Why do we do this? We sometimes get the cart before the horse in various areas of our lives. This is particularly true in the way we proclaim the gospel to the world.
Much of the lost world (at least in the USA) looks at the church and sees us teaching that the world needs to live differently. They watch TV and see Christians speaking out against abortion, gay marriage, gambling, etc. The message the lost often take from the church is that if they would just start "living better," then God would be pleased.
This moralistic message offers no hope and no attraction. People trapped by sin do not need to hear that they must live better. Instead, they must hear a message that offers real hope. The true gospel, after all, is a great message of hope.
Most of the large religions of the world (such as Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and, at least to some degree, Catholicism) teach the same message: start behaving well, and god (or gods in Hinduism) may be pleased. By this, you could earn a place in some type of heaven. When we lived in India, we would see people every day going to temple to try to appease the gods. The Hindus would perform some sort of puja (worship) by ringing a bell, offering flowers or food, prostrating themselves, and/or chanting. It is all designed to earn favor.
Biblical Christianity, on the other hand, makes it clear that no one can earn salvation. All are lost in sin. Jesus Christ, however, came as the perfect sacrifice for sin. All are invited to be saved from the wrath of God by accepting Him as Lord and Savior. Titus 2:13 refers to Jesus as our "blessed hope."
We need to concentrate on getting the horse back in front of the cart. It seems to me that we must, in trying to reach the lost for Christ, speak louder about the grace of God, about the hope Christ offers, and about what he has done for us in rescuing us from the wrath we deserve. It also appears that we need to spend less time telling the lost world how to live differently.
II Cor. 4:3-4 tells us, "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (ESV)
Eph. 2:1-3 says, "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience - among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." (ESV)
These are familiar verses to most of us. What do we see? Paul is clear that unbelievers are "blinded" and "(spiritually) dead." The one who does not know Christ is utterly lost and cannot even understand spiritual things.
Does this have any significance for evangelism? Yes, it does. If we begin by telling the lost that they need to, in essence, "shape up," this will get us no where. However, if we begin by offering the only real message of hope to those who have none, then they will most likely be much more willing to listen.
After the lost person understands the gospel message, then we can begin the discipleship process of teaching them about Jesus' expectations for how they should live. Once this person accepts Christ as Lord and Savior, then he will fully understand why he should live differently.
I am in no way suggesting that we should ignore sin in the gospel presentation. Without sin, there would be no need for the gospel.
However, I am saying that our message of hope must come before our demand that people behave in a biblical manner. Let's put the horse (the gospel of hope) back in front of the cart (behavioral expectations).