Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Jesus Flunks Evangelism

What would you do if someone ran up to you, threw himself to the ground before you, and begged to know how he might be saved?  Surely this is the kind of opportunity every aspiring evangelist must dream of ... so what was Jesus thinking when he engaged this guy?

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Heinrich Hofmann
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'"
"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."
Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
It seems to me that Jesus would have flunked out of evangelism class with this interrogation.  Where were the Four Spiritual Laws?  The Bridge Illustration?  The Romans Road?  He didn't even need an alter call ... the guy was on his knees already!  It certainly wasn't very seeker sensitive of him to hit this fellow with a demand that he sell everything before following Him.  We enlightened, sensitive believers would have instead told him just to believe and receive Christ in his heart, and then all the rest of that stuff comes later.  My word, hadn't he been taught that you need to be patient with seekers?

Perhaps what Jesus knew is that "there is ... no one who seeks God."  The presumption behind much of our evangelism seems to be that there are all these seekers just trying their best to find God, and we need to woo them in so that they can finally meet the One they seek.  Well, okay ...  I suppose there are seekers, and surely they need God.  But what do they in fact seek?  Comfort?  Fulfillment?  Meaning?  What if they find all these things in the church, but they don't find true peace with God?  

This is not a minor point.  Much of the energy behind our evangelism presumes that the church needs to open its doors be ready to receive this body of seekers into our comforting embrace.  The danger is that the church will succeed in giving them a place to feel accepted, but that place will offer them only a kind of fulfillment, not actual salvation from sin.  They will achieve truce, perhaps, but not peace with God.  They may achieve a false sense of salvation, finding themselves among those who say "Lord, Lord" on the day of judgment, only to learn the horrific truth:  "I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!"

The Scripture tells us that Jesus looked at the rich young man and loved him.  He then told him what he needed most to hear at that moment--that his riches were his god, and that he wouldn't find the true God without repenting of his materialism.  

Perhaps sensitivity impedes our love and impairs our message.  Perhaps the church's biggest problem is not that we are insensitive, but that we are unloving, arrogant, self-absorbed, timid, materialistic, and lovers of this world.  Certainly that sounds like my problem.

Update:  It looks like Seth is having similar thoughts over at Contend Earnestly.


  1. Good article. I don't know if God intended the Church to be a place to come to Salvation, although it does happen. I have never seen anyone ever come up for an altar call, yet my Pastors have always preached solid and convincing messages about salvation.. I came to true faith and turning to Christ in a liberal church which placed no real importance on the bible and didn't teach salvation. I have recently read a book and heard a missionary speak about going out to reach people, not being them into the church. I agree with that. Christ sent his disciples out. I beleve in the Doctrine of Election, that we were chosen, elected before the foundation of the world, so no one will really be lost. I believe we evangelize becuase we are commanded to and it is a real blessing to serve in that way. Reaching people is nothing to fret about, but to pray about, plant and water and leave the increase to God.

  2. Indeed, most “churches,” meaning “physical” institutions, are certainly filled with those “unloving, arrogant, self-absorbed, timid, materialistic, and lovers of this world” people that you mentioned in your article; however, the “CHURCH,” meaning the spiritual true “Body of Christ” is not filled with such people. Furthermore, I believe that you hit the nail on the head when you say that so many of us who “think” that we are truly born again and saved will have a rude awakening on the day the Lord, Jesus the Christ tells so many of us that He never knew us.

    For sure, those individuals who are born again, saved, and totally sold out for Christ also will have working in them the One whom Christ had working in Him, who enabled Christ to “read” the hearts of mankind and know what was/is hindering men and women from being true followers of Christ. This One is the Holy Spirit, who is the power and authority of God, and the Holy Spirit does not need mankind’s evangelistic formula (no 4 principles only of the Divine Truth, no 4 steps only program, no limited number of Scriptures to follow, and no altar call), in order to reach the hearts of men and women. For sure, it is the Holy Spirit who leads every individual to God’s saving grace, and the Holy Spirit knows what’s in every person’s heart, including if someone is more in love with and, therefore, only about worshipping the gods of fortune, power, beauty, talent, and intelligence instead of being more in love with and, thus, more about worshipping God and serving Christ. The individuals who love the gods of this world more than they love God and Christ will be the ones who are NOT really receptive to God’s saving grace offer—who either flat out reject God’s salvation gift, or just pretend to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, as in ONLY making a mental assent but never truly surrendering to His Lordship.

