If Jesus died for the world’s sins, why do people still go to hell?

Well, if you believe in a limited atonement, the answer is easy: Jesus didn’t die for the world’s sins, he only died for the elect.

However, if you have followed my writing, you’ll know that I am not a Calvinist and believe in an unlimited atonement, as even John Calvin did!

Consider the following verses:

For in this way God loved the world, so that he gave his one and only Son, in order that everyone who believes in him will not perish, but will have eternal life.

John 3:16 | Lexham English Bible

And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 2:2 | Lexham English Bible

I believe these verses, among others, clearly teach that Jesus died for the sins of the world. I’m skipping the exegesis of these verses because that isn’t the focus of this article. I’m aware that people will disagree. We can discuss that another time.

So, here is the question: If Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for everyone’s sins, why isn’t everyone saved?

Believing Loyalty

If you trace the story of the Bible from cover to cover what you will find is a similar pattern: God makes something good, people sin and mess it up, and God saves the day. I may have skipped a few things.

Take the story of King David, to join in the cliche.

David is a long shot from the type of person you would expect to become King. He is the youngest of his brothers and nothing about him shouts “King!”

However, he is exactly the sort of person that God seems to like to use for his purposes. By the way, this should give us comfort. God likes to use “nobodies” so that he can get all the glory.

David clearly didn’t become king because of himself. God gets all the glory.

Anyway, David has an amazing story that leads to him, against all odds, becoming king. “Yay! God is amazing!”

What happens? David does something horrible. In fact, he does something unimaginable. He sleeps with one of his loyal soldiers’ wife and she becomes pregnant. To cover up his sin, David tells the soldier to go home from battle and lay with his wife. The soldier, out of service, refuses, and so David has him sent to the front lines where he will surely die. Effectively, David commits adultery (rape?) and murder.

Yeah, it’s awful.

David loses his child because of this. He cries out to God in repentance, and after all of this David is still called “a man after God’s own heart.”

Excuse me?

Yes, God still accepts David as his own.

Though David had personal failures, to say the least, God still forgave David and accepted him.

What this reveals to me is that what God really wants is believing loyalty.

David never chased after foreign gods, or rejected his God. In a sense, he turned his back on God, yes. But his sin did not keep him from God. He repented and turned back.

Unbelief

I quoted John 3:16 above. The next verse says:

For God did not send his Son into the world in order that he should judge the world, but in order that the world should be saved through him. The one who believes in him is not judged, but the one who does not believe has already been judged, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. And this is the judgment: that the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who practices evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds be exposed. But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, in order that his deeds may be revealed, that they are done in God.

John 3:17-21 | Lexham English Bible

These verses reveal that “judgment” does not come upon someone for moral wrong doing, but rather unfaithfulness, or disloyalty. The one who does not believe is judged.

People go to hell not because they have made immoral choices, but because they have made a disloyal choice. Okay, that was a pretty good one-liner.

This understanding helps us to answer the original question. While Jesus died for the whole world’s sins, individuals still have to place their faith in Him for salvation.

Just like in the Old Testament, so in the New Testament. What God is after is believing loyalty.

The Sin of Unbelief

Isn’t unbelief a sin? If Jesus died for all sins, then didn’t he die for the sin of unbelief? If so, then everyone should be saved.

Still, no.

Unbelief is a sin. Rejecting God is a sin. And yes, Jesus died for this sin as well. The problem with the question, or objection, is that it assumes the benefits of Christ’s atoning death are immediately applied to everyone.

They aren’t. The benefits of Christ’s death–forgiveness, reconciliation, justification, etc.–are applied when a person believes, at the moment of faith (Ephesians 1:13).

In this way, Jesus’ death is sufficient for everyone. If everyone chose to believe, everyone’s sins would be forgive.

However, Jesus’ death is only efficient for those who believe. Anyone who does not believe is still in sin and under judgment. They are still guilty.

So, the key to answering this question does not have to do with the sufficiency or efficiency of Christ’s death, but the moment of application of the benefits of Christ’s death.

Eternal Punishment?

I would argue this also helps us answer another question. Why is the punishment for sin eternal?

Look back to the verses in John three quoted above. They are being judged for unbelief, not individual moral sin.

So, you might have a case if you were to say, “It doesn’t seem fair that God would send me to hell for cheating on my math test. Sure, it was wrong, but eternal damnation? Really?”

To be sure, I still don’t think you would have a case. However, this question is based on a miss understanding.

  1. It is unbelief that “sends someone to hell.”
  2. If that^ is true, then people send themselves to hell, not God.

God is essentially giving unbelievers what they want. If you reject God, God will give you an eternity away from him (a.k.a. hell).

