Francis Chan recently wrote an article with a very provocative title, “Francis Chan: Failure to Help the Poor Could Send You to Hell” that can be found [here]. It immediately causes a confusion between the law and gospel. What would send anyone to hell is not a ‘fruit’ of the sin nature, but the sin nature itself and dying in your sin apart from the imputed righteousness of Christ. And if you are in Christ, not helping the poor will not send you to hell because Christ has paid for your sins. Before you think this paper will be nothing but heresay, let’s look at what he says in the article, taking it apart paragraph by paragraph. Perhaps the article clears up the confusion. His words will be in blue, and mine in black:
The other morning, I woke up to start writing, as I’ve been doing for the past few weeks, and I decided to do something different. I closed my laptop and just read through all of these passages on hell. I didn’t think about writing; I didn’t try to figure out all the nitty-gritty details of the text. I just let the New Testament speak in its power and simplicity, and here are some of the shocking things that God hit me with.
Chan is letting us know that the following observations were given to him by God. Let’s take a look.
Jesus threatens hell to those who curse their brother (Matt. 5:22). He’s not warning drinkers or smokers or murderers. Jesus preaches hellfire against those who have the audacity to attack a fellow human being with harsh words. It’s ironic—frightening, actually—that some people have written books, preached sermons, or written blog posts about hell and missed this point completely. In fact, some people have slammed their Christian brothers and sisters in the process, simply because they have a different view of hell, missing the purpose of Matthew 5: Whoever calls his brother a fool may find himself guilty of hell.
Francis says that Jesus is threatening those who curse their brothers with hell. He then says that some have slammed their Christian brother or sister over interpretive differences concerning hell. Here is what Matthew 5:22 says, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” Matthew 5:22 is part of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” He isn’t threatening them, but explaining what such things deserve. It’s true that sin deserves death. And for a lot of self righteous folks, calling someone a fool could never warrant God’s wrath. Only things like murder or rape could ever earn that. But Jesus explains how offensive the heart is and what it produces, just like he does elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount – ie. lusting and adultery. Matthew 5:21, the verse just before says, “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ Then comes verse 22 with, “But…” Jesus is laying the law on pretty thick and crushing anyone in its path. The law, as it is intended to do, only gives strength to our sin. That is, when anyone compares themselves to it, they can’t stand. Francis says, “whoever calls his brother a fool ‘may’ find himself guilty of hell.” There is no “may” in the text. It’s definite. If you are a Christian and you call your brother a fool, you ARE guilty enough to go into a fiery hell.
Have you called your brother a fool lately? On a blog? On Facebook? Have you tweeted anything of the sort?
And here is where it gets muddy. Yes. I have called a brother a fool, and so have you. That’s the point of the law. To condemn all of us. In fact, Scripture says that when you break just one of God’s laws, we break all of God’s laws. So, every time you sin, multiply that sin by ten. And by the way, you sin all the time. That’s how much you deserve hell. Christ didn’t inform people of their utter depravity so that they’d try harder. It was so that they could look no where else but to Him.
Theologically, the “third use of the law” is when we look at the law to show us what a good work is. For those in Christ, they are free to do the law, knowing that when they have broken it they don’t face hell. Instead, we are reminded of Christ’s perfect obedience to fulfill the law on behalf of those who believe. The assurance I have is not in whether or not I have called someone an idiot more or less times today, it is in the finished work of Christ. Our sin was credited to Him, and His perfect obedience and righteousness is credited to us. As a result, those who believe this awesome news are viewed as being perfectly obedient and righteous 24/7 – even when we aren’t.
So often, these hell passages become fodder for debate, and people miss the point of the warning. Jesus didn’t speak of hell so that we could study, debate, and write books about it. He gave us these passages so that we would live holy lives. Stop slandering one another, and live in peace and brotherly unity. Jesus evidently hates it when we tear into our brothers or sisters with demeaning words, words that fail to honor the people around us as the beautiful image-bearing creatures that they are.
And here is a little more confusion. The title of Chan’s article is the first thing anyone will probably read. It sets the tone of the paper. “Failure to do this can send you to hell.” Then we get this first support text saying that “If we call someone a fool, we may go to hell.” But now Chan is saying that this verse was provided to help us live holy lives. This was really the same kind of stuff that confused me early on when I began going to Bible college. There were a lot of folks saying, “Don’t do this because you may go to hell, and God wants us to be holy with it, etc.” I gradually became burdened because I wasn’t sure if I was holy enough. Even when I proclaimed that Christ keeps us and none could snatch us out of His hand, I wondered if I was really saved. I would take a verse like this (and I did), and keep myself from saying “you fool” and look down at those who would say it. I prided myself on it as though I had finally conquered a sin in my life, and that perhaps God was more pleased with me than before. I was holy.
