How can we engage in evangelism without judgment and hypocrisy?

How can we engage in evangelism without judgment and hypocrisy?

It has widely been held by Christians that evangelism–the practice of leading another person to become a Christian–is one of the central components of what it means to be a Christian, and I totally agree; however, the common way of understanding evangelism is based on two misconceptions:

Misconception #1. “Becoming a Christian” is what happens when a person is convicted of their sin, has come to understand the consequences of sin, has been informed of the gift of salvation made available to them through Jesus, and decides to receive that gift often through some kind of spiritual discipline like praying a prayer of confession and commitment or getting baptized. This process goes by many names: asking Jesus into your heart, getting saved, being born again, trusting Christ, etc, and it is considered by many to be the fundamental first step in being a Christian.

However, this is a misconception because it only tells a part of the story. Yes, being born again, receiving Christ, confessing sins, and getting baptized are all components of a person’s entrance into the family of faith, but never in Jesus’ ministry does he ever create a specific framework or recipe for a person entering the faith. None of the other New Testament writers ever describe one specific recipe. The only time this framework is ever followed is in Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, but the formula is different for different people throughout the book of Acts and throughout the rest of the New Testament. This might be a good framework, and it might in some cases be the right framework, but it is certainly not the only framework for how a person enters the faith.

Misconception #2. The primary goal in any interaction between a believer and an unbeliever is to get the unbeliever to become a Christian. Additionally, this misconception depends on the previous one regarding what it means for a person to become a Christian. A person who holds this idea believes that since the consequences of sin are so real and so devastating and so eternal (Heaven and Hell), literally nothing on earth matters as much as a person’s eternal soul, and therefore literally no interaction with another person matters as much as getting that person “saved.” Add to it the fear that a person could die at any moment from an accident or tragedy or sickness, and you have an urgency to get the other person saved now. When those things combine, even judgment and hypocrisy become tools in the arsenal. How do you get a person saved unless you first point out how lost they are, and how do you point out their lost-ness without being judgmental? Why waste time getting your own life in order when the other person’s eternal destiny rides in the balance right now, and therefore, what I have to say to that other person matters far more than how I’m living it out.

This too is a misconception for one major reason. Nowhere in the Bible are we ever told to prioritize “getting people saved” over anything else at any cost. On the day of Pentecost, Peter wasn’t trying to get people saved when he started talking about the gift of the Spirit, but God saved people anywah. On the day Peter spoke to Cornelius, he also wasn’t trying to save Cornelius. At that point, he didn’t think Gentiles could be saved! Paul in fact said that his number one goal was to win people (winning people over to Christ is much different than saving them), and his methods had absolutely nothing to do with making people feel bad about themselves; in fact, his methods were the opposite of that:

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. — 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 NIV

Rather than pointing out how wrong people were in their sin, we should be trying like Paul to win them to a reconciled relationship with their Heavenly Father. The example of Jesus, Peter, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament followers was consistently to be winsome toward the unbelievers by proclaiming the Good News of the Father’s love. All the commands in the New Testament regarding how to live are given always and only to people who are already believers.
Furthermore, the New Testament simply doesn’t care about getting people saved. Consider Jesus’ final words:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” — Matthew 28:19-20 NIV

The great commission doesn’t involve evangelism at all. Evangelism, understood simply as proclaiming the good news, is presumed in this great commission because a person needs to hear the good news before they are able to respond to it, but evangelism isn’t even mentioned by Jesus here. His commission to his followers is to disciple. That is, to welcome people into the family of faith through baptism and then to train them toward the imitation of Christ. Discipleship is our calling, not evangelism. Evangelism is presumed because who wouldn’t want to tell other people about the good news they have learned! But the goal is helping people follow Jesus not merely getting them “saved”.

Finally, it’s hard to defend a notion of salvation in the New Testament that is independent from discipleship. Consider these words:

You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
Matthew 10:22 NIV

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
Matthew 24:12-13 NIV

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,
Philippians 2:12 NIV

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:8-9 NIV

The New Testament consistently depicts salvation as both an initial event whereby a person receives the message of Jesus, puts their faith in him, and is granted the presence of the Holy Spirit, and also a final moment where the endurance of that person’s faith and faithfulness culminates in their eternal reward. There is no salvation without discipleship, and therefore, from that perspective, evangelism alone is almost pointless.

Proper Evangelism. Therefore, returning to the main question regarding how people can participate in evangelism without sliding into either judgment or hypocrisy or some other error, the best answer we can give is this: Imitate Jesus in both word and deed. This is the solution to both judgmentalism and hypocrisy, and it likewise is the solution for bringing authentic salvation to the people around us.

First, actually living like Jesus eliminates hypocrisy because Jesus was a fully authentic human being and he called us to be fully authentic human beings too. Secondly, living like Jesus eliminates judgmentalism. Sure, Jesus wasn’t afraid to speak the truth about sexual sin, religious sin, or social sins, but he never judged people for those sins (other than a number of times when he called out the self-righteous religious leaders in his midst!). Why wasn’t he judgmental? Because he literally knew that he was the answer to their sin problem! In a few short years, he would be giving his life for their salvation. He didn’t have to judge them because their sin was going to be paid for by his own death. Instead of judgment, he simply declared to them their forgiveness and then he made it happen.

If Jesus wasn’t judgmental toward people, then neither should we be. It’s fine for us to say, “Jesus told us that lust is equivalent to adultery and anger can be as bad as murder,” but it’s inappropriate for us to point our finger at a lustful person and accuse them of their sin or verbalize their condemnation. Rather, we should do what Jesus did when he saw Levi sitting at his tax collector booth and offer an invitation to a good-news life or what he did with the woman caught in adultery and say she is not condemned. We know the truth that all these sins have already been paid for. Therefore, there is no judgment left for any sin, and we can honestly love people where they are.

Should they change their lives after they decide to follow Jesus? Yes! Of course, that’s what following Jesus means. But do they need to feel the weight of our judgment before they make that decision? Absolutely not!

Evangelism should do what it’s name specifically implies. Evangelism is the English transliteration of the Greek word that literally means to do the work of the good news. Evangelism is only evangelism when it is proclaiming good news to people.

About the Author

Related Posts