Here is a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named SeunAlaba:
In 1 of your articles-“If there is one God, why so many religions; & is it only Christians that go to heaven”, you revealed some very enlightening points, but then, there’s just 1 question which seems irreconcilable to the things you wrote. From what I was able to gather, it seems to me as though there would be no point of evangelizing any longer; so my question is are Christians still supposed to evangelize; if yes, to who, & for what end & to what purpose?
SeunAlaba went on to say in a recent comment on the same article:
Thanks for this article Sir. I just have an observation & a question. if it is just as this article suggests it is, it then means we are not supposed to evangelize. Perhaps, my deduction could be wrong, hence the question- what exactly is evangelism? To whom is it to be directed? who should do it? How is it to be done? & to what end & for what purpose should it be done?
These are all excellent questions. Thanks for asking!
The commandment to evangelize comes straight from Jesus Christ himself. Here are Jesus’ final words to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew:
All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18–20)
Christians have been following this “Great Commission” ever since—leading to the great spread of Christianity throughout much of the world.
One of the driving forces behind the Christian compulsion to evangelize has been the belief that non-Christians go to hell. Many Christians put tremendous energy into converting non-Christians because they believe that they are doing an eternal favor to all the people they manage to “save” by inducing them to believe in Jesus. That is why they are so persistent.
On the other hand, Christians who believe that non-Christians can go to heaven don’t have that driving force compelling them to convert everyone from the corner grocer to major pop stars and sports heroes. And quite frankly, it’s made many of them lazy and complacent about “making disciples of all nations” as Jesus commanded his followers to do.
Perhaps that’s one reason why, under God’s providence, so many Christians are allowed to believe that only Christians can be saved. While they are missing the greater point, at least someone is following the Great Commission and spreading Christianity to all the nations!
But there are better reasons for evangelizing. Let’s dig into your questions, and tease out some of those reasons.
Jesus is God
We’ll start by looking more closely at the Great Commission itself.
In the Gospel of Matthew, on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection, two women identified as “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” (Matthew 28:1) went to Jesus’ tomb. There they encountered a powerful angel who gave them the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, and instructed them to tell Jesus’ disciples to meet him in Galilee. As they hurried away to do this,
Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:9-10)
This set the stage for the Great Commission:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16–20)
First, notice that when the eleven disciples saw Jesus, they worshiped him. This means that according to the Bible, Jesus is God.
How do we know this?
In the book of Revelation, the apostle John twice made motions to worship the angel that was speaking to him. Here is what happened:
Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Revelation 19:10)
I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!” (Revelation 22:8–9)
Here the angel twice says that only God is to be worshiped. If Jesus were not God, he would have prevented his disciples from worshiping him. Instead, he not only accepted their worship, but went on to say, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
All power in heaven and on earth? Only God has all power in heaven and on earth. Jesus Christ is the human presence of God. All of God’s power is expressed in and through Jesus Christ. (See the article, “Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?”)
Why did Jesus command us to evangelize?
One reason to evangelize, then, is to spread the good news that the all-powerful God of the universe has become human and present with us as Jesus Christ our Lord.
Think about it.
In the Great Commission, Jesus did not say, “All non-Christians are going to hell. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”
No, he said, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”
Christians who evangelize because they think all non-Christians are going to hell aren’t doing it for the reason Jesus Christ commanded us to evangelize.
Jesus Christ commanded us to evangelize because he is God, and he wants everyone to know that. When we know and realize that Jesus Christ has all power in heaven and on earth, we gain access to that power of God so that God can work personally in our lives.
Even non-Christians are saved by the Lord God Jesus Christ. There is no other God, and no other power to save. (For more on this, please see the article, “Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?”) But those who know their Savior are able to know directly and personally the God who saves them.
There is power, joy, and peace in having a direct and personal relationship with God. This is a power, joy, and peace that only Christianity offers. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”
As I said in the article If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions? all religions have the basic beliefs and teachings needed to believe in God, live a good life, and find our way to heaven. Further, every religion has its own unique perspective and insights to offer to its adherents and to the world.
If the Bible is correct—and I believe it is—then what Christianity has to offer is the fullest and most direct understanding of God as an infinitely loving, wise, and human presence with us here on earth. This human God, who is Jesus Christ, is the same God who has infinite power to give eternal joy and peace in heaven to all people of every religion who are willing to accept it by loving God and loving their fellow human beings.
That is the good news we are commanded to spread to all the nations. It is the good news that the infinite, almighty God of the universe is present with us as Jesus Christ our Lord.
What, exactly, is evangelism?
Evangelization is, quite literally, spreading the good news.
The word “evangelize” comes from the Greek word euangelizo. This word is formed from two Greek words: eu, meaning “good, well, happy” and angello, meaning “to bring a message.” (“Angels” in Greek are messengers.)
So when we evangelize, we are bringing good news to people.
In the case of Christianity, it is the good news of Jesus Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection, his love and compassion for us, and his teachings for our life both here on earth and forever in heaven.
Whom should we evangelize?
Most Christians would agree that evangelizing means spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.
The next question is, to whom should we spread that message?
Jesus said, “Make disciples of all the nations.”
So the first point is that the good news of Jesus Christ is meant for people of every nationality and race. As the apostle Paul put it, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
We are not commanded to evangelize those who aren’t interested
However, in practice, when Jesus sent out his disciples to evangelize, he told them not to waste their time with those who did not want to hear the message:
Jesus said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” (Mark 6:10–11)
Yes, in other places Jesus had harsh words for those who would not listen to the good news. But notice that he did not tell his disciples to keep trying over and over again to convert those who would not listen. Instead, he told them that when they encountered such people, they should “shake the dust off their feet.” Among other things, this means letting those people go and leaving them behind.