    The sad truth is that God knows who really will receive His gift of salvation, who will “pretend” to have accepted His salvation gift, and those who will flat out reject it (reject Jesus the Christ as their Lord and Savior). And, yet, there has not been, and will never be, any greater evangelist than Jesus the Christ. Oh, Holy Spirit filled believers will do a greater amount/quantity of evangelistic work than Christ did in His day, for there are so many more of us, but believers’ evangelistic works will never be greater in scope than the works of their Master, Jesus the Christ.

  3. Raymond, I had the experience in my home country during my military service & I'll tell you the story. A devout Muslim truck driver, (who turned Kabe every morning, prayed on a prayer mat very early in the morning ) came up to me four days before I finished my mandatory military service & told me this, "I have seen only two people who never sweared ever, one is one and the other is you. Why don't you come up and there is an empty bunk bed next to me, sleep there until you finish your four days here". I accepted this invitation and moved my belongings to one higher story in the building.

    As I was being prepared to going to sleep the first night, he turned to me and asked me this question, "Are you Christian?" (remember this is an Islamic country and you don't reveal your religion to anyone, however, I had changed my identity card's religion from Islam to Christianity before the military service; so some people knew that I was Christian and passed the info to others). "Yes, I am" said I. he asked, "What would happen to me if I die today?"...I thought for few seconds and responded, "You'll go to hell". He than asked me, "Why then don't you try to save me?"...I was overjoyed to hear that...so shared the gospel very clearly; listened some Christian teachings over the radio. I didn't want to force him to a decision but make his own decision....days after I finished my military service; he visited my church after he finished his service as well. He came very close to the decision point but I lost contact because I moved out of the country. So, God knows what happened to him.

  4. Nadine, I appreciate your reply. If there is one part that makes me uncomfortable, though, it is your implication that the true (some might say "invisible") church is somehow free of people who are “unloving, arrogant, self-absorbed, timid, materialistic, and lovers of this world”, as the "visible" church is. Certainly I believe that God's true, invisible church is composed of people who are truly born again and being sanctified in the image of our Redeemer. On the other hand, the closer I grow to the bright light of God's utter holiness, the more I seem to recognize that those ugly adjectives up there still seem to cling to me ... "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom 7:24-25a)

  5. Even though mankind’s hands did not make the spiritual CHURCH, this spiritual CHURCH is visible in the Earth right now. Do the members of Christ's Body do unloving, arrogant, selfish, etc., acts in the physical realm? You bet, for they are BEING transformed (as you say "sanctified") into the image of Christ, which means NONE of us has yet arrived there. However, the spiritual CHURCH members are not inclined to do habitual sins--they do not make/have not made a practice of sinning--which is not the case with the pretend to be born again and saved, (as well as the never want to be born again saved pew sitters) (habitually behaving in the natural), "physical" church members.

    The true Body of Christ members have been MADE righteous--justified by Christ so that they are now able to be God's spiritual sons and daughters who are presented before Him as if they have never sinned--and yet, by the Holy Spirit's conviction, they are still being MADE aware of their sin nature, every time He moves them to die daily to their natural fleshly desires! As in the Romans Scripture that you quote, Apostle Paul's struggle with wanting to do right yet doing some wrong behaviors is that same struggle that not only pulled and tugged on his soul but also pulls and tugs on EVERY Body of Christ believer's soul; but thanks be to God, greater is He who is in "us" (Body of Christ) than he who is in the world.

    No matter what our struggles are, we are OVERCOMERS whose names are written in the book of life! Not every one who sits on the “physical” church pews can make this claim, which is why, to me, this overcomer divine truth is the definitive plumb line--that which separates the true spiritual CHURCH from most of the people who only have their names written on the rolls in “physical” churches.

  6. Jesus was not adding an additional commandment. He was, as you stated, telling the young man, in an honest and loving way, what he needed to hear.

    He did not rebuke him for stretching the truth about following all the commandments...no one has, except Jesus...and He was able to read the young man's heart to know that until he was willing to remove all obstacles to the relationship that he would soon burn out in both his devotion to his "good teacher" and his desire to follow Him.

    Jesus knew the young man desired to gain more than he was willing to invest...hence the question...""what must I do to INHERIT eternal life?" Inheritance comes, in the historical and legal sense, by way of right of succession and relationship to the previous owner...i.e. parent to child.

    The young man obviously conducted himself honorably and rightly expected to inherit great wealth...or already had inherited his great wealth. Now there was this new thing, trend, fad, or maybe so that I do not sound judgmental...something that he truly wanted to investigate further...anyway here was something that was excruciatingly desirable to him...eternal life...and Jesus was offering it.

