We are often reminded that Jesus ate with sinners. Consequently, some insist there are no limits to evangelism. Many gifted evangelists go to the darkest places to evangelize. Thank God for them. Should we all stand outside bars, strip clubs, and anywhere that sin increases? Where does a Christian draw the line with their non-Christian friends? As we continue to read let’s keep in mind Jesus was always 100% pure in His thoughts and intentions which means He was always thinking of the unbeliever’s eternal heart. Unfortunately, even as born again believers, we have our own personal share of struggles, impure thoughts, and selfish motives.
The good news is as born again believers we have hope of eternal life through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. It is this same hope that should motivate us to share the redemptive work of Christ to all those who are unbelievers. Only God has intimate knowledge of the state of a person’s heart. Therefore we can only assume one is a believer or non-believer based on of their fruit, or whether they deny Jesus as the Son of God (Matthew 7:16, James 2:14-26, Galatians 5:22-23).
When faced with an unbeliever, our ultimate purpose in engaging them is to help them be united with Christ. In all cases, whether a believer or unbeliever, you must build a relationship in order to earn someone’s attention and trust (1 Cor. 9:19-23). A pastor once said, “You have to show people that you care before they care what you know.” The tension concerns how close or how much, as Christians, do we engage those who are not believers and/or living in habitual sin. This can be quite the debate, especially within the Christian community. For brevity’s sake, there are two lessons we can learn from Scripture that are very important when tackling the question “How close do we get to unbelievers?”
First, we should guard our own heart. Only getting as close to unbelievers as possible without giving them a foothold that would tempt us (Galatians 6:1). The very last thing Jesus wants is for us to sacrifice our own fellowship with Him while trying to faithfully witness to a person who is in a situation (sin) that, if not careful, would pull us away from Him. If we yield to temptation we ultimately do more damage than our intention, which is to help reconcile them to Christ. I have seen this time and time again with those who try to be nicer than Jesus. Nonetheless, instead of leading by example, we have now become hypocrites by justifying to them the very thing that is separating them from reconciling with Jesus. Leading by example is the best advice while also taking care not to get ourselves in sin.
This leads us to the second lesson we can learn from Scripture: it not only pushes the person you are faithfully witnessing to away from Christ, but also causes brothers and sisters in Christ who are like children in their faith to doubt their faith (1 Corinthians 8:7-13). It should be very important to mature Christians that we avoid being a stumbling block to our young brothers and sisters in Christ. If in our efforts to witness to unbelievers we begin to do what they do we become a stumbling block. The word stumbling block in the original Greek language means apostasy, which means to cause someone to renounce his or her faith. The idea that we could actually cause someone to doubt his or her faith in Jesus should tell us that there are certainly personal limits to evangelism. Let us not be the cause for our brothers and sisters to stumble.
Please don’t give up too soon but understand you may reach a point where prayer is your only tool left (but let me assure you that prayer is very powerful). Prayer in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can go places we can’t and do things beyond our imagination.