FBCW – “Body Builder” 4/08
With April 13 being our Missions Emphasis Sunday, it seems only fitting that the next spiritual discipline we would look at would be…evangelism. There, I’ve said it. Are your palms getting sweaty? Can you feel beads of sweat forming on your brow? Is your stomach starting to go topsy-turvy? Are you breaking out in hives? Are you thinking to yourself, “Oh please pastor, I’ll do anything - I’ll teach Sunday school to the jr.highers, I’ll clean up after high school pizza parties, I’ll get up early and drive the van to pick people up for service, I’ll even wipe messy bottoms and sniveling noses in the nursery, but please, please, please don’t ask me to go out and evangelize!” What is it about evangelism that causes our blood pressure to escalate, dizziness to occur and fainting spells to set in? I can answer this question with three little, but very powerful words: fear of man. I am convinced that this is the most common reason people find evangelism so difficult and uncomfortable and it’s even more of a reason why we should discipline ourselves to do it. We fear what people will think of us. But let’s not put the cart before the horse…What Is Evangelism? Donald Whitney in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life defines it this way, “evangelism is to present Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to sinful people, in order that they may come to put their trust in God through Him, to receive Him as their Savior, and to serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His church (p. 100).” To say it simply, New Testament evangelism is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, the gospel. So whenever you communicate the truth about how someone can be saved from the consequences of their sin through Jesus Christ, whether through the spoken, written, or recorded word or whether presented to a crowd or one person, you are evangelizing - you are an evangelist! What Does the Bible Say About Evangelism? God’s Word has some very clear directives for all Christians, starting with probably the most well known command for evangelism coming straight from our Lord, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).” So we understand the proper context here, Jesus is communicating this command specifically to his disciples but we can also understand it as a command to all true believers because certainly Jesus did not mean for just the disciples to go out and witness to the nations. For instance, the first disciples never came to this nation, the USA, but wouldn’t it be included as a future nation that certainly Jesus would want evangelized? It is God’s desire that all men would be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) so the gospel would need to go out to all the world. Also, what would happen to the sharing of the gospel after all the original disciples died off? Was that to be the end of the good news of Jesus Christ? Of course not! In fact we see Paul take up the reigns of evangelism along with Timothy, Titus and a whole host of other new disciples that were not a part of the original 11 (minus Judas). If the gospel is to go out to “all creation (Mk. 16:15),” “all nations (Lk. 24:47),” “and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8),” it’s obvious that God would use many more than just the original disciples of Jesus to do it. If God wants His gospel to go out to your co-workers, your family, your friends and any others whose path you might cross here in 2008, He’s going to use you to do it! Our job is to be ready when the opportunity presents itself, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. 6Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person (Colossians 4:5-6).”Some people believe that you aren’t called to evangelize unless you’ve been given the spiritual gift of evangelism as in Eph. 4:11. This is not true. While some are blessed with an actual gift for evangelism, all believers are called to be Christ’s witnesses and to do this, each one is given the power of the Holy Spirit along with a powerful message. Consider 1 Peter 2:9 which tells us “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (underlining for emphasis).” This passage makes it clear that as Christians, we are all of these things for the purpose of proclaiming the glories of Christ, that is, the gospel of salvation. This is all of our responsibility!Empowered Evangelism. I don’t have enough space in this one article to tell you everything you need to know about evangelism so we’ll have to save more of the how-to’s for a future time, maybe as a series for our Sunday Night Study. So for the rest of this article, let us focus on two more aspects of evangelism, the first being that evangelism is empowered. Let us consider some of the reasons and/or excuses given as to why people don’t evangelize. Some think that they have to be specially trained for effective witnessing. This is not true. Anyone can tell others who Jesus is and why they need Him – its not rocket science! Some say they are waiting until they have more confidence in their Bible knowledge. The problem with this is that like so many other things in life, that day never seems to come. As I said earlier, I believe the principal reason/excuse is that people are simply afraid; they are afraid that people will think they are strange or weird and reject them. Our “evangelphobia” can set in when we are asked to talk to someone we don’t know and to strike up a conversation about Christ. This terrifies some! Most people tremble at the thought of going door-to-door, me being one of them. While in seminary, one of the assignments for a class was to spend at least four hours doing door-to-door evangelism. I was not exactly looking forward to it and really struggled to make sure my heart was in the right place. By the end, I don’t know that anyone got saved that day but God was good to help me start to break out of that shell of fear! As Whitney points out, fear also manifests when we have to witness to friends or family in a forced, unnatural or confrontational way. Its interesting because we often allow ourselves to be filled with fear at the greatest news we could ever tell those we love the most! Another possible reason evangelism scares people is because its a very serious thing in that heaven and hell are at stake and this may seem to be an added pressure for folks. Lastly in our list of reasons/excuses is that some people have come away from witnessing experiences feeling very dissatisfied with their gospel presentation; they feel like they have failed and no one wants to fail. But have they failed?What we need to ask at this point is what does successful evangelism look like? Is the only mark of being a success while witnessing the number