I have heard this since I was a very young Christian. It seemed somewhat reasonable as it was explained to me by pastors in sermons and by Christians as they explained the seriousness of sin. The claim goes something like this:

All sin is so bad that even the smallest of sins deserves eternal punishment in hell. It does not matter if it is losing your temper at a lousy referee, not sharing your Icee, or speeding 36 in a 35, every sin deserves eternal torment in Hell. Why? Although it may seem unreasonable to us (as depraved as we are), it is fitting for a perfectly holy God who cannot be in the site of sin, no matter how insignificant this sin might seem to us. In fact, there is no sin that is insignificant to God. Because He is infinitely holy, beyond our understanding, all sin is infinitely offensive to Him. Therefore, the punishment for all sin must be infinite.

I have to be very careful here since I am going against what has become the popular evangelical way to present the Gospel, but I don’t believe this is true. Not only do I not buy it, I think this, like the idea that all sins are equal in the site of God, is damaging to the character of God, the significance of the cross, and I believe it trivializes sin. Let me explain.

First off, I don’t know of a passage in the Bible that would suggest such a radical view. It would seem that people make this conclusion this way:

Premise 1: Hell is eternal
Premise 2: All people that go there are there for eternity
Premise 3: Not all people have committed the same number or the same degree of sins
Conclusion: All sin, no matter how small, will send someone to hell for all eternity

The fallacy here is that this syllogism is a non-sequitur (the conclusion does not follow from the premises). Could it be that people are in Hell for all eternity based upon who they are rather than what they have done?

Think about this. Many of us believe that Christ’s atonement was penal substitution. This means that it was a legal trade. God counted the sufferings of Christ and that which transpired on the Cross as payment for our sins, each and every one. Therefore, we believe that Christ took the punishment that we deserved. But there is a problem. We are saying that we deserve eternal Hell for one single sin, no matter how small. I don’t know about you, but I have committed enough sins to give me more than my share of life sentences. I have committed sins of the”insignificant” variety (I speed everyday) and significant variety (no description necessary!). So, if Christ were only to take my penalty and if I deserve thousands upon thousands of eternities in hell, why didn’t Christ spend at least one eternity in Hell? Why is it that he was off the Cross in six hours, payment made in full? Combine my sentence with your sentence. Then combine ours with the cumulative sentences of all believers of all time. Yet Christ only suffers for a short time? How do we explain this?

You may say to me that I cannot imagine the intensity of suffering that Christ endured while he was on the cross. You may say that the mysterious transaction that took place was worse than eternity in Hell. I would give you the first, but I will have to motivate you to reconsider the second. Think about it. Do you really believe that the person who has been in hell for 27 billion years with 27 billion more times infinity would not look to the sufferings of Christ and say, “You know what? Christ’s six hours of suffering was bad. It is indeed legendary. But I would trade what I am going through any day for six hours, no matter how horrifying it would be.” You see, what makes hell so bad is not simply the intensity of suffering, but the duration. Christ did not suffer eternally, so there must be something more to this substitution idea and there must be something more to sin.

I believe that Christ did pay our penalty. I believe that hell is eternal. But I don’t believe that one sin sends people to hell for eternity. Sin is trivialized in our day. Sin is first something that we do, not something that we are. In other words, people think of God sitting on the throne becoming enraged (in a holy sort of way) each time that someone breaks the speed limit. It is only the cross of Christ that makes Him look past the eternally damning sin and forgive us. Don’t think that I am undermining the severity of sin, but I am trying to bring focus to the real problem that has infected humanity since the Garden.

The real problem is that we are at enmity with God. From the moment we are born, we inherit the traits of our father Adam. This infectious disease is called sin. This disease issues forth into a disposition toward God that causes us to begin life with our fist in the air, not recognizing His love for us or authority over us. It is rebellion. While this rebellion does act according to its nature, the problem is in the disposition, not so much the acts. When we sin, we are just acting according to the dictates of our corrupt nature. But the worst of it—the worst sin of all—is that we will never lower our fist to God. We are “by nature, children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3) and as a leopard cannot change his spots, so we cannot change our rebellious disposition toward our Creator (Jer. 13:23).

This disposition is that of a fierce enemy that cannot do anything but fight against its foe. Paul describes this:

Romans 8:7-8 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

We are of the “flesh,” therefore we commit deeds according to the flesh. Does this mean that the person in this state does no good at all? Well, it depends on what you mean by “good.” Can an enemy of God love his neighbor? Of course. Enemies of God can and do all sorts of acts that the Bible would consider virtuous. But from the standpoint of their relationship with God, they cannot do any good at all (Rom. 3:12). Giving a drink to someone who is thirsty with the left hand while having your right hand in a fist clinched toward heaven does not count as “good” before God. Why? Because we are in rebellion against Him. This is our problem.

This I propose is the only sin that keeps people in Hell for all eternity.

