What If You Died Tonight? Is the Wrong Evangelism Question!

“If you died tonight, where would you go, heaven or hell?”  How many times have you heard that question used in evangelism?  How many times have you used it yourself? What if I told you it might just be the wrong question and counter-productive to the aim of Christ and His Gospel?  What if I told you that those types of questions almost always lead into preaching shallow, false, and misleading gospels? (Galatians 1:8) The question’s intent, if we’re honest, is to provoke a conversation which will hopefully lead to ‘conversion.’ While I’ve seen it be effective in exactly that way, it rarely, if ever, leads to genuine disciples or discipleship.

If you were to stop using that question, just as test for a while, what other ‘lead-ins’  or ‘ice-breaking’ questions would you use to get  to the gospel?

This is a particularly important question because it gets right to your understanding of the gospel. How many of you would be at a loss in evangelism if that question were removed from your evangelistic efforts?  I would suggest avoiding it for a time, as an exercise of learning, and see what else you could come up with.

A better question might be something like this:  “If you live through this day, will you follow Christ?  The answer to that question is certainly more heart probing and certainly more difficult to answer.  Maybe you’re thinking, “But Isn’t “Today the day of salvation?”

Let’s look at where that comes from;  The first part comes from  Isaiah 49:8  “This is what the LORD says: “At just the right time, I will respond to you. On the day of salvation I will help you.” NLT

The idea brought froward from it’s original use is “an accepted time” and “a day of salvation, NOT “the accepted time” and NOT “the day of salvation“. This means that now is an accepted time and now is a day of salvation but it IS NOT the ONLY accepted time and NOT the ONLY day of salvation.

With that, I think we can agree that it’s manipulative to try and get people to ‘make decisions’ or ‘join the decided’ in haste slathering them with slick sayings, shame, and fear. Maybe the question does more to expose the person asking it than the one whose soul they’re trying to win. Maybe it shows that they’re people who are inclined to trust in their own good works, or who are keeping themselves in check by a self-imposed sort of fear or artificially inflated emotions.  Perhaps it’s thought of as purposeful in expounding the hope of Christ, but, I think  it’s just leads down the same old path to a scripted, curt, and dangerous gospel that ekes out a repeated response or ‘sinner’s prayer.’  

Even when people respond with confidence by saying, “Oh, I’m definitely going to heaven,” some are poised to pounce and tell them why they’re not.  It’s almost as if they’re thinking to themselves;

“I’m not going to let this person keep me from my holy agenda.”

 “I’m not going to let the enemy make God’s word of no effect.” (Mark 7:13)

“I’m going to make sure that they’re really believers with my prescribed set of litmus questions,”

“I’m going to save them from their bad assumptions and from hell.”

Have you ever seen evangelizer get disappointed when coming across someone who already believes?  Yeah, me too.  It’s just one less notch on their “salvations” stick.  It grieves me when I hear someone report X #’s of “salvations.”  It usually means that X #’s prayed a “sinner’s prayer,” which usually means that X #’s heard an anemic gospel and X #’s of converts instead of disciples have been made.

The “If you died” question reduces the gospel unnecessarily and minimizes the opportunities to share God’s full message (The Gospel of the Kingdom), show God’s love consistently and over long periods of time, and subjects God’s possible demonstration of power to our schedules.  Chances are that most of our evangelism methods are ill prepared to allow all those things to happen.  It’s easier for us to give our shtick then it is to model our saviour.

The “If you died tonight” question takes God’s Judgement seat and makes it OUR pulpit from which to preach OUR version of the Good News to obtain our desired results.

 “The “if you died tonight” question attempts to induce labor on the fetus of reconciliation and repentance before, and often without, sufficient revelation”

“If you died tonight” makes the Gospel out to be a “Hell Pass” so they can walk through the hallowed halls of our shallow institutions. Remember when Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full?” He wasn’t talking about heaven, He was talking about the here and now.  He was preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, not the gospel of the copping out of life.

So instead of asking someone the question “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?”  Pray that God’s Kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven,” for yourself and for the persons you encounter along your evangelistic paths. Maybe instead of asking “Where do you think you’ll spend eternity?” It might be better to ask “With whom do you want to spend eternity?” or “If you lived through this night, would you repent and believe?  Would you love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength?  Would you love your neighbor as yourself?

This post was revised and updated from a post in 2012



13 thoughts on “What If You Died Tonight? Is the Wrong Evangelism Question!

