Evangelist Vance Havner, preaching at the Moody Bible Institute’s Founder’s Week in 1974, said, “Evangelism is to Christianity what veins are to our bodies. You can cut Christianity anywhere and it’ll bleed evangelism.” 1
I’m not sure that’s true for many churches claiming the name “Christianity.” Many professing Christians are genuinely fearful, nervous, and even ashamed when it comes to evangelism. To make matters worse, we live in a time when those who are most known for evangelism tend not to be very theologically sound, while those who are theologically sound tend not to evangelize.
What makes evangelism so difficult for those who claim the name of Christ? What can we do to be motivated to evangelize more faithfully?
The answer is not to heap guilt and shame upon ourselves. Guilt is a lousy motivator. What we need is motivation, not manipulation. We must be motivated not by guilt, but by glory. Believers are motivated to evangelize by love for God, love for others, and love for the display of God’s glory.
If we love God, we will obey Him.
Christ says, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment’” (Matthew 22:37–39). If love for God is the foremost commandment, this means it is at the very core of what it means to be in a saving relationship with Him.
Love gives what is best. And Christ is best for everyone.
And what is this love? It is affection that wells up into action. It is delight in the character of the Triune God that compels us to follow after Him. As Jesus says, love for the Lord is the spring from which all obedience flows: we will keep His commandments if we love Him (John 14:15, 23).
Genuine love for God, then, demonstrates itself in patterns of obedience to the commands of Christ. And His command to His disciples to evangelize the lost is paramount in the mission of the church. We are to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20), preaching the gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the name of Christ (Luke 24:47). Love for God expresses itself in obedience, and evangelism is one of the commands Christ has given His followers to obey.
There are no exemptions for timid personalities or spiritual immaturity; nor is there a retirement age. There is only a command for believers to put on display the name of Christ. We must be faithful to proclaim the gospel, whether to coworkers in a secular environment or to the unbeliever we lift daily from the crib.
If our obedience is fueled by love for God, we must cultivate our love for Him. We ought to meditate on His character, study His attributes, reflect on the glory of His works, and celebrate the gifts of His salvation. When we start to love God for who He is, we’ll obey Him (1 John 5:3). And that means we will evangelize.
Our motivation comes from understanding evangelism as delightful obedience—an expression of the deep love we have for our God and Savior.
Love for God also expresses itself in love toward others.
After saying that love for God is the foremost commandment, Jesus proceeded, “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt 22:39). True believers are characterized by sacrificial love (1 John 3:16–18; 1 Corinthians 13:4–8). This love will selflessly and compassionately proclaim the news that Christ laid down His life on behalf of sinners.
Speaking of the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Pastor Mark Dever offers a helpful explanation:
What does such love require of us? It seems to require that what we want for ourselves, we want for those we love, too. If you desire to love God with perfect affection, you will desire that for your neighbor, too. But you are not loving your neighbor as yourself if you’re not trying to persuade him toward the greatest and best aspect of your own life—your reconciled relationship with God. If you are a Christian, you are pursuing Christ. You are following him, and you desire him. And you must therefore also desire this highest good for everyone whom you love. It is love itself that requires us to pursue the best for those we love, and that must include sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with them.The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, 49, emphasis added.
Love gives what is best; and Christ is what is best for everyone.
If we obey Him, we will glorify Him, and His glory is our joy.
The believer who loves God is the believer who obeys God, because obedience—especially in evangelism—brings glory to God. And there is nothing that thrills the believer more than seeing God glorified according to His worthiness.
As people hear the truth and are saved, other voices are added to the chorus of praise to God. Simply put, leading others to Christ multiplies the praise and glory of our Savior. Is this what we long for? Is this what makes us tick? Do we so love and delight in God that the desire of our heart is to see His glory multiplied and magnified?
J.I. Packer writes,
We glorify God by evangelizing, not only because evangelizing is an act of obedience, but also because in evangelism we tell the world what great things God has done for the salvation of sinners. God is glorified when His mighty works of grace are made known.Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, 75.
In his book, Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper explains that worship is the goal and fuel of missions work—the taking of the Gospel across the oceans. But his comments are also applicable to evangelism—the taking of the Gospel across the street. Here I insert the word evangelism in for every time Piper wrote missions: “Evangelism is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Evangelism exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not evangelism, because God is ultimate, not man.”
This sets on proper course the desire of the church to win the lost. Our evangelism must not be man-centered, but rather must be fueled by the worthiness of God to be worshiped by every creature. And because God has opened the eyes of our hearts to love and treasure His glory—because what we want most deeply, from the depth of our souls, is for the name of God to be honored and His glory to be treasured—we desire to lay down our lives toward that end. We want to spend and be spent for the salvation of souls—in preaching sermons, in knocking on doors, in proclaiming the Gospel on busy streets—chiefly because God deserves praise (2 Cor 4:15).
In other words, we evangelize to turn people into worshipers of the God who is worthy of all worship.
When we love God, we joyfully proclaim a difficult message.
God is not only glorified when more people come to faith and see His glory for what it truly is. Neither is He glorified when we evangelize merely because He commanded and we obeyed. God is glorified in the glad, joyful, and bold proclamation of His Gospel to sinners, because it takes a wonderfully satisfying God to motivate us to do such a thing.
After all, we do not have an easy message for people. It is our task to approach someone—whether a stranger or friend—and tell them that who they are at the very core of their character offends a holy God, and that without outside intervention, they will be punished in hell forever.
This is not a message to which our world will ever grow accustomed.
But when followers of Jesus are joyfully eager to spread this message, the glory of God is magnified as more worthy and valuable than the comfort that comes from mere silence. In the act of evangelism, believers demonstrate to the world that God is so satisfying, so lovely, so glorious, that we gladly lay down our fear of man and proclaim this unpopular, yet magnificent message with boldness.
But if your love for God and His glory is weak—if He does not appear to the eyes of your heart to be that satisfying, that lovely, or that glorious—when the difficulties and discomforts come, it will not be long before you succumb to what is more natural to your flesh. As Piper writes, “No one will be able to rise to the magnificence of the [evangelistic] cause who does not feel the magnificence of Christ” (Let the Nations Be Glad, 62). So delight yourself in the Lord, and let your love for Him be the fuel of your obedience, even your obedience to evangelize.
The Only Sufficient Motive
These words from John Cheeseman are a fitting conclusion:
Love for God is the only sufficient motive for evangelism. Self-love will give way to self-centeredness; love for the lost will fail with those whom we cannot love, and when difficulties seem [i]nsurmountable, only a deep love for God will keep us following his way, declaring his Gospel, when human resources fail.The Grace of God in the Gospel, 122.