It is important to understand that hell not is filled with people who are crying out for God’s mercy, constantly hoping for a second chance. People are in hell because they have the same disposition toward God that they had while they were walking the earth. They do not suddenly, upon entrance into Hell, change their nature and become sanctified. They still hate God. People are in hell for all eternity, not because they floated a stop sign, but because their fists are still clinched toward God. They are not calling on His mercy. They are not pleading for a second chance. They are in hell for all eternity because that is where they would rather be. It is their nature. As C.S. Lewis once said, “The doors of hell are locked from the inside.”

Christ, on the other hand, was the second Adam. He did not identify with the first either in disposition or choice. He gained the right to be called the second Adam who would represent His people (Rom. 5:12ff). He is not spending eternity in Hell because he was never infected with the sinful nature which caused him to be at enmity with God. His fist was never clinched toward the heavens.

Will one white-lie send someone to Hell for all eternity? No! To say otherwise trivializes sin and makes God an overly sensitive cosmic torture monger. Sin does send people to Hell. People will be punished for their sins accordingly. But the sin that keeps people in Hell for all eternity is the sin of perpetual rebellion.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    18 replies to "“Will One Sin Really Send You to Hell for All Eternity?” or “Why is Hell Eternal?”"

    • gdzprncess

      At first I was not sure where you were going with this but when I got to the end, I understood. And I wholeheartedly, 100% agree. In spite of the many, many ways God chooses to manifest to us, we ignore Him and His sovereignty. It is that choice to fail to acknowledge and honor God that sends one to hell.

    • janet perez

      yeah well i believe one thousand percent in god and it scares to think about going to hell that is the last thing that i want happen to my life

      • Ethan Koskelainen

        God said “go and sin no more”. If you repent and turn from your wicked ways, you will see the Kingdom. When you are in doubt of modern day teachings, pick up your Bible and read it.

    • Todd

      the only sin sending one to hell is rejecting jesus

    • Dennis

      So you are saying God can allow a sinner into Heaven, more or less, wink at sin or just turn his back on it. Would you please list the sins we can commit and still go to heaven. Who in this world has commited only one sin. Which sins did Jesus die for. Thank you for your comments.

    • #John1453

      One error in CMP’s post is thinking of sin as some sort of substance that gets weighed in weigh scales, like those of Allah or the Egyptian god Osiris, and is balanced against the death of Jesus on the other side.

      Another error is in the definition of sin that CMP uses. The Bible defines sin as falling short of the mark. Whether one falls short by an inch or a mile is irrelevant: one has still fallen short.

      Furthermore, every sin is an act of turning away from God, including the so-called white lie.

      CMP’s post also contains an internal contradiction that affects its coherence. CMP first claims “Sin is first something that we do, not something that we are”, then he writes, “The real problem is that we are at enmity with God. From the moment we are born, we inherit the traits of our father Adam. This infectious disease is called sin. This disease issues forth into a disposition toward God that causes us to begin life with our fist in the air”. So, which is it?

      CMP warns at the beginning of his post, “I have to be very careful here since I am going against what has become the popular evangelical way to present the Gospel, but I don’t believe this is true.” But on the contrary, it is he who is wrong.

      The hypothetical “one sin” problem (who has ever committed only one sin) is dealt with by God’s mercy.

      Finally, there is no Biblical warrant for distinguishing between sins that send one to hell and sins that do not. Doesn’t the Bible state that all liars shall have their part in the lake of fire?


    • Lee H

      To the two posts above me: He isn’t saying that you wont go to Hell if you sin once. You will go to Hell (without Jesus) but because of your rejection of God. The act of sin is simply a symptom of the real problem.

      And to the writer of this post (or anyone who can answer) how does this idea of the disposition being the problem apply to Christ death?

      Is rebellion against God a sin like any other so can be forgiven by penal substitution making Hell eternal only because of the continual nature of rebellion against God. What breaks the will of flesh and turns it to God?

      I say this wanting a non-calvinistic answer because the calvinistic answer is simply.

    • clute

      dont listen to this it is made to scare you.
      my bible says that the only sin that will get you to hell is rejecton of god.
      he died on the cross for us and died for our sins .NO ONE IS PERFECT.
      and for you to tell these people that speeding 36 on a 35 sir i feel really bad for you and that just shows your insecure. i sin i go to church when i have time n pray alot. GOD loves everyone.

    • Nick Clenney

      Sin: The deff.is breaking Gods law. When we put our faith in Christ we are no longer under the law,meaning ours sins are not recorded,not imputed into our account on judgement day God will open the books and find no sin. This is explained in first John if you break one law your guilty of all. But rom 10:4 your no longer under the law,
      if you are a believer in Christ. All of this is explained in romans chapter 3 thr chapter 10 Gal.ch 3, 4, 5, just read all of Gal.

