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Pastors have their hands full with the job of trying to motivate congregants to do good things. It’s a tough job, and you can’t blame pastors for sometimes being tempted to use the guilt trip angle to get people moving.
But some guilt trips are worse than others, and one of the worst is the unscriptural idea that some people are in hell precisely because you didn’t get the gospel to them before they died. You might know someone who feels miserable and guilty about failing to present the gospel to someone who died, or maybe you feel that way yourself.
I am reminded of a college friend whose Christian youth leader told a group of teens a morbid story about how he met a person and talked to him, and felt an urge to present the gospel to him, but then didn’t actually do it during their conversation. Then he learned that the man died, hit by a car, later that same day.
"That man is in hell right now suffering indescribable agony," he told the group. And then after a dramatic pause, he threw in, "and all that’s on my head!"
He told them how he suffers nightmares about it, how he lies in bed sobbing over the horrible truth that because of him, this poor wretch will suffer the torments of fiery hell forever.
The sad truth is that some Christian leaders routinely use stories like this to try to get people to do more witnessing.
On one hand they know and teach that God so loved the world that he sent Jesus to save it, but on the other hand they seem to believe that God sends people to hell based on our incompetence at getting the gospel to them.
It’s a form of what we call “cognitive dissonance” – believing two contradictory things at the same time. They believe in God’s power and love with one part of their mind, but at the same time they act as through God’s hands are tied to save people if we fail to get to them in time.
Jesus said in John 6:40: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
Salvation is God’s job, and the Father, the Son and the Spirit are really good at it. We’re blessed to take part in that good work, but as we ought to realize, God often works in spite of us.
So if you’re carrying a burden of guilt about someone you didn’t get the gospel to before he or she died, why not hand that burden over to Jesus? God is not a butterfingers. Nobody slips through his fingers, and nobody goes to hell because of you.
Our God is good and merciful and strong. And you can trust him to be that way for everybody, not just for you.
I’m Joseph Tkach, Speaking of LIFE.