Sharing the Gospel: One-on-One Evangelism

Throughout the Bible, God uses human agents to accomplish His eternal purpose. He chose Israel from out of all the peoples in the world to be His people. He chose Moses, speech impediment and all, to lead His people out of bondage. He chose Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of followers of Christ, to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. He chose His church, believers in every age, to carry His Truth to the lost. Therefore, even now, we have a role to play in God’s redemptive plan. We are called to witness to the world and act as agents through whom God the Father can draw to Himself all those He would save through His Son, Jesus Christ.

We all are sincere in wanting others to hear the Good News and be transformed, as we have been, into a new creation. How can we fulfill this commission in our daily lives?  How can we be bold and smart in approaching others and telling them what Jesus has done for us and what He is ready to do for them? It is a question that paralyzes most of us. It’s hard to seize on opportunities and find the right words to say. After all, we don’t want to offend anyone, and we don’t want to come across as religious zealots, right? Being arrogant and obnoxious won’t win souls. What then is the best way to approach people with the Gospel? One guideline to follow in evangelizing is to study and imitate what Jesus did.

Suppose you have a witness opportunity that is ripe for you to take action. A friend sees you reading the Bible all the time (do your friends see you with your Bible?) and one day comes up to you and sincerely asks, “What do you get from that old Bible anyway?”

What do you tell him? Where do you start? Not sure? Let’s see how Jesus handled the situation.

In the story in Luke 18, when the young ruler approaches Jesus, he is excited and asks the question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t immediately give him a set of instructions. He doesn’t tell the young ruler to pray a prayer, or go read the scriptures, or join a fellowship group of disciples. The first thing Jesus seizes on is the young rulers’ use of the word “good” to address him. “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19). He then turns the conversation into a dialogue about the Law of God. Jesus asks him if he knows and keeps the Law. As Jesus runs through a select checklist of the Law, the young ruler confidently states that he knows these commandments and obeys every one! In the mind of the young ruler he has just passed Jesus’ test; he is so self-righteous that he seeks and expects Jesus’ approval.

You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” (Luke 18:20-21)

But Jesus knows his heart (which deceives) and presses on with the Law to uncover the man’s spiritual nakedness.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)

When He tells the young ruler to sell all he has and follow Him, Jesus has struck the raw nerve that exposes this self-righteous seeker as merely a sinner in need of repentance. The point of the Law that the young ruler has buried deep inside himself is idolatry. Jesus reveals to the young ruler his hidden sin—that he has made his wealth into a god and treasures it above the One True God. He would rather hold onto his money than embrace the Author of Salvation, Jesus Christ.

In a nutshell, here is revealed Jesus’ evangelism process. Jesus holds up the mirror of the Law and shows the young man that he is included in the statement “no one is good.” That’s the diagnosis. He then offers the prescription: repentance and faith. By selling all he has, the young ruler would demonstrate repentance, turn from his sin, and then direct his gaze and his steps in the direction of Jesus: “and follow me.” Faith means believing in Jesus as Savior and trusting in Him for everything.

We can use the Law like a mirror as Jesus did when we engage people in Christian evangelism. Start by asking that inquiring friend a simple question: Do you think you’re a good person? Like the young ruler, most people will say yes. Then follow up a few more questions:

How many lies have you told in your life?

Have you ever taken anything that didn’t belong to you, even something small (your fair amount of taxes, a sibling’s toy, food in the refrigerator, office supplies at work, etc.)?

Have you ever used God’s name in vain, as a cuss word or phrase?

Have you ever committed adultery or lusted in your heart for someone?

No one can stand innocent before the Law. Your friend, if he is honest will admit he falls short of these standards (and that’s just four points you’ve brought up). He  may of course, declare himself  innocent  by professing that he is doing his best and is much better than most other people he knows.  He may even state that God won’t judge him on little sins like white lies or taking pencils from work or having sexual thoughts about another. That’s his god, however, not the God of the Bible. So he has created a god according to his own design and therefore is guilty of idolatry too!

The Bible teaches that God is a good God, a loving God, a just God and a holy God. In fact He is perfectly holy and perfectly just and perfectly good. He cannot be perfect and still allow sin in His presence or allow sin to go unpunished. Ask your friend if his daughter were raped and beaten, what would he think if the judge allowed the offender to go unpunished? Would that make him a good, loving judge?

