Written by Victor Stanley Jr.
Many of us are familiar with the Christians whose evangelism technique centers on asking one of two variations of the same question. That question usually is phrased as such: “Do you want to go to heaven?” Or, “Don’t you want to keep from going to hell?”
This question, and possibly the misunderstanding that fuels it, has placed me in conversations with non-believers that revolve around them grilling me about why Jesus is the only way to “win.” They view the position of Christianity as this idea that if you’re really good and pray to Jesus you’ll get to go to heaven, but if you’re bad you go to hell. This perception of Christianity, which many Christians help create, is flawed and dangerous because it turns the Gospel into a twisted Santa Claus fantasy that is based on the desire to not “burn in hell” as it were. I see this as a lack of understanding of what the Bible says about grace, faith, and redemption.
Now don’t get me wrong, heaven and hell are very real, and you will end up in one or the other, but starting off with this fact when presenting the gospel to someone may be the wrong approach. Think about it, most people are going to answer ‘yes’ if you ask them the aforementioned question; it’s like asking a child if they want broccoli or ice cream. So already the person has started off with a flawed reason for entertaining the possibility of faith in Christ, that reason being that they want paradise and not hellfire; to me this is a carrot and stick situation. You start off by appealing to the flesh i.e. the carrot—do you want paradise—and once they grab hold to that you beat them with the Gospel i.e. the stick. So with all that said, I ask that you bear with me as I flesh this out.
It’s Not About Heaven & Hell
I like to think of it as a friend inviting me to their house for a meal. Going to their house isn’t the payoff, but rather it is the meal I will receive when I get there that gives their house value. In the same way, Heaven is neither the goal nor the reward of our faith, rather salvation is our reward, and heaven is where we shall receive it, although we can enjoy a portion of it now (1 Peter 1:3-9). We cannot present the Gospel as a means to gain entrance into an idyllic paradise where we hang out in our own personal mansions, and walk on gold streets that lead to luxurious villas where we lounge by heavenly pools. The Gospel is about the redemption of souls, and the passing from death into life. Along with that, Hell is not some fiery dystopian wasteland where bad people live in debauchery while periodically being tortured. These are gross misconceptions about Heaven and Hell, and what each entails.
If Not Heaven & Hell, Then What???
In light of what has been said, the question becomes, “What is Heaven, what shall I receive in Heaven, how do I obtain it, and what is Hell?” Heaven is simply where God dwells, whereas Hell is a place alienated from God; when we pass from this life we will step into eternity, and we will be judged by Christ, which will result in either our reception into Heaven, or our condemnation into Hell. Heaven’s value is in the fact that those who enter receive eternal life, and forever dwell with God. On the contrary, those who are sent to Hell receive eternal death.
Let me quickly define my terms. When I say life and death, I am not speaking of physical life and death, but rather spiritual life and death. Spiritual life is to dwell eternally in the presence of God, and spiritual death is eternal separation from God.
So, what I am getting at is that the Christian is not attempting to gain Heaven in the sense that they want to live in some blissful paradise constructed from man’s fantasies. Instead, the Christian, by faith, has gained salvation from the condemnation of sin, and along with it eternal life in Christ (Romans 6:23). In John 5:19-29 Jesus explains this concept, but I will just use verse 24:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24, ESV)
Ok, So What’s The Point
When we go out and preach Christ to the world we are not offering people a choice between a utopian paradise and a corrupt wasteland of debauchery. We are providing them the truth of the Word of God with regard to the eternal fate of their souls. We are setting before them the same truth that was set before the Israelites in Deuteronomy 30:15-20; verse 19 states, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live. . .”
Some may argue that this still presents the same dilemma as asking someone if they want to go to Heaven or Hell. It is true that if you ask a person, “Do you want to live or die,” 9 times out of 10 they will reply that they want to live. The difference is that you now have a person who is seeking LIFE, and not a person who is seeking self-gratification.