
    For me, I will still serve to my up most ability….but color me plain vanilla,…..I shed all the icing and ornaments.

    mark

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Mark, sounds like you are on a remarkable journey! And now Richard is on a journey as well. I know from my own experience that sometime the journey from baggage is rough for awhile but can result in even stronger conviction and devotion to Jesus.

      Like

  6. Marjorie Weiss says:

    Great stuff. I gave up the concept of hell long ago. In preaching about that I had folks in the parish quite disturbed that “bad” people would enter the heavenly party along with them. they wanted the others to be punished but never saw the disconnect that they might be among the bad. Grace was a hard concept for some.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. citizenzeus says:

    Loving your neighbor as yourself is not difficult at all. It is the most natural, healthy, and satisfying thing of all. Only when we have gotten in the habit of thinking and acting in a way that sees our own benefit as mutually exclusive with the benefit of others do we find it “hard” to love and serve another. I have spoken to many people, and I have tried it myself: WHEN GIVEN THE CHANCE and full due, people actually recognize that feeding others feels better on a practical and emotional, much less moral, level than stuffing our own faces. This is not a matter of will, but of reality. The will is NOT whether to do good or not to do good; whether to sin or not to sin, but rather whether to recognize the superior spiritual REALITY of giving and sharing over taking. Like people who are physically morbidly obese and addicted to consuming massive amounts of high fructose corn syrup, we can be morally obese and addicted to cramming down large amounts of self-indulgence which undermine our ability to feel and practice sharing. Obesity, in whatever form, physical or moral, doesn’t make us “bad,” but it does ask us to change our diet, or suffer the same consequences for ourselves and perpetrate harmful consequences on others. This is where not only will but grace must enter, and we have to want our own transformation passionately for the sake of the spirit and for the sake of humanity.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Laurie Gael says:

    Is there any punishment in the afterlife at all? What about for truly evil things that people have done, like torture, rape, murder? How are these things “made right” if there is no punishment for those who have done them?

    Liked by 1 person

    • M Weiss says:

      If God is a loving mother or father then God does not punish God’s children forever. What good parent cuts a child off FOREVER. When talking hell it cannot be taught tough love so they can change, but FOREVER. Read the Parables trilogy by Robert Capon which really helped me understand what grace really is. Rob Bell’s “love Wins” may also be a help. Finally the book by Gulley and Mulhlland, “If Grace is True Why God will Save Every Person.”

      God makes things right because Jesus death is for everyone even those who live this life without knowing him.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Chas says:

      People who do these evil things are not in their right mind. Normal people do not do such things, so we can recognize that these people are very troubled in some way. While that does not excuse their actions, it goes a long way to account for it. These troubles come from the way that they were (mis)treated during their childhood, when they were not to blame. Therefore, those who did these things to them (whether consciously or not) also bear some of the responsibility. God acts to minimize suffering, so whether we like it, or not, people who have done terrible things are only punished on this earth.

      Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Laurie, I would say that there is no punishment. Things are made right through forgiveness. I believe it likely that the Father will give everyone a final chance to accept or reject eternal life with him. There may be those who reject eternal life, in which case they simply cease to exist–their choice.

      It may be that there are those who do accept eternal life but have deep remorse for what they have done; that might be considered punishment. But the Father is not vindictive or retaliatory; he/she does not punish but forgives.

      Like

  9. JoshWay says:

    “This is the motivation to live morally—recognizing that people matter and that we should not be agents of harm but agents of love, acceptance, and support.”

    A thousand amens. Either God’s love motivates us to love others, or his wrath threatens us. It can’t be both, and I know which one Jesus preached.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Terry says:

    I think that religion vs. Christ’s teachings went separate ways during the Dark Ages. Religion (and Hell) were created to scare people in to line.
    Question: How can you control someone who has absolutely nothing in this world to loose?
    Answer: You threaten them with eternal damnation.
    Empathy and compassion have/had nothing to do with HELL.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Chas says:

      A question in response to the question. Where does a suicide bomber stand with regard to this? Is he someone who sees no future, or someone who believes that he will receive reward in Heaven?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Chas says:

        In regard to suicide bombers and other terrorists, there is a repeated pattern of being a reasonable person, albeit with minor criminality, then going ‘off the rails’ after they have smoked cannabis. Cannabis is also known to cause other mental problems. When will the authorities finally start to inform people of its true dangers? (Perhaps if they hadn’t themselves users in their younger days………..!)

        Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Terry, I totally agree: ‘Empathy and compassion have/had nothing to do with HELL’!

      Like

  11. Ellen says:

    You said that you did not think that God would compel people to be in His presence against their will, but that he would not punish them. What about Revelation 20:15 says they won’t be punished???

    Revelation 20:15 ESV
    [15] And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

    Liked by 1 person

    • M Weiss says:

      I go with non-literalist scholars who do not see that as coming from the mouth of God but from a human writer.

      Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi Ellen, you ask a good question; Revelation seems to say clearly that there will be those who will be thrown into the lake of fire. However, we must be aware what kind of book Revelation is; it is not a prophecy of the end-times but a story of comfort for Christians who were being persecuted by the Roman empire and who thought, perhaps, that the church would be wiped out from the earth.

      The writer of Revelation assured them that Rome would fail, Jesus would prevail, and the church would continue–which it did. The genre the writer uses was somewhat common in Jewish literature during that time. It is called Apocalyptic. Many such writings were written to encourage Jews and Christians during their periodic times of intense persecution from about 200 BC to 100 AD.

      Apocalyptic uses boundless imagery and exaggerated action. Motifs are pulled from a range of familiar sources and mixed together to produce a powerful, visual scenario. And this is all done to encourage those who feel helpless and hopeless. I think this is a wonderful book, but unfortunately the genre is not part of our culture so we tend to not understand it unless we have read information about it somewhere.

      So in answer to your question, the passage you quote is not a description of something that will happen sometime in the future; it means something else entirely.

      I hope this helps.

      Like

  12. rogerwolsey says:

    Agreed. “I don’t follow Jesus in order to go to heaven when I die — or conversely, to avoid going to hell. That’s a cheap form of faith that is really nothing more than fire insurance. I follow Jesus here and now for the sake of experiencing salvation (which means “wholeness” and “healing”) here and now – and to help others do the same.” See: “To Hell with Hell” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogerwolsey/2015/03/to-hell-with-hell/

    Roger Wolsey, author, “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity”

    Liked by 2 people

  13. The primary problem with legalism as foundation for morality is that it is we humans that decide what laws to make to begin with, so of course we favor laws that benefit us. In reading the OT, it doesn’t take long to see the human element at work, creating ‘exceptions’ and other ways to skirt the Law as given through Moses. Just as in our civil law, the human mind is clever at finding ways to stay inside the letter of the law, while finding loopholes to skirt the spirit of the law. Simply, we cheat when it benefits us and we think we can get away with it.
    Morality based on legalism creates a standard of appearance, to appear legally compliant, and not getting caught cheating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Jenell, you are right. This was even true in Jesus’ day. It was this kind of manipulation he talked about in the Sermon on the Mount.

      Like

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