As life passes quickly and children grow older, they formulate their opinion about you. In fact, they formulate their opinion about everything they see and experience in this life. They know facts about you, your house, the leaky faucet, the squeaky floors, and that’s all a normal part of life. As they build their knowledge about the family—what do they know about you? Do they know about your job? Do they know you like baseball? Sure, but the question is, do they know you’re a Christian?
More than Religion
Have you ever shared your testimony of conversion with your children? Sure, your children know that you’re religious, that’s evident as you attend church on a weekly basis. But, it’s extremely vital for your children to know about your salvation. It’s critically important for your children to grow up in your home hearing about how you came to faith in Christ.
In Acts 1:8, we find these words, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Before the early disciples went to the ends of the earth—the people in their own home had to know what had happened as they were witnesses in their own home too. To be a witness is to share openly what you have seen and heard. A witness tells of his experience. So, Christians are called to share openly about how they were brought to a place of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
You may have someone ask you, “When did you become religious?” To the outside world looking in—it’s just religion. However, a witness makes it clear that it’s far more than just religion. Do your children know that when your family gets up on Sunday morning and travels across town to attend church that it’s far more than religion? Have they heard the first hand story of the witness about how you were brought to a place of recognizing your sin and guilt before God? Have they heard about how you called out to God for salvation? Have they heard about your deep faith in the God who saves sinners and how you are one in a long line of redemption stories throughout history?
Your Story is Really About God
Stories are powerful tools that can be used to communicate truth. Jesus often taught with stories and his disciples grew as they heard him communicate truth. However, your testimony is more than a powerful story. If all you do is share your story with others, you will fail to be a true witness of the gospel. Your story is not about you—it’s about God.
When Paul stood before Agrippa he told his story. However, he traced the story from his pre-conversion status as a Pharisee to his post-conversion status as a prisoner of Jesus. The entire story was intended to point to the saving power of God in his life. It was not to glorify Paul, but rather, to glorify God.
In Deuteronomy 6, we find the repeating of the Law and Moses points the people to share the story of God’s saving power with their children. In fact, when they ask about why it is that they worship God and serve God in the way they do, the people of Israel were to communicate the following to their children:
When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us’ (Deuteronomy 6:20–25).
When your children ask you why you go to church, why you read the Bible in the evenings in your home, and why you go to church on Wednesday—you can explain to them that you were once in bondage to sin and led astray by the devil, but God saved you (Eph. 2:1-10). You can explain how the god of this world had blinded you (2 Cor. 4:4), but it was through the message of hope—the good news of Jesus that you came to understand your sin and your need for a Savior (Rom. 1:16). You can explain how God brought you to a place of repentance and how you turned to God by faith—believing that Jesus had paid your sin debt on the cross (1 Peter 2:24) and demonstrated his ability to forgive sinners by his resurrection from the dead on the third day (John 14:19).
While your story is indeed powerful—it’s not really about you. It’s about how a sovereign God rescued you. Remember, when we talk about being saved it’s not the story of us saving ourselves. We were helpless. We were dead in our trespasses and sin and couldn’t save ourselves (Eph. 2:1-3). Therefore, our story is about God’s story of redemption.
Do your children see you as religious or do they view you as a Christian? There is a massive difference—in fact an eternal difference. Tell your story, but most importantly, tell the story of God’s saving love.
Through the years as a Christian, I’ve heard people misuse certain language and phrases when pointing people to trust Jesus Christ by faith. For some reason, these phrases become popular and passed on from person to person and from church to church. One such phrase is comes often in form of a question: “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”
The heart of the question is good, because it’s seeking to point people to examine if they are in the faith. However, in an attempt to point people to see their need for Jesus Christ, they use extrabiblical language. Rather than asking someone to examine himself—the question is turned into a focus on a personal relationship. Why is this a bad method of communicating?
