When I was seventeen, I remember standing before my pastor telling him that I felt better. I had just repeated a prayer about salvation. I remember the feeling right after praying that. I felt like I was going to hell. I still remember today many years later. It was the most terrible feeling I had ever felt. I went there with the intent of getting right and feeling better. But I left with the most dirty, helpless feeling I had ever had.
What do you say to someone who thinks they are going to hell? The person feels like there is no hope and they are doomed to the pit of hell, with no chance of altering the outcome. I remember what it felt like. I’ve also spoken to many who have shared the same experience. Now, as someone who has been radically changed (mind and heart) by the saving power of Jesus, I passionately want people to understand the truth. They can be saved. They don’t have to go to hell.
Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’” The premise being, if someone wants to God to Heaven, they will. If they want to go to hell, they will. I don’t believe that C.S. Lewis thought that anyone who ended up in hell would actually still want to stay there. You can read the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus and see that tremendous regret will come crashing down on anyone who rejects the Savior. But the point is still truthful: if anyone wants to be with God, they can. So the great question that Christians, pastors, and the church needs to answer is, how do I get this person who feels hopeless to see the truth?
Part of the problem here is that many Christians in the church don’t know how to share their faith with anyone. I remember being a brand new Christian in college at about twenty years old. I was at a service for college and high school students. I was asked to go forward and pray with anyone who stepped forward and wanted to make a response for Christ. I calmly told them “sure”, but secretly inside I was praying no one came forward for fear of not knowing what to say! This is the inward struggle of too many in churches and even, sadly, some pastors.
So my very simple, but crucial advice is lead them to scripture, not just your thoughts. Maybe you were looking for something more profound than that? I understand, but my experience is that this just isn’t being done very adequately. When I was younger and felt I was going to hell, I needed to be shown what scripture said about the whole matter. I am a firm believer in the Romans Road way to explain the gospel to people. It’s simple, to the point, and easy to remember. Romans 3:23 (why we need salvation), Romans 6:23 (the result of our sin, but there’s a way out), Romans 5:8 (the unconditional love of God), Romans 10:9-10 (our responsibility to believe and confess), Romans 10:13 (Whomever will, can).
So the next time you get in a conversation with someone who is at a crisis of faith and doesn’t feel saved, go to the Bible. Our feelings are going to let us down. They will deceive us. We cannot be driven by emotion and feelings. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” Jeremiah echoes this about listening to our hearts in chapter seventeen. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” I can clearly remember times when I was driving, not quite sure where we were, and I said, “I feel like we’re going the wrong way.” It turns out we were not. My feelings let me down. And they have many more times! Other times I have said, “This just feels so right.” Then I later remember back on those times with regret. My feelings have even been altered by a football team, filled with people that I have never met, and most likely will never meet. Why do we trust our understanding and whole worldview to something as fragile as our feelings?
The next time someone questions their salvation, or has major doubts, go to the Bible. Go through the Romans Road and explain about salvation. Maybe they were never taken through what it really means to have faith in Jesus. If and when any doubts come, people need to be taught the truth in God’s unchanging word, over and far surpassing their shaky, untrustworthy feelings. It doesn’t matter what we feel. What does God say is true? That’s all that matters.