Evangelizing the Unbelieving
Heart of the Believer
By Mark Sandford
Have you ever had any of the following thoughts expressed? “My head knows hat God is close to me, but in my heart it seems like He's far away.” “My head knows that God is merciful, my heart sees Him standing with a big stick, ready to punish any mistake I make.” “My head knows hat God will take care of my needs, but my heart has a hard time believing that when there are so many bills to pay.” “My head knows that ‘all things work together for good to those who love God’ (Romans 8:28, NASB), but my heart finds it hard to believe that things will ever work out.” Who hasn’t prayed something like, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9: 24, NASB)? Obviously, your heart doesn’t always believe everything your mind believes! That's why we say that we must “evangelize the unbelieving heart of the believer.”
But is this biblically correct? Let’s look at the meaning of the word, “believer.” Today’s culture regards belief as merely giving mental assent to factual data. This is not how ancient Hebrews viewed belief! Romans 10:10 (NASB) says, “For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness” (emphasis added). It does not say, “With the mind a person believes,” but we tend to automatically take it that way! Many think that they fully believe because they have mentally accepted what Christ has done for them. But the Hebrew worldview held that belief is what our heart invests itself in, as shown by our works: “Show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18, NASB). In the very next verse James contrasts such faith with mere mental assent: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder” (verse 19). We are all sinners who sometimes fail to show our faith by our works. It follows that we all have some degree of unbelief in our hearts.
Some Christians worry that this idea might deny the effectiveness of their born-again experience. They point to 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NASB): “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature.” They claim that there can be no place in a new creature for unbelief. Our answer: if there isn’t, then no one who ever entertained the thoughts I mentioned earlier could be saved (and that includes just about all of us)! Our saving grace is that verse 18 says it is Jesus’ perfect faithfulness, not our ability to believe perfectly, that makes our initial salvation experience effective: “All these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ” (emphasis added). “Reconciled” is in the past tense. Through Christ, God has reconciled with us once and for all; nothing can undo that. But read verse 20: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (emphasis added). God had reconciled with the Corinthians, but they had not yet fully reconciled their unbelieving hearts to God. God had done His part, but they had not fully done theirs. Therefore, they needed an “ambassador for Christ” like Paul to entreat them to do so. It is not only the unsaved who are in need of this.
Thus, Scripture describes sanctification as not only accomplished, but also ongoing. But our wayward hearts excise lines from the text that don’t fit our preconceptions. For instance, we may acknowledge the first half of Hebrews 10:14 (NIV): “By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever” . . . while glossing over the second half of that same verse: “those who are being made holy.” A wrongful understanding of “belief” causes us to take so many Scriptural truths out of context!
It has also limited our view of what it means to evangelize. We often think of it only in terms of winning over new converts. But “evangelist” — in Greek, euangelistes (Ephesians 4:11), literally means, “a messenger of good.” Is the good message of the call to repentance and reconciliation only for prospective converts? Is not every writer of the New Testament epistles “a messenger of good” who entreats believers to reconcile their hearts to God? Hebrews 3:12 (NIV) warns, “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (emphasis added). Paul, that “ambassador for Christ,” addressed this to born-again Christians!
Evangelism is the call we have answered in order to allow Christ to reconcile us to the Father by paying for our sins. “Evangelism to the Heart” is the call we must continue to answer daily to turn our hearts increasingly toward the One who has, once and for all, provided us with such a blessed gift.
© Mark Sandford 2018