Every apologist, every witness for Christ, who is faithful to the message of Christian Gospel will most certainly encounter the question “So, do you think I am going to hell?” or some variation of it. It is a question we must all be prepared to answer. When you are making the case to a non-believer that the Christian worldview is true, most of them will bring up some form of this question. It will either be relating to their own situation, or it may be in the form of “so you think that everyone in the world who is not a Christian is going to hell?”. They want to pin you down on this question and use this to impugn your character (and God’s character) and show how intolerant that view is.
The answer I normally give to this question is not to initially focus on hell, but rather to focus on the nature of heaven. Heaven is the home of God and of Jesus (who is God). So, the question is, why would a person, who spends the ~80 years they have on this planet trying to avoid God – not going to church, not praying, not reading the Bible – why would that type of person want to go to heaven? Going to heaven means to be in the presence of God for all of eternity. Going to heaven would be hell for that person. So, the only other choice for an eternal destination is separation from God. To the people who’ve lived their lives trying to stay away from God and His people, this doesn’t sound like such a bad deal. However, what they don’t realize is that everything good comes from God (James 1:17). Therefore, separation from God means separation from everything good, which is what we call hell. Hell is described as a place of outer darkness – it will not be a party with all the other unbelievers.
This earth is the closest thing to heaven a non-believer will ever experience. The reason is “common grace”. Jesus said the Father “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Mat 5:45) This is the common grace we experience in this present world. But once you’ve made your decision about God here, your decision is ratified for eternity (Heb 9:27). If you decide you want to be excluded from God, He will respect your decision and give you what you want. Someone once said “To reject God you have to love your sin so much that you are willing to spend eternity in hell in order to hold onto it”.
Another thing that I normally talk about is an analogy that we can all relate to. Let’s say that you and your family have been thrown out of your house for some reason (maybe foreclosure) and you decide to pack up all your belongings and go up to the biggest mansion in your town with the intention of moving in with the owners. You go up to the door and say, “Hi, we’re here to move in with you. We have all our belongings out in the car.” What do you think the owner of that mansion will say? Of course they’re going to say “Whaaaaat? I don’t even know you!” Suppose you reply, “yeah, but I’ve been a really good person”. They still refuse: “Well, that’s really nice that you think think you’ve been a very good person, but that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t know you. Sorry, you can’t move in with me.” Then they shut the door. In the same way God is not going to allow someone into heaven that has spent their whole life trying to avoid Him. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23 –
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Everyone knows the words that Jesus spoke in John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life“. But not many people know that He also defined “eternal life” while praying to the Father in John 17:3:
Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
So, I think the answer to question the unbeliever asks is yes. But it helps to be able to explain it in a way that makes sense to them and that does not portray God as being an arbitrary and vindictive judge.