Any evangelism that has as its expressed objective to “get its audience to heaven” or and evangelist who holds out the prospect of proverbial “pot of gold at the end of a Gospel rainbow,” in whatever terminology it is couched, must immediately be viewed with deep suspicion. Regrettably all too many evangelists have fallen victim to an approach that is openly or subtly man-centered.
This usually comes in the form of questions like “If you were to die tonight, where would you go?” and “Why should Christ let you into His heaven?” Many times the unasked questions relayed through body language and tone whereby acceptance is doled out according ‘decisions’ made by others speaks louder than words. In other words, when someone rejects the gospel YOU’RE preaching (which may not be the gospel at all), you ‘self-distance’ from them because you think they’re rejecting God. You’ll shake the dust off of your feet because you’re irritated instead of being inspired (by the Spirit), to do so.
Just to be clear, I don’t believe that the aim of the Gospel to get people ‘into’ heaven. It’s to return them to God. Neither is it to clear their consciences, offer them a trouble free life, or prosperity. After all, we’re after disciples, not decisions, and it is through many tribulations that we enter the Kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)
The gospel rends people from the power of sin and renders people holy.
The Good News is and should be God-centered, thoroughly and unashamedly. Only then, ironically, it serves the (best) interests of people. Evangelism is NOT about GOING to heaven or hell. You won’t find that in scripture. It’s about being BROUGHT into the Kingdom of Christ. Think ‘Andrew bringing Peter to meet Jesus’ and not the threats and rewards offered to Jesus by the Devil in the wilderness.
When an “evangelist” gives the audience the choice between the horror of hell or the bliss of heaven, or between a life of abundance and wealth or an existence of trouble and suffering by raising one’s hand, altar calls, deciding to ‘accept Jesus into your heart’ etc., they invariably and unanimously will opt for heaven and abundance. Such is the natural inclination of the human heart. If that same “evangelist” can convince his or her audience that “accepting Christ” will mean the difference between heaven and hell, between abundance and trouble, there is every reason to believe that in retrospect he or she can boast that 100% of that audience made a “decision for Christ.” With the stakes so high,why would it be otherwise?
On the other hand, if the biblical Gospel invites the audience to choose either God and holiness or man and happiness, it will unalterably and without exception opt for the latter. It is man’s natural inclination to say yes to heaven and happiness, but to spit out “NO” to God and holiness. Only the biblical Gospel will bring this out and so set the stage to deal with the real issues (many tribulations) of everyday life in the Kingdom now and our eventual transition (death) later.
“Accepting Christ into your heart,” or “Making a decision for Christ,” is no longer relevant or sufficient. If audience is confronted with a need to turn away from itself in order to serve others and God (repentance), a need to flee to Christ as the only way back to God (faith), and a need to call upon him not only to secure forgiveness of sins but also holiness of life, then the difference between a message made by and centered on man and the Gospel given by and centered on God is one of utter and ignorant darkness and the glorious light of the knowledge of Christ.
For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
In the second part of this blog, I’ll talk a little more about some practical ways the gospel ‘brings’ people into a relationship with Christ.
A few questions;
What do you think are the dangers of preaching a ‘you get to go to heaven’ gospel?
Is the old paradigm of altar calls, raising hands, making decisions for Christ, etc. still relevant? Was it ever?
Will you change your style of ‘evangelism’ in any way after reading this? Why or why not?