    So desirable, in fact, that he threw himself at the feet of Jesus to ask how to get it.

    And sadly, when he learned it could not be inherited, but that there was, in fact, a great cost to receive it...he walked away without even considering the compound interest of his investment...give up temporal treasure here for greater permanent treasure in heaven...not a concept he was willing to explore.

    So I think your brilliantly provocative declaration that Jesus flunked evangelism proves you understand the dichotomy of Jesus' response to the boy's question. He loved the boy...He allowed the boy to leave...instead of hauling him down the aisle and laying on hands by all the deacons and elders to provoke a manipulated committment that would peter out when put to the test.

    So, I agree. Jesus flunked evangelism in this situation. But He succeeded in teaching, preaching, discipleship, prophecy, service and mercy.

    Feel free to slap me silly...figuratively, please, not literally, but I have to ask...have you sold everything you own, literally, not figuratively, to follow Jesus?

  7. There is a sensitivity that enables and a sensitivity that connects. The sensitivity that connects comes not from programs but from people. People who are willing to be vulnerable and real with their stories. Stories that tell of a savior who died for their particular path of sin. There is real connection in being open and honest about your personal walk of sanctification with someone who is looking.

    This replaces any "spirit" of acceptance which on the surface seems loving, but can remain on the surface without a commitment to be transparent.

    I hesitate to post a link here, but the ministry I am about to join on staff with shows believers how to be just this kind of person. Using biblical truth, principles, and tools, we equip believers to have deeper relationships with God, themselves, and others. We also equip them for relational evangelism and discipleship.

  8. I do not believe Jesus flunked evangelism. He first had to set the record straight because so often people look to people who are anointed as "the one". Jesus had to let the young man know he wasn't that person but that it was God the Father who deserves accolades. Next Jesus needed the young man to know where his heart was. The word of God lets us know that where our treasure is, there will our heart be. What we hold dear will keep us from a true walk with Christ. We also know that there were and are still now people who follow Christ for the fishes and loalves. We want the gift and not the giver of the gift.

  9. I understand these to be your two main points:
    1) true repentance and accepting the lordship of Jesus Christ are part and parcel of salvation/new birth/relationship with Christ
    2) we, the church, often wimp out when it comes to saying that.

    I agree wholeheartedly. All that said, I don't think Jesus deviated TOO much from the tracts you mention. I think he skipped the parts the young man already knew. The young man already knew he needed salvation, and he obviously feared that his lifelong effort to obey the law wouldn't be enough. Then he put the last bit -- the part we mumble through or gloss over -- in terms the young man couldn't fail to understand. The following is from the Four Spiritual Laws: "Receiving Christ involves turning to God from self (repentance) and trusting Christ to come into our lives to forgive our sins and to make us what He wants us to be." We should probably personalize that and discuss the implications -- the way Jesus did -- when we invite people to accept Christ.

    If the young man had jumped up and said "I'll do it right now," I don't know that Jesus wouldn't have stopped him and told him He was just testing his commitment. Remember Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah? At the last second, God stopped Abraham and gave him a ram for the sacrifice. I think God wants us to truly give Him everything we have, and then, the things he wants us to keep using, He makes us the stewards of that divine property. It doesn't mean the giving isn't real, 'cause he's just as likely to say, "Thank you. That was no good for you anyway. I have a better plan for your life."

    I don't like the "truce" analogy. I think we're on one side or the other -- no armistice in the war.

    I love your list of our personal qualities -- "unloving, arrogant, self-absorbed, timid, materialistic, and lovers of this world" -- and I totally relate. I wonder how much of that is more true of us in the West, where the church is part of the establishment, than it is of those in the persecuted church.

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

  10. I'm the same guy who wrote the last comment. One more thing -- I actually had the experience you describe in your first sentence, minus the "threw himself to the ground" part, on a short term mission trip. Our mutual friend Jon T was on the same trip. I walked the guy through the conversational version of the standard gospel presentation. He prayed the prayer. We made an appointment to go through follow-up material -- which we later did -- and we connected him with a church.

    I have wondered at times if the whole thing was too easy. This man was very much an entrepreneur. He wanted a relationship with Jesus Christ, and he wanted it before he had to get to his next meeting. I don't know what he would have said if I'd asked him, "Are you ready to give your business to Jesus? What if Jesus tells you to give it all away?" That thought didn't occur to me at the time.

