Heaven and Hell in Evangelism

There is an immense difference between regret and repentance. Anyone who has worked with teenagers for any length of time, or anyone for that matter who has been a teenager for any length of time can attest to that. “Sorry, I was wrong” and “sorry, I got caught” are two utterly different things.

I am afraid, however, that if we are not careful we might not be so quick to make that distinction in our presentation of the Gospel.

How many Gospel tracts have you seen that begin, end, or at least give the majority of its attention to either going to Heaven or escaping Hell? How many times have you confronted someone with the Gospel and found yourself offering a way to Heaven and a bypass from Hell? If you are like me, you can answer a resounding ‘Plenty!’ to both questions. However, is this preoccupation with Heaven and Hell a Biblical approach to evangelism?

We live in an overwhelmingly materialistic culture. Whatever language someone may speak, they speak it in terms of “stuff.” We Christians have a completely different perspective with a value system that is altogether opposite of materialism. However, the temptation to present the Gospel in materialistic terms often eludes us. We are all too often prone to speak of the Gospel in terms of what can be gained and what can be lost. Talk about Heaven and Hell is inescapable when talking about the matter of a person’s salvation. However, if we intend to remain Biblical in our Gospel presentation, we must give attention to how we talk about Heaven and Hell.

The people to whom we witness are blind to spiritual things. Especially in recent days, some may not even believe that God exists, much less that there is a Heaven or Hell. Informing these people of their ultimate need is central to effective evangelism.  It was the Lord Himself who coined the term “born again” because the Pharisee Nicodemus could not discern spiritual things (John 3:7-12). The key, however, is that they must be awakened to their need of salvation, not lured or frightened into a false acceptance.

Simply thinking about the basic nature of Salvation shows how off such an acceptance is. For instance:

  • Jesus died for us, not to rescue us from Hell, but to reconcile us to the Father. Hell is only the consequence of the Father’s judgment of our sin.
    Therefore, people are not to get saved in order to escape hell, but to be reconciled to the Father.
  • Jesus died for us, not to simply get us to Heaven, but to reconcile us to the Father. Heaven is only the consequence of the Father’s acceptance of us through Christ’s sacrifice.
    Therefore, people are not to get saved just to get to Heaven, but to be reconciled to the Father.

We know that if a person ‘gets saved’ only because they want to go to Heaven their sincerity is highly questionable. But, my question is, why would we offer Heaven as an incentive? We also know that if a person ‘gets saved’ only because they do not want to go to Hell, their sincerity is again questionable. So why would we present Hell as a motive? Offering a way to Heaven and escape from Hell as primary reasons to be saved reduces evangelism down to salesmanship.

Salvation is in no way about what a person can get or what a person can escape. Salvation is about realizing God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness, and Christ’s righteousness and sacrifice. It is about sinners who are deserving of God’s judgment because of their sin. It is about a Savior who suffered that judgment despite His own righteousness. Salvation is about sinners trusting that Savior to reconcile them to the God Who sent their Savior in the first place.

So what parts do Heaven and Hell play in all this? After much thought, I have come to the conclusion that Heaven and Hell should only be used as references to God’s mercy and grace. They are either an introduction to or an afterthought of the true heart of the Gospel – reconciliation to God. The facts that people who never trust Christ as Savior go to Hell and that people who do go to Heaven may suggest or complement the idea of a personal need. But they should never be the only idea.

I hope that I am clear. Heaven and Hell are as real as the place in which you are sitting. However, to make them both the primary motivation to be saved is unbiblical and dangerous. Let us be clear when we confront people with the Gospel of Christ.


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