Part of my daily ritual is taking a few minutes while eating my breakfast and icing my arthritic knee to read several blogs that I like. I don’t always agree with these blogs–in fact, I generally appreciate them more when I disagree with them because that makes me think about why I disagree with them. One of them I was reading the day I prepared this blog entry was dealing with stuff sort of related to what I was thinking about. Basically, the writer was saying that we need to keep in front of us the idea that people need God–they are lost and going to hell without the gift that God gives in Jesus Christ.
And while I agree with that totally, I tend to go in a different direction that many who approach the issue. The reason for my different direction comes clear in a conversation I had with a member of a former church. She was complaining that although she liked a lot of what I was preaching about, she felt I didn’t preach enough about hell. I needed to preach on that so that people would be afraid and therefore turn to God.
I explained to her that aside from the fact that everyone in the congregation at that point had already made a decision to follow Christ, preaching on hell was a bit of wasted effort because the vast majority of people outside the Faith and more than a few inside the Faith didn’t believe in Hell any more. That set off another long comment from her that essentially suggested that I had better get preaching on hell because that was the only way people were going to get saved.
Witnessing, at least in many conservative church circles, seems to want to focus on heaven, hell and sin. We have tended to use the carrot and stick method–offer the carrot of heaven and the stick of hell to get people to come to faith. And there was a time when that was an effective method of evangelism.
But we live in a very different world, one where outside of our faith, people don’t much care about sin and hell. In our politically correct work today, it is quite difficult to name one thing that is universally considered a sin, although labelling something a sin does come pretty close to being a universally despised sin.
Some feel that we have lost our best tool–the fear of hell as a result of sin. But the more I think of it, the more I believe that it may not have been all that appropriate a tool in the first place. The more we focus on sin, the more we miss the real needs of real people. The more we focus on scaring the hell out of people, the more we plant the image of a vengeful and punitive God. The more we try to scare people into heaven, the further we push some people from the relationship with God that they really need.
I wonder if maybe we need to forget about sin and hell and focus instead on real people and their real needs, needs that we believe God can and will help them with. And I think there is some good Scriptural basis for this. In John 6.8, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will, “… convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment…” (NIV). Sin is real and it is a danger to the eternal state of human beings–and it will be dealt with by the Holy Spirit.
Thinking about that has opened some doors for me. As believers we have been called to give witness to good news–and the supreme expression of the good news is that God loves us and can help us, no matter what. The fact that someone is a sinner doesn’t invalidate God’s love–or all would be in trouble since even we who are believers are guilty of sin.
I don’t need to focus on a person’s sin–that isn’t my job. When and if that sin needs to be dealt with, the Holy Spirit will deal with it much better than I can. My job is to listen carefully to the person and the Holy Spirit and witness in a way that will enable the Holy Spirit to bring that person closer to God.
May the peace of God be with you.