Today we will begin a three-part series (posted each Tuesday) that will focus on the positive side of being negative. Today’s subject is centered on the need to be negative in the work of evangelism. Each Tuesday for the next two weeks, I will address the need to be negative in the work of apologetics and pastoral ministry.
We’ve all heard the line, “Don’t be negative, you will push people away.” Recently, I published an article that openly criticized a popular figure in evangelical circles. What I wasn’t prepared for was all of the negative responses from people who were accusing me of being negative. I do understand the point that many people expressed as they accused me of hindering the gospel. While I’m generally a happy, optimistic, and positive person who enjoys spending time in laughter, when it comes to the gospel, there is more to it than, “Smile, God has a wonderful plan for your life.”
We live in a hashtag happy culture that demands positivity and tolerance. The hashtags #DontHate and #DontJudge are popular statements in our society. Is it true that a perpetual positive tone will automatically lead people to faith in Jesus? The idea that being positive leads people to Christ while being negative leads people to hell is flawed on several different levels. While it’s certainly not Christlike to be rude, hateful, and arrogant in sharing the truth, we must realize that in order to share the gospel, a certain amount of negativity is required.
The Problem of Sin is Negative
The fact that everyone has sinned against God is not a positive message (Rom. 3:23). John Calvin once remarked that the heart is an idol factory. In fact, the truth that a person has sinned against God and that their heart is wicked (Jer. 17:9) is the most negative thing a person could ever hear. Although the message is negative, the purpose is positive.
Sin must be treated like a poisonous viper rather than a family lap dog. It must be approached with an urgency that requires immediate action. To allow sin to grow like cancer is detrimental to a person’s soul. We take our cues from Jesus, and as we examine His preaching, we see that He was straightforward and honest with people. Consider the woman at the well in John’s gospel, Jesus pointed out her sexual sin directly without attempting friendship evangelism. When we look at the preaching of Peter in Acts, we see him pointing out the sin of the multitude. In Paul’s preaching, he was consistently thrown in jail for his preaching, because he pointed out the negative reality of sin.
Sin is horrible and the end result is even worse. We must not walk in the footsteps of Joel Osteen who refuses to deal with the root of sin. We must not be like the doctor who treats the symptoms of cancer rather than the cancer. We must follow in the footsteps of Jesus and His apostles. If we want to lead people to Christ, we must address their sin and this will require us to be negative.
Francis Schaeffer was once asked, “What would you do if you met a really modern man on a train and you just had an hour to talk to him about the gospel?” He replied:
I’ve said over and over, I would spend 45-50 minutes on the negative, to really show him his dilemma – that he is morally dead – then I’d take 10-15 minutes to preach the gospel. I believe that much of our evangelistic and personal work today is not clear simply because we are too anxious to get to the answer without having a man realize the real cause of his sickness, which is true moral guilt (and not just psychological guilt feelings) in the presence of God. 
The Reality of Hell is Negative
Our culture uses hell as a word to emphasize the extremeness of an adjective rather than a place of torment where guilty sinners suffer endlessly. Could it be that the reason the church talks so much about heaven and so little about hell is because many people in the church don’t actually believe in a literal hell? It may shock some people to know that Jesus actually preached more about hell than He did about heaven during His earthly ministry. What may come as an added surprise to many in the church today is that Jesus spoke more about hell than anyone else in the Bible. In fact, if you take all everyone who spoke about hell in the Bible and combine all of their teaching on the subject, Jesus said more than everyone else combined.
The point is clear, Jesus preached about hell and it wasn’t a positive message (Luke 16:19-31; Matt. 13:41-42, 49-50). The reality of endless torment, suffering, agony, flames, pain, and the eternal wrath of God being poured out upon sinners is not a positive picture. However, it’s a necessary picture. The justice of God demands that sinners be judged. There will be no escape for guilty sinners, and this is not a positive thought or message. If you attempt to divorce God’s mercy from God’s justice, the end result is something other than the gospel.
The Exclusive Gospel is Negative
People do not like to be told they’re wrong. I recall my wife years ago telling me the story about her upper management at a high end personal training facility schooling her on the art of being positive. They trained her on how to address people who were overweight without telling them they were….wrong. She was told to move them to the solution without being negative. Why was so much effort put into such training? It was all about money and success. If you tell people they’re wrong, they might not return and when they don’t return, it will result in decreased sales.
