Yeah, I’ve done this one before, but it’s important so I’m doing it again (see The Gospel Rant 3: Some Theology, as well as The Gospel Rant 4: Evangelism and God’s Busted Plays). The themes addressed in this blog will be Biblical motives behind evangelism; next week I’ll tackle Gospel and missiological strategies. Some of my ideas on these topics rustle hairs in missiological circles, so if I freak you out, don’t fret—I’m using Reaching Campus to air ideas and collect thoughts, not to spread heresy. As always, I welcome comments, concerns, questions and other brilliant mathematical theorems at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For What Do We Work?
Last night, I was listening to our Bible study’s discussion of John 8, and the verse came up which reads ‘If you love Me, you will obey My commands.’ I consider this verse absolutely critical in the life of the Christian believer—it is one of the shortest, simplest summations of the Way that Scripture gives. But there are two interpretations for it, and although both are true, one is often ignored.
The first is simple: If you love God, you will do what he says, meaning that you will physically do His commands; in the middle of a struggle against sin, you will perform correct works. This is true—it must be true. The Christian life is hard (if it is not hard, we have bigger problems). We will not always love God, so we need some iron in our backs to resist sin when it comes knocking.
But the second interpretation takes a bigger step: If you first love God, obedience will follow naturally, but first comes love. Personally, I hinge most of my Christian beliefs on this latter interpretation of the verse—after all, what are the two greatest commandments?
For some, this one is more uncomfortable. I don’t hear of many students who were born and raised in Sleepy Churchtown, USA, coming to college raving about their all-consuming love for Jesus. I hear them adhering to principles taught to them by their parents and supporting political, moral and social ideology; I don’t hear them paying more than empty lip service to concepts such as the depths of the Spirit, the joy of knowing Him, the supremacy of His intimacy over girlfriends or dates, etcetera.
This is a reality of the modern American Church, and it’s a big reason why missionaries from other nations have started showing up on our soil. The average church in Nowhere, TX has forgotten its first love. I believe there is still love there—but not what should be. This is a crying shame.
And what are the effects of that? It screws with our theology, and one aspect of that is our belief about evangelism. We view evangelism as a duty—something that we do on Thursday at 11:00 before lunch. Don’t focus on the appointment in that statement (appointments for evangelism can be excellent, if it gets the believer focused and in community for evangelism). Rather, focus on the principle: We do it because Jesus said to. We do it because, as a Christian, we have a duty.
That’s good enough to get the job done, I suppose. But I wouldn’t call that biblical.
The Primary Objective
If the primary objective of our Christian life is to spread the Gospel in order to make disciples (as it must be, if that is our ‘duty,’ right?), then why don’t we have the power to save or to convince any man to believe in Christ? Why would God give us a job we can’t do?
If the Scriptures supposedly make it so clear that every Christian is ‘called’ to be fanatical about preaching the Gospel everywhere, why does Jesus spend so much time talking about the importance of living a life of love toward God and explaining how that works, and so little time explaining missiological structure and actually ‘calling’ us to the work?
If we view evangelism as our duty, and we set out to proclaim Christ because He has told us to, and yet we only love Him enough to get us out of bed for Bible study and fellowship rather than having His love consume us entirely, what will the quality of our evangelism be?
Now don’t get me wrong, folks—I’m not trying to distract anyone away from mission. My goal is only to change the beliefs of the Church with regards to evangelism. We must not make ‘duty’ or any sense of compulsion our main principle which leads us to evangelize. Another common misconception which often follows the error of duty might be dubbed the error of success: we must not be focused on fruit or the results produced through our work, as it leads us to the fallacy described in the first rhetorical question listed above—why would God give us work we can’t do?
So what should we do instead?
The Gospel, Lived Freely
The Gospel is not words. The Gospel is a way of life. It is something you live in, not something that you do—it is something that produces fruit in you, and not something that the believers produces in him or herself. This is why the Gospel cannot be compulsory, and why we must not think of the results of our labor as ‘success’ or ‘failure.’ Rather, we must consider success to be a constant attitude of a heart bathed in the Spirit, completely submitted to Christ, for from that state the Gospel will pour out of us through words, love, deed, humility, and all the other fruits of the Spirit, regardless of whether we plan it or not.
Believer, consider the work of evangelism as such: You live your life normally, focusing on Christ constantly throughout your day, praying as often as possible in community and alone, bathing your mind in Scripture and submitting every aspect of your life to the goal of making Christ your Treasure in Heaven. Then, in the course of that day, you just happen to make appointments with nonbelievers, and whoops—the Lord comes up in conversation and you get to speak about Him, because everything in your life is a path which leads back to Him. In this way, the Scripture which was brought up in my Bible study is made true: If you love Christ, you will obey His commands—almost accidentally! Soon, you will begin to hunger and thirst for righteousness in the way David described, and you will long for prayer because your soul seeks the living water. After that point, what can stop you from speaking about God? Even your sin begins to fall away.
This is what the Bible says is the proper motivation for evangelism: love for God. There was a time recently when I didn’t love God because of my situation; at that time, I didn’t spread the Gospel, because I didn’t want to lie to my friends. There are some people who would say that my not spreading the Gospel during those two months was a sin that I’ll be held accountable to when the Lord tosses my works into the fire—maybe that’s true. But soon after that time, my love for God returned, and so did my desire to speak of Him. Then, I was able to look my friends in the eye and say ‘Christ is what I was missing my entire life, and now that I have Him I lack nothing,’ and I said it with complete honesty. I wouldn’t go back to the time when I couldn’t say that honestly and change what I did—I would do the same thing again. Evangelism must be accompanied by truthful, full love for God; otherwise, the believer is missing out (although God will still use the Gospel to change the heart of the nonbeliever).
The next time you’re in a conversation and you feel awkward about speaking about Christ, or you feel that it’s your God-assigned ‘duty’ to speak about the Lord although you’d rather not, ask God for more love for Him and ask Him to submit your life to His working in you. That’s a much faster way to achieve godliness than reading a book about Gospel strategy—and it’s more sure to succeed, if you believe.
Lord, thank You so much for Your Spirit! I pray that It would fill us, God, and that You would give us deep, insatiable love for You. I ask that You would mold us to fit Your will for us and that You would pour in us the kind of love that enables us to love those who don’t know You around us with the same love that sent You to the Cross—please glorify Your name in the impossibly deep love that You will give us for our friends. I pray that You would be the first and the last of our lives, Lord; I pray that we would not be sidetracked from You, but would keep our eyes constantly focused on You. In Jesus’ Name,