As Christians, we shouldn’t seek to gratify the flesh whenever we get the chance. There are certainly instances when I can keep myself from doing something. But it’s like saying, “I haven’t killed!” and all the while, you had hated another at some point or cursed them inaudibly in your heart. Again, Christians don’t look to the law as a rule for how we better live if we don’t want to go to hell. Can’t stress that enough. Whenever you preach the law, the very moment your hearers are burdened by it, rush in with the gospel. To preach law to believers and non believers alike, without Christ, is cruelty. It can seem so spiritual and sanctified when you use Jesus’ name too. Jesus doesn’t want you to do this, and Jesus doesn’t want you to do that. And Jesus just becomes the new Moses, giving another ten commandments to follow or die.
Reader, don’t call your brother an idiot. But if and/or when you do, confess your sin to Christ and remember His grace that has set you free.
Blessed Are the Poor
And what about the poor? Jesus is crystal clear about the necessity of reaching the poor. Yet many hellfire preachers are overfed and overpaid, living in luxury while doing nothing for the majority of Christians who live on less than two dollars a day.  Contrast that with Jesus, who in His longest sermon about judgment made helping the poor a vital criterion.
Yes, there are many abuses with “pastors” in the visible church. Many guys are in it for the money. That’s obvious. Just watch TBN some time. Just look at the G12 movement. But there are also pastors who aren’t overfed or overpaid who don’t do anything for Christians who live on less than two bucks a day either. In fact, reader, what do you do to help the poor? Feeling burdened by that? Are you doing enough for the poor? Is supporting a homeless ministry financially enough? Maybe you should feed them personally. I guarantee that many of these overfed and overpaid pastors have homeless ministries and ministries like that. In fact, some of the “wolfiest” churches are the busiest churches. Some of the “wolfiest” churches are the ones carrying the ugly social gospel. They are the ones who are really trying to feed the poor.
Jesus made helping the poor a “vital criterion?” For what? Being saved? Helping the poor is a good thing, but it isn’t vitally important, and it isn’t our goal. Our goal is to preach the gospel to poor people and rich people and middle class people and everyone everywhere so that in doing so, people who are currently walking around spiritually DEAD might walk in new life.
Put simply, failing to help the poor could damn you to hell.
Yikes. Well, guys, get to work then.
I know, I know, everyone wants to qualify this. We want to add all sorts of footnotes to fix Jesus’ shaky theology in Matthew 25—justification is by faith, not by works; you don’t really have to help literal poor people, etc. 
And here is his supporting text – Matthew 25:31-46:
31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them,you did it to Me.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 “Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45 “Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Jesus’ theology isn’t “shaky” here. I understand how it might appear that way if you take a view that says “Yah, I know we want to qualify this, justification by faith, etc. but if you curse someone or don’t feed the poor, you may go to hell.” Matthew 25 is speaking of Christ separating the sheep and the goats. The sheep are His people, and the goats are not. Jesus doesn’t separate them based on their works. He separates them based on their species. The species of the animal determines the works, not the other way around. The sheep do the good works defined for us in the text, while the goats don’t.
You might be saying, “I know people who aren’t Christians who feed the poor, visit guys in prison, etc.” It is important to note two things. 1) God isn’t pleased with any works whatsoever. He is pleased simply with faith… not how worksy that faith is. Just faith. Secondly, Jesus qualifies the object of the good works in Matthew 25: “you did it to one of these brothers of Mine.” Jesus is speaking of Christians – the disciples who would go out into the earth and preach the good news. Sheep love the sheep, and the goats hate the sheep because they hate Christ and His message.
Also, did you notice that the sheep didn’t know they were doing these works? They asked, “When did we do this?” Matthew 25 isn’t a picture of Christ “rewarding” good works with eternal life, or bad works with hell. It is a picture of Christ separating Christians and non Christians. This isn’t me trying to repair Jesus’ shaky theology. It’s what the text says.
