A Duty to Warn?
Tony Cooke

A Duty to Warn? by Tony CookeIf a bridge is out, and someone puts up a sign informing me of that, is that a negative thing? Does a person really love me if he sees me heading toward catastrophe and neglects to warn me?

Make no mistake about it, the calling and assignment of a minister is to proclaim the Gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ! Jesus directs his original disciples: “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone” (Mark 16:15, NLT). The very next verse, though, is most sobering. Jesus proceeds to say, “Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16, NLT).

We all rejoice over the gospel! That is our message: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NLT). That is good news indeed, but did Jesus muddy the waters when he also brought up the fate of those who reject the gospel? If we encourage people to follow Jesus and to study his words, they are going to hear several warnings from his very lips. For example:

  • Jesus told a gripping story about a man who died and went to hell (Hades). In that story, the man pleads for Abraham to send a messenger to his father’s home: “For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment” (Luke 16:28, NLT).
  • Stern words came from the mouth of Jesus when he said, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28, NLT).
  • Jesus issued another warning in Matthew 11:23-24 (ESV): “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

These are just a few of the warnings Jesus issued to those who rejected God. As a matter of fact, Jesus said more about hell than any other person in the Bible, and yet he was (and is) the greatest expression of love ever known or revealed to man. Vance Havner relates, “When I pastored a country church, a farmer didn’t like the sermons I preached on hell. He said, ‘Preach about the meek and lowly Jesus.’ I said, ‘That’s where I got my information about hell.’”

Was Jesus just “selling fire insurance?” Did Jesus threaten people in a way that is contrary to the gospel or the love of God? No! True love warns people if it sees them heading toward destruction.

Unfortunately, some people grew up in church settings that were predominantly negative, and seemingly every message was one of “turn or burn.” Others have expressed that they were constantly beat over the head about their sins and were continually condemned from the pulpit. That is regrettable, and that is certainly not what I am advocating.

People need to be loved, encouraged, edified, and comforted. People need to be fed the good word of God! However, we must not go from one ditch—from one extreme—to another. If we have seen inappropriate and imbalanced presentations of hell, this does not give us permission to ignore and omit what the New Testament actually teaches about it.

Let’s explore a few examples from Paul’s ministry in the book of Acts. For example, in Acts 13, Paul is preaching in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia. I encourage you to read his entire message, but the good news he presents is clear: “Brothers, listen! We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Everyone who believes in him is declared right with God—something the law of Moses could never do” (Acts 13:38-39, NLT).

Some believed (see Acts 13:43), but eventually, others rejected Paul’s message and actually opposed him. Consider the response: “Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and declared, ‘It was necessary that we first preach the word of God to you Jews. But since you have rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to the Gentiles’” (Acts 13:46, NLT). Did you notice that? The apostles openly state that those who reject the gospel judge themselves unworthy of eternal life. This squares perfectly with Jesus’ words in Mark 16:16, “Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.”

Another example from Paul’s ministry in Acts involves a Roman government official named Felix. This leader had some knowledge about “the Way,” and Paul’s conversation with him and his wife is very interesting.

A few days later Felix came back with his wife, Drusilla, who was Jewish. Sending for Paul, they listened as he told them about faith in Christ Jesus. As he reasoned with them about righteousness and self-control and the coming day of judgment, Felix became frightened. “Go away for now,” he replied. “When it is more convenient, I’ll call for you again.” (Acts 24:24-25, NLT).

It is interesting that Paul’s overall topic of conversation was “about faith in Christ,” and this conversation eventually led to discussing “the coming day of judgment.” Again, I don’t think Paul was threatening Felix, but he was telling him the truth. All that Paul told him pertained to “faith in Christ.”

I propose that Paul makes it very clear that he felt a strong “duty to warn.” We can see this in two statements he makes regarding the blood of others. Consider these two statements he makes:

But when they opposed and insulted him, Paul shook the dust from his clothes and said, “Your blood is upon your own heads—I am innocent” (Acts 18:6, NLT).

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26-27, NKJV).

To the modern reader, the terminology Paul uses might seem very strange. What does he mean when he says that he is innocent of the blood of others? To appreciate Paul’s perspective, it is helpful to consider what God communicated to the prophet Ezekiel about his “duty to warn.”

Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul. (Ezek 3:17-19, NKJV).

This same principle is reiterated in Ezekiel 33:7-9, and Paul applied this same principle of responsibility to himself and his own ministry.

While Scripture is the foundation for our belief and practice, we can also learn from the experiences different people have (of course, all experiences are to be evaluated in the light of God’s Word). Kenneth Hagin wrote a powerful mini-book entitled I Went to Hell. It is a very quick read, but leaves a powerful impression. In another book, Brother Hagin relates an experience he had as a teenager when his heart stopped.

I wish I had adequate words to describe the horrors of hell. People go through this life so complacently, so unconcerned, as if they will not have to face hell. But God’s Word and my own personal experience tell me differently. I know what it is to be unconscious — it is black when you are unconscious — but there is no blackness to compare with outer darkness.

As I began to descend in the darkness this third time, my spirit cried out, “God, I belong to the church! I’ve been baptized in water!” I waited for Him to answer, but no answer came — only the echo of my own voice as it came back to mock me.

It will take more than church membership—it will take more than being baptized in water—to miss hell and make heaven. Jesus said, “…Ye must be born again” (John 3:7).

