We are often reminded by the world 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 sin increases? Where does a Christian draw the line with their non-Christian friends? Let us 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, each of us has personal struggles with impure thoughts, selfish motives, and various other sins.
Fortunately, we also have the 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 with all 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 his ‘fruit,’ and whether he denies 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 become united with Christ. We must build a relationship to earn their attention and trust (1 Cor. 9:19-23). A pastor once said, “People have to know how much you care before they care how much you know.” The tension concerns how close or how much we as Christians engage those who are not believers or are living in habitual sin. This has been debated for many years, especially within the Christian community. For brevity’s sake, there are two lessons we can learn from Scripture that are particularly important when tackling the question “How close do we get to unbelievers?”
First, we should guard our own hearts. Only getting as close to unbelievers as possible without giving Satan a foothold that would tempt us (Galatians 6:1). The very last thing Jesus wants is for us to sacrifice our fellowship with Him while trying to faithfully witness to a person in a situation that can pull us away from Him. If we yield to temptation, we do more harm than good. I have seen this repeatedly 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 surrender ourselves to sin.
Second, it not only pushes the person to whom you are faithfully witnessing away from Christ but also causes our spiritual brothers and sisters who are babes in Christ to doubt their faith (1 Corinthians 8:7-13). It is especially important to the mature Christian to avoid being a stumbling block to those with whom we are sharing our faith. If in our efforts to witness we begin to do what they do, we become a stumbling block. The word used for stumbling block, skandalon, in the original Greek language means a trap or a snare. We can actually become the reason people remain distant from God if we aren’t careful. That is truly scandalous. The idea that we could 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 do not give up too soon but understand you may reach a point where prayer is the only tool left. Prayer in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can go places we cannot and accomplish things beyond our imagination.