There is a Fine Line Between Scare Tactics and Sugar-Coating Salvation

Like it or not, those of us who are to make disciples and be a light in the darkness have to realize we are Salespeople- selling the most important product that anyone could ever have: salvation and eternal joy.

It’s remarkable when you think of the benefits of this product, yet the vast majority of people either don’t want it or are willing to buy a “knock-off” (i.e., a religion that rejects God’s word) and they are happy with it. As Hosea said:

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. (Hosea 4:6)

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The other day on Facebook a friend posted a beautiful message, all about God’s presence in our lives and how he protects us, loves us and wants the best for us. It talked of his ability to provide and his desire to save us. I replied that we need to also remember that he is our Judge and Jury, as well as Executioner and that these promises are not all that we have to look forward to. For those people who accept God and Messiah, there will be trouble and tribulation throughout their life. Following God has many advantages, but the very best of them we will not receive in this lifetime.

In my past, I was a professional salesman (for about 15 years) and I can tell you that to have a good sale, meaning one that will not cancel on you, you must be truthful and not give wrong expectations. You can’t make it sound like accepting God and Messiah will solve all your problems, nor should you use negative selling or scare tactics; these styles will never produce a “good” sale. Preaching “fire and brimstone” scare tactics might convince some people to accept Yeshua (Jesus) as their Messiah. In the same way, preaching that God loves you just as you are, you can be saved simply by asking for it and once saved you will receive all sorts of blessings will create unrealistic expectations, and that seed will be like the seed the weeds choked them or the birds came and ate (Matthew 13.)

To follow God faithfully we must also love him- you can’t scare people into loving someone; likewise, you will set them up for disappointment if you make salvation sound like heaven on earth. To put rose-colored glasses on unsuspecting and biblically ignorant people, convincing them that once they accept Yeshua they will be saved and blessed, is to send them into battle with a gun that has no bullets.

Following God is hard work- Yeshua didn’t say follow me and have it easy, he said we must carry our execution stake on our shoulders in order to follow him (Mark 8:34.) To obey God and follow Messiah means you might have to give up much: friends, family, sometimes your job, maybe even your life!

For those to whom we are preaching salvation, we must let them know, right at the start, that this is not going to be easy. That they will, over time, have to sacrifice things that they may not want to. We keep them interested in reminding them of the afterlife rewards, as well as the many blessings they can receive while alive. We shouldn’t sugar-coat what they are deciding to do, but we shouldn’t scare them to the point where they lose bowel control, either.

That is the thin line we must walk when we talk to non-believers about God and Messiah. We should be an example of the proper way to act towards God and each other, and we must also tell them that we are still human, frail and weak, and it is expected that we won’t always act in the godliest way; for example, the words I will probably be using when it takes me three strokes to get out of the stinking sand trap! Failing to be godly now and then doesn’t mean we aren’t trying, and this is one of the best things about God: he knows our heart, he forgives our failures and he strengthens us when we ask him to help us be better.

I always try to slide some hint or suggestion in a conversation that will let me see if there is a positive reaction from someone regarding God and the Bible. I might interject a biblical reference or repeat a proverb in a conversation and say I read it in a really good book. If they ask which book, I can then say it is in the Bible, and ask them if they have ever read it? There can be any number of ways to “test the waters” when conversing with someone to see if they are open to hearing about God without tackling them to the ground, sitting on them and asking, “Do you believe in God?”

I can tell you, absolutely, that approach will not work.

My suggestion is that you think of ways you are comfortable with when approaching people about God during a conversation that is subtle and non-threatening to them. Here are some examples of what I do:

  • I work a biblical story or proverb into the conversation and start it off with, “I read this in a book”, and if they ask what book, I tell them. Then I ask if they ever read the Bible?
  • I turn the conversation towards the current social unrest, and ask if they believe there are more problems coming in the future? Carefully I work in that the Bible has stated these sorts of things will happen and ask them if they believe the Bible or if they believe in God?
  • If someone asks advice, I give them a proverb or story from the Bible to justify my advice. I’ll then ask if they knew the Bible covers many inter-personal relationship issues.

These are just some ways I turn the conversation towards God, and I never, ever push myself on people. If they are interested, I go with the flow but slowly, and carefully. It is like walking on thin ice- if I put too much pressure on, I will fall through.

When someone talks only about how good God is and all the wonderful things he does for us, I feel bad for them and the people they are talking to because they are setting themselves up for disappointment; how often have you heard people reject God because he didn’t meet their expectations? That is what preaching only the “happy-happy” side of salvation does- it gets a lot of people to join in, but it also sets them up for disappointment and eventually doesn’t help them. On the other hand, preaching fire and brimstone only scares people, and that will also fail to help them.

There are many blessings awaiting those who love the Lord and accept Yeshua as their Messiah, both now and throughout eternity, but they come at a price. We like to say “salvation is a free gift from God”, but it really isn’t.  Oh yes- you can have it for the asking, but to keep it you will have to give up much.

We must never push people away from God, and it is just as important that we must never leave them with the wrong expectations. The saddest thing about missionary work is that when we fail to make the right impression, it isn’t we who suffer- it is those we are trying to help. If we leave a bad taste in their mouth regarding God or Messiah, we may end up causing them to lose any chance of salvation, or (at least) we might make it that much harder for the next person.

It’s a thin line we walk when trying to help people come to God.

 

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

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