Certainly I believe in being baptized in water—but only after a person is born again. Certainly I believe in joining the church—but only after a person is born again. If you merely join the church and are baptized in water without being born again, you will go to hell! [1]

Brother Hagin proceeds to tell how the Lord brought him back from that horrible place, and later he writes of another spiritual experience he had years later:

Jesus was standing there, and I stood in His presence. He was holding a crown in His hands. This crown was so extraordinarily beautiful that human language cannot begin to describe it.

Jesus told me, “This is a soul-winner’s crown. My people are so careless and indifferent. This crown is for every one of my children. I speak and say, ‘Go speak to this one or pray for that one,’ but my people are too busy. They put it off, and souls are lost because they will not obey Me.”

When Jesus said that, I wept before Him. I knelt down and repented of my failures. Then Jesus said to me again, “Come up hither.” It seemed as if I went with Him through the air until we came to a beautiful city. We did not actually go into the city, but we beheld it at close range as one might go up on a mountain and look down on a city in the valley. Its beauty was beyond words!

Jesus said that people selfishly say they are ready for heaven. They talk about their mansions and the glories of heaven while many around them live in darkness and hopelessness. Jesus said I should share my hope with them and invite them to come to heaven with me.

Then Jesus turned to me and said, “Now let us go down to hell.”

We came back down out of heaven, and when we got to earth we didn’t stop, but kept going. Numerous Scriptures in the Bible refer to hell as being beneath us. For example, “Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming… thou shalt be brought down to hell…”(Isa. 14:9,15). “Therefore hell hath enlarged herself. . . and he… shall descend into it” (Isa. 5:14).

We went down to hell, and as we went into that place I saw what appeared to be human beings wrapped in flames. I said, “Lord, this looks just like it did when I died and came to this place on April 22, 1933. You spoke and I came back up out of here. I then repented and prayed, seeking your forgiveness, and You saved me. Only now I feel so different: I am neither afraid nor horrified, as I was then.”

Jesus told me, “Warn men and women about this place,” and I cried out with tears that I would. [2]

When he was alive, Brother Hagin was adamant in telling people not to accept anything he said unless it lined up with the Bible. Brother Hagin was primarily known for teaching on such topics as faith, walking in love, and how to be led by the Spirit, but he did not neglect to tell people that there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun.

Hell is certainly not our primary message; Jesus Christ is. The goodness of God is. Our messages are to be love-based and love-motivated, but true love warns people if it sees them heading toward destruction. Perhaps this is the balance Jude was communicating when he writes, “on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh” (Jude 22-23, NKJV).

Below are some quotes from great men of God from the past few centuries. I hope you find them encouraging.

Would that God would make hell so real to us that we cannot rest; heaven so real that we must have men there; Christ so real that our supreme motive and aim shall be to make the Man of Sorrows the Man of Joy by the conversion to him of many.
– J. Hudson Taylor

Most Christian ministries would like to send their recruits to Bible college for five years. I would like to send our recruits to hell for five minutes. That would do more than anything else to prepare them for a lifetime of compassionate ministry.
– William Booth

I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and heaven without hell.
– William Booth

No one should ever preach on the topic of hell without a tear in his eye.
– D.L. Moody

It is a very remarkable fact that no inspired preacher of whom we have any record ever uttered such terrible words concerning the destiny of the lost as our Lord Jesus Christ.
– Charles Spurgeon

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 unprayed for.
– Charles Spurgeon

Think lightly of hell, and you will think lightly of the cross. Think little of the sufferings of lost souls, and you will soon think little of the Savior who delivers them.
– Charles Spurgeon

If I never spoke of hell, I should think I had kept back something that was profitable, and should look on myself as an accomplice of the devil.
– J. C. Ryle

There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than the doctrine of hell, if it lay in my power.  But it has the full support of Scripture and, especially, of our Lord’s own words; it has always been held by the Christian Church, and it has the support of reason.
– C.S. Lewis

A group of servicemen asked their new chaplain if he believed in a real hell for lost sinners, and he smiled and told them that he did not. “Then you are wasting your time,” the men replied. “If there is no hell, we don’t need you; and if there is a hell, you are leading us astray. Either way, we’re better off without you!”
– Warren Wiersbe

No one spoke more about hell than Jesus did, and the hell He came to save men from was not only a hell on earth… it was something to come.
– Billy Graham

I am conscious of the fact that the subject of hell is not a very pleasant one. It is very unpopular, controversial, and misunderstood… As a minister, I must deal with it. I cannot ignore it.
– Billy Graham

Many people have reacted to the hellfire-and-brimstone preaching as it’s called, and said, “Well, I don’t like that kind of preaching.” But frankly, I can’t remember the last time I heard a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher. We’ve swung so far to the other side that we’ve lost sight of the importance of what the Scripture says, that we need to warn some, and they need to know that there are consequences for their sin. To leave that out is to do them a disservice, and it is to fail to declare the whole counsel of God. We certainly shouldn’t do it in a gleeful manner, but with compassion and love, and warning them that the last thing God wants is for any person created in his image to end up separated from him in this place called hell.
– Greg Laurie

My prayer is to be a faithful servant, full of grace and truth, and I pray that for all other ministers and believers as well.

Note: Billy Graham provides a simple and insightful response to an inquiry about hell on the BGEA website. https://billygraham.org/answer/did-jesus-ever-say-anything-about-hell-i-dont-believe-in-hell-myself/

[1] Kenneth E. Hagin, I Believe in Visions, 2nded. (Tulsa, Oklahoma, Faith Library Publications, 1984), 9-10.

[2] Ibid., 40-41.