“A man of conviction is often more to be desired than a man of experience.” Curt Siodmak
“Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but in power, and the Holy Spirit, with much conviction, as you saw what manner of life we lived among you.” Paul, I Thessalonians 1:5
Years a ago a psychologist conducted a study in which three lines were drawn on a chalkboard—a short line, a medium line, and an obviously longer line. The psychologist had ten people sit in the room to observe the lines. She asked the pupils to raise their hand when she pointed at the longest line. She pointed at the shortest with no response. But then she pointed at the line in between the longest and shortest, and nine hands confidently shot upward to identify it as the longest line. The tenth person looked around the room incredulously at first.
And then he raised his hand. The study was repeated with several groups from a variety of demographic samples. And 75% of the time the tenth person voted with the other nine, even though he or she knew the line they chose as the longest was not.
The psychologist concluded most people would rather be accepted than have conviction.
We can disagree over secondary issues, and sometimes in the church we make primary what is in fact our preference, leading to distraction from the main task at the least to sectarianism at the worst. But some things in fact do matter.
In the beginning of my Evangelism Handbook I offer some core convictions about sharing the gospel that I believe matter in our time. I do not put these convictions on the level of the deity of Jesus in every case, but I nonetheless think they matter. And, because of my disdain from my earlier years of professors who won’t tell you what they really think, I figured I would put some of my convictions up there early in my book.
I fear that sometimes we who so relentless affirm the gospel in our theological convictions fail to demonstrate those same convictions in how we actually live our lives. These convictions below help me to evaluate how my walk compares to my talk, or how my behavior matches my belief.
Here are some convictions you can stand on with confidence.
1. Men and women are without hope until they receive salvation through Jesus. Therefore, we must evangelize urgently. People apart from Christ are lost (Luke 15), dead in sins (Eph. 2:1), under sin (Rom. 3:9), and under condemnation (John 3:18). Immanuel Kant once declared that David Hume, the skeptic, awoke him from his dogmatic slumber. Surely a skeptical world, living in fear, often without hope, should awaken us from our apathy.
2. Many people are ready to respond to the gospel. Therefore, we must evangelize regularly. Paul told Timothy to preach the word in season and out of season—or when we feel like it and when we don’t! In 1995, I had the privilege of joining the faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Prior to that I taught at Houston Baptist University. Before leaving the university, I made an appointment with several students, including some whom I felt needed to hear the gospel. One was a young lady named Audra. I shared Christ with her. This was new to her, although she had gone to church services a few times. I gave her a gospel booklet, asking her to read it again.The first week after beginning my work at Southeastern, I got a letter from Audra. She wrote, “On August 9, I opened my heart to Christ. . . . A big thanks goes to you.” She even photocopied the tract to give it to another person who needed Christ. This point is that Audra needed someone to tell her how to be saved. The reason many people aren’t Christians is that no one has take the time to tell them how to be saved.
3. Believers are commanded by the Bible to evangelize. Therefore, we must evangelize obediently. Billy Graham has said the number one reason we should witness is because God says we should. There are certainly other motives for our witness, but we should not ignore this simple truth. Obedience matters to God. In this day of “consumer Christianity” which focuses on meeting our needs, obedience has become low on the priority list of many believers. If missional for you means something other than being intentional, check your definition. The Great Commission is not the Great Suggestion.
4. Most believers want to witness but do not. Therefore, we must evangelize purposefully. I have been in hundreds of churches over the past decade. I am amazed at the number of believers who want to witness, who want to make a difference, who long for their lives to matter. They want to live out and share the gospel for the glory of God. They are afraid, or do not know how, or have been too busy doing good things to participate in the best thing—winning people to Christ. We who lead must give our people both the command the evangelize and the practical methodology to do so. By the way, www.viewthestory.com is a great tool for this.
5. The gospel is the greatest message we could ever tell. Therefore, we must evangelize confidently. As a student in a Baptist university, I was discipled by a Presbyterian. One day he asked me a simple question that changed my life.
“Alvin,” he said, “what is the best thing that ever happened to you?”
“The day I was saved,” I heartily replied, with my Sunday school smile.
“Then, Alvin,” he continued, “what is the best thing you can do for someone else?”
The answer was obvious. Yet I was immediately embarrassed at it because I knew my life did not reflect the joy of introducing others to the Jesus whom I knew so well.
6. We must rethink the way we understand and practice evangelism. Therefore we must evangelize missionally. A shift from only an attractional-based evangelism to include missional-incarnational approaches is a theme in my evangelism handbook because I believe it must be a theme in our churches, our homes, and our own lives.
7. We must understand the spirit of the times. Therefore, we must evangelize holistically. Evangelism is less a technique and more a lifestyle, less a method and more a movement. The Western Church has been in decline for longer than we would like to admit. The notion that we should simply do what we have been doing, only better or with more passion, must be rejected. The idea that the key to the future is a new method that meets the times also misses the point. Separating evangelism from the life of the believer in a compartmentalizing manner must not happen. Einstein was right when he said insanity is doing the same thing over and over only to expect different results. We must take the timeless message and communicate it in a timely manner. Do you really believe the greatest thing you can tell another person is the good news about Jesus? Then tell someone!
You already have convictions about the gospel, sharing it with others, and your role in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. May our convictions be biblical, and may our lives demonstrate the reality of those convictions.