As C.S. Lewis said: In the end, everyone gets what they want, except God. Unbelievers get an eternity away from him. Believers get an eternity with him. But God desires that everyone spend eternity with him, so he does not get what he wants.

Your sins have been paid, do you believe?

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Published by Haden Clark

Husband / Dog Dad / B.A. Business Administration / M.A. Theological Studies / M.B.A. Finance

13 thoughts on “If Jesus died for the world’s sins, why do people still go to hell?

  1. Thank you for this truthful post, 💯% spot on❗️Love the theology you’ve explained and made simple so that everyone can understand❤️Very well written easy to understand piece. God Bless you, Malinda 🙌🏼✝️🙌🏼

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kind of a related comment but what are your thoughts on annihilationism? Theologians describe hell as eternal separation from God but coupled with that, the bible also describes hell as a place where the worm does not die. According to the traditional view of hell and of the human spirit, eternal conscious torment seems to be the only possibility. Do you hold to that?

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    1. Jae Kim,
      It’s not a subject with which I am greatly familiar. I have not studied the topic as much as I have other topics. However, I tend more toward a C.S. Lewis understanding of hell. My friend Michael Jones from Inspiring philosophy came on to my podcast to discuss this issue actually. Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/1VnEYQX1DE0

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  3. But if faith and salvation is a gift from God to people who are dead in sin (Eph 2), how is a person’s belief alone the thing that separates the saved from the lost. How does a spiritually dead person do anything before Christ makes us alive? I believe in salvation by grace (God’s undeserved gift) though faith (which is itself a gift, as is repentance). God’s free choice as to whom that gift is given seems to me to be the decisive thing. As John says (John 1:12-13), we who believe are born not of blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’s will. In John 3, Jesus says that this new birth in not in our control, but in the control of the Spirit of God. To leave out of consideration the meaning of “all” (all without exception, or all sorts of people) is to beg the question. And, as John Owen once said, it Christ really died for all without distinction, then all must be saved. Otherwise something other than Christ’s work would be needed to be done by sinful, dead humanity to save us. Such a view seems to be quite out of keeping with the grace of God in Christ.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 1. Gifts must still be accepted, so I can affirm all of that without the Calvinism.
      2. Nowhere in the text does Paul say “dead” = unable to believe.
      3. If you really believe “God’s free choice” is the decisive factor in individuals’ salvation, then you must affirm that “God’s free choice” not to save others is the decisive factor in them going to hell.
      4. John 3 doesn’t say that anywhere.
      5. Absolutely no indication from the text that “all” means anything other than “all without exception.” “All without distinction” or “all kinds of people” is read in to the text by people trying to avoid the obvious. Also, the Greek won’t allow it.
      6. I just answered John Owen’s statement in the blog article. That was the purpose of the article.
      7. Jesus’ work on the cross made atonement for our sins, we must accept this free gift from God in faith.
      8. You give no reasons as to why this is “out of keeping with the grace of God in Christ.” Non-Calvinists, like myself, still believe in God’s grace and that God’s grace precedes man’s faith. We have God’s grace in creation, God’s grace at the Cross, God’s grace in sending us the good news, etc. All of this precedes our free decision to believe, or not.

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      1. Thanks. In order…
        1. Indeed, and Paul says the whole deal, grace, faith, salvation is a gift of God to those who have been made alive in Christ.
        2. Spiritually dead people cannot do anything of a good spiritual. The natural man cannot receive the things of God (compare 1 Cor 2:14).
        3. Not at all. That God choose to save some sinners does not obligate him to save all. Adam freely sinned and brought death (both physical and spiritual) on himself and his descendants. We all freely followed Adam and were on our way to judgment due to our own fault. God freely choices to save some out of that mess by His mere love.
        4, John 3:8 (regarding the new birth by the Spirit) “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not where it comes from or where it goes, in the same way is anyone who is born of the Spirit”. We are born, not of our own will, but of God’s John 1:13.
        5. The Greek certainly allows it. Moulton Grammar of the NT, vol 3 (syntax) “First of all, pas before an anarthrous noun means every in the sense of any; not every individual” Moulton goes on to say pas can also mean the whole of, or any.
        6. I’ll leave Owen’s words to apply their own force.
        7. But faith is a gift to those whom God makes alive. Dead people do nothing.
        8. Salvation is either by grace or works. If by grace, it is not of unaided human endeavour. If it is of human endeavour, it is not of grace (Romans 11:6). God told Moses that he would have mercy on who He would have mercy, and have compassion on whom He would have compassion.
        God bless.

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  4. I’m not a Christian, but just out of curiosity…what if someone was to believe in Christianity but not repent for their sins, would they still go to heaven? I’m curious since the example you gave involved repentance.

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