Is It Ever Okay To Evangelize?

[To listen to a reading of this article, click here.]

I was at Panera waiting for a friend when I overheard a three-way conversation at the next table. I didn’t mean to listen, but they were loud and seemed unaware of others.

One person complained—just a little—of his spouse’s odd eccentricities; another found fault in a boss’s stupidity; and the last grumbled a bit at her grown child’s ingratitude. Just normal middle-class Americans griping at everyday discomforts.

Then the first told of a documentary he had seen on tribal peoples in the South American Rain Forests, people who had little to no contact with the rest of the world.

The threesome turned out to be Christians, and they wondered about the eternal future for such people. One asked, “If someone never heard the gospel, do they have any chance of heaven? Or is hell their only option?”

Another had just read a book which claimed that everyone is going to heaven. After all, if God really loves the world, wouldn’t he save the whole world? Everyone at the table seemed swayed by this argument (which I think is faulty), and everyone sighed in relief.

Then someone asked, “If God is going to bring everyone to heaven, why on earth would anyone spend any time trying to evangelize anyone?” They concluded there is no need, and frankly no reason.

They collectively breathed another sigh of relief. I too was relieved. Not because of Universal Salvation—which I don’t believe.

I was relieved that these three would never try to evangelize.

Let me be clear

I’m in favor of evangelism. I am simply relieved it wouldn’t be done by this threesome. Their sole reason for evangelization was eternal life. It had nothing to do with today.

But Jesus said, “I came that they may have an abundant life [or a rich, satisfying life]” (John 10:10). He said he came to bring something that changed the quality of the lives we can live today. He came to restore a richness in our lives that was lost in the fall.

Nobody at that table even hinted at a richness in their lives. Nobody said, “I have a joy in my heart that overwhelms my circumstances.”

They may have been breathing—at least in relief—but they didn’t seem to be fully living.

I wonder what they even meant by eternal life. From what I could gather, an eternal extension of their lives would be—well—hell.

What can we expect?

The gospel is more than dried-up intellectual understanding, and it is more than dutiful external behavior. The Scribes and Pharisees were full of those, yet Jesus said of them:

Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across land and sea to make a single convert, and when he converts, you make him twice as fit for hell as you are yourselves. (Matt. 23:15)

The gospel unquestionably brings new beliefs of the heart, and it certainly changes how we act. But these come from a new joy at something done for us.

When Jesus told his Nazareth hometown about his purpose on earth, he said that he had come to rescue (as in “save”) the poor and brokenhearted, and the captives and prisoners (Is. 61:1-2 quoted by Jesus in Luke 4). Jesus proclaimed good news of great joy.

The gospel brings joy. Jesus came to pour out gladness (joy)  to replace mourning.

What do we most need?

The world is filled with brokenness and despair. We read about oppressive regimes in the third world countries, and we see broken relationships among our families and friends. The ensuing despondency and despair brings death, even as we breathe.

So what is our normal response? We work ever so hard at filling our activities with meaning, or we simply numb the pain. We try to make our families the best families, or we step on others to climb the corporate ladder, or we anesthetize our hearts with leisure, media, chemicals, or romance.

Or—perhaps more insidiously—we both strive and numb our hearts with dead religion.

In our strivings (and in our numbing) we contribute to the brokenness around us. We work too hard as parents and our kids rebel; we work too hard at our jobs and we leave a wake of broken friendships; we anesthetize our pain with the drugs of distraction or dead religion, and we see the destruction of hope deferred.

What we most need—really the only solution is—the joy of salvation.

How does it work?

King David contributed to the brokenness of the world through adultery, murder and cover-up. Yet his prayer was not simply, “forgive me,” though he begins Palm 51 that way. No, his prayer was, “Restore to me the joy of salvation” (Ps. 51:12). He knew what he most needed, God’s joy again.

What will he do with that joy? The very next verse says, “Then I will show your ways to the broken ones, and sinners will return to you.

David is beginning (dare I say it?) … to evangelize. And you know what? I’m okay with that. More than okay; I’m thrilled. The inner joy that comes from the rescue of God fills David with abundant life, a life worth living. He is not just breathing; he is a life on fire.