  11. "Remember Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah? At the last second, God stopped Abraham and gave him a ram for the sacrifice. I think God wants us to truly give Him everything we have..."
    John, this part of your post made me think of the times I know God wants me to stop going my own stubborn way and give something, or do something, yet I resist. When I am willing (after some time or no time) to give up or give out, that is when I will often find He wanted only that. My will. To be willing to do His will. I find (and it's always a surprise somehow) that many times it turns out nothing more is required of me.

  12. John -- appreciate your thoughts on this. My idea of "truce" is like the situation in Korea. We're still technically at war ... we've just been under a 50+ year cease-fire. And yet North Korea has remained our enemy throughout. I think many live with God under similar circumstances. They want peace, but they settle for a cease-fire. Eventually, though, there will be judgment, and they will find that their non-decision was, in fact, a very terrible choice.

  13. Showed my Bible class a clip of a well-known mega-mega church leader and author on the Larry King show (see it at YouTube) and asked their opinion on his presentation of the uniqueness and exclusivity of Christ. Sadly, as my students noted, he substituted the gospel of political-correctness for the proclamation of the uniqueness of the Son of God. It reminded me that Jesus knew that truth was costly but not to be compromised. Within the post-modernist super-ethic of tolerance, it is easy to fall into the trap of "the message of Christ is what I believe and this is my truth." I saw the speaker descend into this abyss, perhaps without thinking. What a contrast with an NPR interview I heard in May, 2006 (and downloaded for my students)with a Christian student at Brown University and her Christian Union advisor. The interviewer was clearly hostile to the Faith. Yet, both the student and her advisor modeled I Peter 3:15 and told the truth with gentleness and reverence.

  14. The difference in this passage of Scripture as opposed to our evangelizing in today's world is first, Jesus is Omniscient and we aren't...He knows the heart we know what we see or hear. He's the Truth and to know the Truth, you must know Him. One of my Pastor friends Doug White puts it this way: "There's Truth and then there's True Truth." If it comes fromman, it could be true as we in our finite minds may understand however; if it's coming from the Bible, it's 100% true. "Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written:“ That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when You are judged.”--Romans 3:4.

    We are to be obedient to evangelize because that's what Christ commanded of us. We cannot save or bring anyone to Christ that the Holy Spirit don't don't draw. Jesus could never flunk at evangelizing because He knows everyone that was, is, and will be saved. In His Sovereign Grace He calls them through an effectual call and those saved and unsaved brings glory to God.

    Jesus' Sermon on the Mount shows a perfect picture of evangelizing, care for the flock, and correcting error. Being the God-Man, He was able to relate to sinful man as He stooped down to bring us such a blessed message. His ways aren't our ways therefore HIs method of evangelizing will be different. He convinced many when He dealt with the rich ruler in such a manner...true evangelism. Not everyone will be saved but we don't know who will and who won't therefore, we must be obedient. If we knew who sould be saved we would only evangelize those and our hearts for Christ won't be pure. "So Samuel said: “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams."--1 Samuel 15:22.

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  16. Hi just came across your blog today and became a follower. The rich young ruler strikes a chord with me because of how I became a follower of Jesus. My parents divorced when I was young. My dad was a charismatic Christian and my mom started studying Wicca. I spent time with both and decided they were both nuts and decided to be a logical atheist. But before I gave up on God completely, I decided to see if He was real.

    The Bible says, "if you seek Him, you will find Him," so a friend of mine, who was in the same place of doubting God, and I got down on our knees and started seeking, not really expecting any response. To our shock, an audible voice, everything the Bible says God's voice is, said "Give up those things you love and follow Me." I knew what He was talking about right away, and I think my friend did too. We both said, "no". I spent many years running from God, taking refuge in the reason of atheism, but eventually those things I didn't give up destroyed my life.

    When there was nothing left, I dropped to my knees and surrendered. God's presence surrounded me, and He said (not audibly this time), "I've always been right here," which left me sobbing on the floor. I sold everything I owned and gave away what wouldn't sell, and I've been following Jesus ever since.

    Sorry to take up so much space on your wall. Your post just reminded me of my testimony. Thanks for reading, and if you're interested, my blog is at Manifest Blog.

  17. The biggest difference between this 'write-up' and evangelism today is Jesus hadn't died.. For this merchant, there wasn't much to believe in save signs and wonders.. And if we remember, even Pharoah's sorcerers could do some..
    Saying Jesus 'failed' @ Evangelism may work as a catchy title but is soooo not true.


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