    • David

      We have all forgotten about the new covenant that we are living under now, not the old covenant. Our sins have been forgiven past present and future, and in Hebrews 8:12 and also in Jer. 31:31-34 states that he will remember them no more. The only sin that will send you to hell is the rejection of JESUS CHRIST

    • catherine Golden

      I thought this was an interesting, well-thought out post.

      However, one need only to listen to any one of the SEVERAL NDE’s (hell visitations) to be convinced that NO ONE who ends up there would not cry out to the Lord to be saved. In fact many do to no avail. It’s not that they prefer to be there, they just don’t believe while alive they will end up there, even by “default” for making Satan their God. Can’t imagine it being eternal as even one minute in this horrific place would be punishment enough for any type of sin! I believe after making a study for this daily for over a week that the unbelieving will end up in the lake of fire after judgemeht but will perish as scripture says. There’s no moral purpose to eternal torture and even God being infinite, it would still make Him worse than Adolph Hiltler. It would be impossible to worship Him (even if you were saved) but knowing that your family or loved ones were being tortured in hell for eternity. Not only could you not love Him, you would go insane with those thoughts!!!!

    • Gary S

      You’re doing the same thing the JW’s do with their hang up of 3 people claiming to be God and there is only one God. They flatly reject the Trinity because it is impossible for 3 people to be one in any meaningful way. There is no way a person can be distinct and not separate. In their mind, the concept is mutually exclusive. They commit a category fallacy. They are putting their line of reasoning and how reality is supposed to be, and putting God in the same category expecting him to behave the same way. So it is with your line of reasoning. You’re saying Jesus couldn’t have experienced eternal hell because he was only on the cross for three hours. An infinite unmovable force came up against another infinite unmovable force for 3 hours. The sum total and meaning of that event only amounts to 3 hours, by your estimation. From your vantage point, that is the sum of the transaction. But this isn’t totally true, by virtue of the nature of the two objects meeting. It is an event that was covered in darkness from everyone and carries an infinite meaning and result. That’s a category fallacy. In your value of what reality is, that’s true, but we are dealing with a God that claims be categorically different from you and I. You’re trying to reconcile something that cannot be reconciled, from your vantage point. You are correct people are in Hell because of who they are. They are vessels of dishonor to display grace to vessels of honor. They are, seemingly, destined to hell. And yes, God is still all loving, that’s why He sent his son to take on the penalty of sin. Ps 32:1 Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.

    • danielwisdom

      My dear you av spoken well but you also contradicted the bible, y did I say so, u said are in hell because of who there are yes I believe you, but remember that, that you are, are your sins which may take you to hell, example; when a lady av an abortion or a man supports the abortion he or automatically becomes a murderer and that is what you av become except you ask for forgiveness…so u see that what can one to hell is what you chose to become. So to you reading this know that one sin can take person to hell if you didn’t ask for forgiveness, bible said shall we continue in because grace abound? God forbid…don’t say because Christ died for us that we are free without living it out. Holiness is practical, cus without holiness no eyes can see God. God bless of us and give us the grace to understand his judgment amen.

    • yuntboy

      If you say the only thing that’ll take us to hell is by not accepting god so you mean ‘ll should live god commandments and we’ll still be save or we’ll go to heaven?

    • Justin

      Ephesians 2:8-9 for by grace are you saved through faith, not of works lest any man should boast, it is the gift of God.

    • Elmer

      I am so grateful that God is the judge! Some of the responses are so judgemental, and that is wrong in itself?
      I had a brother who struggled with right and wrong, and was so confused by the teaching of his home church. His mental health challenges were never taken into account by some judgemental Christians and he died a lonely death just to escape From constant judgement!
      Some Christian’s even concluded that he went to hell because of suicide- not true- he had a deep desire to serve God but some silly man made ideas destroyed him! He is at peace with God today!

    • Gordon

      This does not resolve the problem of original sin. The idea that “all have sinned” trivializes sin much more than any depiction of God’s insane temper against it.
      The thing is that Original Sin theory says that we are created in the womb by God (Psalm 139) as sinners (Psalm 51) in enmity with God from the beginning of our nature. In other words, God created everyone under Adam rolling in the direction of hell unconditionally (Augustine), but being under Jesus is a conditional (Arminius) or randomly selected (Calvin) thing, that Jesus will only save you if you hear and believe, even if those you hear from abuse you.
      Augustine basically says that God set the building on fire and comes to rescue some of us, or threw us overboard and then throws the buoy to us.
      If so, God is still clearly evil and insane.

    • Linda Edmonson

      The rejection of Jesus Christ is what sends a person to Hell. The Sin of unbelief. Jesus is the only way to heaven, not being good, stop sinning, helping a person across the street and etc. There are a lot of so good people in hell today, who people would think would be in heaven. Perfect example is Mother Theresa. The serial killer Son of Sam is on his way to heaven, which many people do not like, but he put his faith in Jesus Christ and is a born again Believer. People hate that, but that is Grace for you. God bless

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