On the flipside, some want to keep the stuff about helping the poor but take hell out of the picture. Sometimes, people even take Jesus out of the picture—fighting poverty, they believe, is an inherent virtue whether or not it’s rooted in the gospel.
Let’s keep the teeth of both truths. There’s a literal hell, and helping the poor is essential. Not only did Jesus teach both of these truths, He saw them as necessary and interrelated.
Helping the poor is good. But not doing it won’t send you to hell. Do you not feed the poor and feel burdened about not doing so? Confess your sin to Christ, remember that He has paid for every sin of those who believe. Then, go help the poor if you want to. But don’t do it because you think you have to. In other words, don’t place yourself under a yoke of slavery to a new law.
The Tongue of Fire
James doesn’t say much about hell in his short epistle. In fact, the word hell only occurs once. But this one instance is directed right at me, a teacher of the Bible. In the context of warning teachers that they will incur a stricter judgment (James 3:1), James says that the tongue is capable of burning up an entire forest (v. 5). “The tongue is a fire,” James says, and it is ignited by the fire of hell (v. 6). He doesn’t warn drunks, thieves, or adulterers about going to hell. No doubt James agrees that sinners of all sorts will go to hell, but for some sobering reason, he saves his only explicit—and quite scathing—warning about hell for teachers of God’s Word.
This isn’t a warning about going to hell. The apostle is telling us about our own wickedness. He isn’t saying, “If you don’t put that tongue into submission, you’ll go to hell!” He is using hyperbole to describe our own depravity. Check this out:
8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.
James ends by saying, “It shouldn’t be this way,” but in verse 8 he begins by saying, “NO ONE can tame the tongue.” That is NO ONE. What do we do then? Where do we go then, when we don’t want to sin with our tongues. Where do we go since we know that NO ONE can tame it? We pray. We ask the Lord to help us as David did in Psalm 141:
“3 Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips. “
Those in Christ have been made new creatures. The desire to live in holiness and glorify God is in us. But it wars with our sinfulness. So often we don’t want to do evil, but we do. We can say with James, “It shouldn’t be this way.” But it is. And it is shameful. And sin is shameful. But we know that when we sin, we have an Advocate with the Father – that is, Jesus Christ (1 John 2:1), who had satisfied the wrath of God on our behalf.
The same goes for 2 Peter and Jude. These short letters are full of hellfire and emphasize that hell is a place for false teachers—those who claim to be speaking for God but are really only speaking for themselves. According to Peter and Jude, these teachers are among us, exploiting us with false words. They speak a lot about God, but the gods they really delight in are their own bellies and wallets. Peter and Jude say they are heading for hell.
I agree. False teachers will go to hell. What is Chan suggesting? That you might be a false teacher? Well, that is a possibility. But what is the remedy? Feeding the poor? Not calling someone a fool? No. Anyone can fake having fruit. Everyone should be tested by doctrine, and whether or not they believe the gospel.
1 John 4:1-2
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
From Every Tribe and Tongue
Or take racism. The Christian church in many ages and in many places has stood on the wrong side of this issue, and it’s damnable—literally. What’s racism got to do with hell? you may ask. According to Jesus, it’s got everything to do with it.
Yes. Racism is bad, but anyone who faces the second death doesn’t do so because of their racism. That is a fruit of the problem. The reason they go to hell is because they are sinners. If you are truly in Christ, racism won’t send you to hell. If Christ has you, He has you. No one can pluck you from His hand, including you. Racism is ugly, and it’s a sin. If you profess to believe the gospel, and you are racist, repent of your sin, confess your sin to Christ and remember your Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ.
In Matthew 8, Jesus smuggles a warning about hell into the context of racism and ethnocentrism. The entire context of Matthew 8-9 depicts Jesus reversing all of the cultural and social assumptions of the Jews of that day. One assumption is that the Jews, as the “people of God,” are much more fit for the kingdom than all those other nasty sinners—those Gentiles, those Greeks, those Romans. But in Matthew 8, Jesus is absolutely floored by the faith of a Roman Gentile military leader. And Jesus accepted him as he was, as a Gentile. From this encounter, Jesus says that the “sons of the kingdom” who think that God values one ethnicity over another are damned to hell: “The sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 8:12 NASB)
The issue wasn’t really that they were racist. They sort of had reason to be. They had been given the oracles of God, the prophets, and one day the Messiah. God met with them in the Holy of Holies. They were reminded that they were the chosen people of God in this way. They were told to not intermarry with other cultures. Their laws also physically separated them from other nations. In the times when they would intermarry or mix with or trust other nations, God would punish them for breaking the covenant He had with them.
