This is the third post in a series about how we Christians twist Christianity towards ourselves.
Evangelism is supposed to be about loving someone different than you. A Christian ought to be so overjoyed at being a child of God, now possessing hope that will not disappoint, and receiving the gift of understanding God’s words that we want others who aren’t in the same situation as us yet to experience the kind of love we have. What evangelism can often be about is a Christian making himself feel better because some of his shame is staved off during the time he blabbered on about how he doesn’t approve of gay marriage. That can come across as not loving (because it is). When evangelism becomes a way to soothe ourselves we’ve created a spiritual selfie. Our working definition for “spiritual selfie” is taking something that was created to be other/Other focused and turning it inward for our own purposes.
If we are to take evangelism seriously, we need to understand what we are evangelizing people to. Understanding our own salvation is the well from which our words and deeds overflow. If we aren’t working out of our salvation, we are working out of something far less captivating, less forgiving, less gentle and less important. Others will see through that in two seconds.
We’ve all seen angry people yelling about how God hates them. And, if you’re a Christian, chances are you’ve felt the flip-side of guilt and shame for not talking about the gospel enough. But if we start with our salvation, we are in awe about how God has come to save us. We are in wonder of the depths He went to pursue us. And we can take that same kind of love that God had for us and continue its path towards others.
But that’s not the only thing we need to think about. Evangelism, in how its been modeled to us (especially through Jesus and Paul), requires empathy. We must understand where others are, emotionally and rationally, to be able to say something that makes sense to them. Most evangelistic conversations I hear end up sounding like a monologue of some pre-prepared material. Nobody wants to be on the cold end of a sales pitch.
Go back to Jesus. He took on our flesh. He took on our problems. He spoke in a way that made others marvel…OK, well we can’t always speak like the Son of God, but He has given us a basic model through His incarnation. He was radically other-focused. What well was He drawing from? The love within the Trinity:
“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
(Matthew 3:16–17 ESV)
This love led him to sacrifice, even the ultimate sacrifice of His own life, that we may know Him. Christ’s evangelism wasn’t about working off guilt, or getting out some anger, or wanting others to like him. He confronted people and used parables that people could understand. He loved people enough to call them to something more.
We are called to be so Other-focused that we will live other-focused lives. Any religion where love for God means loving other people less is not a religion worth joining—it’s certainly not Christianity. We are not called to tell people of the great message of God’s love for our own good feelings. We do it because we love people. And we love people because we love God. And for all those who are in Christ, the Father loves us with as much passion, power and depth as He does His own Son, saying to us, “These are my beloved sons and daughters, with whom I am well pleased.”