I remember being terrified of the reality of hell as a kid.
I didn’t question the reality of its existence. Hell made sense somehow. Maybe it made sense because as a kid I got in trouble for disobedience and wrong actions. The idea that judgment and consequences followed a trespass was understandable. I remember not liking discipline or consequences—consequences were not fun. So, obviously, hell did not sound like a fun consequence.
Actually Heaven didn’t sound like much fun either. I remember preachers sharing that we would sing hymns for all the rest of eternity. Sounded boring to me, but better than hell. Anyhow, I “got saved.” As a matter of fact, I “got saved” more than once. Thankfully, a number of experiences and people influenced me in a way that drew me closer to Christ, and I came to a place of assurance in which I did not have to “get saved” multiple times. I have friends however who said the prayer—they “got saved”—but today would not profess to be a Christ follower.
As a pastor, I am sort of bothered by this. I am not encouraged by a number of hands raised in a church service or a number of bodies at the altar to “get saved from damnation.” I am encouraged by transformed people. I am encouraged by lives that have encountered Jesus, and consequently are not the same.
Why Salvation Is More About Jesus Than Heaven
One of my professors once asked us if heaven would be heaven without Jesus. I thought about it, and sadly, without Jesus, most of our ideas about heaven would still be heavenly. A mansion, streets of gold, elimination of sadness, perfected bodies, rich delicacies, and my very own Ferrari sound pretty good with or without Jesus.
Obviously, my professor challenged this notion. Heaven would not be heaven without Jesus.
The defining trait of hell is not lakes of fire, but separation from God. The defining trait of Heaven is not streets of gold, but unity with God.
The bottom line is that we should be more focused on our relationship with Jesus than getting our ticket to Heaven.
The Gospel of the Now
When we share the Gospel, we often come at it from the angle of being saved from hell or being able to go to heaven. Sometimes we leave out the aspect of what that means for us not just after death, but right now and for the rest of our lives on earth.
A beautiful passage in Scripture that highlights the significance of our relationship with God is John 17:3. Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion—this is theologically mind-blowing and beautiful. In John 17, we get to eaves drop on a prayer between God the Son and God the Father. Verse 3 records Jesus praying this:
Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
The Greek word “know” carries with it the concept of intimate knowledge—like the knowledge a husband and wife have of one another when they consecrate their marriage.
Eternal life is not going to Heaven. Eternal life is having an intimate relationship with our Creator—knowing and being known by Him.
Jesus died, paying the price for our sin, but He also conquered death, paving the way for transformation. Jesus forgives us, yes, but he also intends to indwell us through the Holy Spirit. God wants to transform us from the inside out. Paul says this is the mystery of the Gospel, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)
How Can We Introduce People To Jesus
We need to introduce people to the person of Jesus Christ and not confront them with an ultimatum. Giving people the option of accepting a doctrine or going to a place of eternal fire is really not the heart of the gospel. Introducing people to this God who took upon himself the consequences of humanity’s sin in order for humanity to experience healing and a relationship with their Creator is what the Gospel is about.
Here are a few practical ways we can do this:
1. Get Acquainted with Him.
You can’t introduce a person to someone you do not know. We will never introduce people to Jesus if we ourselves do not spend time with him. We need to continually make time in the Word, time in prayer, and time in solitude with God a priority.
2. Show Love.
Be kind at your work place, at the restaurant, on the interstate. Absorb conflict, don’t retaliate.
3. Talk About Him.
Most people are really not as anti-Christian as many of us tend to think. If you talk about your faith honestly, many people will be curious to hear your thoughts, and (more importantly) interested in giving their own. Just be comfortable with talking about Jesus just like you would be comfortable talking about any other important issue in your life. Be genuine about your faith, your doubts and frustrations and joys. You aren’t delivering propaganda—you’re being honest about what it’s like to be a Christian.
4. Pray for Others.
Pray for your family, co-workers, and friends that do not know Jesus. Even offer to pray for them. I have never a met a person, even an atheist, who said “no” when I asked if I could pray for them.
5. Ask People to Come to Church.
Most people think about the Sunday morning service when we talk about inviting people to church. There is nothing wrong with that, but I am implying more than just your worship service. Invite people to things that will expose them to your faith community. It doesn’t have to be an official church function. Have them over to your house for a BBQ. Allow opportunities for friends from both your believing and skeptical circles to meet and learn from each other.
People need introduced to Jesus Christ. Do you know Him? Are you living in such a way that people are seeing Christ in you, the hope of glory?
Anthony is a youth pastor, husband and seminary student. He serves in Northern Indiana and is studying at IWU Wesley Seminary.