  1. Peter says:

    I agree, brother, both with the problem at the heart of the question and that I don’t consider the idea Scriptural. I don’t believe we go to either heaven nor hell when we die, but a waiting place: Hades with a positive side “paradise” and a negative side. There we await judgment. Also, I believe unfaithful believers in Christ will suffer some type of discipline so that they may reach maturity in Christ, so that He may attain His eternal purpose. They will be those who are saved as through fire.

  2. Kelly Garren says:

    I have used that question many times, and it is sometimes effective, and sometimes not. I’ve never found it to be a question I ask based on scriptural convictions, however more of a logical question. The truth is lots of people are going to die “tonight”, all over the world. I might be one, and the person I am talking to might be one as well. Neither myself, nor the person I am talking to has any way of TRULY knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt what will happen to them from one moment to the next. With that said, I think that it is still a valid question, and that just because some might use scripture out of context to enforce their use of it, doesn’t totally invalidate it.
    However, I will say that if it is the leading question then you miss out, but used in junction with other probing questions it can be very useful. It’s an important question to ask, and it is a leading question. I want to direct the conversation to spiritual things, straight to the heart of the matter. I want to know at what level do they have confidence in their beliefs. Anything less than 100% sure tells me that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. It doesn’t tell me WHAT that problem is exactly, but it’s a start.
    You have also posed that the question is not Scriptural…the equation that I have read goes something like this…If Question A is backed up by Verse B then the result is (correctly) C. But if Question A is not backed up by verse B then Question is invalid and wrong. This is doesn’t ring true to me. Just because a question isn’t “Scriptural”, as in doesn’t have a verse that serves as the example that it is drawing from, doesn’t make it invalid or useless. It simply affirms that the verse was misused, but does not invalidate the question.
    With that said I would like to say that I agree whole heartedly with one of your statements…”Asking “if you died tonight” is trying to bring Reconciliation before, and often without, sufficient Revelation.” This is a profound observation, and one that every minister of the Gospel ought to take to heart. It is the reason why I believe that many end up falling away who profess a faith in Christ. They do not turn from their sin, there is not true repentance, because they were preached a false security about what it means to truly be saved. With that said I can certainly sympathize with your displeasure of the way some evangelism is done. My only “advice” is to not totally dismiss the use of the titled question.
    Lastly…@Peter. Just curious, how did you come to the conclusion that we don’t go to heaven or hell when we die?

    • Peter says:

      Kelly, there are many factors throughout Scripture. First, in reference to heaven. Throughout the Scriptural narrative, it is repeatedly shown that God desires to dwell on earth among humanity. You see this in the Garden of Eden, the Tabernacle, the Temple, Ezekiel’s Temple, the rebuilt Temple, Jesus, and the Body of Christ. Until at the end of Revelation we see the Bride City coming out of heaven to the new earth.

      Also, on the cross Jesus tells the one man that he would be with Jesus in paradise. Paul also mentions paradise as something separate from the third heaven in 2 Corinthians 12. He says that he was caught up to the third heaven and caught up to paradise, indicating that the two are different.

      Usually, the word translated for hell in the New Testament is hades. To the Greeks this was the place for the dead. If you search the New Testament for “hades”, you will find it connected with death and the dead. Indeed, in Acts 2 NASB it says “he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY.” So, when Jesus died, He descended into Hades and that must be where paradise is.

      I think 2 Peter 2 uses the appropriate word for hell Tartarus or as Jesus called it Gehenna. Jesus referred to people being cast into Gehenna and it having unquenchable fire.

      It seems that no one except the antichrist and false prophet are thrown in the lake of fire until after the judgment of the dead. The dead aren’t judged until after Christ’s 1000 year reign and Satan’s final rebellion. Then the dead are judged at the great white throne judgement and those who’s name aren’t written in the book of life are thrown into the lake of fire. You can also see there in Revelation 20 that hades is considered something separate from the lake of fire, since hades itself is thrown into the lake.

      So, when Christ returns to fight antichrist, He will judge the living. But, the dead will not be judged until after His 1000 year reign. The dead await His judgment in Hades, in paradise, or the negative side. I do think that Revelation 12 indicates that some of the Bride will caught up to heaven, as the Man Child. But, that is for casting down Satan, and is only temporary, until Christ establishes His Kingdom on the new earth.

