Let’s say that you really loved the people in your street, and wanted the very best for them. Imagine you had a family: a wife and kids that you dearly loved. Thinking about the people in your street, what if one of them was a rapist, used vile language and was dealing in drugs. Would that person be one that you would welcome into your home without any conditions?
God is a loving God, holy and just. He wants everyone to be with him in heaven, but for heaven to be what it is, sin cannot be allowed to come in. And that is what would happen if he allowed sinners in without their sin being removed.
Of course, that leaves us with a problem, given that all of us have come short of God’s perfect holiness, and thereby have sin in our lives. (Romans 3) Just adding good deeds isn’t going to remove the sin. We can reduce the amount of sin that we are committing today and into the future, but that doesn’t do anything to change our past record, and even when we are trying our best, we are still going to come short. (Titus 3:5)
God was fully aware of this dilemma, and He had a “fix” for the problem: Jesus Christ would become a man, take our sins upon Himself, and accept the appropriate punishment for them. (Isaiah 53:5,6; 2 Corinthians 5:21) Being infinite God, He could provide an adequate payment for the sins of all men by dying on the cross, His blood being shed, and briefly being separated from His heavenly Father. With the price for our sins being paid, the gift of eternal life was purchased for us.
But now we have another problem. When God created us, he was looking for ones to fellowship with. To spend time with them and interact on a personal basis. He didn’t want machines or robots. So, He created us with free wills. Man could decide to follow Him and be close to Him, or go his own way. Unfortunately, Adam chose the latter, and that has affected all of his descendants. And now, even with the price paid for sin, and with it being offered to all men, man still has a choice. The gift is being offered. We can either accept it or reject it. If reject it, then God has no other choice to separate us from Himself for all eternity. It’s what we have chosen. (John 3:16-18)
The measure of God’s love for all mankind is the gift of His Son. No higher price could be imagined. Just think of what it was like for Him to see His Son mocked and scorned – spit upon, abused, falsely accused and nailed to a cross. Yet the worst part about it was when He had to turn His back on His own Son, as Jesus cried out, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” But He went though with it because He loves you.
What is left is for us to receive the gift. Romans 10:9-13 tells us how: believing the good news, and calling on Christ for salvation.
Can God be both a loving God and also be just?
Yes, and He is. Note that love (Greek: agape) means that we desire the very best good for the object of our love, even at great personal expense. It doesn’t require that they deserve it. We want that because we love them. What happens then, if someone we love is justly condemned? If we bypass justice, we are corrupt and ought to be condemned ourselves. God cannot do that, it’s contrary to His character. What He can do is to provide a way for the condemnation to be passed on to someone else through a ‘justice transaction.’ Just like an accountant can debit one account and credit another, so our sins can be transferred to another, and paid for by that one (Isaiah 53:6; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Our sins were placed on Christ when He was condemned on the cross, His righteousness is placed on our account when we call on Him for salvation. Note as well, that He can do a bit of ‘heavenly advertising’ to draw us to Himself. The testimony of others who have followed Him is powerful (John 4:39). We know that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, of righteousness and judgement (John 16:8). He doesn’t force us, but there is some ‘heavenly magnetism.” Without that we certainly would go our own way instead of His.
How can a loving God send people to Hell? Can’t He simply choose to ignore their sin, or at least give them another chance?
See above. See also the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).