Evangelism. It’s one of those church words that makes even the most loyal Sunday attendees shift in their seat. We associate it with a good Christian duty and often feel guilty because we aren’t as active in “winning souls” for Jesus as the preacher leads us to believe we should be. We hold evangelism campaigns, training seminars, and evangelistic events in order to bring people to the Lord and lead them to “make a decision.” Evangelism has become a campaign, a program, a formal ministry and if we are really honest with ourselves, we don’t often feel qualified…and we don’t really want to do it.
Modern evangelism tends to follow less the Bible, and much more a marketing campaign. We rely on methods, programs, and other systems that, frankly, run just fine without God. We are trying to sell Jesus to people (in the case of the Western world) who have everything they want. No wonder we are seeing fewer “decisions for Jesus” and more people exiting the church. This is what our hands are building by our own strength and wisdom–we are building our own kingdom in Jesus’ name, and it’s fragile. Let’s face it, if we have to convict people of their sin, it may mean that the Holy Spirit isn’t in it. That’s his job, not ours.
When you read the Bible, you don’t see people trying to convince other people to “accept Jesus.” Jesus never held an altar call. I’m not saying that people aren’t authentically saved through these methods and programs, but we’ve bought into, and have surrendered to a system of evangelism that is not, well, biblical.
Current evangelistic efforts are founded on the premise that all someone needs to do to be saved is “choose Jesus.” First of all, our choosing is then a work that saves us. Second, the Bible teaches that, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:10). In light of this truth, to be “seeker sensitive” is really just an effort to conform to the world so they’ll like us. No one seeks God, so seeker sensitive is sensitive to no one, and seeker driven has no one driving. This also makes it clear, No one will choose Jesus (unless they do so on the grounds that he will do what they want to make their lives better, easier, more lucrative). We are not born clean slates, inherently good, and conditioned to sin by our culture. We are our culture. It reflects us. We are born at enmity with God–enemies of God, and we are not free to choose otherwise, by our nature. We are all, as the scripture says, “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:18).
Salvation is not the product of our choice. We don’t choose Jesus. He said himself to the twelve, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to bear fruit–fruit that will last” (John 15:16). In fact, the scripture also says, “[Salvation] does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” and “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Romans 9:16, 8:29). Jesus taught that “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away…No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:37, 44). Salvation is God’s choice. There is a seeker, but the Seeker is God, not man. Salvation is wholly a work of God and is not dependent upon our methods and programs and events. Very often these can communicate the false idea that salvation comes by our choice, and if that’s the case, then we can also not choose it when another more desirable option comes around. This makes our salvation shifting sand, not a foundation of rock.
Often times we will use Matthew 28, what we call the Great Commission, to bludgeon the brethren with a command to “Go make disciples.” What we often charge people to do, however, is go make converts, attendees, or believers. There are a couple of things wrong with how that passage is most often used. The first is context. Jesus was speaking to the disciples: the twelve, the other 120 or so from the post-resurrection upper room, and maybe the crowd around them. He had to tell them to “go” because the only Christians on the planet at that time were in Jerusalem. Going, for them, was essential. The second point is that Jesus charged them with “making disciples,” not believers. To convict the heart and make a believer is God’s job (John 6:44-45, John 16:8-11).
Just a quick word (or two) here. The first is “confess.” It’s the Greek word homolegeo. Homo, meaning “same,” and legeo, meaning “I say.” When we confess, we are repeating what God is telling/teaching us. Confession is a response to God’s work, not our initiation of the salvation process. The second word is “conviction.” It comes from the Greek word hupostasis which communicates an assurance or convincing of a truth. God convicts (exposes and assures us of our sin and need) and then we confess (speak agreement or affirm our guilt and need of a Savior). In our acknowledgement and cry for mercy, God saves once, for all. Salvation is completely a work of God…but he commands us and leads us to participate in the process.
So what is evangelism by the Book? Well, you might actually be relieved that it doesn’t involve awkward tracts, complete and total strangers, and slick sales pitches. The burden is not on you to convince anyone of anything. Your job is to be a witness. God is at work in the hearts of men. As you live in relationship with people (which you do), you will recognize God’s work in their lives…and behold, God has you right where he wants you to act as a witness, an interpreter so to speak, to help them understand Who and what they’re experiencing. “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). Salt is distinct. We lose our saltiness when we conform to the pattern of the world and we actually keep things from growing (can you say “seeker driven?”). But if we live as “slaves to righteousness,” distinct from the world, we serve to preserve and enrich. “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). We reveal, expose, and guide. This is what we are, and the most effective evangelism is to be who God is making you–to live for the glory of God and dependent upon the power of God. When you read through Acts and the epistles of Paul, the instructions given to the Christians throughout the world is to live a godly life right where you are, among the people in your area. This is not to say that God doesn’t call people to “go.” He absolutely does (my daughter, currently, is one of those). When God leads you away from home, you’d better follow. Evangelism by the Book is all about following God’s lead, recognizing his work in those around you, and glorifying him (making his invisible attributes visible) wherever you are.
Perhaps the best example of biblical evangelism in action is depicted in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-9. “For the appeal we make does not spring from error (e.g. thinking salvation is the product of their decision) or impure motives (e.g. the pride of winning souls or being useful), nor are we trying to trick you (e.g. sell you faith, especially for personal gain)” (verse 3). “You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed (no slick sales pitch)” (verse 5). Then, verses 7-9 explain that the apostles were among them as gentle and caring. They worked among them and lived among them, not being a burden, but being a help. The key to it all, however, was this: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (verse 8). It seems that we know we ought to help people as an expression of godly love, but we see this as a duty, and do so out of some level of obligation. Paul’s evangelism led him into relationship with people in whom God was working and drawing near. Through that relationship he “was delighted” to share the gospel, and lived a godly life–teaching and training them in righteousness. In that time, those people became dear to him and it was natural to reveal God, who is the foundation of his life. We can hand the guy on the corner $20, but we won’t evangelize him through discipleship like this because we have no real relationship with him and he hasn’t become dear to us. If he does, then we will share more life with him and he’ll see more of Jesus. The danger in this, however, is that some people can become more dear to us than God is, and we shy away from speaking the truth in love because we don’t want to damage the relationship. That is idolatry.
Evangelism by the Book is natural and occurs in your everyday life and activities. It is discipling relationships as you are being intentional in your walk with God and in your relationships with others–being aware of God’s presence and activity in the world around you, wherever you are. It’s something every follower of Jesus will do. The question is, Are you following Jesus? Charles Spurgeon said, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.” Evangelist is what we are: people of God who bring good news. “For we have this treasure in jars of clay to show this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Dear Jar of Clay, carry this amazing treasure into the world around you. Keep in step with the Spirit and be prepared to give an answer. This is your charge!