Reflections and Blog

Motivation for Evangelism: Guilt versus Glory

I remember once hearing a pastor say, “There are two sermon topics that are almost sure to make Christians feel guilty: prayer and evangelism.” This past Sunday, Pastor Babij finished preaching on the very evangelism-centered passage of 2 Corinthians 5:1-21. While a wonderful explanation of the glorious gospel ministry we have received from God himself, 2 Corinthians 5:1-21 may leave us feeling a little guilty about not speaking God’s gospel to others as ambassadors of Christ. A feeling of guilt (i.e. conviction of sin) born from recognizing how we have truly fallen short of God’s scriptural standard is good in motivating us to repent and change. But guilt is a terrible long-term motivator for the Christian life, especially in evangelism. Guilt-born evangelism tends to be superficial, ungracious, and thoroughly unenjoyable—more about fulfilling checkboxes and getting God off your back than gladly seeing souls reconciled to God. Just as God’s law is the tutor that should lead us to Christ (Gal 3:24), so guilt should lead us to embrace a better motivation for evangelism, a motivation which, really, must be the ultimate motivation for everything we do as Christians: the glory of God.

God is not bashful in the Scriptures with the fact that everything he does and everything that happens in the world, including the salvation of sinners, is for his glory—that is, for the sake of enjoying and displaying his own wonderful self (e.g. Isa 42:8; 48:9-11; Jn 12:28; Rom 9:17; Eph 1:6, 12, 14). And this is not sinfully selfish of God because, unlike any created being, God is consummately worthy of glory (e.g. Ex 34:6-8; Isa 44:6-8; Rev 4:11; 5:9). Moreover, as many theologians have said, God’s glory is our greatest good; just as God finds infinite satisfaction in enjoying his own infinite perfections, so his creation—humans included—find their highest happiness only in beholding and enjoying God in his glorious character. The Scriptures testify repeatedly that there is no treasure greater than knowing God (Ex 33:13, 18-19; Ps 27:4; Jer 9:23-24; Jn 17:3; Phil 3:7-11; Rev 22:3-5). Thus, for God to be committed to anything else more than his own glory would be to bring about the greatest loss to all creation. Contrarily, if God is wholly committed to his own glory, then we should be wholly committed to his glory as well, especially in evangelism.

You see, evangelism represents for us Christians something more than a mere duty; evangelism is an opportunity for worship, a unique avenue to enjoy, announce, and display the glory of God. Consider some of the ways we get to glorify God in faithful evangelism: when we obey God’s call to evangelize, we show God worthy to be pleased and obeyed (John 14:15; Eph 4:1; Col 1:10); when we go out as weak messengers, we get to show forth God’s powerful message and Spirit (1 Cor 1:18-25, 26-29; 2 Cor 3:4-6; 4:7); when we speak God’s gospel, we get to tell others about Christ’s amazing character and his work on behalf of sinners (Ps 145:1-7; Luke 8:39; 2 Cor 5:18-21); when we encounter lost and rebellious souls, we get to enjoy the prospect of seeing those persons transformed to know and love the same God that we do (John 4:23; Luke 16:9; 2 Cor 4:13-15); and when we face the possibilities of indifference, rejection, and persecution in response to God’s message, we get to show that our great God is worthy of endured suffering (Ps 44:22; Heb 11:24-26, 35-40; Rev 12:10-11). In short, evangelism is an opportunity for us to show our love for God, declare his loveliness to others, and see others come to love God, too.

Truly, without a soul-dominating love for God and his glory, our evangelism will always suffer and probably will not last. The late British pastor John Cheeseman writes in his book, The Grace of God in the Gospel:

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.

John Piper echoes this thought in his book on missions, Let the Nations Be Glad:

No one will be able to rise to the magnificence of the [evangelistic] cause who does not feel the magnificence of Christ.

Questions to Consider:
1. What is your greatest joy in life? Is it knowing God in Christ, or is it something else?
2. Sometimes people say that love for the lost ought to motivate our evangelism. While certainly an important secondary motivation, why should love for others not be our ultimate motivation?
3. What practical steps can you take to be a more faithful ambassador of Christ to others?