Let's say you're in a conversation with a friend that you know isn't following Jesus and you see an opportunity to raise a few questions that would lead to the question and invitation to follow Him. Think about what you would say. This is a person you care deeply for, a person you know would blossom and bloom in every way and whom would explode into life abundant (John 10:10). They may be a family member, a friend, a son or a daughter. They are someone who occupies a comfortable room in the house of your heart, and they are never far from your mind.
When that situation presents itself, when the conversation turns that way, and you feel the weight of their need to make this critical decision, I want to ask you one simple question:
Will you tell them about Hell?
In the past year, the issue of hell has exploded into conversations throughout Christian circles. Does it exist? How long does it last? Is it predetermined before death or is there a "last chance"? Who's going there? Who's NOT going there? Who's already there? How do we know? What do we know?
More questions than answers, to be sure.
Yet for years "Hell" has been the trump card in the conversation with people who don't know Jesus. "Do you know where you'll go if you died tonight?" has been used in conversations about faith for decades and without a doubt it has started people on the road of faith in Jesus before.
But it isn't an invitation. It's a phrase intended to "close the deal." In fact, if you were to summarize the many conversations about "evangelism" that have taken place in the last few decades it would be hard not to say that the Gospel - the good news of Jesus Christ - is primarily the idea that if you pray a prayer you won't go to Hell if you died tonight.
But here are two key facts to keep in mind:
First, Jesus never - EVER - used the Hell trump card to close the deal. In fact, He DISCOURAGED people from following Him who weren't willing to do something BEYOND just accepting Him (see Matthew 8:21-22).
If following Jesus is the equivalent of not going to Hell, then Jesus basically sent the man in Matthew 8 to Hell. Right? Jesus' discussions of hell in the Gospels were primarily with those who were ALREADY affiliated with God - namely Jewish leaders - and were not "unreached" or "lost" people in the sense that we think of them.
Second, Jesus' great commission starts with "Go...make disciples..." (Matt. 28:19-20).
If we look at Jesus' disciples, who are the first recipients of this command, what we see most clearly about them is that they entered into a real and instant life with Jesus and they envisioned the life that Jesus was promising in these terms. He didn't say to them, "Do you know where you'd go if you died tonight?" but instead said, "Follow me, and I'll make you fishers of men" or simply "Follow me." He called them to a life that was eternal but that began HERE and NOW.
Living in an achievement-oriented culture, we are by nature "deal-closers." Perhaps somewhere along the line the classic (and profane) scene from Glengarry Glen Ross about "always be closing" infiltrated our theology and we started to see sharing our faith as selling our product.
Instead, in the middle of the marketplace noise, we see Jesus inviting:
Would you like to have life and life abundantly? Would you like to learn what it means to be content? Would you like to learn how to live without anxiety? Would you like to know your purpose for being here and carry it out?
So you're back in the conversation with that person whom you care so deeply for, and the question still remains. Will you try to close the deal? Or will you invite them to something bigger and far more difficult than just escaping punishment after they die.
I assure you, the way we deal with this question will change our own discipleship as much as it changes someone else's. It begs another question at the same time:
Is our life with Jesus compelling enough to entice someone to follow Him, without needing Hell as a motivator?