You Cannot Keep People Out of Hell

God does not fault us with anyone’s eternal destiny.
by R. Larry Moyer

I knew she could do it. Others told me so. Women like her were needed to speak to non-Christian women. Her frequent short-term mission trips had given her opportunities.

But something troubled her. Through a veil of tears, she told me what it was. The more she talked, the more I fought anger, frustration, and pity. A misconception had caused her unnecessary suffering. Using Scripture, I set her free. Then I asked her to write about the misconception so I could use it to help others. Here’s what she said:

“Coming from the background I did, I’m guilt-oriented when it comes to evangelism. I feel so badly about it no matter what! If I talk to someone about Christ, I worry that I didn’t do it ‘good enough.’ If I resist an opportunity to share Christ, I feel condemned, like a lousy Christian. When I was a new Christian in college, a preacher said, ‘If you don’t share Christ with someone, their blood is on your hands.’ To some people, that may be motivating, but to me it was just more guilt and condemnation.”

That thought—”When you miss an opportunity to share Christ with someone, it’s your fault if that person goes to hell”—is often communicated. The actual terminology used is, “Their blood is on your hands.” Her observation was accurate—to some, that phrase might be motivating, but it usually instills guilt. That guilt is accompanied by pressure, fear, and shame. What could be worse than thinking that a person you failed to witness to is now in hell, that it’s your fault, that their blood is on your hands?

I became numb and nauseated reading a letter from my family in Pennsylvania. My friend Ray had been murdered. Ray had stopped one night to collect rent in the apartment complex that he owned. The two men who answered the knock asked him to step inside. Overtaking him, they stabbed him more than a dozen times, spilling blood on the carpet and splattering it on the wallpaper. After stuffing his body in a black, plastic garbage bag, they dumped it along a country road. Their prison sentence? Seventeen years, with good behavior. Their actual sentence? If their conscience bothers them at all, it’s living the rest of their lives knowing a woman was a widow, a family was fatherless, friends were stunned. They would never be able to erase the night, the knife, the pleading screams of a dying man.

If the above misconception is true, though, there’s a greater horror than knowing you caused someone’s death. It’s the horror of knowing you were responsible for someone’s eternal torment in hell.

Imagine your friend in hell, isolated, burning, thirsting in a dark, empty, sulfuric space. He longs for a touch, cries out for relief, craves one sip. He yearns to die but cannot. He searches for a face, a sound, anything. He recalls every missed opportunity, every relationship, every rejection. A scream pierces the air and he discovers it is his own. He is in hell. And if this misconception is correct, it’s your fault because you didn’t tell him about Christ.

What Scripture is used to support this misconception?

Ezekiel 3:18-19 is often taken out of context: “When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.”

God appointed Ezekiel a watchman. Two verses earlier we read, “Now it came to pass at the end of seven days that the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me” (vv.16-17). A watchman alerted the city of coming danger. He stood on the city wall, hilltop, or watchtower, guarding against threat. If he failed, the city could be lost. Ezekiel’s job was to warn of impending danger. The nation was doomed. Only through heeding their watchman could they survive. Chapters 4-24 of Ezekiel contain his cry of alarm, which gave those outside the walls an opportunity to seek protection. It also gave the people time to secure the gates and man the defenses.

The death spoken of in Ezekiel 3:18-19 is physical, not spiritual. The context is the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem that Ezekiel predicted. The wicked person refusing to heed God’s warning could expect physical death.

Examining the verses in context, Ezekiel was to warn the righteous, not just the wicked. Verses 20-21 tell us,

Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul.

As Nebuchadnezzar’s armies approached, the righteous person departing from the path of righteousness was also in danger. That didn’t mean the person lost eternal salvation.

Again, the death spoken of here is physical death. God’s judgment was about to fall on Jerusalem. Those breaking His commandments could expect the physical consequences of sin.

Ezekiel’s warnings were not general principles, but specific revelations. He was made mute by God until God gave him the specific message, and he could only speak when God told him to. When his speechlessness was removed, he pronounced the prophecies. Ezekiel 3:26-27 tells us,

I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute and not be one to rebuke them, for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD.” He who hears, let him hear; and he who refuses, let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house.

This temporary muteness remained with Ezekiel until the fall of Jerusalem. At that time the prophecies he had delivered were confirmed. We are told in Ezekiel 33:21-22,

And it came to pass in the twelfth year of our captivity, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, that one who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has been captured!” Now the hand of the LORD had been upon me the evening before the man came who had escaped. And He had opened my mouth; so when he came to me in the morning, my mouth was opened, and I was no longer mute.

What if Ezekiel refused to speak God’s message to the people who came to his house? He would be guilty of murder. This is the meaning of “his blood I will require at your hand”; God would hold Ezekiel accountable. He would be as responsible for their deaths as if he had killed them himself. Once more, the blood had nothing to do with spiritual death, but physical death. What if Ezekiel fulfilled his responsibility in warning them, even if they neglected his warning? He would save himself. The word saved means delivered and does not refer to eternal salvation. By giving a warning, Ezekiel delivered himself from responsibility for the coming judgment. Those who ignored his warning could only blame themselves.

What’s the problem when we apply “blood on your hands” to evangelism?

As you can see, Ezekiel 3:18-19 does not apply to evangelism. The New Testament believer is not a “watchman” over the world. Today’s watchmen are the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

In John 16, Christ declared of the Holy Spirit,

It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (John 16:7-11)

Concerning the Scriptures, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The death we speak of to the lost is not merely physical death; it is spiritual death, eternal separation from God. Hebrews 9:27 warns of the eternal death that is beyond physical death for the non-Christian: “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” Any warnings about this judgment are derived from the Word, not specific revelations.

Our failure to evangelize may mean loss of reward when we see the Savior, but it won’t mean God will charge us with murder.

Why is it not “our fault” if someone goes to hell?

God is in complete control, not partial control. He is sovereign, and that sovereignty extends to salvation. Paul testified, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30).

The point here is that the blood of non-Christians is not on our hands because God is in control. It is He, not us, who foreknows, predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies.

Romans 3:11 tells us, “There is none who seeks after God.” Non-Christians cannot come to God unless He brings them. If they come to Christ, He has to draw them. When Jesus confronted the ignorance of His own people, who rejected Him, He recognized their inability to remove that blindness. He testified, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44).

God is sovereign over everything including salvation. We should strive not to fail in our responsibility to evangelize, but if we do fail, it’s not our fault if nonbelievers go to hell. Although He desires to use us, each person’s destiny is in God’s hands.

Using Ezekiel 3:18-19 in evangelism is not a proper handling of Scripture. God was speaking to Ezekiel about his responsibility as a watchman to the nation of Israel; He was not speaking about your responsibility as a witness. Yes, some passages may be understood in context and then applied to evangelism, but the Ezekiel passage is not one of them. God’s sovereignty over the salvation of each individual leaves the results in His hands, not ours.

—Adapted from 21 Things God Never Said by R. Larry Moyer © 2004. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.”

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