Some of us have heard a statement like this before, “Why would I want to serve a God who threatens to cast me into hell if I don’t believe in Him? What kind of God is that!?” What are we to say to such thinking?
It is important for us to understand that we are not neutral in the matter. What I mean is that we do not come to God as innocent people and then given the choice of believing in Jesus and being saved or not believing and being cast into hell. No, if we hear the good news about Jesus it comes to ears that are not innocent, but to those who are already condemned. We are already on our way to punishment, but God is loving enough to offer us His Son, and if we believe we can escape judgment.
It is somewhat similar to a Governor who gives a prisoner a pardon. It is not as if a Governor offers a law abiding citizen a pardon, and if he rejects it he goes to prison, but if he accepts it he will be saved from prison. No, Governors give pardons to those who are already in prison. It would be outrageous for a Governor to give a pardon to someone who is not in need of it. No, Governors give pardons to those who need it.
And likewise, God offers forgiveness to those who need it (and everyone of us need His forgiveness). So when Jesus says in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” He is speaking to those who are already condemned (as verse 18 of the same chapter makes clear), to those who are already going to hell, to those who are guilty, to those who are already in rebellion to Him.
The promise of mercy to those who believe is obviously gracious, but so is the “threat” toward those who will not believe, for it is a great warning of what will happen for those who refuse to leave their sins and believe in Jesus. God doesn’t want anyone to die without knowing Him in a saving way, but wants all to come to Him and be saved. And that is one reason for these gracious yet dreadful “threats.”