Can I Be Saved If I Never Evangelize?
Good Monday, and thank you for listening to the podcast. As Christians, we love the good news that Jesus Christ has “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). This salvation is a great gift to us. But it’s not the greatest gift. The gospel is precious to us because the greatest prize of the gospel is that we get God. We get God. He becomes our Father. He becomes “our all-satisfying friend.” He becomes “our protector and our provider.” He is the prize of the gospel. We saw that back in APJs 1079 and 1604 — a precious point that we will return to next time, on Wednesday, in APJ 1934.
But first, today’s question. With such wealth in the good news, surely we should find ourselves willing and eager to share this gospel with everyone we come into contact with, right? No. We often don’t. Gospel opportunities arise, and we say nothing. And so we’re left inside a tension of our own making — claiming to love something that we hesitate to speak about with others, and bringing into question the authenticity of our own love. If we truly loved the gospel of Jesus Christ, why wouldn’t we more eagerly share it? That leads to our question today, from a candid and anonymous young man who simply asks this: “Pastor John, here’s my honest and straightforward question to you. Will I go to hell if I never evangelize? Not even once.”
First, let me agree with this young man that there is such a reality as hell, and people really do go there. It is the righteous judgment of God. No one in the Bible spoke of it more often than Jesus. For example, he said to the Pharisees, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:33). The apostle John spoke of the one who will — this is probably the most vivid description of hell in the Bible — “drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Revelation 14:10–11). That’s a horrible description, both for its length and its intensity.
The reason I just underlined that is because I think there are people who would hear a question like his and say, “He’s so stuck on that fundamentalist myth of hell.” The question is not based on some tradition or some marginal sectarian belief. The reality of hell is terrible. It belongs to the core message of what the gospel of Christ saves us from.
Matter of the Heart
Now, back to the question. Will I go to hell if I never evangelize? The answer to this question goes something like this. Nobody goes to hell for any particular thing that he does or does not do. Rather, a person goes to hell because the things that he does or does not do give sufficient evidence that he’s not trusting in Jesus Christ as his treasured Savior, treasured Lord.
We are saved by faith, not because of deeds (Ephesians 2:8–9). We are justified by faith, not by works of the law (Galatians 2:16). If we believe on Jesus, we have eternal life. We don’t come into judgment; we’ve passed from death to life (John 5:24). But faith is the kind of experience — it’s the kind of reality in the mind and the heart — that gives rise to love for other people. “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). Saving faith is the kind of thing that works through love. Or, as James says, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). It’s not real. It’s not saving faith.
Therefore, people are not in hell simply because they did bad things or did not do good things. They are in hell because the things they did or did not do confirmed the rebellious, unbelieving condition of the heart. “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual morality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19).
Why Am I Silent?
Back to our question: Will I go to hell if I never evangelize? The question now becomes this: What is the condition of the heart that does not evangelize? There are some passages of Scripture that connect being a Christian with the use of the mouth for Jesus’s sake. First Peter 2:9: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession, that you may proclaim” — this is why you are chosen, why you’re a Christian — “the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” We are saved from darkness to light to make the excellencies of God known, to declare them.
Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Why would that be? Why would it be the confession with the mouth that leads to salvation? Jesus gives part of the answer in Mark 8:38, when he says, “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
“We are saved from darkness to light to make the excellencies of God known, to declare them.”
So the question is, What does our silence mean? Does it mean that we don’t see or savor the excellencies of the one who called us out of darkness? Does it mean that we don’t really believe that Jesus is Lord? Does it mean that we are, deep down, ashamed of Christ? These are the real questions. The question is, Why am I silent? That’s the question. Why?
Maybe the most helpful thing — and I want to be helpful here; I don’t want to just indict — I can do for our young friend is to make a few practical suggestions for moving forward. He’s young. He’s got time. He’s not consigned like a 90-year-old who looks back and says, “I’ve never done this.”
First, remember that the word “evangelize” is an English word built on the Greek word euangelizomai — you can even hear “evangelize” in euangelizomai; they sound the same — which means “speak good news,” especially the good news of what Jesus has done in dying for our sins and rising again and forgiving us through faith. The word “evangelize” (or euangelizomai) is not limited to speaking the good news to unbelievers. Let that sink in, young fella. It includes speaking to believers. Paul says in Romans 1:15, “I am eager to preach the gospel” — “evangelize,” same word — “to you [Christians] who are in Rome.”
Now, that’s a great place to start. Speak of Christ to fellow Christians. Tell the good news to Christians. Tell them what you saw in your devotions this morning. Tell them a good promise that’s been helping you through some tough times recently — that Christ made you and bought for you with his blood. Tell them what God has done in your life, what he’s doing. Remind Christians how precious Jesus is to you and ought to be to them, how the good things that come into our lives are owing to his death (Romans 8:32).
“Speak of Christ to fellow Christians. Tell the good news to Christians.”
I don’t know what age we’re dealing with here. If you’re too young and inexperienced to, say, teach a class, a Sunday school class, or have a small group or young people, then volunteer to be an assistant in a class, say, of children or a small group, and ask the teacher or the leader if, from time to time, you could give a witness to the young people, or the children, or the small group, of what Christ did in your life, how he saved you and what he’s been doing in your life since you’ve been following him, what you’re learning from him.
Now, I make those suggestions about evangelizing fellow Christians — telling them the good news that they already love — because I think that’s the normal way we make ourselves ready to speak more naturally to unbelievers. We should grow up talking of Christ and his value and his goodness to believers.
Go Deep with Jesus
Here’s one last suggestion. If you have a friend who is an unbeliever, and you find it awkward turning normal conversations to Jesus, consider this. Just ask him point-blank if you could have lunch together, or whatever you do to hang out one on one, and that you’d love to have a conversation with him about some important things you’ve been thinking about, praying about, and you’d like to hear some of his thoughts and tell some of yours. In other words, just ask him for permission to share what means the most to you. That really is easier than turning a movie conversation to Christ.
I think one of the reasons it is so difficult to evangelize in our day is that our conversations are almost never serious. It’s very difficult to take a lighthearted movie or music or athletic conversation and say, “Oh, by the way, there’s some life-and-death issues to talk about.” It doesn’t work, right? It’s the transition that just seems so weird. You’ve just got to be real with people and say, “Can we just have a serious moment?”
In the end, the great issue is this: What’s going on in your heart? Deal with Jesus. This is my closing encouragement. Deal with Jesus as a real person. Go down deep with him in his word as you pray over it and apply it to your life. Be utterly real with Jesus until he becomes very precious to you. Then, when you speak of him, you will feel real because you are real.