Evangelize out of Joy, not Guilt
“How can we say, ‘let the nations be glad,’ if we’re not?”
A few weeks ago, one of our other pastors at church made that statement during a sermon. Tony was preaching on Psalm 138. He made a really good point.
The Great Commission is not a burden; it is an opportunity. Piper addresses the idea in his concept of Christian hedonism, that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. His claim is not just true about healthy Christian living (as though this can somehow be separated from missions), it is also true in the context of mission. Evangelism should be fueled by joy.
Too often evangelism is motivated by guilt. That guilt typically manifests in one of two forms. The first is a man-centered guilt that revolves around the plight of the lost. We sit here on top of a mountain of gospel resources while others around the world are in spiritual famine. The countless multitudes have a fate sealed by our lack of urgency to share with them the only news that can save. The other guilt motivator is God-centered, concerning itself with pleasing the Almighty who has commissioned us to go. We are commanded by the God of the universe to go and make disciples of our neighbors and the nations, and his watchful eye sees our inactivity.
It is true that a multitude is dying without the only news that brings eternal life and peace. It is also true that God has placed a responsibility on his church for the proclamation of the gospel to the ends of the earth, one that requires us to send some people across the globe, some people across the country, and the rest of us to share it across the street. We all have that obligation, regardless of location. Yet our primary motivator must never be guilt.
The gospel rightly understood results in the gospel rightly proclaimed.
By rightly understood, I do not mean having your details in order concerning the doctrine of salvation. Instead, I am talking about a deep understanding of what exactly the gospel does for a sin-sick soul. I am talking about the joy that wells up inside of us when we realize that our greatest needs our met by a great king who would give up his life for ours. I am speaking of the satisfaction, the marvelous sense of relief, that comes when we see the ugliness of our own sin and know the cost paid for the grace extended to us.
Some news is just too good to keep to ourselves.
That joy is the primary motivation for evangelism comes to us from the pages of Scripture. Remember Paul and Silas singing in their jail cell? That ended with a Philippian jailer asking, “What must I do to be saved?” And in Acts 5, the apostles leave a beating rejoicing! Why? Because they had “filled Jerusalem with their teaching” (Acts 5:28). Only a chapter before Peter and John proclaimed, “we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
History remembers the conversion of John Wesley as one of great significance for the spread of Christianity across North America. Several years prior to his conversion back in England, Wesley was profoundly impacted by a group of traveling Moravians as he was headed to Georgia on mission. They too were going to Georgia for the sake of the Great Commission, but there was a startling difference between the two. Wesley mentions the voyage in his journal and notes a terrible storm that almost destroyed the ship. While the passengers, along with Wesley, trembled and feared for their life, the Moravians sat singing. Wesley records, “I asked one of them afterwards, ‘Was you not afraid?’ He answered, ‘I thank God, no.’” He goes on to write, “From them I went to their crying, trembling neighbours, and pointed out to them the difference in the hour of trial, between him that feareth God, and him that feareth him not.”
When joy is our primary motivator for evangelism, we have not “got to” do it, we “get to” do it. That may take some recalibration. After all, it makes most of us nervous. Consider with me, though, there are a great many things you do in joy that began in anxiety. Remember that first time you tried to ride a bike? Remember the first time you tried to swim? Recall how uncertainty and nerves were replaced with quiet confidence and eventually satisfaction as the thing became more familiar. Perhaps nerves in evangelism come less from it being unpleasant and more from it being unfamiliar.