Such Communication Dulls the Biblical Language
The language of Scripture is often sharp and confrontational. It doesn’t lack an edge and is sharper than any two-edged sword that pierces inwardly—into the soul (Heb. 4:12). According to Jeremiah, the Bible is a consuming fire (Jer. 23:29). According to James 1:22-25, the Scriptures serve as a mirror.
In the Bible, we hear the biblical authors, prophets, apostles—pointing people to believe the gospel. Their language is emphatic and pressing. John the Baptist never asked Herod if he had a personal relationship with Jesus. Instead, he informed him with no uncertain terms that he was living in sin because he should’t have Herodias as his wife (Luke 3:19). Jesus himself spoke with conviction when he preached—pointing people to repent and believe the gospel (Matt. 4:17).
Everyone Has a Personal Relationship with Jesus
Everyone who has ever lived and everyone who will ever live in human history has a relationship with Jesus. No, this is not the doctrine of universalism—the false idea that everyone who dies goes to heaven. The fact is, even people in hell today have a personal relationship with Jesus. Their relationship is not a good one and God deals with such people in wrath, but make no mistake—it’s very personal.
When we talk with people over coffee or when we preach sermons—we need to go far beyond asking people if they have a personal relationship with Jesus. In fact, we should inform them that they have a personal relationship with Jesus and it’s in the form of personal accountability. It would be better to employ biblical language as we talk to people and point them to see their need for faith in Jesus Christ.
- Do you have faith alone in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins?
- Examine yourself to see if you’re in the faith.
- Have you believed the gospel of God?
- Have you obeyed God by repenting of your sins and by faith—trusting in the single sacrifice of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins?
- Do you have faith in the God who has revealed himself to us in the pages of the Bible and who has made known to us the mystery of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ?
- Is your faith real and does it produce evidence?
Let our language be seasoned with the Scriptures rather than popular extrabiblical phrases that dull the sword and leave people with a confused view of salvation and what it means to be a Christian. Jesus is not our “boyfriend”—he’s the sovereign, ruling, King of the universe.
Far too often we program and compartmentalize things that are intended to be engaged in more naturally. One such area of life is evangelism. I was reminded of this reality last week as I walked around the pond in our local park. I found myself talking with a man and our conversation moved to the gospel. Soon enough, we were in the throes of a deep gospel centered talk about life. At one point, he looked at me and said, “I’m 49 years old, and this is the first time in my entire life that someone has intentionally talked to me about these things.”
As Christians, we’re commissioned by Christ to go and make disciples, but we often turn such practices into a 3-4 step program rather than a natural way of communication and personal interaction. Maybe you are finding yourself lost in how to get involved in sharing the gospel? Why not add some spontaneity to your evangelism?
Programs Can Sometimes Act as Walls
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against all programs in the life of the church. However, there are many times when programs can become so structured that it provides walls that hinder rather than bridges that deliver. Do you feel like you are being forced to fulfill a program rather than genuinely engage people with the gospel out of compassion? When it comes to evangelism, if people become attached to a programed approach, they will often overlook opportunities directly in their paths at their children’s ball practices, at lunch break, or on the college campus simply because evangelism is something they do on Tuesday evenings.
Even if a person decides to support their church’s evangelism program—adding spontaneity in the area of evangelism will provide a more natural and efficient form of lifestyle evangelism as opposed to a strictly programed approach. This will not only allow a person to become more natural, but it will build confidence as the person shares the gospel more frequently.
Romans is a Biblical Letter Not an Evangelism Road
I was trained to share the gospel with the “Roman Road” technique that begins with Romans 3:23 (sin) and moves on to Romans 5:12 to reinforce before moving on to Romans 6:23 to point to the judgment of God that everyone earns by their sin. After discussing these details, you move to Romans 10:13 to emphasize the reality that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord by faith will be saved. Finally, if the person is ready to repent, you turn to Romans 10:9-10 and help them call out to the Lord with faith that Christ died for them on the cross.