That same mindset has crept into the church today. The church has lost its prophetic voice. The pulpit sounds like Veggie Tales rather than the apostle Paul. The message of the cross is a stumbling block to the world. The bloody cross is offensive. However, unless the emphatic exclusivity of Christ is preached and explained without compromise, people will perish eternally. The church today must be courageous enough in our God hating society to lift up Christ as the exclusive door of salvation. The church must dare to be negative in the sense of telling sinners that God demands that they repent.
The only hope for sinners is for someone to be bold enough to tell them they’re wrong, they’re guilty, and that there is hope in God through Jesus Christ. A statement from the children’s movie years ago titled Finding Nemo stated, “All drains lead to the ocean” (Gill in Finding Nemo). That may be true in the pixelated cartoon world of Hollywood, but it’s not true when it comes to real life. Our ecumenical culture is confused regarding religion and that has never been more clearly visible than at the recent Muhammad Ali funeral. All religions don’t lead to the same place. The moment we point out the errors of such an ecumenical interfaith funeral, we have just become negative.
The church is not called to be rude, prideful, arrogant, and harsh. The call to preach the gospel is not a license to be ugly. We don’t need to make the gospel more offensive and negative than it already is. While the gospel is good news to guilty sinners, it’s also negative at the same time. To speak the truth in love requires that we speak the truth. Remember, Jesus loved sinners, but He told them the truth. The most unloving thing we could possible do is to remain silent about the truth in our attempt to be positive. A happy church will share a negative message with a positive goal. Do you want to lead more people to Jesus? You need to be negative!
J. Gresham Machen once said:
No man is interested in a piece of good news unless he has the consciousness of needing it; no man is interested in an offer of salvation unless he knows that there is something from which he needs to be saved. It is quite useless to ask a man to adopt the Christian view of the gospel unless he first has the Christian view of sin. 
Will Metzger, Tell The Truth, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 118.
J. Gresham Machen, God Transcendent and Other Sermons, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949), 34.
What is the O’Reilly gospel? This evening on the Bill O’Reilly show, a clip of Bill O’Reilly on the Don Imus radio show was presented. In the clip, O’Reilly and Don Imus discussed Jesus and the upcoming book by O’Reilly titled, Killing Jesus (due out in September). The clip that was indeed “clipped” did not show the full conversation between the two men. It was however clipped by O’Reilly’s staff and apparently portrayed an accurate view of O’Reilly’s position on the gospel of Jesus Christ. While many people view O’Reilly as a social conservative, his position on the gospel could not be more liberal.
Bill O’Reilly told Don Imus that he expects many people to be angry over his book on Jesus. If the pages of the book include his definition of the gospel as he articulated on the Don Imus show, he should have many genuine Christians angry for sure. Much like Joel Osteen’s pattern of overlooking the sin problem, O’Reilly seemed to commit the very same grievous error in his description of the gospel.
The clip begins with Don Imus stating that he believes that there is more than “one path to where ever it is that everybody thinks they’re going.” Imus is clearly opposing the exclusivity of Jesus Christ in his statement. O’Reilly responded by talking about a Roman Catholic doctrine known as “Baptism by Desire.” According to O’Reilly, a person who is not formally baptized with water on the head can still get to heaven by leading a good life. O’Reilly continues by stating, “The theology of Christianity is based on one thing – treating other people the way you want to be treated. If you do that and if you live in New Guinea, I think you’re gonna make it.” As the clip ends, O’Reilly appears on his show and explains that his reference to New Guinea was taken from part of his conversation with Don Imus where he argued that a just God would never assign people to hell who have never heard of Jesus.
This entire conversation is extremely troubling on several levels.
1. Bill O’Reilly, a Roman Catholic, is writing a book on Jesus without sufficient knowledge of the person and message of Jesus.
2. Bill O’Reilly flatly misrepresents the teachings of Jesus by telling Don Imus that people who live a good life will make it to heaven – without Jesus.
Jesus taught that He was the only way a person could be reconciled to God the Father and spend eternity in heaven. This is clear from John 14:6 where Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The Scriptures echo that same teaching all throughout the New Testament (John 5:24; Acts 4:12; 1 John 5:10-12; 1 John 2:23). In fact, the entire foundation of Christianity is based on the exclusivity of Jesus Christ.
3. Bill O’Reilly misunderstands the gospel of Jesus Christ by stating that people who have never heard of Jesus will automatically to go heaven.