Is it okay to evangelize? Frankly, people are “evangelizing” all the time (even the people who try to covert others not to evangelize anyone). So let’s bring God-given joy to others.

Don’t we want a life on fire for everyone? A joyful, rich, abundant life? Then eternal life will be moving from one degree of glory (joy) to the next. Forever.

I’m good with that.


  • So, what do you think? 
  • Do you believe the gospel can change a life and bring real joy, now?



22 Responses to Is It Ever Okay To Evangelize?

  1. Beth says:

    G’day sam
    I live in a small country village of 330 people. I am not sure whether it is the same in small country towns in America but here where we live words mean nothing until you prove yourself worthy to be listened to. Much to my frustration, I really do like to talk, after 8yrs we are known as good honest reliable nice people. We had to live a godly life before we could preach God, slowly slowly. Love and laugh. Help not hinder. No hit and run. Words mean nothing if you can’t live what you want to preach.. City evangelists can preach and run and not be responsible for the follow up, if you live where you evangelize that is different.

    • G’day Beth (though I think it’s evening down under),

      The small town (village) issue is similar here. I think the bulk of lasting gospelization occurs between people who know each other, not in big programs.

      A common observation is the new believers are often the most effective, and I believe it is because of the very joy that we need. That is what powers the message. It is–as you say–changed lives of love and laughter, help not hindrance.

      It is real people being real and showing how the gospel works to bring real life.


      • kenstewart says:

        Great post, Sam, and good segue, Beth. I am reminded of a video I saw decades back (I just found it on YouTube! called The Pineapple Story. It’s about a missionary who was very possessive of the pineapples he “owned,” and displayed very un-Christian attitudes to the people he was supposedly evangelizing by trying to hoard them. Only when his heart was changed did he really begin to evangelize, and the people he was witnessing to saw that change and remarked, “Oh, you must have become a Christian!” LOL
        Only when we hold loosely, as managers and stewards of the Kingdom are we truly able to “own” the real riches of that Kingdom! Real evangelism comes from a heart truly and deeply attached–to an awesome Father-God who created us and made a plan for redeeming us; a Brother who became in all ways as we are, carried out that plan, and showed the “greater love” he spoke of, laying down His life for us, His friends; and their Spirit who transforms us, lives in us, and moves in and works through us. Real evangelism is love in work-clothes.
        I am reminded also of Paul Yongge Cho’s statement about how the people of his church, at the time the world’s largest, in Seoul Korea, who said (paraphrased), “This year, we will lead 500,000 people to Jesus. We will do that this way: We tell our people to come alongside someone–a neighbor, co-worker, relative–and do everything you can to help them and pour into their lives FOR A WHOLE YEAR WITHOUT SPEAKING TO THEM ABOUT JESUS. Once you have earned the right to speak into their lives, only then should you witness to them about Jesus.”
        Thanks to both of you for being faithful witnesses like that.

        • Hi Ken,

          I love the idea of earning the right to speak into lives. This is not the same thing as earning your own salvation; this is not about works.

          This is about the courtesy of treating humans with dignity and care. Too often–I’m sorry to say–too often we “preach” to others not out of love for them but out of love for ourselves. Alas.

          I love the idea of simply caring for others, showing our love for others.

          Really great point.


  2. Emily says:

    Thank you! I know, that I NEED to know that God cares about my life on Earth, and that I can hope for a better tomorrow. When I hear constant preaching about how I should suffer on earth and worry only about eternal life, it leaves me empty inside. I do hope for eternal life, but I also need his love and guidance here on Earth!

    • Hi Emily,

      The weird thing is, God wants to provide us his love and guidance even more than we want it (though we usually don’t believe it!).

      Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). God is almost always speaking. We need to learn to hear better, but that means there is more for us. Now. Today. This moment.

      He wants us to have a rich, full, life. Will there be difficulties? Yes, he says there will be. But he also promises a joy that suffuses and overcomes difficulties.

      Thanks for the comment.

