There is a popular misconception, taught authoritatively in pulpits across this land. It is the idea that sins do not send anyone to hell, but rather, unbelief (or, rejecting Christ) alone sends one to hell. There are slight variations on this theme, such as, “There’s only one sin that sends a person to hell, and that is the sin of unbelief,” or, “God doesn’t send anyone to hell—a person sends himself to hell by his unbelief.”
Such an idea does not come from Scripture, but from poor theology. It is absolutely true that belief in Christ is the sinner’s only hope for salvation. But it is just as true that without faith in Christ, the sinner will face the wrath of God against all his sins (Rom. 2:6; Ps. 62:12; Mat. 16:27; Prov. 24:12; Rev. 20:12-13).
Those who teach that sins do not send a soul to hell are usually confused about the sacrificial death of Christ. They tend to think that Christ paid for all sin in such a way as to extinguish the sin-debt of every man, leaving only the question of whether or not the man will believe in Christ. However, Christ’s death did not extinguish the debt of any man until that man believes in Him. The debt of sinners is not the same as a financial debt, which may be extinguished immediately by payment from anyone. Rather, the sins are crimes, and the debt like that which a criminal owes to society. Therefore, payment by the Third Party is not immediately accepted, but needs the approval of the Judge in the case—and God the Judge does not allow the substitutionary exchange to extinguish the sin-debt of any man until that man believes in Christ. Any man who dies in unbelief dies “in his sin” and will face the full wrath of God against all of his sins.
But praise God that no sinner need face that wrath! What Christ did by dying on the cross was to face the wrath of God that every sinner deserves to face. And because Christ, who was and is the eternal Son of God, lived a perfectly righteous life without sin, what He did in His life and by His death can save us from God’s wrath and gain us everlasting life with Him in heaven. This is why Christ came to give His life “a ransom for many,” according to the will of the Father who “so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, that He died on the cross for your sin and physically rose from the dead on the third day—trusting only in Him—and you shall be saved!
Ken Hamrick, 2013