Without Christ = Without Hope

“Therefore, remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called ‘the circumcision,’ which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11-12).

Hope is a person. His name is Jesus. If you have Him, you have hope. If you don’t have Him, you don’t have hope. It is devastatingly simple. Hope is not found in people. It is not found in ourselves. It cannot be attained through possessions, position or status. It does not come from self-effort. Hope will forever evade us if Christ does not break into our hopelessness.

Being “separated” from Jesus describes the rift of the fall. It is our condition before God. We have willfully disconnected from our life source. The chasm between us is of our making. I have sinned. I have rebelled. I have transgressed. I have disobeyed. I have been foolish. I am guilty and I am hopeless. This is me without Christ. This is you without Christ.

I have sinned. I have rebelled. I have transgressed. I have disobeyed. I have been foolish. I am guilty and I have hope! This is me with Christ. This can be you with Christ if it is not already. Hopelessness is our current state and without Christ will become our permanent state.

Extended hopelessness is hell.[1] Push our status without Christ past death and into eternity and you have hell. Hell is a certain, fixed reality for all who reject Jesus Christ. It is to be eternally “separated” from Him. Hell is an existence with no hope, ever.[2] Tomorrow never gets better there. [3] Darkness never lifts there. Things don’t ever improve there.

There is no plot, no story, no character development, no joy, no purpose. The slightest ray of hope will never shine on that dark, lonely place. It is pure, unmixed, unchanging despair. Even the hope of hope is banished from that cursed place.

To be without Christ is deadly. There is a reason that Jesus speaks so often about this terrifying reality.[4] Hope has come and is calling us out of hopelessness. He is wrenching us away from eternal despair.[5] Hope is on a rescue mission.

[1] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 7. “It can be said that living without hope is like no longer living. Hell is hopelessness, and it is not for nothing that at the entrance to Dante’s hell there stand the words: ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here’” (emphasis mine).

[2] Suffering in hell is described in the New Testament as “everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46), “everlasting fire” (Matthew18:8), “the fire that shall never be quenched” (Mark 9:45), “the worm that never dies” (Mark 9:46), “flaming fire” (2 Thessalonians 1:8), “everlasting chains” (Jude 6), “eternal fire” (Jude 7), “the blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 13), “the smoke of torment ascending up forever and ever” (Revelation 14:11, 19:3), “the lake of fire and brimstone” in which the devil, the beast, and the false prophet “shall be tormented day and night, forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

[3] This stands in stark contrast with the reality of heaven. Heaven is characterized by fresh joy-filled tomorrows. Sam Storms, “Joys Eternal Increase: Edwards on the Beauty of Heaven,” Desiring God 2003 National Conference (www.desiringgod.org). “Heaven is not simply about the reality or experience of joy, but its eternal increase. The blessedness of the beauty of heaven is progressive, incremental, and incessantly expansive.” He grounds his discussion in Ephesians 2:7, “God made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” The progression of eternity will be the continual unveiling of God’s great kindness toward us found in Jesus Christ. We will forever unpack his saving mercy to us. He further explains. “We will constantly be more amazed with God, more in love with God, and thus ever more relishing his presence and our relationship with him. Our experience of God will never reach it consummation. We will never finally arrive, as if upon reaching a peak we discover there is nothing beyond. Our experience of God will never become stale. It will deepen and develop, intensify and amplify, unfold and increase, broaden and balloon. Our relishing and rejoicing in God will sharpen and spread and extend and progress and mature and flower and blossom and widen and stretch and swell and snowball and inflate and lengthen and augment and advance and proliferate and accumulate and accelerate and multiply and heighten and reach a crescendo that will even then be only the beginning of an eternity of new and fresh insights into the majesty of who God is!” Hell is heaven’s opposite. If heaven is the eternal incline into greater joy and happiness, hell is the eternal decline into greater despair and darkness. The utter absence of hope and its possibility is a dreadful dimension of eternal punishment. Three times Jesus uses the language of “outer darkness” to describe hell (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30). He is capturing the pure unmixed despair of a place void of light and hope. Peter uses the language of “pits of darkness” and “black darkness” to convey this reality (2 Peter 2:4, 17, see also 1 Samuel 2:9 and Isaiah 8:22).

[4] W.G.T. Shedd, The Doctrine of Endless Punishment (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), 12. “The strongest support of the doctrine of endless punishment is the teaching of Christ, the Redeemer of man.” D.A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5-10 (Baker Books, 1991). “Jesus himself speaks twice as often of hell as of heaven.” Leon Morris, “The Dreadful Harvest.” Christianity Today (May 27, 1991). “Jesus spoke more often about hell than he did about heaven. We cannot get around this fact.”

[5] It is his work of gathering a lost people to himself that the gates of hell cannot withstand (Matthew 16:18). Hell will not prevail against God’s saving activity. Once rescued from gates of hell, we are called to join his mission. Charles Spurgeon captured this well. “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and un-prayed for.”

 

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