Book 10 - Introduction
‘Evangelism’ is the process by which we tell other people about the ‘gospel’. By that we mean the ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ and how a person can be saved by repenting and believing in Him. With the possible exception of prayer, it is probably the thing that Christians feel least capable of. Many of us fear it and are paralysed into silence when called upon to explain our faith to non-Christians. It is often felt that it is best left to others who know what they are doing and have the right personality for it.
That is not how Jesus sees evangelism. The ‘Great Commission’ applies to all of us, not just to the talented. In His inscrutable wisdom, God has chosen not to go out and share the message of salvation Himself. He has given the responsibility for this enormously important task to the Church. Here is what Jesus commanded us to do:
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (RSV)
Jesus wants all of us to take part in this project of bringing the message of salvation to the whole world by preaching the gospel and making disciples. We are primarily to do it by just speaking openly and naturally about Him to the people whom we know. That duty applies whether we are a talented, natural evangelist or just an ordinary Christian.
The 1% of people who are gifted evangelists may be better than you at sharing the gospel, due to having confident, extrovert personalities. However, for all their qualities, the one thing they don’t have is the advantage of living next door to your neighbour or working alongside your colleagues at your place of work. Neither do they know your family and friends.
Though a world-famous evangelist might well do the job better than you, the reality is that he isn’t around. Therefore the reality is that the choice is either you or nobody. In a largely post-Christian country like Great Britain, the possibility is that you might be the only Christian in your family or workplace or even in your street. If so then, realistically, how will the people that you know ever hear the gospel if you don’t tell them?
So, now you have two reasons to share the gospel. Firstly, Jesus commanded us all to do so. Secondly, you could be the only Christian who will ever get close enough to the people you know, and who can see them often enough to be able to tell them the gospel. Like Heineken, which reaches the parts that other beers cannot reach, you may be the only person who is in a position to reach certain individuals.
We are all under a solemn duty not only to witness to non-Christians, but also to prepare and equip ourselves so as to do it as effectively as we can. That is our duty whether we are naturally gifted or not. Therefore the first purpose of this book is to convince you that you can and should evangelize. The second is to try to show you how best to go about it, in the most effective way, and with the fewest mistakes.
Some might object and say that I am putting you under a burden or making you feel guilty for not wanting to do something difficult which you don’t want to do or don’t feel equipped or ‘called’ to do. But what if you were in a burning building or on a sinking ship? As you made your way to the fire exits or lifeboats, wouldn’t you feel it was your duty to shout into rooms as you passed by to warn others of the great danger they are in and to urge them to flee together with you?
In such an emergency you would hardly say that you don’t feel suited to such a task, or that it would be best left to others who have louder voices or loudspeakers. You would assume that you must tell those whom you meet along the way. The question of your own suitability, or whether you are gifted or qualified, would not come into it.
I would put it to you that all people who are alive today are in a crisis which is far worse than a mere burning building or sinking ship. Such things can only cause death. But if the people we know don’t repent and believe in Jesus Christ they will not only die – they will face God’s wrath at the Day of Judgment and eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire.
By any standards, their situation constitutes an emergency of the highest conceivable magnitude. The main reason we don’t see it as such is perhaps because we tend to shut that grim reality out of our minds or we see it as something theoretical rather than real.
Within this book I shall never assume that you have any natural giftings at all, whether for evangelism or anything else. I shall approach every issue on the basis that you are probably an ordinary person who wants as much help as possible and who needs to be shown how to share the gospel.
So, we will briefly cover what the gospel actually is. However, I strongly recommend that you also take a close look at Book One in this series, entitled ‘How to Become a Christian’. It sets out the ‘ingredients’ of the gospel in great detail and also provides a wealth of useful verses that you can use to explain the gospel, to prove what you are saying, and to respond to all sorts of questions and arguments.
Book One will help because many Christians, including leaders, are not even clear about what the gospel is, let alone how to share it. That confusion and ignorance is very common today because, even in churches, the real gospel is not proclaimed properly or accurately. Instead we are given watered-down messages along the lines of “Jesus loves you and wants you to love Him”. That is entirely true, but it is not the gospel. It is only a fragment of it.
It leaves out sin, God’s holiness, our separation from Him, His impending judgment, Hell, the Lake of Fire, repentance, baptism in water and receiving the Holy Spirit. You need a good, strong, clear understanding of all these things if you are to be able to present the gospel properly and fully, as it really is, i.e. as the Bible presents it.
You need to become familiar with each of the highly predictable arguments and objections that non-Christians come up with. For example, the majority will say that they “try to live a good life”. Others will challenge the relevance or reliability of the Bible. Many of the answers you need to rebut these ideas and excuses are set out in Book One. But also see Book Three, entitled ‘How to study the Bible and why you should’. It contains a lot of useful material about the accuracy and reliability of the Bible.
