If you grew up going to church you may have experienced pressure to share your views of God with others despite their possible disinterest. Some of this pressure may come from the belief that Hell is real, but the traditional understanding of Hell is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Jesus did not force God on others but discussed spirituality in a natural, relational way. Jesus brought up spiritual matters when it seemed appropriate and was accepted. Jesus’ agenda was to simply love people in the moment, not to manipulate them.
We may be surprised what Jesus said when asked directly how to have eternal life by a religion expert (Lk.10:25-37). Jesus did not warn one to run like/from Hell. Jesus simply advised to love God and your neighbor. A love relationship with God empowers us to love others like we wish to be loved. Jesus didn’t counsel to repent or get on your knees and say a certain prayer. Jesus implied immortality begins in this world by living according to the golden rule. One saves their life by running from selfishness. Jesus simply asked others to follow Him if seeking a better life.
Many misinterpret the passage: For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matt. 7:13-14). Jesus wasn’t being exclusive. Saving one’s life for Jesus was not giving an out a get-out-of-hell-free card. Jesus was only warning that selfishness leads to regret and destruction. The narrower path – loving others as we wish to be loved – leads to true freedom. The truth is that God’s ways are always in our best interest in the long-run.
Who doesn’t know the story of how Jesus responded to the religious elite who had caught a woman in adultery (Jn. 7:53-8:11). When Jesus rightly shamed the crowd, they dropped their stones and left Jesus and the woman alone. Jesus didn’t lecture, pray with the woman, or tell her to go to church. Jesus simply said “Go now and leave your life of sin.” It didn’t matter that Jesus may never see this woman again. Jesus had said all He needed to – God loves you and encourages you to do what you know is right in your heart.
Jesus saved tough conversations for religious pretenders who claimed to represent God. The Pharisees were in love with their power, thus making religion self-serving rather than self-sacrificing. Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees for their misguided emphasis on rules and obedience rather than a relationship and God’s unconditional love. God’s love and mercy is our necessary nourishment. No gloomy uncertainty as to God’s favor can conquer our battle against self-centeredness. Also, the Bible is not afraid to call out what every rational being knows to be immoral – abuse, murder, etc. God approved of war in the OT against nations who sacrificed their children to their supposed gods. If a child next door is being sexual abused would you do nothing to stop this evil? Tough love is sometimes necessary in hopes to change hearts.
People feel manipulated rather than loved when spiritual folks have an agenda. Jesus’ only agenda was to love others as they wanted to be love. Jesus had a sense when people needed to be encouraged, when they needed to be told to leave their life of sin, when they wanted to discuss a relationship with their Creator. Pray for the same wisdom. Engage in relationships only with the desire to love others as they wished to be loved. The Gospel is simply that God loves you unconditionally and the Creator desires a relationship to influence you for the world and your own good. Jesus only wanted to help others listen to their heart. I am convinced a close relationship with my Creator helps me to be a better man, husband, father, and friend.