“Oh, oh, I’m getting scared. . . It could be true.”
It was a landmark statement, considering its source.
He was a 20-year old cook, a self-professed hedonist, self-assured that there would be no consequence in this life or the next for his “if it feels good, do it” lifestyle.
I was a 33-year-old seminary student on summer break, working as a campground preacher for the organization A Christian Ministry in the National Parks on Sundays, and as a “kitchen helper” (glorified title for pot washer) in Yellowstone Park’s Roosevelt Lodge.
The conversation about Christ had begun over a break that morning. It continued for several hours, distracting me from the drudgery of pot washing as we went back to work. He was a willing listener, entirely unconcerned at first that there might be any real basis for a belief in the Christian God due to his secular, humanistic education.
But after a couple of hours of hearing one convincing evidence after another that the Bible was true and Jesus was who He claimed to be, he found himself experiencing an unexpected emotion– fear. Fear that there really could be a God. And more than that, that this God would one day judge him for his sins, which were many.
It was one of two experiences from that Yellowstone summer that drove home the importance of fearing God, the threat of judgment and its consequence for unbelievers.
The other involved another kitchen acquaintance and fellow pot washer named Ernie. He was 19, and a professed believer. However, his commitment to Christ seemed half-hearted, distant and unenthusiastic. He was around–he showed up at services when it was convenient and assented to the truths I was teaching. But something was missing.
Years later, after we moved to Reno, he not only called but also visited us. What had been missing had been found—a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
Fear of the Lord and being confronted by the potential for his own mortality is what did it. One day, Ernie had found himself alone and stranded in the wilderness when his truck stopped working. He had no means of contacting anyone. He feared he could die. At that point he began asking himself what would happen if he died. He concluded that whatever might happen, the outcome would likely not be good. And then our words, God’s Word, came back to him. For the first time, he repented and truly trusted Christ as His Savior. His enthusiasm for the Lord was now evident. He was now an enthusiastic member and servant of Christ in a good Bible-teaching church.
Two well-known proverbs come to mind at this point: “There are no atheists in a foxhole” and “you’ve got to get them lost before you get them saved.”
Fear of judgment, and the unspeakable, Hell, are major motivations for any unbeliever to come to faith in Christ. I know, because fear of those things was the biggest motivator in my coming to Christ. When Billy Graham spoke on the Lake of Fire at the final day of his Anaheim Crusade in 1967, my heart was practically beating out of my chest during the altar call when I bolted from my seat to seek assurance of my salvation.
And that’s exactly what God intends. Though he’s a loving God, and “the kindness of God leads” us to repentance (Romans 2:4), He doesn’t mind using the fear of judgment as a motivator as well.
Otherwise, why did Jesus warn, “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5).
More than that, Jesus Himself promised that the Holy Spirit Himself would be the prime mover in this whole matter of convicting people that they are sinners, fall short of God’s righteousness, and that judgment’s coming. That was His point in encouraging His apostles to proclaim the Gospel with this promise in John 16:8: “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”
As we face a crisis of apocalyptic proportions, many unbelievers are experiencing one or both of the following: more time to think about life than they have ever had, and the prospect of their own immediate mortality.
All of America, and much of the world, is now a foxhole. If people aren’t praying, they’ve thought about it. And they’re wondering what might await them, or their loved ones, beyond the grave.
This is not a time for us to be quiet. Many are experiencing anxiety and sleepless nights. We have what they need, and now their need is becoming all too apparent to them.
You may be socially distancing, but because of technology, you are connected with others like you never have been before. As people express their fears, are you ready and willing to give them the only solid hope of eternal life God has ever given the world—the risen Jesus Christ?
Use my approach. As they express their fears, ask them if they have a church background. Ask them if they were to die tonight and meet God at heaven’s gate and He were to ask them why He should let them in, what they would say. Memorize at least one verse that both gets them lost and gives them a clue about how to get saved. I recommend Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Remember these five simple words from I Corinthians 15:3: “Christ died for our sins.”
Don’t leave these poor souls fearful and lost, but give them real hope–faith in Jesus.
How could any follower of Christ do less?
“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity” (Colossians 4:5).