By: Kameron Toews
“Where are you going? Heaven? or Hell?”
This billboard screamed in my face as I drove down the interstate. The word “heaven” is in front of nice puffy clouds with a hotline number you can write down while driving 80. “Hell” is surrounded by black and orange flames with John 3:36 below it. I wonder what non-Christians think of this sign, because I am appalled by it.
The Christian evangelists I’ve come across typically ask something like “Where are you going when you die” to potential converts, but it doesn’t strike at the heart of what I consider true evangelism. Without further conversation, a question like this creates fear and points people away from Christianity’s true meaning. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus calls his followers to make disciples but shouldn’t we do this in a loving way?
I am surprised that the phrase “do not be afraid” is in the NIV Bible 77 times. This must be important. When God meets people in the Bible, this calming command is often spoken. In Luke 2:10, an angel of the Lord appeared to terrified shepherds to tell of Jesus’ birth and said, “Do not be afraid.” When Mary went to Jesus’ empty tomb, the angel told her “do not be afraid” in Matthew 28:5. 1 John 4:8 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
The idea of eternal punishment in hell is not fun. It is terrifying, and rightfully so, but scaring people into following God approaches the idea of evangelism from the wrong perspective. Jesus did not use fear to bring people to him. He instead loved on people with a servant’s attitude. Jesus was provocative in that he served, healed, and ate with the lowly people that others pushed to the side. Crowds gathered because he spoke the truth, but also because he cared and loved when the religious rulers turned their backs. He stepped off the royal pedestal, walked with the people he loved, and demonstrated the powerful love that comes from God. Jesus created safety in his gospel, not fear.
Heaven and hell are the eternal ends humans will face after death, but for Christians there is so much more to Jesus’ saving power than only heaven. It is a gift from God to be set free from sin and live without fear. It is this love that Christian missions should be pointing non-believers to. Christians are to love passionately while still on earth, setting a magnetic example of Christ’s love. Living justly and intentionally can be a much better evangelistic tool than tracts or street corner sermons.
Of course, Christians should not hide the concepts of heaven and hell when sharing Jesus, but they should not be the first issues discussed. The way we live, as loving and serving Christians, should initially attract others to Christ. People come to Christ in many different ways, but Christians need to remember to approach non-believers with a fear-free love, using Jesus, not hell, as the core of our message. Relationships speak louder than fear.
Are “to-the-point” evangelical questions and tracts the correct way to make disciples, or should Christians rather rely on their lifestyles and relationships as tools to bring others to Jesus? Is this approach too passive? Maybe the answer lies in the middle or somewhere far different. Shoot some comments below and let me know what you think.