  3. Doug says:

    I believe the issue is simple. Christ Himself said to “not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” And again, “…unless you repent, you will likewise perish.” The true issue is this: that if we are not hearing His voice and diligently obeying His voice, then we are apart from Him and obeying the flesh (who is at war with His Spirit). Thus, Jesus’ statement that He didn’t come to condemn the world…as you can’t condemn something that is already condemned. Yet He came to save from the world, from sin, from condemnation. Most don’t think they need saving…especially after we “accept” Him for the first time. It’s not long till we seem to know everything there is and boom we shoot out and start spreading the “good news” with only one testimony or just a couple in our story bags. The times haven’t changed since Christ was in His earthly ministry either as He states in John: “You search the Scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life, and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” I often see arguments between people who are Pharisees of this age that lead nowhere but a “agree to disagree” situation. Life is simple: Ask Him what to do and He tells us, then we do it! Job well done slave, friend and bride! Apart from that we can do nothing, since then we are obeying sin that leads to death.

  4. Eli says:

    agree the concept of ‘heaven’ as often promoted probably has appeal as some sort of future insurability plan for those who come from advantaged backgrounds or hope for those facing death (persecuted, war times, terminally ill)… for all those people in between… either going through the motions of life or experiencing prolonged suffering it often doesn’t hold much weight.
    Having said that we have several world religions with billions of people clinging to some sort of utopian afterlife so i guess it does have strong appeal. Most everyone senses something isn’t quite right with the world except the priviledged 1%.
    Yes the question often often has the troubling context in that many christians do not know how to live except in fear of failure and rejection plus denial of all that is wrong in them and the world. Most religion is escapism of the unhealthy kind.

  5. Laurie Norris says:

    Maybe heaven and hell are just the result of winding up with people like ourselves.

  6. Tom Schultz says:

    Wow, your question quickly sank into a theological bog!

    I agree that the Isaiah 49 passage is not proposing a single opportunity for salvation…I don’t think it is even talking about spiritual salvation at all, but rather the physical restoration of the nation of Israel as the NET translation seems to make clearer:
    Isaiah 49:8 This is what the LORD says:
    “At the time I decide to show my favor, I will respond to you;
    in the day of deliverance I will help you;
    I will protect you and make you a covenant mediator for people,
    to rebuild the land
    and to reassign the desolate property.
    Using ‘deliverance’ rather than ‘salvation’ seems to remove it from the grasp of those looking for proof texts.

  7. Rody Schoener-Zarutskie says:

    Love the sentence: “It’s easier for us to give our shtick than to show our Savior.” That says it all!

  8. Aidan says:

    The wrong question? To me the right question is one that works, I want to judge everything by it’s fruit as Jesus said. This question works.

    • Miguel says:


      Thanks for commenting. Judging something by its fruit and “what works,” are often two very different things. Pragmatism is never the biblical standard. This question only works because we’ve lowered the bar and accepted what works over “who works.” Ephesians 1:11

  9. Jailer says:

    I have used this question long ago (when I studied Evangelism Explosion) but almost never since. You have identified one of the problems with it, insofar as it encourages the evangelist to try to harvest the “green” wheat. The worst outcome may be that you get a profession of faith from a person who possesses no faith. We have created a false assurance based on a false profession. Here we have the person who will be horrified to hear Christ say on that Day, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

    The other problem is like it. It reduces evangelism (and sometimes much other ministry) to the transactional, formulaic level (“If I can just get Bob to pray to receive Christ …”) at the expense of sincerely loving the lost soul and ministering the gospel of Jesus Christ to that person.

  10. Heather Bradley says:

    I have said many times that we all need a hope for our lives today… Not many people are concerned about eternal significance… And most of us can’t comprehend eternal heaven or he’ll, but we can see how God loves and cares for us now. He loves us just as we are… Wow! What a concept… Somebody loves me!!
    I have always had someone tell me that Heaven and He’ll are the most inportant parts of the Gospel, yet I have always said that they are only the end results. There is so much more….

  11. Vaughn Bender says:

    Actually Jesus promised eternal life to anyone who will simply put their faith in Him for it. He never promised heaven. The issue for everyone is … are our names written in the book of “life”? If you don’t know if your name is, then how can one know or be certain of that. Jesus says in John 3:16, 18-36, 6:47 etc…

    Jesus examples was he discipled first and along they way those he was discipling would hear the message of salvation and those that responded did, and those that didn’t would fall away or leave as they were looking for something else.

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