Perhaps the most ignored mission field is the one right under our noses. Fluency in Christianese and regular church attendance doesn’t necessarily mean a person is born again. In fact, external religiosity can be the most effective way to hide internal carnality.
This fact shouldn’t be surprising to those of us familiar with the New Testament. The gospel accounts are dominated by Christ’s encounters with religious unbelievers. Moreover, His harshest denunciations were repeatedly dished out upon the most outwardly pious people in Jewish culture.
In his sermon “How to Evangelize Religious People,” John MacArthur examines one of Christ’s strongest repudiations of pharisaical hypocrisy—Luke 11:37–44.
It’s a passage in which Jesus repeatedly points out the Pharisees’ sanctimonious outward appearance because it concealed their wicked and filthy hearts. Christ described what lay beneath their religious façade: “Inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness” (Luke 11:39); “[You] disregard justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42); “Woe to you! For you are like concealed tombs” (Luke 11:44).
John sums up their great disguise—the same façade that cloaks the religious unbelievers scattered throughout our own congregations:
Their religion was purely external. And what happens is this: In order to live out your religion and put on a convincing show, you elaborate the external. So you expand the emblems; you expand the functions; you expand the ceremonies; you expand the rituals; you proliferate the prescriptions. That’s exactly what the Jews had done, way beyond the Old Testament. That’s what the Roman Catholics, the Greek Orthodox have done, way beyond what the New Testament teaches, adding almost endless rituals, routines, ceremonies, regulations, because there’s nothing on the inside. But you can create a bigger illusion that way.
Regardless of how obvious or discrete the charade might be, we need to be able to recognize the warning signs. Religious hypocrites most likely inhabit your local church and are thereby your nearest mission field. They don’t need to be told to behave, they need to be called to believe. And “How to Evangelize Religious People” is a powerful reminder of our responsibility to these fraudulent Christians—and those damaged by their influence. It is a message that models the biblical pattern of the master-evangelist Himself—the Lord Jesus.
Click here to listen to “How to Evangelize Religious People.”