 Notice where you have steered the conversation. Your friend has admitted to being a lying, blasphemous, adulterous- at- heart (and perhaps idolatrous) thief. He acknowledges that God, to be just, must punish sin. Now comes the $64,000 question. When your friend stands before the judgment seat of Christ, in light of the Law just reviewed, will a perfectly just judge, God Himself, find him guilty or innocent? Guilty. And what is the punishment for guilt on judgment day? Hell—eternal separation from God and torment in the lake of fire.

That’s the bad news. Ask your friend if the reality of eternal damnation concerns him. It should because God has given him a conscience and the Holy Spirit works to convict him. Now that he understands his position before a just and holy God, a position of utter helplessness doomed to damnation, you can deliver the Good News of how God has worked to save him from Hell. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth as a man to take his sins upon Himself and pay his fine.  God substituted (for us) His Son, who was sinless and blameless, as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy His perfect justice. Through His blood we are cleansed. Through His punishment we are pardoned.  Through His death and resurrection we can live forever. Jesus paid your friend’s fine! He is free to go to heaven.

That is indeed good news—the best news anyone can ever hear!

What must he do to receive salvation? He must profess faith in Jesus as Savior, believe that Jesus is the Son of God, died for our sins, and that He was raised from the dead. Then submit to Him as Lord, repent and turn from his sins. The Holy Spirit will strengthen him to do that with all his heart and soul and strength, and through Jesus Christ he will become a new creation.

Now is the time to pray with him for the gift of faith and the miracle of salvation! Counsel your friend to read the Bible (start with the book of John), help get him connected to a local church and help him to pray, pray, pray! If the friend does not see the light at that moment, tell him you care about him and implore him to think and pray about what he just heard and read the Bible. Ask him if he has one. If not, get him one. You have shined the light of Truth upon him; now it is up to the Holy Spirit to convict him and unharden his heart.

When we are at a loss at how to steer a spiritual conversation to the Gospel, remember how Jesus did it. He held up the Law like a mirror and allowed sinners to convict themselves and become aware of and acknowledge their need for a Savior. Once they understood the bad news, He then offered them the Good News, that by repenting of their sins and following and trusting in the Lord, they will be saved! Go hold up that mirror of the Law to someone you care about—today!

Published in: on April 24, 2010 at 10:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Fish Fry Evangelism: A New Yorker Deep in the Heart of Texas

One Friday afternoon I joined a group of men from my church on an evangelism road trip.  We accompanied our pastor, Brother Jim, to a large church in North Texas where he was to preach the gospel of salvation to a men’s group.  Now this wasn’t just any men’s group.  The event was the annual area fish fry and it was by all reckoning at least the 20th year they’ve held it.  It was sponsored by a group called the Fishers of Men.  I met the founder, a spry 82 year-old who actively ministers weekly at a halfway house and almost daily at the local Wal-mart.  The Fishers of Men annual event centers on a huge buffet of fried foods:  fish, shrimp, hush puppies and French fries.  Men come from a host of area churches.  What they have in common is a certain attachment to a church community and a large attachment to the fishing community.  Needless to say there were lots of Bass fishing garb—hats, shirts, etc.  I had had a tough time figuring out what to wear.  Despite living in Texas for seven years, I do not own cowboy boots or 10-gallon hat.  I wisely chose my best Johnny Cash outfit—all black.  I figured Johnny Cash would fit in anywhere country music might be heard!  The pre-meal conversation I eavesdropped on offered lots of references to various fishing spots—nearby lakes whose names I didn’t recognize  where all kinds of piscatorial wonders live, breed and try but seem to always fail to elude dedicated Texas anglers.  Being a big city boy I found this all quite anthropological.  It was like witnessing a tribe of some remote outback region –replete with a culture centered on interaction with nature, search for food (here in the form of fish) and the male bonding that hunter-gatherers act out in dress, language, ritual and celebration.

 Pardon the digression.  Back to the fish fry revival meeting itself.  The buffet line dissolved, the men seated and eating, and the host got up on stage to introduce the evening’s program and we began.  The large gym had about 50 tables and seated about 300 men.  The sound system was barely adequate—a hand held microphone boomed through the gym’s loudspeakers and the words ran into and over each other with a thunderous reverb.  Couple the cacophonous sound with the Texas drawl of our MC and I just about needed to ask for a translator.  The first one up on the program was a singer with a guitar who mouthed a spoken song with a Gospel theme.  I have to guess because I really couldn’t follow the story.  The men munching away on the fried feast hardly seemed interested.  There was still a murmur across the room of settling in, and I didn’t get the sense that this group was here for anything more than the food.  I began to worry that our preacher‘s upcoming  address was going to echo in the huge gym and miss all the ears the message was designed to strike.  A glimmer of hope emerged as the next man up on stage, a singer, belted out a magnificent gospel song backed by a pre-recorded CD track.  The guy was really good and with his deliberate pacing and careful phrasing I even understood him.  He got a half-hearted but sincerely offered ovation.

