Evangelism – a spiritual discipline
The Christmas season. The time of year when carols are sung, cards are sent, and presents are given and received. As the song says, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Well, for some people anyway. Popular music, television shows, and movies about Christmas tend to give little indication of what Christmas is really about. It’s very probable that I missed it if it exists, but how many in the plethora of Hallmark Christmas movies are telling the story of God coming to earth in the form of man to the ends of taking the place of punishment for sinful mankind to satisfy holy justice and provide a way of redemption and salvation to all mankind who will place their faith and trust in him? If anyone knows which Hallmark movie or movies that is, let me know.
However, because most people enjoy Christmas and are more likely to be in a receptive and reflective state of mind, this season is arguably the easiest season to share Jesus with others. When else is it common to see nativity images all over the place? It’s an easy way to start a conversation. The spiritual discipline we will look at this time is that of evangelism.
Do we have a problem?
Let do a quick personal assessment. Do you feel that evangelism is easy or difficult for you? This past year, how many people have you shared the gospel with? Do you feel evangelism is only for those with the spiritual gift of an evangelist or is the responsibility of all believers? Do you have a firm grasp on what evangelism is?
This is a very broad topic and we obviously won’t cover it all. I just hope to share some information and maybe “jump start” a desire for more. Donald Whitney relates J.I. Packers thorough definition of evangelism as, “presenting 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. 120
If you’re like most Christians, fear, hesitance, and awkwardness seem to be all that’s needed to keep us from sharing Christ with unbelievers. Keeping with the spiritual discipline of Bible study and learning will help with the fear of being asked questions to which you don’t have an answer. But honestly, no one will ever have all the answers. That’s ok. We are simply tasked with sharing the gospel. You may be the type who is thinking, “I don’t have the spiritual gift of evangelism”. Yes, there is a specific spiritual gift for evangelists, however 1 Peter 2:9 paints the broader picture. Remember a few months back that we talked about the priesthood of believers? Back at this passage, as Whitney points out after the opening of the verse:
“It goes on to say that these privileges are yours, Christian, so “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” We normally think of this verse as establishing the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. But we may equally identify it as one that exhorts us to a kind of prophethood of all believers. God expects each of us to “proclaim the excellencies” of Jesus Christ.” p.122
There are many reasons Christians “drop the ball” with evangelism. Like I said above, sometimes it’s fear of being asked a question you can’t answer. Sometimes, maybe arguably most of the time, it’s a fear of rejection. Sometimes it’s simply that many of us aren’t comfortable talking to people we don’t know well. Then there is the weight of knowing what is at stake. We know the life and death situation mankind is in and we can feel the weight and seriousness of what we say. Whitney explains it, “even when we rightly believe that the results of this encounter rest in God’s hands and that we bear no accountability for the person’s response to the gospel, we still sense a solemn duty to communicate the message faithfully, as well as a holy dread of saying or doing anything that might rise as a stumbling block to this person’s salvation.” p. 123
So, what is successful evangelism? Of course, we want the person(s) to come to Christ. But can we measure success that way? I mean, honestly, by most popular standards Jesus would’ve been considered an unsuccessful church planter while he was here on earth. Yes, his crowd grew quickly, but in short time most of them left. Was he a bad leader? Was he not a good preacher / teacher? Obviously not. It’s a matter of the definition of success. In reference to successful evangelism, Whitney shares,
“In this regard we are like the postal service. They measure success by the careful and accurate delivery of the message, not by the response of the recipient. Whenever we share the gospel (which includes the summons to repent and believe), we have succeeded. In the truest sense, all biblical evangelism is successful evangelism, regardless of the results.” p. 124
There is so much more to say about this, but I’ll just share a couple more things and close this months Woodshed. The strength and power for evangelism is from the Holy Spirit, not you (Acts 1:8). Likewise, the power infused in the gospel, to which people respond for salvation, comes from the Holy Spirit, not your skills or ability in delivering the message. (Romans 1:16)
Every Christian can and should be able to share what the Lord has done in their lives. The discipline aspect enters as, Whitney says, “in that we must discipline ourselves to get into situations where evangelism can occur, that is, we must not just wait for witnessing opportunities to happen.” p. 127
For further study, get a copy of “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life” by Donald S. Whitney.