We shall also look at how evangelism works in practice and at the fact that it usually takes many stages of ploughing the ground, planting the seed and then repeatedly watering the seedlings before the average person comes through and is converted. It may be that you will be called upon to deal with all the stages in a particular person’s life, or perhaps only one or two stages. Whichever way it works out, your duty is to play your part in the process, whether small or large, and to do all that you can do.
You must also be realistic about how long some people take to get saved. Not everybody is the Philippian jailor. Some people may wait for 70 years after hearing what you tell them. They might then repent and be saved in some hospital as they lie on their death bed. That could even happen many years after your own death.
Therefore you never know at the time which of the ‘seeds’ that you plant and water will germinate. Even of those which do, you don’t know which will continue to grow. You could well be surprised, when you get to Heaven, to see some people who finally got there, contrary to all your expectations, and without you ever knowing that they had changed their mind or come to their senses.
I am reminded of a Chinese student with whom I did a weekly Bible study for a long time. He was two years below me. I then graduated and left the university and never saw him again. He was not a Christian when we last spoke. Then, about 15 years later, my name was in the national newspapers for being the first solicitor to recover monies from a Nigerian fraudster by using an injunction to ‘freeze’ his bank account while the money was still in it.
The Chinese former student saw that news story and wrote to me to say that after I had left he took the step of becoming a Christian. He then filled me in on what he had been doing since. Receiving that letter from him was a thrilling moment and I hope, and expect, one day to learn of many more such people who eventually got saved due, in part, to my witnessing.
On the other side of the coin, I can also think of a Christian teacher at my school when I was sixth former. His name was David Addison. One day we were, for some reason, discussing what single past event we would change if we could go back in time in a time machine. I said that I would intervene to stop the crucifixion from happening.
To my surprise, he said he wouldn’t do anything to stop it and that it was actually essential that it happened. I thought that was a very odd view for anyone to hold, but he then explained why the death of Jesus was needed. A little seed of truth was planted in my mind which he then watered from time to time until I left school.
At about that same time, when I was 17, I also gave a lift one night to a hitch hiker, when I was learning to drive. As he got out, without saying much at all, he handed me a small tract, i.e. a little leaflet. It was entitled ‘Bobby’s Bought Back Boat’. It was about a boy who made a boat but lost it. He then saw it in the window of a second-hand shop and went in and bought it back again.
It explained that God had made us but that we became lost and He then bought us back again through the death of Jesus on our behalf. I was intrigued by that. Yet I couldn’t quite make sense of it. Even so, I kept the little tract and still have it now, in my Bible, as a reminder of what I once was and how I came to hear the good news.
I never got any chance to thank that hitch hiker. I don’t even know who he was. Yet, when I get to Heaven, one of the earliest things I want to do is to go to the enquiries office and find out who that man was, so that I can shake his hand and thank him. Hopefully there might be some other people at that same enquiry office who are asking for my name and whereabouts. That would be nice. Happily, I have already taken the chance to thank my old teacher, David Addison. After I was saved I wrote to him and got a very nice reply.
We shall also look at the need for persistence and at some of the character faults or unwise methods which can ruin your witness and undermine your credibility. I shall also cover an area which few people ever seem to write about. That is how to share the gospel with a person who is sick and dying or who is just very old, even if they are not ill. This is seen by many as a highly sensitive situation, or even a no-go area, but it shouldn’t be. Those who are close to death need the gospel just as much as the rest of us. Indeed, their need is all the more urgent.
What I can say is that sharing the gospel with the sick and dying is not as hard as you might imagine. I have been called upon to do it very many times and have actually found it easier than witnessing to the young and healthy. The dying seem to lose a lot of their pride and self-sufficiency as the end approaches.
They can often become surprisingly receptive and lucid as well, no matter how uninterested, or even aggressive, they may have been in earlier years when they were well. Indeed, I can testify to that fact from many personal experiences of relatives and friends whose hard and impenetrable hearts were softened, and whose attitude towards the gospel was transformed, by the stark reality of facing their own death.
We shall deal with very many other questions too, such as how to witness to your own children and to your parents, siblings and other relatives. We shall also look at how to witness at your workplace, without acting inappropriately or neglecting your job.
I hope that you will see that evangelism is not a task you can bow out of or delegate to others. I hope also that you will be helped by this book to reach the people that you know, or at least to give them their chance to hear the good news and to make what is by far the most crucial decision of their lives.
To make that decision, they have to hear. But how can they hear unless we tell them? That is why the Bible tells us how beautiful are the feet of a person who brings the good news, or gospel. I would urge you, if you have not already done so, to allow your own feet (and mouth) to be used for that purpose:
How beautiful upon the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who proclaims peace,
Who brings glad tidings of good things,
Who proclaims salvation,
Who says to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
Isaiah 52:7 (NKJV)
8 May 2014