Evangelical Christianity has its warts and weaknesses. But if there is anything we’ve got going for us, it’s that we strive to keep our collective conscience alive to the urgency and importance of the Great Commission. “Relational Evangelism” is the name of the game in Evangelical Christian circles. We wholeheartedly believe that one of the primary purposes of every believer’s life is to share the gospel and make disciples. God could have teleported us to Heaven the very moment we trusted in Jesus. But he has instead stamped Agent of Reconciliation on every one of our adopted souls, designating us as the means by which he will draw more people into his blood-bought family. We are all divinely appointed evangelists whose primary role within our relationships with unbelievers is to be a tangible manifestation of the gospel. Above every good thing we desire and do for our friends, we should desire their redemption and co-labor with the Holy Spirit toward that end.
However, there’s some pushback against that idea. I sometimes hear well-meaning Christians say things like, “It is disingenuous to love lost people mainly because you want them to convert to Christianity. Real love doesn’t have an agenda. People shouldn’t be treated like projects!” I don’t wholly dismiss this pushback. I actually think there is some merit for it. There’s no doubt that some Christians appear to evangelize unbelievers simply because they want to be noticed and praised for their evangelistic successes, and that is disingenuous. Also, refusing to talk with our lost friends about anything besides Jesus and trying to turn every single conversation into a gospel conversation probably indicates that we have less-than-charitable intentions. Love doesn’t dominate conversations. However, it is terribly wrong to pit genuine love and a desire to see people know Jesus against each other. Sincere friendship and evangelism are not at odds!
Let’s ask ourselves a question: What is the greatest dilemma our lost friends are facing in life? Is it their dysfunctional relationships or job problems or parenting frustrations? Is it their physical ailments or depression or loneliness? I don’t want to make light of these kinds of issues—they are real problems that we, as true friends, should help those we care for walk through in every way we are able. However, these troubles are incomparable with the blood-curdling reality that our friends are living in rebellion against an all-powerful God who will one day obliterate his enemies. As great as they can be in so many ways, our unbelieving friends are ultimately traitors against God in need of urgent rescue from the penalty and power of their sin.
So if we want to sincerely love our unbelieving friends, how can our hearts not burn continually with a desire to see them reconciled to God? If we really believe they are blindly stumbling toward an eternity of suffering, how can we not long, more than anything else, to take them by the hand and guide them toward salvation? If we genuinely care for their well-being, how can we not engage them with the gospel that will save and satisfy their souls?
Relational evangelism doesn’t see people as projects. It sees them as they really are: enemies of God who are in urgent need of Christ to end their warfare. Nor is relational evangelism selfish. Sharing the gospel with a friend is one of the most difficult, uncomfortable, self-sacrificing things you can do! It is no easy-peasy thing to plow through your fears and speak about Christ. Our fleshly intuition tells us not to make things weird by talking about Jesus and to just keep praying for our friends in the silent secrecy of our own hearts. But we know that faith is birthed when people hear the gospel (Romans 10:14). Therefore we must speak about Jesus. And so we do it—sweating, shaking, and stuttering all the way through. We don’t do it selfishly, treating people like projects—we do it selflessly, treating people like we love them more than we love our own comfort!
It is not disingenuous to have evangelistic intentions undergirding our love and care for unbelieving people. In fact, I don’t know if a Christian can genuinely love their lost friends without wanting, more than anything else, to see them escape condemnation and enjoy the infinite benefits of a relationship with Jesus!