Sure, these verses are true, but Romans was not really intended to be a gospel tract. It might be good to begin with the law of God (Ten Commandments) and then move to the New Testament to show how Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God’s law and after keeping it in totality—he was sacrificed for sinners and provides his righteousness to everyone who comes to him by faith. Perhaps in a more natural way, a person can talk through creation, fall, condemnation, incarnation, redemption, and the final consummation of the final salvation in Christ.
Programs Can Communicate a Negative Message
If your sole means of evangelism is something you do on Tuesday evening—you will likely find that fruit is few and far between. People tend to look at programed visits as planned or even paid visits as opposed to genuine and compassionate. Not only can this approach communicate that message, it can turn into that approach by the one engaging in the evangelism program too if not guarded. The person that’s being visited is an image bearer of God and deserves to be treated as such—rather than a mere notch on the belt. John Piper, in his sermon titled, “I am Sending You to Open their Eyes, 2 Cor. 4:1-7” said the following:
Be encouraged that simply finding people interesting and caring about them is a beautiful pathway into their heart. Evangelism gets a bad reputation when we are not really interested in people and don’t seem to care about them. People really are interesting. The person you are talking to is an amazing creation of God with a thousand interesting experiences. Very few people are interested in them. If you really find their story interesting, and care about them, they may open up to you and want to hear your story—Christ’s story.
Any true church of Jesus Christ will be actively engaging the neighborhoods and the nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus has given us a clear commission that we often refer to as “The Great Commission” in Matthew 28:18-20. Any group who calls themselves a church but refuses to engage in the spread of God’s good news of salvation is certainly something other than a church. That being said, many methods and missions of local churches that fly beneath the banner of evangelism are not biblical evangelism.
Many pithy definitions have been spread around throughout evangelicalism over the years on the subject of evangelism. One such statement defines evangelism as “One beggar telling another beggar where to find food.” While this is certainly a description, it’s lacking in substance and cannot be a true definition. Evangelism comes from the Greek verb “euangelizesthai [which] means ‘to announce good news’, and is found 52 times in the NT. The noun euangelion means ‘good news’, and occurs 72 times, mostly in Paul. The noun euangelistēs, meaning ‘evangelist’, appears only three times (Acts 21:8; Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:5).” 
Therefore, the word evangelism actually means to communicate the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ to guilty sinners who deserve the judgment of God. Mark Dever defines evangelism as follows:
[Evangelism] is telling the good news about Jesus, and doing it with honesty, urgency, and joy, using the Bible, living a life that backs it up, and praying, and doing it all for the glory of God. 
Don Whitney provides a helpful definition of evangelism by writing:
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 serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His Church. If we want to define it simply, we could say that New Testament evangelism is communicating the gospel. Anyone who faithfully relates the essential elements of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ is evangelizing. This is true whether your words are spoken, written, or recorded, and whether they are delivered to one person or to a crowd. 
Therefore, it’s essential to understand what evangelism is and what it entails before passionately supporting a ministry or mission that falls beneath this category. While it’s a good thing for a church to be engaged in various endeavors such as mercy ministries, that alone is not evangelism.
That’s Not Evangelism
If evangelism is a true presentation of the saving message of the gospel that comes exclusively through Jesus Christ the Lord, anything other than this is not biblical evangelism. Consider the fact that much mercy ministry, although well intended, is not evangelism (or missions). Some popular missions and ministries within local churches often find themselves categorized as evangelism or mission endeavors, but in all reality—they’re not.
- Sharing your testimony is not evangelism
- Digging wells in poor villages in Kenya is not evangelism
- Choir trips to foreign nations is not evangelism
- Apologetics is not evangelism
- Providing shoes for underprivileged students is not evangelism
- Inviting people to church is not evangelism
- Serving people in sports ministries is not evangelism
- Wearing a Christian t-shirt or jewelry is not evangelism
- Tweeting or sharing Christian quotes is not evangelism
- Evangelism is not church planting
It’s not that these things are bad, in fact, I engage in most of the things in this list (except for the choir trips). All of these things can be really powerful tools used by the Lord to open doors to evangelism, but they’re not evangelism at the foundational level. It’s quite possible to wear Christian apparel without sharing the good news of what Christianity is all about. It’s very probable that many wells have been dug in social gospel efforts without sharing the true gospel. It’s possible to win a well framed argument in an apologetic setting, but miss the boat in real evangelism.
