I recently heard a young man preach a sermon on the importance of sharing the gospel. His philosophy was that as long as Christians are obeying God by witnessing to the lost, they should not care whether or not the lost accept Christ.
He proposed that this attitude takes the pressure off the one sharing the gospel. After all, if we only care about obeying God and not the results of sharing our faith, what do we have to lose?
While I agree that the decision of another person to accept or reject the call of Jesus is certainly not the responsibility of the one who shared the gospel, I disagree that the Christian's attitude be one of not caring. His charge for Christians to not concern themselves with non-Christians who reject Jesus bothered me for two reasons; God commands Christians to care, and God has convicted me many times for not caring.
Christians are charged in Colossians 3:12 to be compassionate. "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience" (emphasis mine). We are to care, just as Christ cares, for the lost souls of men.
I used to view non-Christians as outsiders. I looked at them as mere projects that I needed to check off my I shared Christ with them to-do list. I embraced sharing the gospel of Jesus as my job, and I faithfully did it out of obedience.
This "just do it" attitude is definitely in line with my personality. Spiritual gifts tests have confirmed that I am a prophet/teacher. The downfall to a person with these gifts is that she/he is usually lacking in the compassion and mercy department. For example, when a turtle makes the dangerous decision to cross a busy road, many people think, "poor thing." I think, "stupid turtle." When someone comes to me with a problem, I'm not the huggy, let-me-cry-with-you type. I'm more the factual "here's what you need to do so dry your eyes and get on with it" type.
Unfortunately, I must admit, that while I had a heart for obeying God in sharing the gospel with the lost, I did not have a heart for the lost. I can recall telling several people about Jesus and not grieving over their negative response to His plan of salvation. God convicted me that I was viewing Non-Christians as a type of enemy, an enemy that I needed to conquer in the spiritual war of evangelism.
I would faithfully put on my armor, swing the sword of truth at whoever came my way, and walk off the battlefield without giving a second thought to where the wounded fell. I simply counted my efforts as medals toward spiritual heroism.
Jesus doesn't view non-Christians as the enemy, but as victims of the enemy. According to Philippians 2:5, Christians are to have the same attitude as Christ. It took me a while to realize that not having a heart for the lost is just as disobedient as not sharing the gospel. Christ longs to gather His lost sheep. He searches for them and delights in looking after them, "For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them'" (Ezekiel 34:11). He cares for them (1 Peter 5:7). It is impossible to have the attitude of Christ, while not caring for the lost.
Befriending a non-believer for the purpose of sharing the gospel is very different than becoming their companion. Companions are companionable, meaning they are suited for one another socially in their likes and dislikes. Therefore, we are not to be "companions" with a non-believer, but we are to befriend them in order to share the good news of Jesus with them.
Jesus befriended non-believers. He befriended and protected a prostitute when no one else would. He went into the house of Matthew, a lying and cheating tax collector, and ate dinner with a gang of sinners in order to subject them to His holiness. "When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners'?' On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick'" (Matthew 8:11-12). Jesus came to set the sinners free.
As we befriend non-believers for the sake of sharing the love of Christ, it is wise to establish some boundaries. First and foremost, we should never indulge in sinful activities in the name of witnessing. The gospel should be shown with our actions as much as it is spoken with our words. My friend, Toma, always says, "Your talk talks and your walk talks but your walk talks more than your talk talks."
It is also a good idea to let the non-believer know up front that you are devoted to Jesus. After all, we are not secret agents, but ambassadors for Christ. "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us" (2 Corinthians 5:20a). Although we should establish who we are in Christ, it is helpful to develop a relationship before bombarding them with Scripture. By showing interest in their lives and getting to know them, we develop trust in the friendship. Keep in mind that a good fisherman hides the hook.
In realizing these truths, I began to pray for a heart like His. As a result, He enables me to see the lost through His eyes and care for them through His love. I am becoming more and more aware of how precious they are to Jesus. My heart hurts for those who don't know my sweet Jesus. I long to see them embrace their maker, the giver of hope and joy. God is still working on me, but I am thankful that He is making my heart a little more like His each day.
Oh, and I simply must tell you… I recently pulled my car over to help a turtle cross the road. God is definitely working on me.
Ginger Plowman, author of Don't Make Me Count to Three and Heaven at Home, speaks at women's events and parenting conferences across the country. Visit her website at www.gingerplowman.com.