The problem was that despite all of this, they thought that their personal worth was higher. And this happens within the church too. Certainly many professing Christians will say, “Can you believe what they did? I would never…” And this is subtly the same exact thing. The Jews had no reason to think they were any better than anyone. And not everyone of them did. Isaiah knew that his righteousness was like filthy rags. David knew that God had to incline his heart toward Him and guard his lips. When we look down on an unbeliever, for instance, which happens often, we need to remember that if it wasn’t for God’s grace and God’s purposes, we’d be exactly where they are. We haven’t done anything for ourselves except for being born deserving hell. Our faith and repentance are even given to us by God.
Why is it that only 5.5 percent of American evangelical churches could be considered multiethnic (where no single ethnicity makes up more than 80 percent of its congregants)?  Why is that? Five and a half percent! And we’re supposed to be living in the melting pot, the place where hundreds of languages and colors often live within a few miles—or feet—of each other. Many people outside the church are far less racially divided. Consider the military, our places of work, or athletics. Yet there are three places where racial division still persists: bars, prisons, and the American evangelical church.
That’s a shame if it’s true, and shouldn’t be that way. And again, if you are racist, repent and trust Christ for the forgiveness of your sin.
If we’re going to take Jesus’ words seriously, we have to make a more concerted effort to forge avenues of racial reconciliation and unity under the banner of the gospel of Christ.
Attempting to end racism is not a bad work. It’s a good thing to do. But if you don’t make it a priority, it doesn’t mean that you don’t take Christ seriously. Again, racism isn’t the problem. The sin nature is the problem. The tongue isn’t the problem. The sin nature is the problem. Failure to feed the poor isn’t the problem. The sin nature is the problem. Cursing someone isn’t the problem. The sin nature is the problem. Oftentimes, we look to attack the fruit of the problem, instead of the root of the problem. Strike the tree at the roots and the branches normallt come down with it. The way we strike the root is with the gospel. Unfortunately, the tree of our sin grows back all the time. Taking a view that says we just need to try harder next time to avoid damnation while using phrases like “justification by faith” or words like “gospel” is deceptive.
Don’t get me wrong. I personally don’t think Francis Chan is trying to mislead anyone. He certainly could be. I don’t know him, so I don’t want to automatically say he is purposely lying. And I haven’t really read any of his books. I’ve heard sermons he has preached on baptism and the Holy Spirit. That’s about it. But when I heard the title of this paper, it put up a red flag. The apostle Paul commended the Bereans for not giving him a pass when it came to what he preached. They searched the Scriptures diligently to see if what he said was true. Paul didn’t get a pass, Francis doesn’t get a pass, you don’t get a pass, I don’t get a pass. We can easily become ensnared in American Christianity because there are so many Christian celebrities, and we sort of decide who is solid and who isn’t and then store them away in our mind as being forever solid. Truth is, Chan’s article is scary and is typical of what too many churches preach. We should never be so muddy and confusing. Everything from the title to the body of his article is a confusion of the law and the gospel.
Perhaps you find yourself burdened by my response. Maybe you feel like you are guilty of the same thing. Here’s the good news. 2,000 years ago, God became a man, born of the virgin Mary. He lived a life that was perfectly obedient to the demands of God. He was killed on a cross, blood spilling from a gory body that had been whipped to ribbons just before. He died. He was buried. And three days later He gloriously resurrected from the grave. And this was the gift of God to all those who believe. See, you aren’t holy. You are wholly in sin. You can’t help it. You are enslaved to it. You are dead in it. Your natural mind is hostile toward the holy God. But Christ’s perfectly obedient life is credited to those who believe. Christ’s gory death was given in the place for those who believe. That should tell you how bad your sin is. It didn’t cost 5 bucks to pay off. It didn’t cost a baby. It didn’t cost an old man. It cost something that was of infinite value – God Himself. That’s how horrible your sin is. And just as He was raised to life, so are those who believe. If you believe this amazing news, your works won’t influence God to love you more or less, to bless you more or less, to bestow miracles on you more or less. Nope. God sees you as perfectly obedient. You may say that you aren’t, but your voice will never hush the One Who is much louder. Those who believe the gospel have been declared innocent of all charges. Their debt is paid. Sound like good news? It sounds like great news. All praise be to God!