John 6:44–51; Acts 15:12–21; Romans 1:16–25 (read online ⧉)
One of the hardest things for any believer is the understanding that a loved one may not be with them in Heaven. Whether one believes in Dante’s 7 circles of Hell, the Hell of endless torment, or the Hell of eternal life “merely” not being in God’s presence, or the Hell that is interim before the Great Day of Judgement and one’s final decision toward life or annihilation (Revelation 20:11–15) it doesn’t matter insofar as not having that loved one with you in eternal life.
So, in avoidance of this hard truth, many people have developed a folk theology that there is no Hell and no eternal separation from God. It is not just Christianity that is experiencing it. In face, if one were to boil down the religions of reincarnation (mostly Buddhist and Hindu, but not exclusively), it’s that one is not good enough to not be incarnated so they get to start all over again. It’s not Hell in the Christian sense, but repeating lives until perfection can sound pretty close.
The hardest part for all of us is the tension that we walk. Most of us aren’t “old school” knocking on our neighbor’s doors and barging into their lives to “save” them. Sometimes we are made to feel guilty because we’re not. Yet, if your neighbors are automatically resistant to Christianity because of a lifestyle choice (for example) that they “know” God “hates”, only time will ever work through that. That being said, one has to be will to work through that time.
Family is often the hardest. Oddly enough, we won’t know all the pieces that brought a person to walk away from, ignore, or even hate Jesus and his church, and that’s even when they’re family. Sometimes, even more heart-wrenching is that some of the events that solidified our faith are the very ones that destroyed the faith of others. Shared experiences do not necessarily equal the same results (part of the whole nature versus nurture debate).
It “used to be” so much easier. We would recite a formula (as I look back on it, almost like a magic spell), and people would be saved. Or we’d follow a “road” in the Bible, that “proved” that Jesus was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. There is no perfect formula nor is there a perfect road that will finally bring people to Jesus, at least not one that works in every time and place, and for every person. The reality is that this often displays a human sinful flaw…our desire to be the hero…our desire to save…our desire to be Jesus.
Paul’s words seem rather harsh to our post-modern ears. Some people read them as, “They don’t believe in God? Then to Hell with them!” However, Paul is addressing a fundamental reality, “they” want proof? It’s all around them, and you (personally) will not change that perspective. This is when Jesus’ words of calling people to the Father make the most sense. The Truth is there. People’s hearts have to be open to see the Truth behind the truth. Only God does that.
Father God, we know only you, through the sacrifice of your Son, Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit, call people to you. Only you can truly call. Help us to surrender that to you. Help us remember that it is not us. Guide us into the places and conversations that you want us to have, that is part of your calling of others to live in and with you. Amen.
1) What was the most recent conversation with a non-believer like regarding Jesus? When you look back on it, how does that make you feel?
2) Do you feel responsible for someone else’s decision to follow Jesus? How is it your responsibility? How is it not your responsibility?
3) Knowing that there is no perfect way to bring people to Jesus, how do you react to that? How does that make you feel in regards to the conversation in question 1?