Is Evangelism About "Going to Heaven"?
It is very common for soul-winning programs to emphasize “going to Heaven when you die.” The course entitled In the Highways and Hedges, published by First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, takes this approach.
This soul-winning plan instructs the evangelist to begin by asking the individual, “If you were to die today, are you 100 percent sure you would go to Heaven?”
When the individual replies, “No,” the soul-winner is instructed to give a simple little Romans Road presentation (you can know that you have eternal life, you are a sinner and under God’s condemnation, Jesus died for your sin, salvation is a gift that you can receive today).
After the very brief presentation, the soul-winner is instructed to say the following:
“Now, John, if you will trust Jesus to take you to Heaven when you die, just bow your head and close your eyes with me right now. If you mean this with all your heart, pray this prayer after me: ‘Dear Jesus, forgive me of my sins. I trust You today. Jesus, and only You, to take me to Heaven when I die. Thank You for saving me. Amen.’”
It’s all about “going to Heaven when you die.”
There is absolutely nothing like this in Scripture. Never did Jesus or the apostles and preachers in the early churches approach someone and ask if they wanted to go to Heaven when they died. Who doesn’t! But salvation is not a mere ticket to Heaven. It is a saving, life-changing relationship with the living God through Jesus Christ in the here and now.
The “do you want to go to Heaven when you die” approach was used by Jack Hyles on May 3, 1998, when he claimed that more people were saved then than on the day of Pentecost. Hyles preached a message titled “A Place Called Heaven.” His text was John 14:1-6, which, of course, is addressed to believers, not unbelievers. After preaching on Heaven, he told the crowd, “If you have the least desire to go to Heaven, if there’s just a little bit of a desire to go to Heaven, then this morning, you trust Jesus as your Saviour.”
Heaven is a wonderful subject, but the gospel is not about Heaven. The gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sin.
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
Heaven is definitely a product of salvation, but why is it that none of the apostles preached on Heaven when they were presenting the gospel? Why are the sermons recorded in the book of Acts so different from the one Hyles preached?
Consider the sermon Paul preached on Mars Hills to the idolatrous pagans in Acts 17. Paul did not preach on Heaven; he preached on God and His righteous judgment so that the idolaters would understand their sin and turn to Christ for redemption. The average person in North America today is very similar to those idolatrous pagans, and North Americans need the same type of preaching. An idolatrous and apostate people need sermons on Hell more than sermons on Heaven. They need sermons on the law more than sermons on grace, because biblical grace is only understood in the context of the law. No one can understand and appreciate God’s grace unless they first understand His holiness and justice. The law was given to prepare the way for grace. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). The book of Romans begins with nearly three whole chapters of the law of God and the righteousness of God and the sinfulness of man and his utter condemnation before a holy God before it gets to the grace of Jesus Christ. That is the biblical way to preach the gospel. That is the true Romans Road. That is how Peter preached on the day of Pentecost.
We need to follow the Bible rather than some man or a modern soul-winning program. The emphasis of the Bible is on telling people that God is holy and just and a judge of sin, that they are lost and undone, and that God demands that they surrender to His authority (repent) and receive Christ AND BECOME DISCIPLES OF CHRIST IN THIS PRESENT WORLD rather than think they can get some sort of cheap ticket to Heaven through a religious ritual (e.g., saying a prayer). Not one person in the book of Acts received the gospel as a mere ticket to Heaven and when his way unchanged. Each one of the conversions recorded in Acts was of a dramatic, life-changing sort in which the individual not only trusted Christ but also surrendered to Christ.
For more on this subject see “What’s Wrong with Most Soul-Winning Courses” at the Way of Life web site.
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