by Stephen Trout
Do you long to reach people with the evangel (good news) of Jesus, and see them come to new life in Him?
If so (and we hope you do!), you must understand how people tick.
Maybe you’ve been taught that effective evangelism boils down to a formula: memorize the “Romans road” passages (a good thing to be sure), and have a “Four Spiritual Laws” tract in your back pocket to whip out whenever the occasion arises.
That rote approach might have been more effective 20 years ago, as pastor and author Tim Keller has said, when…
“… most Americans not only had a rudimentary knowledge of Christianity but also tended to respect it… 20 years ago, the hyper-individualistic narratives (“You have to be true to yourself”; “No one has the right to tell anyone else how to live”) weren’t as deeply entrenched in as many people. Today Christianity is culturally strange and not respected. This is the world in which we share our faith now.”
If Keller is right, and those are the narratives that hold sway in our day, how do we proceed?
We suggest Thomas Cranmer gives us a hint with his famous dictum – itself, well supported by Scripture:
“What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.”
What Cranmer recognized is that if someone is going to make a choice for something (or someone), their heart must first be engaged and gripped by a new affection.
Arguments won’t do it; in fact, psychologists have noticed they tend to have the exact opposite effect of what is intended, causing the will to harden. (Check it out – it’s called the “backfire effect.”)
The story of Jesus, on the other hand, has power (Rom. 1:16) to pierce the heart. When told with imagination and a view towards his radical grace and love to broken people (like us), cold hearts begin to warm.*
Even if the hearer is not sure they believe it, vivid proclamation can stir the imagination and capture the affections, causing them to wonder:
What kind of love is this? Maybe this Jesus is worth looking into…
There’s a sense in which the same is true for us. Before we can effectively share the good news, we must have our own hearts warmed again.
It’s another way of saying that when we see Jesus anew with the eyes of faith, zeal for him begins to burn within, and we are propelled outward to love – like him.
Yet because we often lose sight of this and our doubts rise so easily within, here are 10 “gospel reminders” to come back to, on a regular basis: (These are adapted with minor elaboration from Glen Scrivener of Speak Life):
God is mission.
As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit our God is Sender, Sent, and Proceeding. His being is irreducibly bound up in sending – in mission. He is the outward focussed God, the spreading God. In the words of David Bosch, he is “a Fountain of sending love.”
In Christ, I’m already who I need to be.
I already am salt and light (Matt 5:13-16). I am a witness (Acts 1:8). I am priestly (1 Peter 2:9). I’m his ambassador, and beloved child. 2 Cor. 5:20, Eph. 5:1
The Son is the One proclaimed – the substance of all our proclamation (Colossians 1:28).
Good thing too because He is unbelievably attractive. Speak of Him and you cannot go wrong. The gospel (the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for me, aka the “great exchange”) is the power of God, and God is unleashing divine potency as we testify to Christ (Rom 1:16).
The world is utterly lost – yet unbelievably loved.
The natural state of the race of Adam is disconnection from the God of life – it is perishing. It’s what men choose, and it’s hell to be Christless (Ephesians 2:12). Yet God so loved the world, he was willing to die for it. (Jn. 3:16)
My greatest problem is not the culture, but me. I still need Jesus!
My flesh is the real enemy to evangelism – not a lack of evangelistic techniques. My flesh curves me in on myself when mission means to extend myself into the lives of others.
If I do approach mission as a “culture war,” trying to morally reform the world without Christ, I miss the power of God and turn people off. Weakness evangelism joins Paul in saying “I am the Chief of Sinners,” so that Christ may be exalted.
Christ has earned me the right to speak.
All authority is Christ’s (Matthew 28:16-18) and he gives it to his people (Matthew 28:19-20). I don’t earn the right to speak, the Risen Jesus has earned it already. “Therefore go!”
Giving myself away is the truly happy life.
As I share Jesus I benefit hugely – I come to appreciate all the good things I have in Christ as I articulate them (Philemon 6). And as I give myself to others I follow in the way of Christ, the way of blessing. (Mark 8:35)
The community in its unity is vital (John 13:34-35; John 17:20-26).
Before I have loved the unbeliever, my love of the believer (if done in view of the world) has already witnessed powerfully to Christ. Do the people around me see me as part of an engaging, humble community?
The community in its diversity is vital (Eph 4:10-12; 1 Peter 4:10-11).
I have been uniquely gifted in the evangelistic task and I am surrounded by others (who I need) who are likewise uniquely gifted.
I don’t have to be polished first and then a missionary.
My life on mission is how I am discipled. As I go I learn. And all I really need is the testimony of John 9: “I was blind but now I see,” and to continue to love, with all humility and reliance on Jesus.
In conclusion, there are dazzlingly glorious promises for those who let their light shine, sharing this great news of divine rescue:
“Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3)