As the MC introduced the main speaker, our pastor, I grew uneasy again.  There was still some buffet line activity, and we could clearly hear the clatter of activity in the kitchen area.  Could they really be cleaning up in the middle of the program?  The backdrop included a cell phone ringing in the kitchen and resultant live rude conversation.  I glanced around and became disheartened.  The looks on the faces of the attendees were less than enthusiastic.  I feared they were ready to go back to eating and talking fishing; certainly anything but listen to a preacher angling to hook them on Jesus.

I sensed a real foreboding that this evangelism effort was doomed to failure for several reasons.  First, we had a room full of fried food-gulping fishing buddies hardly ripe for a sermon from a loud-mouthed (I say that with love) Baptist preacher.  Second, Pastor Jim, who is as passionate and on fire as any preacher you’ll ever see, would be working with a hand-held microphone with a cord flowing behind.  It would be like putting a roaring lion on a leash.  He usually preaches with a wireless headset and can freely pace, wander, and stomp right down amidst the audience.  Third, the sound system was too bassy and loud, and Brother Jim, who had a penchant for getting fired up in the Spirit, tended to yell and whoop and holler.  I feared he would fracture the tweeters and tear the woofers.  Fourth, there was the clatter in the kitchen and the cell phone conversations of somebody who thought he was out of earshot of the gym audience.  All in all, I concluded there would be nary a soul get saved this evening.

Pastor Jim preached a short (in fact, much shorter than what I was used to) focused message:  that Jesus was knocking at the door to each man’s heart.  He knocked through the Spirit, through sorrow, sickness, suffering, supper (the fish fry), and through Scripture—but He was there in that room knocking for us.  Brother Jim proclaimed  the need to open our hearts to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and not be fooled into the  inadequacy of belief (in the head) without a complete surrender to Jesus (of the heart), and the fallacy of thinking that a sinners prayer on the lips and a walk down the aisle one day guaranteed a secure salvation.  Brother Jim called for a complete surrender and transformation in Christ.  He talked about famous tombs of the world—the tomb of the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, the grave of Audie Murphy in Arlington National Cemetery, the tomb of Mohammed in Mecca.  All are famous for the bodies contained therein.  But one tomb stands out above all others—the tomb of Jesus.  It is famous, not for the body found inside, but for the body not found inside.  The tomb proclaims to the world that Jesus is not to be found there—He is alive!  He is in our midst, and He stands and knocks at our hearts in order to enter in and save us.

All in all it was a powerful, direct assault on the comfort zones of both the natural (unsaved) man and the nominal self-proclaimed Christian who feels smug in his church membership, attendance and a memory of a long-ago forgotten empty sinner’s prayer session.  While the message was spot on, I fretted that the atmosphere and audience were working against him.  The body language and facial expressions of the audience were either blank or even a bit hostile.  They seemed to be saying either “Who cares?” or “Who is this short stranger /preacher questioning my Christian credentials?”  Add it all up – unreceptive crowd, awful sound, the kitchen staff murmuring on the phone – and I wondered, “How can this revival possibly work?”

The climax of the evening came and Brother Jim gave his invitation.  He called on the men to unharden their hearts, proclaim their helplessness before Jesus and surrender to Him then and there.  As we prayed with heads bowed and eyes closed, I was convinced that nobody in that atmosphere would respond.

 To my utter amazement, when Brother Jim asked for all those who had professed Jesus as Lord and Savior to publically proclaim their new faith and raise their hands, I heard his rapid fire cry of “God bless you, sir, God bless you, sir”  echo across the gym.  I lost count as each “God bless you, sir” rang out.  It was an avalanche of souls falling down before the LORD!  In that gymnasium!  With that horrible sound system!  With the cell phone conversations! With the buffet line aromas wafting through!  With the hardened icy faces of these self-professed Christians! 

