Things Christians Cannot Say When Evangelizing Others
Heresy, by nature, alters the Gospel message. Laziness simplifies it. In a world of bumper sticker theologies, Christians must know the Gospel and present it in a manner of clarity with fullness. A certain amount of efficiency is required because most people do not want the entire Bible read to them in one sitting. We must be wise in what we are saying, however. Efficient heresy is still heresy. There are some things Christians cannot say when evangelizing others.
First, “Jesus died for you,” is not something you can just throw out there to the masses. The origin of this errant statement comes from Universalism. In this false gospel view, Jesus died for everyone and therefore, logically, everyone is saved. Universalism is the elephant in the room at most churches. Most people like elephants. What they do not like is the exclusivity of Christ, and by extension, Christianity. This naturally leads to our second statement, born of this one.
Second, “God loves you.” Universalism promotes this idea, too. The all-inclusive god of universalism is ready to receive anyone and everyone. “Just come as you are,” because in the end everyone is accepted by God. The logic here is, “God is love. Therefore, God must love everyone because He is love. If God loves everyone, then everyone is saved.”
If “God loves you,” and “Jesus died for you,” and “you” means everyone, then everyone is saved. The reason is that love never fails. God so loved the world. That is everyone. Jesus is the Savior of the whole world. That is everyone. Therefore, God loves and saves everyone. This is why everyone is saved in the scheme of Universalism.
If “you” means something different than “all people everywhere and throughout all of history,” then Universalism is wrong. Is it possible “you” means everyone in a select group? In other words, “you” could mean some complete portion, a subsection of the larger whole.
The exclusivity of Christ and His select people, the church, warrants a closer look at the plural pronouns of the Bible. The key for correct interpretation is the context of a pronoun’s use in the text and its correlation to other passages in the formation of the doctrine of salvation.
“God loves you” shows up once in the Bible, “Nevertheless, the LORD your God was not willing to listen to Balaam, but the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because the LORD your God loves you (Dt 23:5).” The clear reference here is to the nation of Israel, the people of Yahweh. This is why, “God loves you,” was never the message of the prophets, nor Jesus, nor the apostles to the surrounding nations.
The error sits in the misinterpretation of John 3:16, “God so loved the world.” It is also promoted by a false assumption, derived from 1 John 4:8, “God is love.” The error is reasoned, “If God is love and God so loves the world, and “world” means everyone, then God loves you.” In the Bible, “God loves you” is for Israel, God’s chosen people. In Universalism, “God loves you” means everyone everywhere and at all times.
“Jesus died for you” is a claim Universalists declare to everyone everywhere. This is the efficient and very succinct gospel in their minds. Is it honest? Well, “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world (1 Jn 2:2).” Isn’t that clear enough? Interestingly, the support passages for “God loves you” and “Jesus died for you,” both include the term “world.” This is far more problematic than a casual first glance and easy acceptance. Does “you” mean “world”? Does “world” mean everyone everywhere?
The apostle John loved the term “kosmos” (world). He is easily the most prolific employer of the term in his writings. Here again is where context is crucial to proper Bible interpretation. John uses “world” in at least ten distinct ways. In other words, “world” has over ten different meanings when used by John. “God so loved the world” and “Jesus died for the sins of the whole world” can only be interpreted accurately if we first look at them in their context. Then our contextual interpretation must correlate with what the rest of the Bible says about God’s love and Christ’s death.
God’s love is covenantal love. It is like marriage. It is exclusive. This is foolishness to the world, much of which deems itself “lovable.” In the Bible, God sets His love on Israel, the people of God in a special way. There is nothing lovable about Israel. It is a small, oftentimes wretched, nation of people.
This is true for ethnic Israel in the Old Testament and for the Israel of God, the church, in the New Testament. In other words, God’s chosen people from every tribe and tongue do not merit God’s love. Yahweh has set His love on Christ, and those who are in the Beloved Son are beloved by virtue of their exclusive position. How did these people receive the benefit of being the objects of God love, where others did not?
“Christ died for us (Rom 5:8)” is the more accurate way of saying, “Jesus died for you.” I can say, “Jesus died for you” or “Christ died for us” to a Christian, but I would never say it to just anyone out there. Noah built the ark, but not for everyone. The angels were sent to Lot’s house, but not to everyone at Sodom. Jesus laid down His life for the sheep, but there is no mention of the goats. The harvest is for the wheat, but the tares must be gathered up and burned. There is a distinction and then separation throughout Scripture.
If Christ bore “our” sins in His body on the Cross, what about “their” sins? My point is to emphasize one fact. Terms, especially pronouns, matter in Bible interpretation. What about the Lamb who takes away the sin of the whole world (Jn 1:29)? There is John using “world” again. Who is the world in context? Who is the world in the correlation of salvific passages?
Behold the whole world, “And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev 5:9).” Here is a select group of people God loved before the foundation of the world and for whom Christ came into the world to die for. The Bible calls them, “the remnant.” Somebody escort the elephant out of the church, please.
God loves Israel, and Christ came to save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21). Israel is the name given to God’s people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Gal 6:16). He has made a covenant with His people, and the head of His people, Christ Jesus, has cut the covenant on the Cross. Here is love. It is an act of sacrifice on the part of the God/man and head of the church. Here God demonstrates His love toward us, His chosen people, the elect (Rom 5:8). We, His people of faith, respond to Him in love because He first loved us (1 Jn 4:19). If He loved “us” what about “them”?
Who are the elect of God? They are those who place their trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and hope of eternal life. Those who believe were appointed to eternal life (Acts 13:48). God made the appointment when He wrote their names in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8; 17:8). In love, He predestined vessels of mercy to be adopted into His family by His will and kind intention (Rom 9:23; Eph 1:4–5). He chose us; we did not choose Him (Jn 15:16).
In conclusion, to say to just anyone, “God loves you,” or “Jesus died for you,” is unhelpful. It assumes you know who God chose and who He did not choose from all eternity to receive His appointment unto salvation. Therefore, Christians cannot and should not express these efficient, pithy declarations of Gospel truth, and the reason is that they are not necessarily the truth for the recipients. “You” is just too vague, and the alternative is to embrace and promote the false gospel of Universalism.
Evangelists must proclaim truth without misleading anyone. The remedy is the Scripture and proper explanation. “God loves you” is something declared to Israel. Have you been transferred into God’s kingdom? Then it is true, “Jesus died for you,” even as “Christ died for us.”
Finally, note the distinction from the apostle Peter, “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet 2:9).” Christians must proclaim the excellencies of God in Christ. The world hears the Gospel call from us, but it is the church who hears the effectual call. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow Me (Jn 10:27).” The sheep say, “He loved me, and He died for me.” The goats do not.
Christian, you must be careful in your evangelism because some of the people you will communicate with are goats. If you tell them Christ loves them and that he died for them, you have lied to them. Christ came for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, not for the goats of the world. Therefore, preach Christ and Him crucified, and His sheep will hear His voice, and they will follow Him. Why? They will know in their souls, only by the Spirit, God loves them and Christ died for them.
Spokane Valley, Washington
May 9, 2021