Perhaps many Christians don’t share the gospel because they lack good examples or haven’t been discipled by a good biblical evangelist. In many cases, this isn’t true. A lack of evangelism is prevalent among many evangelical churches, and it’s not based on a lack of knowledge or opportunity. A lack of genuine evangelism among evangelical churches is most often the result of laziness and selfishness.
It would do us all well to read Matthew 9:35-38 – “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”
Until the King returns, let us be faithful to the commission. In order to become a Christian, it’s necessary to affirm the true gospel of Christ. In order to validate a genuine faith in Christ, one must move beyond affirmation to declaration of the gospel.
- Sinclair B. Ferguson and J.I. Packer, New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 241.
- Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, (Grand Rapids: Crossway, 2007), 107.
- Don Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, (Colorado Springs, Co: NavPress, 1991), 100.
This summer, we are reading Don Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life together. With certain goals for us as individuals, we all desire to grow in grace and personal holiness. The purpose of this study is to help us make necessary adjustments in our spiritual lives that will enable us to achieve such goals by incorporating the use of spiritual disciplines.
In the previous chapters, Don Whitney has outlined the specifics of Bible reading, meditation, prayer, and worship. What exactly is taking place when we read the Bible, meditate on Scripture, and pray? These are merely component parts of worship. In this chapter, Whitney shifts gears and puts his focus upon evangelism. In the opening words of this chapter, Don Whitney writes, “Only the sheer rapture of being lost in the worship of God is as exhilarating and intoxicating as telling someone about Jesus Christ” (119).
Evangelism is Expected
As we consider the fact that evangelism is expected of us since Jesus has commissioned us to share the good news, why do so many of us fail to openly share the gospel with our contacts, friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers? The reason is typically centered on the false idea that we have to be Bible experts to share the good news. In addition to this false assumption, the fearful concept of door-to-door (stranger evangelism) evokes a negative response from most people in the church as well. Poor methods of ministry typically lead people to fear and a lack of genuine ministry – in this case – evangelism. Don Whitney labels this evangelophobia.
Don Whitney points out that while God may indeed gift the church with certain people who are exceptionally gifted in the area of evangelism, He does expect all believers to do the work of evangelism. He writes, “Just as each Christian, regardless of spiritual gift or ministry, is to love others, so each believer is to evangelize whether or not his or her gift is that of evangelist” (121).
Evangelism is Empowered
Don Whitney touches on something that’s perhaps at the raw core of the fear to evangelize unbelievers. He writes, “I’ve never heard it expressed, but I think the seriousness of evangelism is the main reason it frightens us” (123). That very well may be a point worthy of consideration. Although Christ expects us to share the gospel, the very seriousness of heaven, hell, judgment, grace, and the eternality of a person’s soul is at the center of evangelism. That alone may prevent more true evangelism.
The Holy Spirit empowers us to evangelize the lost. Just as we are empowered by the Spirit, the very message of good news is called the “power of God” unto salvation (Romans 1:16). Therefore, we must share the gospel with confidence that God will indeed bring His elect to faith through the good news of Christ. Whitney writes:
What is success in evangelism? When the person you witness to comes to Christ? Certainly that’s what we want to happen. But if we measure evangelistic success only by conversions, are we failures whenever we share the gospel and people refuse to believe? Was Jesus an “evangelistic failure” when people like the rich young ruler turned away from Him and His message (see Mark 10:21-22)? Obviously not. Then neither are we when we present Christ and His message and people turn away in unbelief (124).
