When a Christian is truly saved by God through repentance and faith in Christ alone they are justified by God. The weird thing is…they do not immediately go to Heaven. They stay on this earth growing in the process called sanctification by growing in holiness. The big question is why? Why live as aliens with a new heart and new desires in a sinful world?
The answer is twofold…first, it screams the gospel to those around us and therefore glorifies God and second, God has given us the responsibility to evangelize to the lost. God’s way of spreading the gospel is through those who preach the good news to the lost.
So why does all the research go against our one big responsibility? According to a Barna study, only 55 percent of born-again Christians believe it is their responsibility to evangelize and according to Campus Crusade for Christ, only 2 percent of professing Christians share their faith on a regular basis.
I believe there are a few reasons for those statistics. The first being that there are many false converts in our churches (and pulpits). The second being people have misconceptions of what evangelism really is. The third being people believe that it is not their responsibility. And lastly, we do not properly teach people how to evangelize.
We have received a clear commission from our Lord and Savior. We are to go into the world and make disciples, preaching the gospel. Many people read that well-defined commission and have misconceptions of what that looks like. Here are the 5 misconceptions for evangelism.
1) Evangelism is not imposing your beliefs…
Some people mistake evangelism for an imposition and the way evangelism is often done, I can understand this sentiment. However, when you understand what the Bible presents as evangelism though it is not a matter of imposing your beliefs on your friend at work or person in your family or your neighbor. First, it is not your beliefs or mere opinions; they are facts of the gospel. Secondly, they are not yours in the sense that they uniquely pertain to you or it is your perspective or your experience in that you made them up on your own. When you are evangelizing, you are presenting the Christian gospel and it is not an imposition to tell someone the truth.
In fact you really can’t. According to the Bible, evangelism is simply telling the good news. It is not making sure the other person responds to it correctly. According to the Bible, the fruit from evangelism comes from God and not from our clever techniques or passion or methods. Like Paul wrote that he and Apollos were just servants, he planted, Apollos watered, but it was God who caused the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:5-7)
This is important for us to get ahold of, because all of the religions that are out there from Mormanism, Jehovah’s Witness, Islam, etc. all think that man’s ultimate problem is simply a matter of behavior, a matter of morality and choices. However the Bible is very clear about man’s problem being much deeper – that human sinfulness is not a collection of bad actions but as an expression that the heart that is bad. We have hearts turned against God and our problem is a matter of human nature and character. This can not be solved by political power, human psychology, etc. but it can only be solved by God. You can point a sword to the throat of a person and make them into a sufficiently good Muslim, but you can not put a sword to the throat of a person and make them a Christian.
Becoming a Christian is not a matter of you doing this and not doing that, you following this law and not doing that action. To be a Christian you must have your life and heart transformed by God. The Bible presents man’s problem as so radical that it cannot be solved by mere human coercion or some kind of human imposition. All I can do as a Christian is present the good news to other people freely, accurately, and live a life of love towards them and then simply pray. That is what it means to do evangelism as a Christian. Pray that God convict the person of their sins that you so honestly told them about. Pray for God to show them they are in need of a Savior. And pray that God grants them the gifts of true repentance and faith. But you can not make someone a Christian. It is not filling out a card, it’s not saying the sinner’s prayer, it’s not going forward during an altar call. Evangelism is only proclamation and love. It is not manipulative, it is open-handed – it’s an offering of this great news that we have gone over in our previous sessions. Biblical evangelism is not an imposition.
2) Evangelism is not a personal testimony…
Certainly a testimony of what God has done in our lives may include the good news and if it does, then it is evangelism. But you can give a testimony of what God has done in your life and not give the good news. You can tell other people how much Jesus means to you, but you may not have told them the gospel. Have you explained to them what is in Mark 10:45. What Jesus did by dying on the cross as a ransom for one’s sins. That they themselves are sinners in the hands of an angry God.
It is good to give your testimony and tell what God has done in your life, but a testimony by itself may not be evangelism. In your testimony you may not have made clear what Christ’s claims are on other people. You may simply tell how wonderful it has been for you. And it is a good thing to do – but it is not evangelism. It is not evangelism until it gets pushy and you start to get some butterflies in the bottom of your stomach. Not until you explain the implications that the gospel is on the person you are speaking to. Then it becomes evangelism.
Now testimonies are popular today, but the church of Scientology has testimonies every Wednesday night and they are not saved. Testimonies are comfortable in a “what is good for you is good for you” postmodern age. Who would object that you think you have gotten good from Christ. The problem comes when you move from testimony to evangelism. And that is when you see that testimony is not necessarily evangelism.
3) Evangelism is not social action or political involvement…
When our eyes fall from God to humanity, it is not surprising that social ills replace sin in our concerns. Today horizontal problems – problems within our society tend to obscure the true vertical problem between us and God. Too often what passes for evangelism are crusades for social change or missions trips to build houses or serving the poor and downtrodden.
