Several years ago I was at a meeting with other youth ministers planning a week of camp. During the meeting we discussed how we could do a better job of holding the campers accountable for the commitments they make during camp.
As we discussed the importance of commitments and what we could do to encourage the campers to honor their commitments, one of the other youth ministers said; “I am the type of guy that if someone doesn’t live up to their commitment to God I hope they burn in hell.”
I remember sitting there shocked that he would say that with such conviction. I was even more shocked than no one challenged him on his statement. I guess we were all shocked by what we heard.
While Christians are sometimes portrayed with this type of attitude, is it really the attitude that we as Christ Followers should have?
Any time we hope for the eternal damnation of another person we are hoping for something that is contradictory to what we find on the pages of the Bible. Consider these passages:
And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. (Jude 22, 23; ESV)
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20; ESV)
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-3; ESV)
It seems clear to me that rather than hoping a person burns in hell for not living up to their commitment we are to do our best to restore that person to a relationship with God. Since we are part of God’s family we have a responsibility for the lives of each other. According to the apostle Paul when we don’t share in the burdens and problems of others we are not obeying the law of Christ.
Being a Christ Follower means that we are part of a community. The New Testament teaches us that our relationship with God is tied to our relationship to each other. If we get so caught up in our own “personal relationship” with Jesus that we neglect other Christians, then we are not being true to our calling.
Only a person who bases their relationship with God on their performance can say what my youth minister friend said so long ago. Why? Because they believe that the way to heaven is through law keeping, hard work, and being true to their commitments. What they believe is if other people aren’t putting the same amount of effort into keeping their commitments then they are slackers who aren’t worthy of heaven.
When we spend time praying for and serving others we begin to develop compassion for them. This judgmental attitude begins to melt away because we realize that they face real obstacles as they try to live a life of faith, just as we do. Like the apostles who couldn’t stay awake to pray for and with Jesus their hearts are willing, but their flesh is weak. What they need is not condemnation but encouragement.
We need to take time to evaluate our lives. As we do that we should consider these questions: Do I find it easy to judge people who don’t live up to my standard of what a Christian should be or do I spend time helping other people? Have I shown compassion to someone who is struggling with life or do I simply cast judgement?
Jesus had harsh words for those religious leaders who were eager to burden people with shame and guilt, but did nothing to encourage them. Jesus, while holding people to a high standard, showed grace and love to them. He desired that they would experience the love of God. That is to be our model.