Evangelizing Idolaters (or Idolaters doing evangelism)
The motive of evangelism:
When speaking to people about the biblical doctrine of unconditional election, almost invariably their reply is something to the effect of “Why evangelize then?” Since this question exposes the heart of the matter that most of the American evangelical community has with the biblical doctrine of God’s sovereign election, and it directly affects our motive for evangelization, I will begin there.
I will assume that most reading this will understand the fundamental statement of the doctrine as “God has, from before the foundation of the world, chosen some out of humanity that He would most certainly save. This choosing is not based on anything in them, or decision they have yet to make, but solely in His own sovereign choice.” As stated above, this raises some questions by many who oppose it. Questions like “Why evangelize if all who will be saved are already chosen?” This question, although I will say can be legitimately asked by the opponent of unconditional election, reveals a gross misunderstanding on the part of the questioner. (Which are what questions do. They either manifest the flaw in the thing being questioned, or the flaw in the understanding of the one asking it.) I’m not saying this in a condescending way, as I too asked this question as I was coming to grips with the truth of unconditional election.
There are two things evidenced by this question. 1. A misunderstanding of God’s Sovereignty in ALL things – how The God Who ordains the ends also ordains the means to that ends. 2. A wrong premise for why one is to evangelize. It is believed by the one asking that one’s motive for evangelizing is destroyed if men are predestined to salvation by God’s sovereign choice. For they seem to think that they are somehow altering mens destinies (which are in the hands of the individual). To them, since God has already chosen all that will be saved, then there is no use in evangelizing. Their premise is man-centered. The driving force is to keep as many men out of hell as possible. This, although not a bad aim, is not to be the primary aim. God’s glory is ALWAYS His primary aim, not the well being of man. We were created for His glory. Christ primary aim in enduring the cross was for His glory (John 17). It is this incorrect motive that I wish to address here.
Biblical-Purpose Driven Evangelism:
The driving force for evangelism, then, is the glory of God. This is exactly what Paul was stating in II Corinthians 2:14-17. This is so contrary to our natural logic that it is nearly always immediately met with rejection. Yet this is the very teaching of Scripture. God even goes so far as to speak of the new covenant in the book of Ezekiel as saying He will move in the hearts of people, not for their sakes, but for the sake of His own name, He was going to save. (Ezekiel 36).
I am not saying that we should not have a desire to see men be saved. Paul, the one who seems to teach unconditional election more strongly than any other of the apostles, in the very same part of his letter (Romans 9) not only teaches that God has chosen , but also an earnest desire to see every one of his Israelite brothers to be saved. We evangelize praying, and longing, for those who hear to respond to the gospel in repentance and faith. But at the same time, this desire should not be preeminent in our hearts. That is reserved for a consuming desire for the glory of God.
The danger of incorrect motives:
Why make all the contention? If we’re evangelizing, what difference does it make why we do it? Again, this question seems valid for one who has as his primary goal anything other than God’s glory. But my aim is to show you how misguided and dangerous this really is. Whatever, or whoever, is the driving force behind our actions is by default to object of our worship. We love what motivates us, and we worship what we love. If we worship anything, or anyone, other than God then we are idolaters. Anything/one we love more than, or equal to, God is an idol. Any primary motive for evangelism other than God’s glory is nothing short of idolatry. Therefore why we do what we do is vital. *(Not only do wrong motives make us idolaters, it also tends to cause us to alter the message, but that is not the point of this post to discuss.)
But doesn’t Ezekiel 33 tell us that if we don’t warn men of coming judgment that their blood will be required at our hands? It absolutely does! But read the text, it doesn’t say they die in their sins because of us. It says they are taken in their iniquity. The whole reason judgment was coming in the first place was because of their sins. The watchman’s failure to warn doesn’t alleviate the wicked from the blame for suffering punishment, it just adds punishment on the watchman. The illustration says if they don’t warn and the people perish then accountability will be exacted, but if the do warn and the people perish, then the watchman has fulfilled his obligation. The watchman’s job is not to get results but to proclaim the truth. Not the motive for proclaiming that truth is the topic of this post.
Again, any action that does not have God as it’s all encompassing passion and motive is a act of idolatry. We are told in Romans 3 that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Lost men build hospitals, but not to God’s glory – they fall short. Wicked men help old ladies cross the street, or give money to a ministry – but not to God’s glory. All these good actions are filthy rags in God’s sight. They are done from a wicked heart and feigned lips. Why? Because we fall short of God’s glory! And we ALWAYS will, apart from the grace of God.
I have been in meetings, and seen things that attempt to get the Christian motivated to evangelize by painting verbal pictures, or using visuals, of loved ones burning in hell and screaming out “Why didn’t you tell me?!” And they attempt to lay the fault for the loved one’s being in hell on the shoulders of the christian how didn’t witness enough, or at all. Now, don’t forget Ez. 33 (I haven’t). The believer who was a poor witness of the gospel will be held accountable for his lack of testimony, but nowhere does Scripture tell us that the christian is the blame for the lost sinner being in hell. We are told the opposite. Romans 1 tells us that all men have rejected the truth they have. John tells us that no man comes to the light. Every man in hell has a conscience he has violated, a Creator he has spurned, etc. They may not have ever heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, but they have had ample opportunity to seek God and refused to do so. Their condemnation is just.
I am not saying we should be nonchalant about the death of wicked men, and most certainly we should never exult in their condemnation (for remember, but for God’s grace you would be right there with them). But there is a motive that far surpasses the well being of man, and that is the glory of God! This should be our primary motive in evangelizing. Staten another way by one of the most humble, God-centered men I have ever heard (John Piper) “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”
I think I have said enough, so I will close with a few quotes in summation. May God be pleased to use this to reform our thinking back to His Word!
“We do not jettison worship for the sake of evangelism, but evangelize for the sake of the worship.”
R.C. Sproul Jr.
“Evangelism is indeed an act of worship. It is an act of worshipful obedience to the Great Commission of the risen Christ (Matt 28:19-20, cf. Acts 1:8).”
A. Blake White
“I cared not where or how I lived, or what hardships I went through, so that I could but gain souls to Christ.”
“If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms around their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled with the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unsprayed for.”
“The Christian call to evangelism is not simply a call to persuade people to make decisions, but rather to proclaim to them the good news of salvation in Christ, to call them to repentance, and to give God the glory for regeneration and conversion.”
“Evangelism is the spontaneous overflow of a glad and free heart in Jesus Christ.”
“The nature of Christ’s salvation is woefully misrepresented by the present-day evangelist. He announces a Savior from hell rather than a Savior from sin. And that is why so many are fatally deceived, for there are multitudes who wish to escape the Lake of Fire who have no desire to be delivered from their carnality and worldliness.”
“According to the Bible, good motives for evangelism are a desire to be obedient, a love for the lost, and a love for God.”