Evangelism is a Discipline
Have you ever been around someone who wanted to speak the praises of their doctor who helped them through a difficult health condition or scare? They willingly recommend them and assign great words of praise to them and their ability to do their job. Why is it that so many people claim to have been saved by Christ, but they never tell anyone about Christ. According to Don Whitney, “Evangelism is a natural overflow of the Christian life” (127).
Like any other discipline, evangelism is something that must be practiced and developed through an ongoing routine of sharing our faith. Whitney writes, “Unless we discipline ourselves for evangelism, we can easily excuse ourselves from ever sharing the gospel with anyone” (130). No matter how much or how little Bible knowledge we possess, we must discipline ourselves for evangelism.
Catch up in this series:
Questions to Consider:
- Because evangelism is expected, will you obey the Lord and witness?
- Because evangelism is empowered, will you believe God can use your words in the salvation of others?
- Because evangelism is a discipline, will you plan for it?
- Do you use the law to prepare people to receive the good news of Christ? Consider using the law (use the Ten Commandments) as a means of revealing a person’s sin and then point them to Jesus Christ as their only hope (Acts 4:12).
Next Week: Next week, we will turn to chapter 7 and look at the subject of serving. Read ahead and think through the content of that chapter, and we will gather here next week to discuss what we’re learning.
Discussion: Post your comments, thoughts, and questions in the comments section. I will engage with you at times, but the purpose is to allow everyone to have a conversation regarding what we are learning and considering through this book. I do hope you will be encouraged.
Today we will begin a three-part series (posted each Tuesday) that will focus on the positive side of being negative. Today’s subject is centered on the need to be negative in the work of evangelism. Each Tuesday for the next two weeks, I will address the need to be negative in the work of apologetics and pastoral ministry.
We’ve all heard the line, “Don’t be negative, you will push people away.” Recently, I published an article that openly criticized a popular figure in evangelical circles. What I wasn’t prepared for was all of the negative responses from people who were accusing me of being negative. I do understand the point that many people expressed as they accused me of hindering the gospel. While I’m generally a happy, optimistic, and positive person who enjoys spending time in laughter, when it comes to the gospel, there is more to it than, “Smile, God has a wonderful plan for your life.”
We live in a hashtag happy culture that demands positivity and tolerance. The hashtags #DontHate and #DontJudge are popular statements in our society. Is it true that a perpetual positive tone will automatically lead people to faith in Jesus? The idea that being positive leads people to Christ while being negative leads people to hell is flawed on several different levels. While it’s certainly not Christlike to be rude, hateful, and arrogant in sharing the truth, we must realize that in order to share the gospel, a certain amount of negativity is required.
The Problem of Sin is Negative
The fact that everyone has sinned against God is not a positive message (Rom. 3:23). John Calvin once remarked that the heart is an idol factory. In fact, the truth that a person has sinned against God and that their heart is wicked (Jer. 17:9) is the most negative thing a person could ever hear. Although the message is negative, the purpose is positive.
Sin must be treated like a poisonous viper rather than a family lap dog. It must be approached with an urgency that requires immediate action. To allow sin to grow like cancer is detrimental to a person’s soul. We take our cues from Jesus, and as we examine His preaching, we see that He was straightforward and honest with people. Consider the woman at the well in John’s gospel, Jesus pointed out her sexual sin directly without attempting friendship evangelism. When we look at the preaching of Peter in Acts, we see him pointing out the sin of the multitude. In Paul’s preaching, he was consistently thrown in jail for his preaching, because he pointed out the negative reality of sin.
Sin is horrible and the end result is even worse. We must not walk in the footsteps of Joel Osteen who refuses to deal with the root of sin. We must not be like the doctor who treats the symptoms of cancer rather than the cancer. We must follow in the footsteps of Jesus and His apostles. If we want to lead people to Christ, we must address their sin and this will require us to be negative.
