Your question is being asked in all sorts of ways.
Myself and some friends are attempting to ask questions and eventually act on the homeless situation in downtown [city]. But as we’ve been discussing it, there are a few questions that we feel that we need to tackle so we can all be on the same page. Here it is: “What is our intention in simply desiring to fight systemic injustice? Should we do this with the intention of some larger plan of salvation for those we are trying to help? Or should we simply do it with no agenda just because systemic injustice is wrong?”
I find folks usually ask this question because they’ve seen so many Christians do things with secondary motives — instead of helping the poor out of love for the poor, they help in order to get a chance to hand them a tract; instead of fighting against injustice in Darfur because injustice is wrong, they hope they’ll get a chance to share the gospel; instead of mowing their neighbors’ lawn because their neighbor is out of town this weekend, they do this so they’ll get a chance to take them to church.
First motive: evangelism; secondary and apparent motive: helping out. Some see through the thin skin of that secondary motive and think they’ve been used or had.
There are two possibilities here as I see them: either one does everything for a chance to evangelize or one sees all acts of kindness “a new kind of evangelism” or “the goodness of the gospel itself.” Let’s add a third: do all things with the hope that one can evangelize but waiting patiently for that chance. Let me suggest something and it comes from this Christian conviction: God redeems in Christ and our vocation is to live in that story of Jesus by performance and proclamation.
Matt, here’s a fundamental reality for all Christians: everything we do is to be done in the name of Jesus; there is nothing we do apart from the name of Jesus. We don’t do things “in the name of the USA” or “in the name of the US Constitution” or “in the name of the State of California.” Those motives are idolatrous for us.
What is justice but what is right in God’s eyes — and that means that everything done that is right — helping the poor, fighting against the injustice in Darfur, or helping a neighbor — is “gospel work” or is work done “in the name of Jesus.” One need not be “evangelizing verbally” in every situation to be “evangelizing in the name of Jesus.”
Sometimes we brush by folks with goodness and they say, “That was the love of God.” Othertimes we get to sit down with others and tell our story and the story of Jesus. But, whether we just brush by someone or whether we tell them our story, we know who we are and that shapes everything we do and are.