If Jesus spoke John 14:6, and He certainly did, no other way to heaven exists. The doctrine of the exclusivity of Christ insists that there is no other means whereby a person can be reconciled to God outside of Jesus Christ. This includes the position of ignorance. Therefore, if Jesus is the only way to God and the only way to receive the forgiveness of sins, that would mean that those people in New Guinea (or any other place on planet earth) who have never heard the gospel will not receive a free pass to heaven (see my article on this subject here). Why would the apostles leave families and die a ruthless death if other paths existed? Why would Jim Elliot die on the river bank in Ecuador trying to convert the Auca Indians if ignorance was capable of saving them? If Bill O’Reilly truly believes that people who have never heard of Jesus will go to heaven, the most damnable thing he could do is write a book about Jesus and publicize it on national television.
Last of all, Bill O’Reilly paints a faulty portrait of the attribute of God’s justice to Don Imus (and the world). He stated that a “just God” would never assign people to hell who have never heard of Jesus. The very attribute of God’s justice requires Him to punish all sin. Would a just God crush His Son on a Roman cross? Isaiah 53:10 points out the truth that God literally crushed His Son for sinners. Either my sin will be punished in hell or it was punished on the cross. There is no other means of satisfying the total justice of God. That would mean that the person Bill O’Reilly described on his show in New Guinea who has never heard of Jesus must have some other means of erasing their sin prior to entering heaven. This must happen or they will not be welcomed by God because His justice will not allow them into His presence. The reality that O’Reilly misses is that those people in New Guinea are all sinners. Just like those people in India. It’s the same for all of us in America as well. Romans 3:23 clearly teaches that we have all sinned and we deserve the wrath of God (Romans 6:23).
Bill O’Reilly is a very poor theologian who has now written a book about the Son of God. Although I have never read any of O’Reilly’s other books, with the glaring misrepresentations of Jesus and His gospel, it should cause us to ask ourselves if he got the information on Lincoln right. One of the most discouraging facts about O’Reilly’s position is that many evangelical Christians who watch his show every night didn’t hear anything wrong with his description of the gospel of Jesus. In his description of the gospel, O’Reilly kills the gospel and turns it into a self-righteous system of good deeds and morality. Paul gave a very serious warning to those who pervert the gospel of Christ. Bill O’Reilly should carefully read Galatians 1:8-9 – “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Charles Spurgeon said it well years ago when he stated, “The greatest enemy to human souls is the self-righteous spirit which makes men look to themselves for salvation.”
It’s one thing to have strong political views. If you’re wrong, the stakes are not nearly as high. However, when you speak for God and define the gospel of Christ – the stakes could not be higher. Although O’Reilly said that he doesn’t use his position to tell people what they should believe, isn’t that exactly what he did on the Imus show and his own television show on July 23rd? Although Bill O’Reilly prides himself on stopping the spin, he spun the gospel into something that literally killed the gospel of grace and redefined it into a self-righteous system of works. If Killing Jesus is full of this view of salvation provided by Jesus, it will prove to be problematic to a clear understanding of the gospel of Christ.
What happens to a person who dies without hearing the gospel? Do they go to Heaven? Do they go to Hell? That question is being discussed in our Sunday School classes, pulpits, and in the local coffee shop more often than we may realize. Does the Bible teach the exclusivity of Christianity? Is Jesus the only way to be reconciled to God? The troubling reality is evident by the wide variety of answers that are given to these questions. With an often watered down gospel message preached on the television and radio, coupled with a soft message of God’s judgment, the result is staggering and may be the cause for so much controversy over this old debate. In order to fully address this question, it is important that we examine several key issues surrounding this question.
What Does The Bible Teach About Sin?
The Bible is clear about sin. Everyone on planet earth (past, present, and future) has sinned against God (Romans 3:23). Most people who are in a solid Bible preaching church understand that fact. In such cases, it is clearly preached from the pulpit. However, what is often missed in the discussion of sin is the justice of God’s character. In other words, if God is fully just and righteous, He must punish all sinners for their sin. In fact, in Romans 6:23, Paul explains that the “wages of sin is death.” It becomes clear that what man deserves for his sin is the wrath of God in Hell, which is called the “second death” (Revelation 20:11-15). However, many church going evangelicals understand that man deserves the wrath of God, but they fail to understand that God is required to judge all sinners who have sinned against Him.
What Does The Bible Teach About Salvation?