To put it in more contemporary terms, our job as Christian evangelists is not to try to convert people who are not interested in the message we’re offering.
If people have a religion or a belief that works for them, and they are happy with it, it is not our job to try to change their minds and get them to see things our way.
Once again, as I said in the article “If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?” God is present in all the religions of the world. If people believe in God and are living a life of love and concern for their fellow human beings based on their particular religion, God is already active there. We can happily think of them as fellow members of God’s universal church, or spiritual community, on earth.
We are commanded to evangelize those who are confused, searching, hurting, or on the wrong track
Instead, our job is to offer the good news to people who are struggling and seeking answers. We are also commanded to reach out to those who are enslaved to selfish, materialistic, and destructive ways of thinking, feeling, and living. When Jesus sent out his disciples to spread the good news,
They went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. (Mark 6:12–13)
“Repenting” means leaving behind selfish, greedy, and destructive thoughts and actions, and turning our life over to God and goodness instead. And spiritually speaking:
- “Casting out demons” means helping people to overcome inner “demons” such as hopelessness, despair, and a sense of personal worthlessness.
- “Anointing with oil” means offering love, compassion, and concern to those who feel that no one loves them or cares about them.
- “Curing those who are sick” means helping people to overcome the mental sickness of false and crippling beliefs that prevent them from moving forward with their lives.
In short, Jesus commands us to spread the good news to all who are engaged in evil and destructive lives, and to all who are hurt, confused, searching, and in need of God’s love, wisdom, and presence.
How should we evangelize?
Just as there are many different kinds of people in many different situations, there are many different ways to evangelize.
The primary message that John the Baptist, Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples proclaimed on their travels was, “Repent, for the kingdom of God and heaven is near.” See, for example, Matthew 3:1–2; 4:17; Mark 1:14–15; 6:12; Acts 2:38.
Of course, not everyone listened to their message. Many kept right on living evil and destructive lives. But for us, the message is that when we see someone whose life is on the wrong track, and whom we think we may be able to reach, it is our job as Christians to reach out to that person and call him or her to leave behind evil and destructive ways, turn his or her life over to God, and begin a new life.
Exactly how we do this depends on the situation. But at a minimum, it should be done, not with a message of condemnation and a sense of superiority, but with a message of love, truth, compassion, and reconciliation. Our job is to be Christ’s messengers in raising people up to a better and happier way of life.
Jesus’ disciples also went out to tell people about Jesus Christ and his message. And so it is our job as Christians to teach and inform those who are seeking understanding and enlightenment.
To do this, of course, we must first read and study the Bible for ourselves, and learn from good and enlightened teachers about the Bible’s meaning and message. And as we learn, we can share what we have discovered with anyone whom we think may be interested, and who may appreciate it also.
Once again, it’s not our job to shove anything down the throats of people who are not interested. There are, however, many people who are searching for answers. We can offer them the answers we have found in our own spiritual searchings, and in our own walk with Jesus Christ.
Building on this, one of the most effective ways of evangelizing is simply to tell your story. Why did you seek out Christ and Christianity? What was your life like before you were a Christian? How has your heart, your mind, your life changed for the better since you accepted Jesus Christ? People who will not listen to a doctrinal dissertation may be much more willing to listen to your personal story of what your beliefs and your faith in Jesus have done for you.
And one more for now. Jesus sent out his disciples to cure the sick. This is a form of evangelization that does goes beyond words, teachings, and beliefs.
Of course, missions of mercy to those who are physically sick are an excellent way of spreading God’s love. However, even those of us who are not doctors and nurses can heed Jesus’ call to heal the sick. There are millions of people out there who are heartsick, who are spiritually sick, who are struggling with emotional and spiritual distress of all kinds. By offering them our love, our compassion, our understanding, our support, we can help them to rise up from their emotional and spiritual sickbed, and walk forward on their journey of life (see John 5:1–9) .
These are just a few of the many ways we can spread the good news of Jesus Christ. If you are ready and willing to serve as God’s messenger, Jesus will suggest to your heart many more ways that you can spread the good news to your fellow human beings.
What is the purpose of evangelizing?
By now, perhaps the question of why and to what purpose we should evangelize is becoming clear.
There are many people out there who are in pain and are struggling through life. There are many people who are walking on a path that leads toward personal and spiritual destruction. There are many people who desperately long for answers to questions that perplex their minds and tear at their hearts.
Jesus Christ sends us out to bring good news to all of these people.
There are so many who need help, and so few to do the work:
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35–38)
You may be only one person, but God put you here on earth for a reason. There are people you can reach that no one else is in a position to touch. They may be family members. They may be friends. They may be co-workers. Or they may be people you meet on the street or get to know in the local diner where you eat breakfast.
When you see someone who is hurting, or on the wrong track, or seeking help and answers, Jesus Christ is commanding you to “go and make disciples of all the nations.” It doesn’t matter who the person is. It doesn’t matter what race or nationality. It doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman. It doesn’t matter if they’re rich and successful or poor and downtrodden.
No matter what someone’s situation may be here on earth, we have a message of spiritual good news to offer. It is a healing message. It is a message of comfort and hope. It is a message that can turn people’s lives around. It is a message that can bring joy, purpose, and meaning to the lives of those who have only struggles, sorrow, and pain.
That is why Jesus sends us out to make disciples of all the nations. The Lord God Jesus Christ loves every single person on earth. And God has sent us to proclaim that good news to everyone who is in need of it, and has ears to hear it.
The spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
(Luke 4:18–19; Isaiah 61:1–2)
This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.
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