It happens at the most inconvenient time. Dinner’s on the table, or I’m putting my kids to bed, or I’m right in the middle of my favorite TV show, and there’s a knock at the door. Reluctantly, I open it and find two smiling faces ready to share their religion with me. Ugh.
I’m polite, of course, but annoyed. Feelings of guilt quickly follow. Shouldn’t I care about these nice people who love me so much that they come to my house—risking rejection and rebuff—to share their good news with me?
I admire Mormons’ and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ zeal to make converts. Their door-to-door actions show it. Even so, I’m mystified at how the conversations often end. In the middle of our good chat, my doorstep friends say they have another appointment, drop some pamphlets on the table, and leave. It’s like they’re clocking out with me and moving on to their next opportunity.
Why? Then one day it hit me. They don’t come to my door primarily because they love me; they come for a different reason.
Motivation matters. So what is the foundational motivation driving our door-to-door evangelists? The teachings of the LDS Church and The Watchtower tell us.
George Albert Smith, the 8th prophet of the LDS church, said, “We will attain our exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom only on the condition that we share with our Father’s other children the blessings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and observe the commandments that will enrich our lives here and hereafter.”
Did you catch that? Mormons must share their faith to earn their “exaltation.”
The same is true for our JW friends. The Watchtower says, “By preaching we can save ourselves and those who listen to us,” and J.W.s “will be saved to eternal life only if they continue to adhere to all of God’s requirements.”
Put simply, JWs believe they will gain their salvation by knocking on doors, and they will lose their salvation if they stop.
Mormons and JWs are typically kind, pleasant, and respectful, but their evangelism is driven by their need to fulfill specific requirements. They may love those they’re talking with, but their goal in evangelizing is to save themselves.
Christianity is different. We don’t earn salvation through missionary work or passing out pamphlets. We gain entrance to Heaven by the grace of God through faith: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9).
We have a different motivation for witnessing. Since evangelism doesn’t buy Heaven for us, we’re able to share the good news motivated by love. Jesus said the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor.
Is it really love for our neighbor if we’re sharing with them in order to buy our way into Heaven? Can a self-centered motive produce genuine love?
Did you ever wonder why a 20-year-old supermodel marries a 90-year-old billionaire? “We’re in love. We have so much in common. Age is just a number, anyway.” Right. No one believes her. That’s not why she’s marrying the old guy.
We have a label to describe a person with this kind of “love”—gold digger. Works-based salvation, central to all cults and world religions, sadly produces gold-digger love.
John 3:16 tells us what motivated God to send his Son. It wasn’t obligation or duty. It was love. Love motivated God to send Jesus to live a perfect life and die to pay sin’s penalty. God in his goodness has given us this same ability to be motivated by love. “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).
With our requirements for salvation removed by the cross, we can now selflessly obey God’s command to love others.
Further, how can we love our enemies if we are doing it to save our own skin? If love “does not seek its own,” then evangelism to secure our salvation cannot be love. Christ loved us by sacrificing himself to serve others, not earning anything for himself in the process.
So, when you hear that inconvenient knock on your door, answer it. Engage your doorstep friends in conversation about the God of grace. Be gentle and respectful. They may be at your door because they’re trying to earn their salvation. But your example of genuine love towards them may lead to their genuine salvation.