Francis Schaeffer was once asked, “What would you do if you met a really modern man on a train and you just had an hour to talk to him about the gospel?” He replied:
I’ve said over and over, I would spend 45-50 minutes on the negative, to really show him his dilemma – that he is morally dead – then I’d take 10-15 minutes to preach the gospel. I believe that much of our evangelistic and personal work today is not clear simply because we are too anxious to get to the answer without having a man realize the real cause of his sickness, which is true moral guilt (and not just psychological guilt feelings) in the presence of God. 
The Reality of Hell is Negative
Our culture uses hell as a word to emphasize the extremeness of an adjective rather than a place of torment where guilty sinners suffer endlessly. Could it be that the reason the church talks so much about heaven and so little about hell is because many people in the church don’t actually believe in a literal hell? It may shock some people to know that Jesus actually preached more about hell than He did about heaven during His earthly ministry. What may come as an added surprise to many in the church today is that Jesus spoke more about hell than anyone else in the Bible. In fact, if you take all everyone who spoke about hell in the Bible and combine all of their teaching on the subject, Jesus said more than everyone else combined.
The point is clear, Jesus preached about hell and it wasn’t a positive message (Luke 16:19-31; Matt. 13:41-42, 49-50). The reality of endless torment, suffering, agony, flames, pain, and the eternal wrath of God being poured out upon sinners is not a positive picture. However, it’s a necessary picture. The justice of God demands that sinners be judged. There will be no escape for guilty sinners, and this is not a positive thought or message. If you attempt to divorce God’s mercy from God’s justice, the end result is something other than the gospel.
The Exclusive Gospel is Negative
People do not like to be told they’re wrong. I recall my wife years ago telling me the story about her upper management at a high end personal training facility schooling her on the art of being positive. They trained her on how to address people who were overweight without telling them they were….wrong. She was told to move them to the solution without being negative. Why was so much effort put into such training? It was all about money and success. If you tell people they’re wrong, they might not return and when they don’t return, it will result in decreased sales.
That same mindset has crept into the church today. The church has lost its prophetic voice. The pulpit sounds like Veggie Tales rather than the apostle Paul. The message of the cross is a stumbling block to the world. The bloody cross is offensive. However, unless the emphatic exclusivity of Christ is preached and explained without compromise, people will perish eternally. The church today must be courageous enough in our God hating society to lift up Christ as the exclusive door of salvation. The church must dare to be negative in the sense of telling sinners that God demands that they repent.
The only hope for sinners is for someone to be bold enough to tell them they’re wrong, they’re guilty, and that there is hope in God through Jesus Christ. A statement from the children’s movie years ago titled Finding Nemo stated, “All drains lead to the ocean” (Gill in Finding Nemo). That may be true in the pixelated cartoon world of Hollywood, but it’s not true when it comes to real life. Our ecumenical culture is confused regarding religion and that has never been more clearly visible than at the recent Muhammad Ali funeral. All religions don’t lead to the same place. The moment we point out the errors of such an ecumenical interfaith funeral, we have just become negative.
The church is not called to be rude, prideful, arrogant, and harsh. The call to preach the gospel is not a license to be ugly. We don’t need to make the gospel more offensive and negative than it already is. While the gospel is good news to guilty sinners, it’s also negative at the same time. To speak the truth in love requires that we speak the truth. Remember, Jesus loved sinners, but He told them the truth. The most unloving thing we could possible do is to remain silent about the truth in our attempt to be positive. A happy church will share a negative message with a positive goal. Do you want to lead more people to Jesus? You need to be negative!
J. Gresham Machen once said:
No man is interested in a piece of good news unless he has the consciousness of needing it; no man is interested in an offer of salvation unless he knows that there is something from which he needs to be saved. It is quite useless to ask a man to adopt the Christian view of the gospel unless he first has the Christian view of sin. 
- Will Metzger, Tell The Truth, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 118.
- J. Gresham Machen, God Transcendent and Other Sermons, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949), 34.