I remember it clearly…the anguish and urgency in his voice during our phone call as he questioned me on whether his parents, who are tried and true Jehovah’s Witnesses, would go to hell because of their “religion.” This 40 year-old-man to whom God had entrusted me as a witness, struggled his entire life with the religion of his family, to the point of not just rebellion, but being shunned by the JW church. Ministering to him was only possible through the Holy Spirit. Understanding that he sought Truth, I was very sensitive to the fact that my response could lead him to, or away from, receiving Jesus as his Lord and Savior. He seemed to believe, yet, for years couldn’t relent to the truth of the gospel due to decades of untruth being spoken into his life.
The answer provided to his questioning heart: “You cannot look ahead to the end of your parents life because God can do anything. With God, all things are possible! He can change anyone’s mind and heart. The Bible says that in the end, every knee shall bow to the Lord. It says that God judges people at the end of their life and your parents are not yet dead, so do not lose hope!” I expressed this while silently praying for the Lord ease his mind and draw him closer.
Since I didn’t have my Bible available during the conversation, I later pointed him to a verse in 2 Peter that I hoped would bring him some understanding of how the Lord sees people, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV) Thankfully, this verse seemed to help him see God and Jesus as a just and loving, not only as judge and jury.
Going to Hell?
Understanding that verse from 2 Peter is one of the reasons I’ll never tell someone who isn’t a believer (in Christ) they are going to hell, in attempt to convert them to Christianity! The other reasons are all laid out in Jesus’ ministry. Did Jesus discuss hell? Yes, he did, but not as a scare tactic; therefore, nor should we as His witnesses. Is hell possible? Yes, absolutely! Sadly, today, a lot of people are already in their own personal hell so being told they’re condemned to hell, actually pushes them further away from God. One purpose of Jesus’ ministry was to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. “…Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven…” (Matthew 6:10)
God’s biggest desire is to reign over our whole heart, and that precludes fear! Jesus’ answer was clear when asked, ‘Master, which is the great commandment in the law?’
“Jesus said unto him, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.'”
In the Bible, every response Jesus had when approached by someone living in sin is one of love. (Because He first loved us…) Jesus never condemned people to hell (he did threaten the pharisees and scribes with it, however, due to their false teachings), therefore, why do some Christians feel it is their place in this world to condemn and use scare tactics to get people to surrender to Christ? That is hatred of people, not love. Some justify their actions by stating they hate the sin, but I ask you: how can that be when the sin is not being separated from the person first?
It was all done in love…
People who aren’t churched or educated about the ministry of Christ Jesus, do not view their lives through a Christian lens, so they do not always perceive the harm they do to themselves and possibly others, by living in sin. They have an intuition, but do not understand that is also God in them, guiding them. Jesus didn’t perceive those he ministered to through anything other than God’s lens of love and desirability (meaning: God desires every person to be restored unto him).
The Apostle Paul was not writing letters about sinfulness to anyone outside of the church! He wrote solely to the established “churches” (various bodies of Christ, e.g. Corinth) because they could actually receive and understand his points, through conviction of the Holy Spirit. Those who are not born again are usually blind to such conviction, instead it feels like condemnation, hence they don’t know how to respond. (Some people may carry very deep hurts from bad experiences within “the church” and “religion” causing them to reject God and his love.)
Carrying out God’s Business
How did the disciples witness? In love.
A good example in the Bible can be found in Acts chapter 8, which discusses how the disciples carried out Kingdom business, and delivered people from demons – and there was great joy afterward. I can offer, from personal experience, having been both on the receiving and giving end of such deliverance, yes, there is joy! Rarely should there be a feeling of condemnation if one is truly receiving his love, or being ministered to properly. I say “truly” because not everyone is ready or open to receive, not even some who proclaim Christ. This is a “heart” issue requiring much patience, but also Truth told in love (Ephesians 4:15). It is especially difficult witnessing to those who once Believed yet now have a hardened heart toward God. (This is an example of a “heart” issue.)
Take for examples Simon the Sorcerer (Acts ch. 8:9-24): Simon was a wicked man who “Believed” in Christ. Then after witnessing miracles through the disciples, also tried to buy the Holy Spirit’s power from them, for his own gain. Yet, he wasn’t condemned by Philip, rather ministered to in truth and love about the need for a repentant heart so God would forgive him for his deceitful actions. (See Acts 8).
Don’t Play God
No one is perfect at ministering to people because it is not an easy feat and quite frankly, we aren’t God!
One must invite the Holy Spirit into every situation. People are completely powerless to change a person’s heart – this is only done via the Holy Spirit. Believing a mere mortal is capable of this is pure vanity! Sure, we can soften a heart through love, but not change its innermost parts. Missteps while ministering to people occur, often because the recipient wasn’t ready or open, period! I’ve experienced this. It isn’t that I wasn’t being led, it is because they didn’t want it, and honestly, it happened with family or someone with whom I was acquainted. Jesus had the same issue, however, so I don’t feel like too much of a failure (e.g. most of his siblings persecuted him…one of his own disciples betrayed him)! I believe God allows this to keep us humble – to help us remember being a seed sower is as important as being reapers of the harvest!
The story I began with, about the man concerned for his parents’ salvation even while seeking his own…I am happy to share, shortly after that scenario, he received Jesus into his heart and began his journey with the Lord. Praise Jesus!! When we discussed his parents again, I could then relay that his job as a Believer is being an example of Christ’s redeeming love to his family – not a judge – because family is often the most difficult to reach. Even if that meant the news of the changes in his life were only shared by others with his parents (since he was shunned, they wouldn’t see him). I still pray, when it’s put on my heart, that prior to reaching the judgement seat, his parents will find the Jesus Christ at least two of their sons now know and love. The Jesus who is restoring their hearts, families, and helping them learn to lead lives pleasing to a God who loves them, despite themselves!
Because, with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26) and, thankfully, we serve a patient God!