Last Sunday in church, one of the songs we sang was about building God’s kingdom here through evangelism. One of the lines said, “We are the hope on earth.” While I understand the idea, I emphatically disagree. Jesus is the hope; we are not. We simply relay the message of hope found in Him.
I realize that I’m probably more sensitive to this kind of thing than most people, because I spent years dissecting my Christian faith down to nuances and colloquialisms. However, I can’t help but comment on this phrase — because even though when I heard it now, I could put it in its proper context, if I had heard it then, it would’ve sent me into a massive tailspin of guilt, failure and despair.
Why? Because it confuses people like me about who is responsible for what.
Nothing sends me into guilt-trip, “I need to do better” mode faster than a sermon on evangelism. I’m guessing that a lot of people feel the same way. What ends up happening is that we feel the responsibility to bring others to know Christ and see how we fall short. In an effort to bridge the gap between what we “should be doing” and what we are actually doing, we determine to be bolder in sharing the gospel. We share with a few people but over the course of a month or two, fall back into our old habits. When the next evangelism message comes along, we get pumped up again and resolve to share the gospel. We do for a bit, but again gradually fade back into our old habits.
“So what?” you say. “At least the gospel is being proclaimed!” Yes, that’s true, it is. And it may even be that some of those people who heard the gospel came to know Jesus, and that is something to rejoice over. But is that ALL that God cares about? Is He only about the bottom line? “The only thing that matters is that people hear the gospel.” After all, in Philippians 1, the apostle Paul didn’t care that some were proclaiming the gospel out of faulty motives – he only cared that it was being proclaimed, right?
I believe that God cares about more than the bottom line. We are not just His pawns in the game of world domination. The Westminster Catechism says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Or as John Piper would say, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” It is possible to focus so much on the mission of evangelism as an end that we forget it’s really just a means of enjoying God.
When evangelism becomes an end, it’s often used as a gauge for how seriously we’re living out our faith, or for our success as a Christian or a church. If that happens, we will quickly find ourselves defeated and suffocated under a fatal burden of guilt and legalism. We are not strong enough to shoulder the weighty responsibility of growing God’s kingdom.
And the good news is: We are not responsible for growing God’s kingdom. We are not responsible for people coming to know Jesus. God is.
I wholeheartedly agree that God uses people – like us – to accomplish His purposes, and that we have a role in evangelism. But it’s far smaller and more personal than most people realize. Our role in evangelism is primarily in being faithful to God’s leading.
It’s not our responsibility to share the gospel; it’s our privilege. Telling someone about Jesus isn’t something we do for God; it’s a gift He gives to us. It’s for our benefit. We get the grace!
When evangelism stops being an end, and becomes the means to glorifying and enjoying God that it was meant to be, we can stop focusing on all the ways we’ve failed, stop resolving to Do Better! and instead, walk through today in faith, as God’s chosen ones, forgiven and justified by the blood of the Lamb, expectantly awaiting the Spirit’s prompting.
We are not the hope on earth — Jesus is. Come, Lord Jesus!