Do people who believe differently than Christians, or a subset thereof, automatically go to Hell? This may seem like a relatively straightforward question, but it actually needs to be broken down into two parts. First, can unrepentant heretics and/or non-Christians go to Heaven based on good works alone? Second, if works alone cannot save, are people thrown into the lake of fire without any other consideration?
John 3:36 tell us, “He that believeth in the Son, hath life everlasting; but he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” This is reinforced in John 14:6 when Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.” For comparison, we can look to what Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 8:42-43, “If God were your Father, you would indeed love me. For from God I proceeded, and came; for I came not of myself, but he sent me: Why do you not know my speech? Because you cannot hear my word.” It is rather explicit that one cannot know the Father if they do not know the Son, but what then happens to them at the end when all are judged?
In Matthew 10:14-15, Jesus said to the Apostles, “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words: going forth out of that house or city shake off the dust from your feet. Amen I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.” Our actions matter as does our faith, and both Luke 10:20 and Philippians 4:3 speak of names of the faithful being written in Heaven, and Revelation 21:1-2,27 speaks of “a new heaven and a new earth” and says of “the new Jerusalem,” that there “shall not enter into it any thing defiled, or that worketh abomination or maketh a lie, but they that are written in the book of life of the Lamb.” Revelation 20:15 says, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life, was cast into the pool of fire.”
As a counterpoint, some point to passages such as Revelation 20:12-13 that says, when the Book of Life is opened, the dead will be “judged by those things which were written in the books, according to their works,” and even the dead shall be given up by the sea so that they can be “judged every one according to their works.” The Post-Conciliar Church certainly argues that others can attain Heaven despite not being faithful, and Jorge Bergoglio, alias Francis I, has helped spread this belief, which has earned him praise from the godless. This very notion, however, is blasphemous in the face of Canon I of the Council of Trent, “If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works… without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.” The Council’s declarations could not have been any clearer:
[T]hough [Jesus] died for all, yet do not all receive the benefit of His death … that in adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ… whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they… may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace,” and having “been thus justified… they are renewed, as the Apostle says, day by day; that is, by mortifying the members of their own flesh, and by presenting them as instruments of justice unto sanctification, they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified, as it is written; He that is just, let him be justified still; and again, Be not afraid to be justified even to death; and also, Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”
Now, one could argue that “virtuous pagans”—nonbelievers who are otherwise undeserving of eternal punishment—could receive one final chance to hear the Gospel just as Jesus preached to the imprisoned spirits upon His death (1 Peter 3:19). As 1 Peter 4:5-6 tells us, “Who shall render account to him, who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For, for this cause was the gospel preached also to the dead: that they might be judged indeed according to men, in the flesh; but may live according to God, in the Spirit.” This can only apply to those without knowledge of the Word, however, since Hebrews 10:26-27 says, “For if we sin wilfully after having the knowledge of the truth, there is now left no sacrifice for sins, but a certain dreadful expectation of judgment, and the rage of a fire which shall consume the adversaries.” Indeed, Luke 16:19-31 makes it clear that there is a great chasm between the saved and the damned so neither may go to the other, and, if those who hear the truth in life fail to believe, “neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead.” As Mark 3:28-29 says, all sins can be forgiven except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, literally denying God and hardening your heart even though you witness the truth.
So, do those who believe differently from Christians go to Hell? In a word, yes. God’s grace is freely given to all, but only those who have faith in the Lord and works cooperating therewith will be saved. As James 2:26 says, “For even as the body without the spirit is dead; so also faith without works is dead.” Those who lack faith yet live otherwise good lives may be given a chance to hear the Gospel one last time on Judgement Day, but they must still believe and be penitent. For the Lord would “have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), but they must come to Him to be saved. The Son is the way, the truth, and the life, and no man comes to the Father but by Him.