“The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions”

By Steven Chan

1. The title of this article is not a quotation from the Bible. It is an English proverb. Nevertheless, its sentiment is not inconsistent with what the Bible reveals. The proverb carries the following meanings:-

2. One meaning is that while some may have good intentions, their actions in carrying them out may actually be bad or wrong.

An example of such is that of witch-hunting.

Between 1400-1782, reportedly between 40,000-60,000 people were put to death for witchcraft in Europe.

Commenters observed thus: “Among both Catholics and Protestants, witch-hunting became a prime service for attracting and appeasing the masses by demonstrating their Satan-fighting prowess.” Witch-hunting served the greater good of Christendom, in their view.”

Their intention might have been commendable, to “contend” for their faith and “protect” their faith in God (whether Catholic or Protestant) by “putting away” those who in their view adhered to Satanic practices.

However, “witch-hunting” and burning them at the stakes are not approved or permitted by God’s Word. Such actions are contrary to the teachings of the Scriptures.

How should the Christian respond to practices of sorcery and witchcraft?  The response authorized by the Scriptures is as follows:-

(a) We are to  “abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thess 5:22)

Witchcraft is an abomination to the Lord and ought not to be practised by those who desire to please God:

Deut 18:10-12: “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practises witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord.”

(b) We need to help those who practise such unacceptable things to know the truth as revealed in God’s Word (John 17:17; 8:31-32).

Our response and approach are to be in accordance with 2 Tim 2:24-26:

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”

(c) When the people believed the gospel and turned to the Lord, they will cease their evil practices as recorded in Acts 19:18-19:-

“And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. 19 Also, many of those who had practised magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all.” 

The good intention of wanting to please God and win God’s favour must also be accompanied by actions that are approved by God (and not resorting to our own actions as deemed fit by ourselves).

(a) Actions that are authorized by God will glorify Him (Col 3:17; 1 Cor 10:31).

(b) Actions that are not authorized by God do not glorify Him – just as when Nadab and Abihu “offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them.” And Moses revealed: “This is what the Lord spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.’ ” (Lev 10:1-3)

(c) In fact, the failure to submit to the instruction of God’s Word was viewed by God to be as bad as the practice of witchcraft; the prophet Samuel declared to King Saul in 1 Sam 15:22-23:-

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.”

(d) The apostle Paul expressed his sadness concerning the zeal (or good intention) of the Israelites which was unfortunately not in accordance with the right knowledge of God’s Will: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” Indeed, the prophet Hosea declared from long ago: – “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” (Hos 4:6).

(3) Another meaning of the English proverb, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions“ is this: many have the knowledge of what needs to be done and have good intentions to do the right things but failed to do them.

a. This inaction can be attributed to procrastination (Haggai 1:2), laziness (Rom 12:11), distractions (Matt 13:22), being self-deceived (James 1:22), lacking the self-discipline to follow through (1 Tim 4:15-16) or simply willful disregard (Jer 11:10).

Whatever the excuses may be, there is no justification for failing to do what is required by God. “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17)

b. Jesus said: “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:17). “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Matt 7:21). Jesus warned against being like the Pharisees: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.” (Matt 23:2-3)

c. We often sing the hymn, “I want to be a worker for the Lord”. How many of us daily put into action the good intention expressed in the words of the hymn? Consider the words:-

“I want to be a worker for the Lord, I want to love and trust His holy Word, I want to sing and pray, be busy every day in the vineyard of the Lord. I want to lead the erring in the way that leads to Heav’n above; help me, Lord, to lead the lost and erring to Thy Word, that points to joys on high”

(4) We need to do more than just having good intentions. We need to start putting these intentions into action, immediately, urgently and with great diligence and perseverance.

We need to heed the exhortations of the apostle Paul: “not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Rom 12:11). “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor 15:58)

We do not have all the time in the world to do what we are commanded to do – the work of the Lord: “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (James 4:14). 

Recalled that those who missed heaven were those who did not do what God had required of them: “And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.” (Luke 12:47).  “Inasmuch as you did not do it… (you) will go away into everlasting punishment” (Matt 25:45-46). Sadly, in many instances, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions“.

Let us have the right intention to do God’s will and then resolve to do God’s will in the manner authorized by Him and thereby glorify Him. In doing God’s will let us not “simply tembak” (i.e. simply shoot or do anyhow or in a lackadaisical manner).

Let us also not fail to do what we know we ought to do. While good intention is essential, it is unfortunately not good enough for us to enter heaven: we need to put those intentions to work (Matt 7:21).