My four year old son had been working quietly in our playroom for a while. Suddenly, he bounded out, grabbed my wife’s hand, and told her that she “hadda see” (had to see) what he had been working on. If you know anything about four year olds, you know that prolonged periods of silence can produce really interesting results, so my wife followed him cautiously, unsure of exactly what she would see. Rounding the corner, she was relieved to find minimal destruction!
He had cut out a few strips of construction paper and arranged them into two columns on the floor. He explained that one column was “the Jesus list” and the other was “the Satan list.” He further explained that all the people he knows who do good things would go on “the Jesus list” and all the people who do bad things would go on “the Satan list.” While we are really pleased that our son is aware of spiritual things, that he loves Jesus, and that he knows Jesus is “good” and Satan is “bad,” we really don’t want him heading to preschool, telling some of his classmates that they are on “the Satan list!” Not sure if that evangelism strategy would go over too well?
It’s easy for us to see how over-simplified my son’s perspective is and that it’s not really a complete view of spiritual truth. It’s also easy to see that it’s probably not the best way to present the gospel. But I wonder how many of us actually fall into the same trap in our own schools, families, neighborhoods and workplaces.
It is so easy for us to categorize people based on what they do, what they don’t do, how they treat us, or make us feel. And it is so easy to focus on the external evidences that may indicate their internal, eternal choices. We know that that friend needs to hear about Jesus because she parties a lot on the weekends. We’re certain that another friend needs Jesus because his family is messed up and he’s lashing out in anger at everyone around him. We can see their flaws, and we can see their needs. If we were making lists, we might even put them on the “bad” one. I think a lot of evangelistic efforts are driven by this kind of thinking. “You are headed the wrong direction, you have a problem, and I have the solution for you!” It doesn’t sound bad, it actually may be loving, and it is rooted in some truth. But I believe it may be as over-simplified and misdirected as my son’s “Jesus” and “Satan” lists.
One of the issues that the older generations may name about teens is that “they’re so focused on self.” Well, in a strange twist, I was reading this week in 1 Peter, which says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
I noticed when I read that verse how much of it talks about me. I am to set apart Christ as Lord in my heart. I am to be prepared to give an answer. I am the one who needs to know what my hope in Christ is. Me, me, me (and Christ, Christ, Christ!). I am passionate about evangelism because I want to see people drawn into this hope-giving, life-changing relationship with Jesus. I want to see their hearts moved from the “bad list” to the “good list,” if you will.
But 1 Peter 3:15 invites me to keep the focus of my evangelism on me, on what Christ has done in me, instead of on what’s wrong with those who don’t yet know him. 1 Peter 3:15 tells me to live in such a way that people just have to ask what’s different about me. And what is different about me and what I get to share with them is that I have an amazing hope, a total confidence and security in this life and in the life to come, because Jesus has moved me from the bad list to the good list. I didn’t do it on my own, and no one else will ever do that on their own. His love is so amazing, how could I respond in any other way than to set him apart as the Lord of my heart and to live in confident hope and grateful praise? May those who don’t know Jesus be drawn to that hope in me, and may I have the words to explain how amazing he is!
What are your thoughts on the Jesus list and the Satan list? How does grace play into the picture?