  3. Jason Reid says:

    Thanks for putting that on paper Sam, good stuff.

  4. Tom J says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Eternal life means ‘forever’ It does not mean sometime in the future!

    The fundimental truth is that the theif “comes only to steal, kill and distroy”. Jesus came so we could have life” eternal life, here and now!

    Here’s to life! Thank you Jesus!

    Keep up the thoughtful work , Sam

  5. Timm says:

    It is strange how topics/themes can surface in a person’s world…quite suddenly, and out of the blue…and universally. Today’s topic was “joy.”

    I received an email from one of my daughter’s former teachers today. She mentioned that the staff at the private Christian school was praying about joy. In fact the subject line on her email was “joy.” Their devotion was this:

    “Do make my JOY complete—

    live together in harmony, live together in love,

    as though you had only one mind and one spirit between you.”

    —Philippians 2:2

    Then you mentioned “joy” as a solution in your blog.

    Here’s the kicker: I dreamed about the various definitions I’ve heard for JOY last night, and how we long for it, but often not comprehending exactly what that means in the life of a believer. For me, the struggle has come as the Lord has helped me unpack the meaning of Joy in the context of James chapter 1.

    What my dreams revealed to me is that joy boils down to a state of thanksgiving–being thankful It is strange that I might have forgotten the lesson in my dream altogether had your blog not triggered the memory.

    • I like your line, “joy is a state of thanksgiving.” I think we tend to believe thanksgiving is bad (like when our parents forced us to say “thanks you” to someone). Real thanksgiving brings joy.

      Thank you for the reminder.

  6. I struggle with this truth. I do not always find it easy to believe that God cares about my happiness. This is sad, because if I look at all God’s actions it becomes inescapably clear that God cares about my happiness more than I do, and has a better idea about how to achieve it. Thanks for the encouragement. I needed it.

    • hey David,

      I know what you mean. Even when we hear the real truth, something inside us tends to filter Christianity down to duty, behavior, morality, and doing. Something in our brain wants to see it that way.

      Instead, Christianity is all about life. Christ came to DIE so that we can begin to LIVE.

      Unbelievable. But true.

  7. kenstewart says:

    There is a book which gives a summary of many of the ways Christianity has really impacted culture by demonstrating and doing. It’s titled UNDER THE INFLUENCE by Alvin J. Schmidt, but the subtitle really says it all: HOW CHRISTIANITY TRANSFORMED CIVILIZATION. I’m in the process of reading it, but am very impressed with it–one un-thought-of example is that every time we witness the beauty of a marriage ceremony, it’s a tribute to the honor that Christian thinking poured into marriage. One major example is the stopping of the gladiator fights: Imagine a world filled with apocalyptic war-games or hunger-games, which is where we would be if Christianity single-handedly had not brought about the demise of the barbaric practice. And there are many other examples here. Well worth reading–it will make you think again about how important our being living epistles is!

  8. Rachelle says:

    A few weeks ago, I wrote about respect being the beginning of love. If we can’t share the gospel in a respectful way, we’re not acting out of love. And if we’re not acting out of love, our efforts aren’t worth much–Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 13.

  9. I know it can , because it did with my life. To me- at this moment in life – it brings Joy and with it a tremendous peace about the love and freedom i`ve experience as never ever in my life before. The JOY about how great HE is.
    Thank you Sam fore challeging our thoughts and hearts every time again, and stire and bring up the living waters in our hearts.

  10. Paul Ebert says:

    Merry Christmas, Sam! You’ve touched on a lot of important points in this one. I’ll resist the temptation to jump into universalism and stick to evangelism. Personally, I have no problem with evangelizing and I almost never find it turns others off. I think there are several key and inter-related reasons for this. First, I do so in the context of and as an outcome of my friendship with the person. Second, it is done as a genuinely non-judgmental, open, often vulnerable, and totally authentic expression of my life experience (the “good” and the “bad”). Third, it is expressed as engagement in the important questions as opposed to provision of answers. When it’s about sharing who I am at the deepest levels rather than an attempt to “win” someone (even to Christ), I find it to be natural and, typically, well received.

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