How we tell others about God turns some toward or away from God. Jesus’ style of evangelism, when one reads through the Gospels, appears to be very different from current styles. Preachers often suggest a prayer for salvation: “Dear God, I am a sinner that deserves death. I now believe Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sins and I accept Jesus into my heart.” It is implied this prayer keeps one from going to Hell. It turns out we don’t have to threaten people but invite others to consider that their Creator desires a relationship with them when ready.
Jesus was less threatening and more natural or practical when one sits down to read any of the Gospels such as Luke. When gathering His disciples Jesus simply invited them to follow Him. Jesus told Simon: “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So, Simon, James, and John began following Jesus (5:10-11). He told Levi (Matthew) “follow me” (5:27). The disciples wavered in their faith but followed Jesus as best they could. This suggests our relationship with our Creator ebbs and flows. Most of the disciples eventually died a martyr’s death for becoming convinced Jesus was who He claimed.
Jesus basic message could be summarize as: “But to you who are listening I say: ….Do to others as you would have them do to you” (6:27-31). When one asked “what must I do to inherit eternal life” (10:25), Jesus didn’t admonish one to get on their knees and pray for forgiveness. Jesus said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself” (10:25-27). We recognize this as the golden rule. Jesus encouraged others to love God because Our Creator will empower us to be the person we deep down desire to be. When one seeks a better life in this world, Jesus simply said love God or follow Me.
Faith doesn’t always begin with some prayer but simply steps toward God. Jesus gave his blessings to the Centurion because he wanted help. (7:1-10). Jesus didn’t offer elaborate instructions to the Centurion on what one must do to be saved. Jesus said to the sinful woman: “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace” (7:50). Jesus didn’t tell the woman about Hell, Heaven, to never go back in her faith, blah, blah, blah. Jesus healed the man with leprosy, but He did not close the deal so to speak (5:11-14). Jesus never insisted those healed to confess and repent of their sins or state an allegiance to God from that day going forward. Jesus simply encouraged them in what faith they showed. This is how we can begin a relationship with God. One saves their life by beginning to lose their life of unselfishness (9:23-26).
Jesus’ first mention of Heaven in Luke (6:23) is not to avoid Hell but give hope to those whose life here on earth was hell – the poor, hunger, sad, excluded, and insulted (6:20-23). Jesus mentions Hell (actually the word Gehenna) only once in Luke (i.e. 12:5). Hell is only mentioned eleven times in the Gospels but really less as the Gospels record the same events. The Apostle Paul never even mentioned Hell. The parallel passage in Matthew (10:28) helps to understand in Luke 12:5 that Jesus warns losing your soul, with life full of regrets, is worse than the killing of your body. Worse than death is being thrown into “Gehenna” (translated as Hell), which is symbolic of denying Jesus and the signs in the OT of who Jesus was (Luke 12:56). Gehenna was the name of a real valley nearby Jerusalem with a history. Hell is no more a translation of Gehenna than Atlanta is for Chicago.
Jesus harshest message wasn’t for those who didn’t claim religion but those who pretended to be religious. Jesus hated how the Pharisees distorted His message (5:29-31). The Pharisees, who were in love with their power, made religion self-serving rather than self-sacrificing. We may hold on to certain beliefs, not because they are in the best interest of all, but because they keep us employed. The Pharisees’ emphasis on rules and obedience rather than God’s unconditional love was misguided. Discussing obedience before God’s unconditional love for us is a hopeless journey in achieving a relationship with God and being the kind of people we desire to be. The Pharisees attended synagogue, but they did not call themselves Christians. Attending Church doesn’t make one a follower. Followers simply trust in who Jesus claimed to be, which empowers one to live out Jesus’ teachings such as loving others as ourselves.
As a way of summary how Jesus encouraged others in their spiritual journey, we can look at Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus before preparing to enter Jerusalem and face death (19:1-10). Zacchaeus was clearly a listener as he gladly accepted Jesus’ request to come to his house. Maybe we worry too much about those who aren’t in need currently. Zacchaeus was a tax collector and had cheated many people out of their money simply because they feared consequences from the Roman government. Zacchaues had clearly reflected on his actions and told Jesus he intended to give half his possessions to the poor and payback four time the amount he had stolen from others. The amount is not the point of the story as Jesus suggested the rich young ruler sell everything (18:22).
Jesus responded to Zacchaeus: “Today salvation has come to this house….the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” There was no formal confession. Jesus didn’t tell Zacchaeus he must be baptized. Jesus simply praised Zacchaeus for seeing his need to begin a journey that Jesus wanted for everyone. Salvation is not being saved from Hell or only about entering heaven sometime in the future after death. Salvation is healing, deliverance, or rescue on earth from a life of self-centeredness. How do we tell others about God? To those who express a need, we can share our own journey in getting to know Jesus and what He has done for us. We can share that God desires to begin a relationship with us so that we might become the person we deep down desire to be. We can simply encourage others to get to know Jesus and follow Jesus.