I saw a tweet week before last that said something like, “Reach out to the lost, be someone’s biggest fan today.” It got me to thinking about the dilemma that I and other believers are often in when it comes to evangelism. We get stuck between a desire to gain favor with an outsider (Paul’s word not mine) and the concern over being inauthentic. Some would say that we need to love and serve nonbelievers in order to earn the right to share the gospel with them. That sounds right at first, but in putting thoughts like this into practice, I’ve discovered that I can win a person to me and that person will be no closer to following Jesus. Besides that, lost people can be incredibly needy and deceptive. They can feign interest in a relationship to drain a believer of time, energy and money while holding out the carrot of their interest in the things of God. Not only does this run the risk of burning out the would-be disciple maker, it represents a major cost to the kingdom as those who are on mission get tied up going to great lengths to make one low quality disciple. Jesus actually condemned the Pharisees for taking this approach.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte,and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. Matt. 23:15 ESV
What has been called “friendship evangelism” tends toward proselytizing which is a fleshly pursuit and antithetical to actual ministry of the word. When people agree to join our number because of the resources we’ve spent on them, they really just become our followers and not Christ’s. Their lives don’t change from within. Born of our hypocritical approach to them, they become even worse hypocrites than we. So, I’d like to suggest a different approach.
Our simple mission statement, “sharing life,” evokes two connotations which we strive to hold in tension. One connotation faces outward toward the world. We have been given the one thing lacking on this dead world – life. Christ has come that we might have life. In Christ, we who were dead have been made alive. And everyone who has truly been reanimated by the gospel message and Christ’s Spirit, yearns to see others awakened as well. So, we proclaim Christ to those who are still dead in their trespasses and sins, praying open their hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is sharing the life of Christ!
The other connotation faces inward toward the community of Christ followers. Christ, the incarnate Son of God, built community around him from among those who were willing unconditionally to follow him. They traveled together, worked together, ate together, fought, were rebuked, celebrated, suffered, you name it. As Christ approached his exaltation, he instructed his followers,
“A new commandment I give to you,that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 ESV
Now, that’s friendship evangelism! Our love for each other proclaims Christ’s presence to the world. The fact is that we only have so much relational equity to give out and build. If we spend all of our relational resources on lost people in the hopes of their being won to Christ by our extravagance, we just won’t have anything left for our brothers and sisters. Additionally, more times than not, our investment does not bring a return for the kingdom and so we enter into a lose lose. On the other hand, by pouring our lives into God’s people, the watching world must exclaim, “See how they love each other!” The aroma of Christ (his love in our midst) wafts into the nostrils of those who are called of Christ causing them to salivate for the feast yet to come.
Of course this doesn’t mean that we become isolated. We can’t because we must interact with world to save it. Christ left us here for such a purpose. But our interactions with the world must be authentic. They must know who we are and where we stand from our first interaction. Those who will accept us as non-conforming, unapologetic followers of Christ are most likely close to the kingdom. Even if they are not, we can enjoy real friendship with them minus the agenda.
Bottom line, sharing life means telling the world and loving the church. This is the life of Christ. The more we do it, the more like him we become; the more like him we become, the more we will do it.
On the idea of “earning the right” to share the gospel, I leave you with these thoughts from Neil Cole: