A: What a great question! There are certainly a lot of materials and teachings that encourage Christians to use the phrase, "Jesus loves you" as an outreach and evangelistic tool. Much of this teaching, that I've encountered, emphasizes following the lead of the Holy Spirit and claims that the Holy Spirit will often lead Christians to say this to non-believers to encourage them and try and lead them to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
Fourth Year Ministries does not teach this as a valid evangelism strategy, but it's not because we don't want it to be valid! Truth be told, we would love for this to be a good practice for Christians. It would certainly open some more doors for us and lead to less push back from many in the professing church!
This is a complicated issue, so I will do my best to tackle one issue at a time. My prayer is that by the end, you will be able to see that our reason for denying such tactics as valid for Christians to use when speaking to the lost is not because we are mean-spirited and hateful, nor is our reason because we like to make big deals out of things that don't really matter. This is a big deal. Like, a really big deal.
First, though, I want to be as clear as possible that the love of God expressed through Jesus is a wonderful and awe-inspiring reality. The church would do well to consistently and constantly pray for each other along the same lines as the Apostle Paul:
that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:16-19, NASB)
Paul prayed that the Lord would grant to believers, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened in our inner man (the eternal part of our being which is being renewed by His Spirit, not the external part of our being which is currently under the curse and steadily moving towards death each day). He prayed that we would be strengthened with God's power through His Spirit. He prayed that Christ would dwell in our hearts through faith. He prayed that we would be rooted and grounded in love. He prayed that we would be able, along with all the saints, to comprehend the unknowable breadth, length, height, and depth of Christ's love. He prayed this, so we would be filled to the fullness of God.
Christians must understand the love of God that is in Christ. We should strive to build our lives upon this amazing love. We can never know it fully, which is good news! We will never come to the end of it, so we can always be assured that pursuing a better understanding of it will be rewarded and will never come up short.
However, this is for Christians to understand. It is for those who have been reconciled to God through repentance and faith in Jesus. You'll notice that Paul does not pray that unbelievers would understand or know this love, but that all the saints would know and understand it.
This is important and significant. If Paul has to pray that believers would know and understand and be rooted and grounded upon this truth, it means that we don't really understand it. Not yet. Not fully.
So, how can an unbeliever understand this statement correctly?
The sober reality is that they can't. When a believer tells an unbeliever, "Jesus loves you," the unbeliever is very often mislead into believing wrong conclusions about the love of Jesus.
I have to emphasize, I do not believe that this is often the intention of the Christian. I believe that many sincere Christians have mislead countless unbelievers by mistakenly following bad teaching on evangelism and the validity of telling non-believers that, "Jesus loves you." Hold this thought, because we'll come back to it in a bit.
Secondly, I want to acknowledge that in some very limited circumstances it is possible that the Holy Spirit may lead a Christian to tell a non-believer that "Jesus loves you" with good results. I do not claim to be the keeper of the Holy Spirit nor do I have infallible knowledge of His ways and methods. The Holy Spirit does as He wills, which is a good thing.
However, it is important to note that throughout the biblical revelation the Holy Spirit never (never!) led anyone to witness to a non-believer by walking up to them and saying, "Jesus loves you!" You can search the Scriptures for yourself to see ... and if I am missing an example of such a thing, I will gladly thank you and even give you $100 out of my own pocket in gratitude! You won't find it. It's just not there.
You can find passages that say Jesus loved people (e.g., Mark 10:21). You can find passages where Jesus asked people if they loved Him (e.g., John 21:15-19). You can find passages that state that we must retain the sound words we've received in the faith and love of Jesus (e.g., 2 Tim 1:13). You can find passages that urge Christians to keep themselves in the love of God as the Day of Judgment draws closer and closer (e.g., Jude 1:21).
No examples of believers either telling non-believers "Jesus loves you," or being taught to do so.
So why should we be convinced that such methods today are "Holy Spirit led"? It seems that this is a stretch which requires some basis beyond the one teaching such things! When a teacher begins teaching things that are not found in Scripture, should we not be cautious? We are commanded to test our doctrines and ways by the word of God - to hold fast to what is good and to reject what is not.
With all that being said, let's examine this more closely. Here are the top six reasons I reject such a method as biblically valid and think it is dangerous for the church. I offer these criticisms with the hope that the church will refine our practices and live in a way that is honoring to our God and worthy of the gospel (Phil 1:27).
1. Saying, "Jesus loves you," to a non-believer is misleading.
I briefly mentioned this above, and want to develop it a bit further. I've heard people testify to me that they've led people to Christ by saying this simple phrase. I have no doubt that many have made some profession of faith after hearing such a statement.
I also have no doubt that some people have actually been converted.
So, why does such testimony not convince me that this is valid for Christians?
First, making a profession of faith and actually becoming a Christian are two different things entirely (e.g., Titus 1:16). We can't confuse these two things. Lots of bad methods can get people to claim to be a Christian for a little while, but this doesn't make them valid. If I told every single person I met that Jesus would fix all their problems and make them healthy, wealthy, and wise ... I guarantee I could get some people to give Jesus a try. Problem is, when they experience the persecution that comes along with following Him (which I failed to mention), they may jump off the boat as soon as they jumped on.
Professions of faith are not the goal of evangelism. Therefore, we cannot judge our methods by what produces "professions." A genuine conversion will result in a changed individual who endures until the end. Anything less is false fruit.
Secondly, in my street ministry I have met several people who would describe themselves as those who "believed" in Jesus as a result of the "Jesus loves you" message, but who now were living fully in the world (and two, who were now professing devil worshippers!). They had either been so disillusioned by the bad things that happened in their life after hearing "Jesus loves you" that they promised themselves to the devil because they believed Jesus to now be a liar, or were completely comfortable living in unrepentant sin because "Jesus loves me just the way I am", or they had just given up on "Jesus" because they said they gave Him a try and He didn't really work for them.
Although the end product was varied, these results are all a fruit of the same thing. They were mislead by the person who told them "Jesus loves you" - because the person failed to explain what Jesus' love is and means.
A worldly view of love thinks of Valentine's Day, candy, balloons, and warm-fuzzy feelings. When we think of "love" in these terms and hear that Jesus loves us, we think He is going to give us gifts and make us feel warm and fuzzy.
The Bible says: But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8, NASB)
Without explaining sin, through the Law, the person to whom you are speaking has no frame of reference for why a guy dying on a cross 2000 years ago demonstrates in the present tense how God loves us. Therefore, if we are going to tell people that Jesus loves them, we must go much further by actually explaining what this love means and implies.
The love of Jesus has radical implications. It implies that everyone who repents of their rebellion against God and turns to Jesus through faith will be saved from the wrath that is to come and is rightfully due to them (Ps 2; Nah 1:1-8; John 3:16-36; 2 Thess 1:5-12). Sadly, most professing Christians are not willing or equipped to go this far with non-believers. As a result, the message is distorted and our hearers are misled.
2. Using non-biblical methods contributes to disunity.
Jesus emphasized unity in His church. He prayed for unity. He prayed for unity, because by our unity the world would know who He is (John 17:13-26).
When Jesus sent out His earliest followers, He sent them with a unified message.
The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel.
The implications of this gospel were more immediately apparent to the original audience, because they lived under the Roman empire. In modern America, we don't really understand the power of a king. We have free speech and can speak out freely against our elected leaders. Not so with a king.
The terror of a king is like the growling of a lion; He who provokes him to anger forfeits his own life. (Prov 20:2, NASB)
Under many kings, if they even suspected you were speaking against them, they would hunt you and execute you. The King of kings and Lord of lords is amazingly gracious and compassionate. He is patient with rebels, not desiring that any perish, but that all would come to repentance (2 Pet 3:3-13). However, His patience will not endure forever.
The gospel today is the same: The kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus Christ is Lord. Repent and take refuge in the Savior. Or, you will perish under His wrath.
When many (perhaps the majority) of professing Christians in the land begin preaching a gospel without repentance - which is essentially what "Jesus loves you" means to non-believers - then the professing church is not in unity.
I have met countless people who have heard the Jesus loves you message. When they are told of their need to repent, they often scoff at me, because they recognize immediately that this message does not match what they've heard previously. They've heard Jesus loves them as they are. Repentance requires them to change. If Jesus loves them just the way they are, then they don't need to change. See the problem?
This is not unity.
Since this is not unity, we must examine the biblical precedent for both messages. With the "Jesus loves you" message we find no biblical precedent or support. With the "repent and believe" message, we find multitudes of passages and examples teaching this. Therefore, we must embrace the message that Jesus has given through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in His Bible. Further, we must reject the other messages, no matter how nice they may sound. We are not more loving than Jesus! Jesus testified of the truth (John 18:37). He testified of the wickedness of humanity and our need to repent (John 3:36, 7:7, 14:6; Luke 13:3-5). He demonstrated His love through dying on the cross (Rom 5:8).
3. If this is not biblical and leads to disunity, it is not from the Holy Spirit but is from the flesh.
I understand the desire to preach a gospel that will not result in persecution. The message "Jesus loves you," is definitely more well received on a regular basis and carries very little danger of causing us to be martyred for proclaiming it!
But shouldn't we be alarmed that the message the modern professing church is proclaiming carries no such danger? Why did this message result in the death of Jesus, the Apostles, and so many of our brothers and sisters throughout the centuries, including in the modern day in other places around the world? Clearly, we have changed the message!
To preach a "safer" gospel is still to preach no gospel at all (Gal 1:8-9). To turn from the gospel is to turn from Him who called us in the first place (Gal 1:6). While we can understand the reasons for doing so, we still must recognize that such a trend is sinful.
What's even worse, is that some who say this unbiblical method of evangelism is following the Holy Spirit is attributing to the Spirit of God the works of the flesh! This is dangerously close to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit and should be resisted by the church by all means.