The Bible teaches us about the love of God (John 3:16). In fact, Paul tells us in Romans 5:8 that God knew how wicked we were, but sent His Son to die for us. That is the purposeful act and plan of God being carried out on the cross. That plan was put into place before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20, Revelation 13:8). Much like the subject of sin, many good church going evangelicals believe in the love of God, also stated as the “good news” of the gospel. However, many of those same people overlook the clear doctrine of the exclusivity of Christ. In fact, that doctrine, although clearly taught in the Bible, is one of the most divisive doctrines in our present day. Ronald Nash notes, evangelical objections to the exclusivity of the gospel often serves as a “romantic” comfort for those who “could sleep better if there were less urgency or no urgency in getting the gospel to the unevangelized.”1
The exclusivity of Christ is taught in Acts 4:12 and John 14:6. It was Jesus Himself who claimed to be the “way, the truth, and the life.” Although many will quote that part of John 14:6, they often leave off the last phrase of the verse that says, “and no man comes to the Father but by me.” Is Jesus the only way to Heaven? Is Jesus the only means of justification of sin? Is Jesus the only means of reconciliation to the Father? While Jesus is the only means of justification and reconciliation, He is not merely the means to an end. The Scripture teaches that God’s plan ends with Jesus as the exalted One. The Scripture teaches that every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess Jesus as Lord (Philippians 2:5-11). According to the Bible, Jesus is the absolute single door of salvation, and that very subject is the heart of this growing debate. While the Bible uses such phrases as “whosoever will” and “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13)” – the fact remains – not everyone does. Therefore, those who do not call on the Lord for salvation are not saved. To use the language of Scripture, every person who is not saved by Jesus Christ is lost and currently under the wrath of God awaiting full judgment (Romans 1:18-20).
What Does The Bible Teach About Man?
While the Bible teaches that all people have sinned, it goes beyond that to teach that all of mankind is without excuse. In Romans 1, Paul points out that all people have witnessed God in His marvelous creation and that all of mankind is without excuse. Not only is man a sinner who deserves the wrath of God, but he is also unable to deny that God exists. The creation of God declares that there is a God and that He is eternal. Only the fool tries to deny that (Psalm 14:1). Furthermore, it’s this clear teaching that also demonstrates that man is not truly ignorant. Whatever light man is given in creation, he tries to suppress it and push it away (John 1:9-11). The very law of God has been written on the hearts of mankind (Romans 2:12-16), but it’s the wickedness of sin that causes man to reject that light and run away. Therefore, the only searching that takes place in the world is by those people who are searching for a god that fits into their little box. The Bible is explicitly clear that no man, on his own freewill, seeks after God (Romans 3:11).
What Does The Bible Teach About Missions?
The heart of the church is missions. Any church that refuses to engage in missions is hardly a New Testament church by any biblical definition. Christians are missional people by God’s design. After being saved by Grace, it is the plan of God to send His people out into the world as witnesses for His name’s sake. The people of God have been called by God (Romans 8:28-30) and commissioned by God (Matthew 28:18-20). All throughout the history of the church, people have been going out into the world preaching the message of Christ. In Romans 1:16, Paul said that the gospel is the “power of God unto salvation.” However, he goes beyond that to say, “to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Gentile).” In other words, even the Gentile can be saved, but the emphasis is upon the gospel. Statistics tell us that 3.8 billion people on planet earth have never heard the gospel of Christ (a statistic of 2010). Many of those people are living in tribes and jungles among unreached people groups. If ignorance of the gospel was the doorway to Heaven, wouldn’t our commitment to missions through mission offerings, mission trips, and lifelong missionaries to foreign lands be a lost cause? Could it be possible that our mission endeavors serve as a means of damnation rather than salvation? If a person could go to Heaven through a lack of knowledge, telling them the gospel with the reality that they may reject it, would be the most monstrous thing we could do. The point is clear – God has sent people out on a mission. God has given us His message of the gospel as His means of reaching the unreached. According to the Word of God, all people without Christ are under the wrath of God (Romans 1:18). It’s God’s plan to send us out on a saving mission to reach the nations with the good news of Jesus Christ.
If the man on the island who has never heard the gospel recognizes the general revelation of God in creation and throws himself down under the mercy of God and calls out for salvation, will he be saved? A better question may be, “Does this ever occur or has this ever occurred?” The fact is, that is a hypothetical situation that does not exist.2 The individual who never hears the gospel will never desire to repent because it is through the special revelation of God’s Word that mankind is given the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and comes to the realization of his own sinfulness. In other words, what Paul asked to his readers remains true today – “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher” (Romans 10:14)? Certainly Jim Elliot understood this truth as he devoted his life to reach the unreached Auca Indians in the South American jungle. We can likewise be certain that Lottie Moon understood the urgency of this truth as she gave her life reaching the people of China with the gospel. If ignorance leads to Heaven, why would people be called to such great sacrifices?