of people that get converted? We answer this with an emphatic “No!” We need to learn that successful evangelism is being faithful to what God has called us to do and that is to simply share the gospel. In other words, it is not our job to save people. God does the saving, we are simply one of His means for getting the message out there. Yes, we need to be accurate with the gospel, but we are simply the messengers. Messengers, however, that are empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is key to understand. We aren’t to go down this road of evangelism alone, but rather with the power of God’s Spirit. Jesus couldn’t have made this more clear when He said, “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8).” Every believer is expected to evangelize because every believer is empowered by the Spirit of God to do it.Likewise, the gospel message is also empowered by the Holy Spirit as Paul writes in Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” So when you think about it, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit and sharing a Holy Spirit empowered message so really, what are we afraid of? It’s not even us doing the work but God! When we share the gospel we are sharing the very “power of God for salvation.” Of course, like lightning, we never know where God’s power is going to strike and save someone so we have to be disciplined to keep sharing, knowing that as we stay faithful to this task, God will grant the ability to believe to whomever He wants, when He wants.We also need to understand that there is power for evangelism when one lives out an authentic Christian life. 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 says “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? 17For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.” People are always watching other people and if you publicly proclaim to be a Christian, people will not just be watching you, they will be scrutinizing you, your life and your message and as the Scripture says, your testimony and witness regarding Christ will be life to some and death to others. “The most powerful ongoing Christian witness has always been the speaking of God’s Word by the one who is living God’s Word (Whitney, p. 105).” Let’s face it, if you practice what you preach, people are more apt to listen to you. If they see the changed life you have in Christ that you are telling them about, then your words will be backed up with powerful actions and God will use this to convince people of the truth of His Word.Evangelism Is A Discipline. We can make all kinds of excuses for ourselves as to why we are not evangelizing and yes, there may be things that we need to do and address in our walks to make sure we’re ready for when the opportunity to witness comes. The first is make sure you know the basic elements of the gospel. Here, a good gospel tract can be helpful. If you would like a basic gospel tract or outline, call the church office and we’ll get you one. It’s really not hard to memorize a gospel outline. In fact, some like to use the easy Romans Road (Rom. 3:23; 6:23; 5:8; 10:9) method of sharing the gospel. The fact is, you can try to be an example of Christ to others; you can be kind, loving and generous; you can be involved with different church service opportunities, even outreach events (and you should be doing these things) but if you’re not sharing the actual elements of the gospel, even though your deeds are good, nobody will come to know the Lord. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). I know this can be difficult for some, but it’s essential for people’s salvation. You can go to a hospital and visit with people as a representative of Christ and you can listen to them, laugh with them, play games with them and generally share the love of Christ with them but it’s the actual words of the gospel that have the power to save them. Otherwise, you’ve brought some joy into their life for a time, but if they are unbelievers, they are still on the road to hell. Romans 10:14 says “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” Friends, you need to be the preacher!Secondly, you don’t have to go door-to-door to find witnessing opportunities. Start with all of those people you cross paths with in the course of a day - people at work, the grocery store, hardware store, coffee shop, neighbors, service clubs, your kid’s school, your school, the park, girlfriends, etc. Evangelism is not merely bringing people to church so your pastor can evangelize them. Statistics overwhelmingly show that most people were led to the Lord by people that they had personal relationships with. Use your relationships to make inroads for the gospel. Learn to ask good questions about people’s personal lives like what they think and believe about spiritual things. A great inroad to the gospel is ask people how you might pray for them. It’s very disarming and non-confrontational. There aren’t many folks who will turn down the opportunity to have somebody pray for them. In addition, don’t be put off by unbelievers and the way they talk or behave, remember, they’re unbelievers! Instead, view them as your mission field.Third, know your own personal testimony of how God saved you. This will be one of your best and easiest tools to use in your evangelism tool box. Sharing your testimony is really just sharing a story and everyone loves a good story. When you tell them your own story of how God saved you from your sins and you incorporate the basic elements of the gospel, it is an incredibly effective method of witnessing because people can see the proof that’s in the pudding. Fourth, pray and ask God for witnessing opportunities. This can be kind of scary because I guarantee, if you ask Him, look out - he’s going to send them your way! In the same vein, don’t simply wait for opportunities but try as best you can to create opportunities by asking those good questions. Pray and ask God to help you, to convict you, to give you the desire to evangelize, to take away any fear and to give you boldness. Ask others that you know who are a little more used to evangelizing or have the gift of evangelism for help. Let us never convince ourselves that for whatever reason we cannot or will not verbally share the gospel under any circumstances. Remember, we have to discipline ourselves for evangelism; it doesn’t usually just happen on its own and yet it’s something our Lord desires and even commands us to do. So ask yourself these important questions, “Since evangelism is expected, will you obey the Lord and witness? Since evangelism is empowered, will you believe God can use your words in the salvation of others? Since evangelism is a discipline, will you plan for it (Whitney, pp. 111-13)?” You can do it…evangelize!!