We live in the midst of a culture that is increasingly opposed to biblical Christianity, and though it might be easier as Christians to quietly keep to ourselves, we cannot choose that option. We have been given a divine assignment. Jesus, who has all authority in heaven and on earth, commanded us to disciple the nations, baptizing them in name of the triune God and teaching them to obey his commands (Matthew 28:18–20). To faithfully obey Christ, then, we must share the truth of his gospel.
Wrong approaches to evangelism abound today, and they can often be traced back to unbiblical notions concerning what we should expect from the world. Below I want to highlight a couple of truths that are crucial to keep in mind as we share the love of Jesus in this (or in any other) culture.
The Root of Resistance
One of the first steps toward appropriately engaging the secular culture around us is understanding why it is secular in the first place. If we don’t understand the unbeliever’s spiritual state and how he or she relates to God, we will likely fail to use God’s wisdom in our interactions.
Romans 8:7 reveals the nature of unsaved humans prior to being transformed by God’s grace:
“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” Unbelievers are not only estranged from God, but they are also hostile toward him. They hate him and will not submit to his commands. They are not even able to.
We may be quick to affirm the truth of this passage when surrounded by Christians, but sometimes there is a temptation to doubt these truths in evangelistic contexts. If we aren’t careful, we can treat our perceptions of unbelievers’ responses as if they are more authoritative than God’s Word. For example, we may be inclined to think that unbelievers who respond in anger do so because we said too many offensive things or weren’t gentle enough. Or, when non-Christians seem indifferent by the end of an evangelistic discussion, we may start to wonder if we didn’t make enough important points. It’s also common to wonder if their past negative experiences with religion and religious people have created an emotional barrier. We worry that they won’t turn to Jesus because of emotional hurt.
We should avoid adding offense to the already offensive gospel, using poor arguments, and erecting emotional barriers by our tone and attitude, but Scripture teaches us that the resistance of unbelievers is not rooted in these things. When we don’t believe this, we focus more on an unbeliever’s comfort than his soul. Then, by withholding gospel truths that are rightly offensive, we make ourselves obstacles to the unbeliever’s salvation and we dishonor God by altering the gospel message he gave us to proclaim.
When we understand that the problem is spiritual in nature, we will not be the least bit inclined to rely on our own strength or skills to persuade. Instead, we will trust God to draw them to Christ in spite of their rebellion.
The Expectation of Opposition
Engaging a secular culture effectively also means that we need to know what to expect in terms of how we will be treated. Jesus said the norm is not for unbelievers to befriend us but for them to hate us (John 15:18). Nevertheless, our message is worth sharing.
Our righteous God will eternally punish those who do not seek forgiveness and reconciliation in Christ alone, so the most loving thing we can do for people is to share the gospel. We must tell them that they are guilty sinners in the eyes of a righteous God and that he will not simply overlook their sin. It must be punished. At the same time, we must also to tell them of his grace, how he sent Jesus to live a perfect life, to die for sins, and to be resurrected in order to conquer death and intercede for his people. All who acknowledge their wickedness and trust in Christ for salvation will be saved from judgment, reconciled to God, and granted eternal life. This is the gospel.
Though we are offering unbelievers a message of eternal life and forgiveness, we should not be surprised when they dislike us for sharing the truth. We follow Jesus’ footsteps as we are hated for telling the world that its deeds are evil (John 7:7). As Jesus told his disciples, “‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). He assured them that they would be mistreated because the world did not know God (John 16:3). Therefore, it should not come as a surprise to us when unbelievers hate us. On the contrary, we should be concerned if unbelievers only speak well of us (Luke 6:26).
As we do step out into a hostile world, we should not despair because of its hatred. Our Lord and Savior gives us this encouragement:
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11–12)
Many Christians mistake hateful reactions as a sign that they need to retreat until they find a way to share the gospel in a way that makes people comfortable or happy. These Christians may even discourage those who do biblical evangelism. Given, it is sad that people loathe the gospel, but we should be encouraged because their responses may well be a sign that we are sharing the same gospel our King shared when he was on earth. He is pleased with us and that is enough.
By God’s grace, we can rest knowing that God is not expecting us to make unbelievers into believers. He is the only one who saves, and he alone can make our evangelism fruitful. When we face worldly opposition, we can persevere in spite of it. Enmity with the world does not necessarily mean we did something wrong. It may mean that we are faithfully obeying our God.