Those who are emotionally driven to a conclusion of Grace without Christ in this debate should reconsider based on the Word of God. Furthermore, it should be pointed out that Sodom and Gomorrah likely never heard the gospel, and they all perished under the judgment of God and remain in Hell today. Is that fair? On another note, Nineveh should have received the same judgment, but under the rich mercy of God, they received a warning from a disobedient prophet named Jonah and they repented. Rather than perishing under the judgment of God, they received mercy and forgiveness. Is that fair? Jonah certainly didn’t think so. At the end of this debate is the stark reality of our own salvation. We were saved by the rich mercy of our great God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:18-20). That simply isn’t fair. That’s amazing Grace – how sweet the sound.
1. If people who never hear the gospel die and go to Hell, that is not fair and God would never do that to anyone.
Response: The Scripture has clearly revealed that all people have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). If everyone received from God what was fair, we would all go to Hell (Romans 6:23). The fact is, Grace is not fair – it’s Grace. Judgment and wrath is fair because it is what we all deserve. Furthermore, God is not responsible for our sin. Therefore, He did not merely send undeserving people to Hell. Anyone who goes to Hell deserves it.
2. If a person never hears the gospel, they are spared from the wrath of God because they never rejected Jesus.
Response: People do not go to Hell on the basis of rejecting Jesus alone, they go to Hell because they are sinners who have broken the righteous Law of God. It is their transgression against God that requires the wrath of God.
3. God loves the sinner and hates the sin.
Response: Does God judge sinners or just their sin? The rich man from Luke 16:19-31 was experiencing the wrath of God personally. Jesus experienced the wrath of God for our sins. The Father didn’t pour out His wrath on the sin, He poured out His wrath on the Son who became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Therefore, we must conclude that God both loves and hates at the same time, but He is committed to judging the sinner.
1. Ronald H. Nash, Is Jesus the Only Savior? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994): 163.
It is often humorous how things change after marriage and children. This past week, our family gathered in our living room floor on Friday night for family time. We played with Play-doh and watched the movie – Finding Nemo. I often see great illustrations in things I read and watch, and this past Friday evening was no different. As we watched the movie together, we came to the scene where the fish were planning an escape from the fish tank. The fish were talking about their plan and one of the fish made the statement that all drains (toilet, spit drains, and sink drains) lead to the ocean. In case you have not watched the movie, the scene is in a dentist’s office. Sure enough, a little while later, little Nemo was able to make the escape down the spit drain next to the patient’s chair with the help of a Pelican and another fish. And just as they discussed, Nemo ended up in the Ocean.
While the producers surely never intended to splash a theological subject into the movie, I was able to connect the dots to our modern day view of religion. Just as the fish said that “all drains lead to the ocean,” many people today have a similar view of religions. Many people believe that mere dedication to a belief system or religious path will lead them to Heaven. The problem with this view is that it is obviously disconnected from the teachings of the Scriptures – and it also flatly denies the claim that Jesus made in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (KJV).”
Furthermore, in our present day, we who teach and preach this truth from Holy Scripture are viewed as inconsiderate, judgmental, narrow minded, and intolerant. With so many opinions floating around in our society regarding religion and a push for fair tolerance in regard for all views – such a statement of exclusivity is often seen as dangerous. What does that mean for Christians? Should Christians agree to lay down their exclusive view of the Gospel in respect for others? How should Christians truly respect the views, opinions, and beliefs of the entire society in general? Below are several points that we as Christians should remember as we take our exclusive message to our society:
1. Christians should never lay down the exclusivity of Jesus Christ (the doctrine which states that He is the only way to true salvation) in order to respect views of other people. We have a Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) from Jesus Himself that must be obeyed over and above the tolerance movement.
2. Christians must show genuine love and compassion for people while sharing the message of the Gospel. It is possible to faithfully share the Gospel with respect and gentleness – with a goal of seeing the person come to the knowledge of the Truth – rather than debating doctrine.
3. Christians must remember that true love for people is not rooted in tolerance, but in a willingness to share the truth of the glorious Gospel message with people.
4. Christians must be totally committed and convinced of the exclusivity of the Gospel in order to make a difference in their communities. That is why the disciples and Apostles made such a difference in their day. They were totally convinced that Jesus Christ was the only way of salvation and that without Him – all men were doomed. If we had that same understanding about people in our present day, we would be faithful to share Him with others more consistently.
Jesus is the only way of salvation! We must love Him supremely, serve Him earnestly, and worship Him fervently. Rather than being led astray by the modern tolerance movement, we should gain a love for the glorious doctrine of the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. When we see the glitter of this wonderful truth shining from the pages of Holy Writ – it should move us to the heights of praise for the Savior who died for our sins.
John 14:6 – I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (KJV).
Acts 4:12 – Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (KJV).