Donald McGavran, a missionary in India, said “Evangelism is not proclaiming the desirability of sharing the wealth and persuading people to take political action to achieve it.” Evangelism is not declaring God’s political plan for the nations. It is not recruiting for the church. It is not bringing people to church. Evangelism is a declaration of the gospel to men and women.
4) Evangelism is not apologetics…
While apologetics is us answering the questions people have about Christ or about the Bible and as with sharing your testimony, such questioning and answering may often lead to evangelism. But it is not the same thing as evangelism. Defending that God exists or the historicity of the resurrection is very important. But it is not evangelism.
Apologetics is defending the faith. It is answering the questions others have about Christianity. It is responding to the agenda that others set, whereas evangelism is following Christ’s agenda. Giving the good news about Him.
5) Evangelism is not dependent upon results…
This may be the most subtle of the misunderstandings, and yet it is still a misunderstanding. Evangelism must not be confused with the fruit of evangelism. If you combine this misunderstanding (Frank getting saved by my evangelism) and if you combine this with a poor understanding of the gospel or conversion, then you begin to think that it is within our power to convert someone. And you are likely to go out and be very manipulative. According to the Bible, that is not evangelism.
According to the Bible, evangelism is not defined according to the results, but only in terms of faithfulness to the message preached. You can go through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the book of Acts, and you can go through Paul preaching the gospel and see where there are not people coming to repentance and faith.
John Stott stated:
To evangelize is not to win converts, but simply to announce the good news irrespective to the results.” “To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures and that as the reigning Lord He now offers forgiveness of sins and the liberating gift of the Spirit to all who repent and believe.
2 Corinthians 2:15-16 – “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.”
Paul is not saying he gave out two different messages to two different people. He was not able to look into the crowd and see who the elect are to preach one message and to those who are perishing he preaches a different. No, Paul preached the same gospel to all people, and yet in evangelizing the same way, to some he was the aroma to life and in the same ministry he was the smell of death.
Jesus taught this in his parable of the soils. It is not the technique the sower that resulted in producing different crops. It wasn’t how relevant he was or how he connected he was with some and not others. No this is not an evangelism parable for us to study how to sow seed. No, this is an explanation that when we cast out the seed of the Word, some believe and some do not. Even though all of the soil gets the same seed. It is the sower’s job to sow the seed and it is God who tends the soil of the heart. They all get the same message.
You must be very careful in this matter, because error here can transform well-meaning people and churches into pragmatic results oriented businesses that seek to manipulate people into making decisions and commitments….and therefore, result in false conversions. There is a problem when we think that we can see the results of conversion immediately, that we can know someone’s heart.
As Christians we should know that even if we are faithful in telling the gospel, people may still not respond in repentance and faith. The lack of acceptance of the gospel does not necessarily mean that our evangelism was wrong. It’s not like that if we just learn how to tell it, we can unlock their hearts. No, everyone’s basic problem is their enmity toward God.
The Bible calls us to be faithful and consistent in sharing the gospel and leave the results up to God. You can’t make somebody respond positively to it. Evangelism is not fundamentally a result of our methods, but of our faithfulness in our proclamation.
Some of us may have come to faith in Christ in presentations of the gospel that which may have been terrible in a number of ways. The first person who may have witnessed to you may have been scared or stuttering or forgetful or intimidating or pushy or obnoxious, but somehow the truth was there and God’s Holy Spirit used it to bring you to repentance and faith.
We are not Christians because somebody evangelized so well in that sense, we’re Christians because God and His mercy used someone faithfully evangelizing. Of course on our side, we as evangelists must work to present the gospel truth as clearly as we can – that is our responsibility. But on the other side, we exalt in the fact that our God is a big God and He uses things we should never do. His grace overlooks all our faults and works everything towards His glory.
Mark Dever quoted:
Evangelism is not the making of proselytes, it is not persuading people to making a decision, it is not proving that God exists or making out a good case for the truth of Christianity, it is not inviting someone to a meeting, it is not exposing the contemporary dilemma or arousing an interest in Christianity, it is not wearing a badge that says Jesus saves, some of these things are right and good in their place, but none of them should be confused with evangelism. To evangelize is to declare on the authority of God what He has done to save sinners, to warn men of their lost condition, to direct them to repent and to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
I know some evangelism these days is emotionally manipulative, seeking simply to cause a momentary decision of the sinner’s will, yet neglecting the great Biblical idea that conversion is the result the supernatural gracious act of God toward the sinner. But the Christian call to evangelize is not a call to make decisions, but rather to proclaim the good news. To call them toward repentance and give God the glory when there is the fruits of repentance and faith.
We do not fail in our evangelism if we faithfully tell the gospel and yet a person is not converted, we failed only if we did not tell the gospel at all. I yearn for people I evangelize to come to repentance and faith like Paul does in Romans 10, but when we understand the truth of evangelism, it moves us away from being driven by guilt and moves us to see evangelism as the joyful privilege that it is.
Much of this blog entry has been supplemented by Mark Dever’s book: The Gospel and Personal Evangelism.