4. Embracing this method causes us to follow after men, who teach this on their own authority.
Christians are warned of false teachers in the New Testament.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Tim 4:3-4, NASB)
The time has come. Many in the professing church are not enduring sound doctrine regarding the mission of the church to make disciples of all nations and to preach the genuine gospel to every creature under heaven. We have accumulated teachers for ourselves who tell us what our ears want to hear: we can preach a gospel that poses no danger to our relationships or material comforts. This is false. But it certainly is what we want to hear.
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Pet 2:1-3, NASB)
Whatever destroys unity and compromises the integrity of the gospel is a destructive heresy. The method of evangelism embraced by many in the professing church of saying, "Jesus loves you" to those dead in their sins certainly fits this mold. I can testify as someone who witnesses to hundreds of people every year that this methodology is causing the way of the truth to be maligned. I can also tell you that it is easy to profit off of selling such materials, because teachers who tell us what our ears want to hear are selling us what we want to buy.
"I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:29-30, NASB)
By teaching false doctrine, these teachers teach on their own authority (since the method cannot be validated or taught from the Scriptures) and therefore lead people away after themselves. It is a dangerous thing indeed to follow after anyone who is teaching on their own authority, separated from the truth of the Scriptures. "Jesus loves you" as a valid evangelism proclamation is just one example of such a false teaching. However, how can such a method be taught unless it is asserted on the authority of the teacher themselves? There are no biblical passages which give us this example or which teach such an approach. Therefore, to embrace such methods is to follow after the men (or women) who are teaching us, not following the Holy Spirit.
5. Straying from God's methods attempts to take glory and power away from Him and gives it to us.
The gospel message itself is both the power and wisdom of God for salvation to all who believe (Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 1:18-25). When we stray from His methods, we are demonstrating with our actions that we believe we know better than God. We are demonstrating with our actions that we believe we can do a better job of leading people to Him than how He told us to do it. When we boast of "leading someone to Christ" through our own methods and means, then we get the glory and praise. We supplied the power for their "coming to Christ" because the methods described in Scripture may have seemed distasteful to them, but we found a message that was sweet to their ear.
Such a view is clearly a deception.
When we speak God's message, God's way, it is powerful to effect change that no human can bring. It raises the spiritually dead to spiritual life (John 5:24)! They are genuinely a new creature in Christ (2 Cor 5:17)! Only God can do such things (Isa 55:1-13; Matt 19:25-26) - to Him alone be the glory, honor, and praise.
6. It causes us to commit treason against the King of glory by taking unauthorized liberties with His gospel.
Second Corinthians 5:17 describes the glory of all who are in Christ being a new creature. Second Corinthians 5:18-21 describes the primary ministry responsibility of all these "new creatures" - we are ambassadors for Christ.
Ambassadors are officials in the government who represent the message and person of one who is of a higher rank. In this case, we are ambassadors in the kingdom of heaven for the King of kings! When we take liberties with the message He has given us - a message that testifies of the wickedness of humanity, the reality of coming judgment, God's plan for reconciliation being available only through Christ through Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection in fulfillment of the Scriptures, and the urgent need for all people everywhere to repent and trust in Christ - and exchange it for a different message - "Jesus loves you" - we are taking liberties that are not ours to take.
If we did this as earthly ambassadors for an earthly government, we could be tried for treason. How will we escape such a charge against the King of heaven?
For any who think this is overly harsh or lacks "grace" - consider the reality that Jesus taught concerning those unfaithful stewards and servants who were casual in this life with what we have been entrusted in places like Luke 12:35-59. You should read that carefully and prayerfully, because Jesus says the unfaithful slave will be assigned a place with the unbelievers. Yikes!
Similarly, the Apostle Paul spoke clearly and strictly when discussing the love and severity of God in Romans 11:20-22. The author of Hebrews also stresses the importance of faithfulness with this amazing gift of salvation in Hebrews 2:1-4.
Our God is worthy of our utmost devotion. He has given us everything we need to successfully advance His kingdom and glorify His name on the earth.
He does not need our help in adjusting the means for advancing His kingdom to methods that are more "culturally acceptable." Taking such liberties does not help us, it only hinders us as the people of God.
Based on these six reasons, I hope you see that Fourth Year Ministries teaches against such methods not because we want to be divisive, but because we want to be unified! We love our God and we love His church, therefore we teach what Jesus and the Apostles taught for disciples of Christ to follow and do. Unless and until the people of God are willing to lay down our own ways and walk in His, we will continue to drift further and further apart and will bear a bad witness to this lost world.
Of course our gospel proclamations to the world should include the great love of Jesus who laid down His life for all who will believe. We should magnify and declare the love of God for His creation to the best of our ability. However, we cannot neglect to keep this love in its proper context for the benefit of our hearers, for the unity of Christ's church, and for the praise and glory of His name.
Get equipped. Obey your King. Glorify your God.