The men who declared for Jesus and surrendered their lives that night were led outside to be counseled by the home church pastor.  The final tally was 31 men saved.  My skepticism had been fueled by the shortcomings of the human elements of the evangelistic effort. At the end, however, I was overcome by a realization that these conversions, these men being regenerated in that seemingly hostile atmosphere, owed it all to the power of God.  I was humbled and amazed and found myself overwhelmed and in tears as the power of Jesus Christ flooded me and all around me.  I had made a mental list of careful calculations of all the human elements of this fish fry revival and concluded that the event was doomed to failure.  I had forgotten the one essential element of revival and of salvation—the presence of Jesus Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit to convict men of their lost state.  The power of God requires no human props—no sound systems, no great cathedrals, no soaring music.  The Spirit blows where it will.

I was truly astounded at the result.  Pastor Jim and our carload of men knelt on the lawn outside the church and praised God that His power had filled the assembly and touched these men’s hearts.  Brother Jim acknowledged that these men would be like the 10 lepers that Jesus miraculously healed.  Only one of the ten returned to thank Jesus.  But the pastor acknowledged that even if only one were truly saved then our mission was a success.

As I reflect back on that night I can sense both the power of Jesus Christ and the joy of evangelism.  Brother Jim in his long ministry has seen thousands drawn by the Father to His Son through His Word.  There is satisfaction in the successful fishing of men, in the Good News delivered to and received by the lost.  But I sense that the real joy lies in the experience that God directs His perfect and perfecting power to work through imperfect human vessels and reach imperfect men to His glory and our benefit.  It wasn’t the fish fry or the sermon or the fellowship or the witnessing that saved these 31 men—it was the true saving power of Jesus Christ. The tomb is empty. He is alive!

Published in: on April 12, 2010 at 10:01 am  Comments (1)  

Our Kinsman Redeemer Lives!

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us. (Ephesians 1:8)

As we mark the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, let us remember not just its historical truth, but its meaning for our lives today. Redemption is an act of God by which He Himself paid a ransom for the price of sin-our sin. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ make sense of and give meaning to our lives. It is only in the light of sin and alienation from God that we can make sense of the evil of the world and in each of us. It is only though Jesus Christ that we can find hope for ourselves and for the world.

In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have the workings of our Kinsman Redeemer. The kinsman redeemer (‘goel’ in Hebrew) is a role defined in the Law and fulfilled throughout the narrative of Old Testament history.   The kinsman redeemer had several roles. He could:

  • Redeem a relative out of slavery (whether the relative was a slave by birth, capture, or debt)
  • Redeem a relative’s property that had been sold in financial distress
  • Raise up a successor to a near relative (through the widow of the ‘brother’)

 To act as kinsman redeemer, a man had to meet five requirements.  He had to be:

  • a near relative
  • free himself ( a slave could not redeem a slave)
  • willing to pay the price of redemption
  • able to pay the price
  • able to produce the price of redemption (no credit)

 Jesus is our perfect redeemer.

You know that you were ransomed (redeemed) from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18)

He performed three functions of the redeemer on our behalf.

First, he freed us from slavery. In our natural state, we are fallen, and enslaved to sin. By dying for us, he freed us from our slavery to our sinful nature. We are still sinners, yet we are no longer held captive by our sinful nature. Jesus redeemed us from our inherited condition of slavery- the slavery of sin.

  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.         (Romans 6:23)

Second, Jesus redeemed our property rights. What property rights? We were given a perfect home, the Garden of Eden. However, through sin, we were expelled. Jesus has redeemed our rights to be in His Kingdom once more—a right we could in no way earn for ourselves, but that He had to purchase for us.

Third, Jesus established His church, a successor to the chosen people, Israel. That remnant of believers includes both believing Jews and Gentiles. At His Second Coming, a remnant of each tribe of Israel will be gathered, redeemed, and folded into the church.

Jesus met all five requirements for Kinsman Redeemer.

  • He is our near kinsman.

 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:17-18)

  • He was willing to pay the price.

 …even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28)

  • He was able to pay the price.

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)

  • He was free Himself.

 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

  • He had the price of redemption. The price he willingly paid was his blood.

You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. (1 Corinthians 7:23)

 …knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18-19)

 We need be mindful then of the mercy that God showed for us by rescuing those who believe from the chains of sin and the eternal punishment that is our due.  It was through our Kinsman Redeemer, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that we became free. By His resurrection we who believe are raised from the deadness of sin to newness of life, and the promise of eternal life.

On Resurrection Sunday, let us proclaim “Christ is Risen,” and rejoice that our Redeemer lives!

“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and at last he will stand upon the earth;
  and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
    then from my flesh I shall see God. (Job 19:25)

Published in: on April 4, 2010 at 8:59 am  Comments (1)