Examining Motives for Evangelism

Unfortunately, we have a nasty habit of taking a good thing and making it bad through evil motives. The perfect illustration of this is the Temple practices of Jesus’ day.  Temple worship and sacrifices were a good thing.  However, through selfish motives the leaders of Jesus’ day turned those “good things” into deplorable things. Or what about the Pharisee in Luk3 18:11 who prayed and thanked God that he was not like the tax collector.  He took a righteous act and turned it into sin because he was using his prayers to glorify himself not to glorify God. The challenge for us now, is how we avoid doing this same thing with evangelism.

There are all kinds of sinful motives for evangelism.

At one point in my life I had a Christian leader, who will remain nameless, provide us with a log book to record how many times everyone had shared the gospel with someone.  Without surprise it quickly became a competition for some individuals, and other individuals simply lied about how many people they had evangelized.  Why? Because they were motivated by pride. Pride is a wicked motivation.  When we evangelize out of pride we are no longer working to build God’s kingdom.  Instead, when we are motivated by pride, we are really working to build our own kingdom.  Really pride is as the heart of all sinful motives for evangelism, but there are several common manifestations of “evangelistic pride” that are quite common.

There is the “I’m going to grow my church through evangelism” form of evangelistic pride.  It is a good—make that great—thing to grow a church through evangelism. However, if you are sharing the gospel with someone PRIMARILY to fill seats in your building, then your motivations are driven by pride.

There is also the “I’m going to make you see how right I am” form of evangelistic pride.  We’ve all seen, and been guilty of this one before.  This is when evangelism is no longer communication with a view toward conversion.  Instead, it becomes communication with a view toward proving that you are right.  Do you see how the motive behind it makes all the difference?  In evangelism we are seeking to win people NOT arguments.  When we allow pride to sneak into our heart evangelism can quickly become nothing more than a opportunity for you to prove that not only are you right, but you are also a better person than the one you are evangelizing.  This certainly shouldn’t be the attitude of a steward who is taking care of something that was entrusted to him and it’s not the attitude of someone who understands grace.

Another common manifestation of evangelistic pride is the mentality that the “fruit of the Spirit is evangelism… just evangelism.”  This is when an individual allows his heart for evangelism and his giftedness in that area to become a source of pride.  No longer is evangelism a ministry that they excel in, instead it has become the reason why they are more serious Christians than most people—at least in their minds. If other church members are not “doing evangelism” in the same way and with the same frequency it must be because they are immature Christian.  There are several problems with this view of evangelism.

  • First, the bible never evaluates our spiritual growth based on how frequently we “do evangelism.” The bible simply commands that we do it.
  • Second, the bible clearly teaches that each believer is gifted in a different way.  This does not mean that someone with the gifts of service is off the hook with respect to evangelism. But it does mean that believers are going to live out this command in different ways according to their giftedness.
  • Third, Paul is very clear on what the fruit of the Spirit in one’s life looks like (Gal 5:22-23).  So it is not a matter of how often you evangelize or what method of evangelism you use.  The real question is, are you submitting to the Spirit as he sanctifies you? If so, then your faithfulness in evangelism will be part of that.

In the end, the real problem with this attitude of evangelism is that is has the wrong motivation, pride.

So what are the right motivations for evangelism?

To answer this question we need to look no further than Mark 12:30-31:

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Here we see not only the right motivations behind evangelism, but also the right motivations behind all of life: Love God and Love others.  We should do the work of evangelism because we love God and because we love other people.

Pure Evangelism reveals a heart that loves God in several ways:

  • If you love God you will love His word (Ps 119:41-42)
  • If you love God you will obey His command to evangelize (1 John 5:3)
  • If you love God you will love God’s people, and want to see more of them (1 Thess 4:9)
  • If you love God you will love to tell the world about the glorious deeds God has done (Psalm 96:1-3).
  • If you love God you will love the glory He receives when a soul is saved (Lk 15:10)
  • And certainly we could think of more…

Pure Evangelism reveals a heart that loves others as well:

  • If you love others you will want Christian fellowship with them (1 Jn 1:3)
  • If you love others you will agonize over their salvation (Rom 9:1-3)
  • If you love others you will want to do good to them (Gal 6:10)
  • If you love others you will treat them as you treat yourselves. (Mark 12:31)
  • If you love others you will speak the truth to them. (Eph 4:15)

It is easy to be motivated by fear and not share the gospel with someone.  But, if we truly love someone we will share the gospel with them.


[this is an updated version of a post originally posted 02/29/12]