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 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 buy it. 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 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. We 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 die for me and only me and take my penalty and 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 passed the eternally damning sin and forgive us. Don’t think that I am undermining the severity of sin (read here as I deal more with personal 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? Sure. 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 torcher lover. 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

    59 replies to "Will One White Lie Send You to Hell for All Eternity?"

    • Bible Study

      Beside all that, Anything is possible with God. What is so hard to believe about God being able to empower us to cease from sin? He is god, he can do it, and it does happen. If you cannot cease from sin, I don’t know what to tell you. I guess it is better to believe that we can continue in sin and be saved, even if it is not true. Otherwise we would be stuck in a life full of fear (if we could not or did not want to stop sinning completely), knowing that we are helpless and in trouble. However, regardless of what we believe, the truth is the truth. We must be careful not to deceive ourselves, because we cannot deceive God or change his word. You spoke of my confession, but I would rather have confession that I don’t sin, rather than having confession that I cannot stop. I would also rather have confession that I believe God, and believe he is capable of enabling us to cease from sin. Also, the bible tells us we are to suffer with Christ. The book of Peter again tells us if we “suffer” in the flesh, we have “ceased” from sin. If we do not suffer (cease from sinning), we will not reign with him, according to scripture. It is all throughout the bible, everywhere we turn, we cannot sin and be saved at the same time. What is so hard to see about that?

    • cherylu

      The trouble is Bible Study, that you have had to totally redefine the meaning of “sin” in order to say that you are sin free.

      Don’t you see any problems with that whatsoever?

      And why do you think that Paul keep speaking to Christians mind you, the saved people, in I Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, and Ephesians and telling them, them the saved, to put away everything that is in them of the flesh and not do those things anymore? If the minute they were saved all of this sin was gone and they never did these things anymore, or as you seem to assert, were made so perfect that they coudn’t sin anymore, what is the point of Paul’s insructions?

      Think about it. That doesn’t make sense does it? And it doesn’t work if you believe sins are actual sins of the flesh or if you believe sin is only in the deeper spiritual meaning that you talk about.

      I mean, really, why would you tell people to put away sins and stop doing stuff that they aren’t doing and can’t even do???

    • Bible Study

      Is he really speaking to Christians? The corinthians had many unsaved, carnal people inside the church. Paul was addressing those who continue in sin. Anyway, those verses I have asked about many times continue to go unaddressed. Why is that? Because they are clear, I think. They need no explanation. While other verses can be interpreted different ways, such as the ones you have mentioned. We should base other scriptures off the clear doctrine of clearly defined scripture. The scriptures must all fall in line with one another. If one set of scriptures seems to contradict the others, we should stay close to the scriptures that are clearly defined. We can argue whether or not he was speaking to Christians, interpretations of these verses will vary, but the ones that say “he that is born of god cannot commit sin” are not open to private interpretation, and well no scripture really is. However, many seek to misinterpret the scripture, to make it fit their own life, even when their interpretation clearly negates other clearly defined scripture.

    • cherylu

      Yes Bible Study, he is talking to Christians Just look at these verses in Colssians:

      “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, [who is] our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry……”
      Colossians 3:3-5

      Noitice he is talking to those who are dead, whose life is hid with Christ and who will appear with Him in glory. Then he tells them that because of this they are to put to death all of these evil things in themselvs. They couldn’t put them to death if they weren’t there to put to death now could they?

    • Bible Study

      I do not disagree with that. He is speaking to Christians, but do you realize that Paul knew that this would be read in the congregation where many unsaved would be. Paul knew the words he wrote, to Christians, would also be seen, heard, and read by the unsaved. You are using logic, natural only to understand the bible, like why would he tell christians not to sin if they couldn’t anyway. you thought this didn’t make sense. However, the verse you just quoted, mentioned that they were dead already right? So why did he tell them to “mortify” or kill what is already dead? Like I said before the bible is complicated for a reason. People will see what they want and believe what they want. God sent strong delusion that many would believe a lie and be damned that had pleasure in unrighteousness and would not cease from sin. Again, through your own reasoning, why would he tell those who are already dead to mortify themselves? Clearly because he knew some would hear these words who were not dead yet. Again, what do you do with basically the entire book of 1 John among many other scriptures that teach Christians do not sin? Namely, the parts “he that sinneth is of the devil”, “he that is born of God doth not commit sin, and he cannot sin because he is born of God”, etc., etc., etc. We cannot use natural logic, reasoning and understanding with the word of God. This is a spiritual book with hidden wisdom. The world by wisdom does not know God, yet many believe they do and continue in sin. If we sin one sin, what makes us better than those who sin multiple times every day? Sin makes us guilty, regardless of how many or how big the sin may be. No unclean thing will touch the mountain of God, not even one slightly unclean thing. Except we repent, we will perish regardless of what anybody thinks or believes. Please address the scriptures I have presented to you many times without response.

    • Bible Study

      Also those verses you quoted go on to speak that these things are disobedience. The wrath of God comes on the “children” of disobedience because of these things, according to this scripture. Using only that, you could see the truth if you would. For the scripture speaks many more times of the disobedient, that they will not inherit the kingdom of God. Thessalonians says those who ‘obey not” will be punished with an everlasting destruction. If you sin, you are not obeying and will be punished with destruction. However, whosoever believes will not perish. Therefore, those who believe (because they will not perish must not be disobedient) doing the things that brings wrath.

    • cherylu

      Bible Study,

      May I suggest that you read these two commentaries from well known Bible commentators from the past? The links I am giving are for the first chapter of first John. Read what they both have to say about the verses we have discussed about sin and the Christian (or the unbeliever as you think it to mean), in that chapter.



      Most commentators and teachers/pastors etc that I know believe the verses in I John that say we can not sin mean something to the effect of we can’t continually live in sin as a Christian, not that we never sin at all. I have read that the Greek grammar supports this but I do not know if that is correct or not.

      And please remember, if your understanding is correct, Peter, Paul, the two women Paul spoke of, etc. were none of them Christians. Even though it makes it very plain in the Bible that they were.

      I probably won’t be able to continue this conversation anymore as I don’t believe I have the time or energy for it at this point. Just so you know why if I don’t reply to anymore comments that you make.

    • Bible Study

      I don’t think you can take that one cannot continually live in sin from “he that is born of god doth not commit sin, and he cannot sin”. If one cannot do something, it is not the same as someone does not continually do something. And I understand, about the whole not responding to this conversation. We just see things totally different I guess. That’s ok with me, you have not injured me at all, and I certainly hope the same for you.

    • Bible Study

      Oh well, I guess it is on to something else for discussion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.