31 Days of Evangelism Day 6: The 3 Groups Jesus Met and How He Responded

The one-size-fits-all approach of evangelism (or discipleship, prayer, or a myriad of topics) may seem on the surface to work in our path-of-least-resistance approach to Christianity, but it’s not what you see in Scripture. Studying how Jesus interacted with people reveals a multifaceted approach. One can, however, see trends based on the various groups with whom Jesus interacted. In my own study of the Gospels I’ve seen three consistent ways Jesus dealt with three unique groups of people. While this is still a generalization and I encourage you to study all the Gospels yourself, perhaps this will help you to contextualize the gospel in your personal world.

First, Jesus showed COMPASSION to the broken. Considering the reality of the gospel in a nutshell, John 3:16, which shows God’s love compelled Jesus to die for us, this should not be surprising. Yet we, filled with shame and tainted by guilt, need the compassion of Christ. The Gospels abound with Jesus’s compassion toward those very aware of their sin, including the woman at the well, the Gaderene demoniac, the woman with the issue of blood, lepers, and others.

As we share Christ, we will encounter people with little hope, broken people whose lives have been torn apart by sin. Some struggle with emotional pain, others suffer the phsyical consequences of sin from abuse to bad choices. Our response to these precious souls should not be to heap more judgment on them but to proclaim the beauty of Christ’s love and compassion.

Next, Jesus CONFRONTED the self-righteous. Self-righteousness has been as common as warts on a toad as long as there have been people. Our heart defaults to justifying ourselves, and Jesus confronted plenty of those types in his ministry.  He challenged Nicodemus to be born again, a strange request on several levels for a leader of the Jews. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he had. The best example is his diatribe against the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. Whether the Pharisees and their venom or the Saduccess and their skepticism, Jesus had no use for spiritual pride. He still doesn’t.

When we talk with someone who is self-righteous, whether from a deeply embedded but false belief system or someone who denigrates your faith, we need not be hostile in spirit toward them. Remember Paul said to treat outsiders with gentleness (Col 4) and Peter reminded us to be honorable toward Gentiles (I Peter 2:10-11). But we shouldn’t sit back and take their ridicule or allow a false portrayal of our faith. We can graciously and yet boldly proclaim the truth and challenge self-righteousness.

Finally, Jesus CHALLENGED those who would follow to surrender everything. Read Luke 9:23; 14:26-27, and many other passages where he expected nothing less than absolute surrender. For those of us who claim the name of Jesus, we would do well to study these and other passages for ourselves and for fellow believers.

I’m afraid the church today tends to show too much patience with the self-righteous and too little compassion to the broken, while allowing for a path of least resistance kind of discipleship. May we never stray far from the Gospels as we learn to share Jesus with others.

31 Days of Evangelism Day 5: 6 Ways for Understanding the Great Commission from the Whole Bible

You can’t isolate the Great Commission from all the rest of Scripture.  It fits perfectly into the larger redemptive work of God seen throughout the biblical revelation. My colleague Mark Liederbach and I wrote a book a few years ago called The Convergent Church (it’s currently out of print). In the book we  offer six ways to understand of the mission of God from all of Scripture:

  1. Everything begins in God and is to return to God. Understanding this undergirds any theological system, any system of ethics, any evangelistic strategy, or any evaluation of culture. God created, God sustains, God redeems, and God will consummate history as we know it.
  2. Human existence must be understood as theocentric, not anthropocentric. In Christian theology, particularly that of Augustine and Aquinas, this idea of exitus et reditus asserts that proper theology must begin with discussion on the existence of God, then the creation and fall of human beings, their salvation through Christ, and finally their return back to God in death and resurrection. It is foundational to understanding that the universe is theocentric, not anthropocentric.[ii] Our perspective on the world and the church begins with the assumption that the focal point is God, not us as individuals, our family, our church, or our denomination.
  3. Individual life stories must conform to God’s story. Because the whole of Scripture from Pentateuch to the Apocalypse holds God alone in the central place in the universe, all of our personal life stories must yield to the higher, grander, more wonderful story that God tells throughout the Scripture, and in which alone our life finds any meaning (the metanarrative). Christianity is not just one story as a part of many stories, from Genesis, through the wilderness wanderings, into the time of the Kings and the exile, until the time of Christ and the birth of the Church; it is The Story. Most of us live our lives, and approach the Bible, to find how to make God’s agenda can fit into ours. This idolatrous thinking must be reversed, and must affect the way we think about and do church. Our agendas and our stories will not enflame the hearts of men and women to follow hard and live greatly. Similarly, any compromise or capitulation on the uniqueness of the gospel story as the sole means of salvation serves only to dilute the passionate existence we were meant to live. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the grand story of the universe. It alone rightly captures the imagination and fires the soul for greater things. This is the story we must learn, live in, and seek to tell often and well.
  4. A higher affection must motivate a life lived for God’s glory. When we truly see God’s beauty and majesty from the creation through the Old Testament story and throughout the New Testament, when we grasp His greatness and our place in His plan, we can see the relative insignificance of other things that would vie for our attention and affection. It is through a Spirit-filled meditation on the Word of God here and now that we can find our affections transformed and purified. The more one tastes of this kind of beauty, the deeper our hearts will long for more.
  5. A life of worship should compel us to invite the lost to join us. As we see all of Scripture in its grand message of redemption and the invitation to be worshipers of God, evangelism becomes less a burden and more the joyful proclamation of the good news that others too can worship this great God! Evangelism becomes nothing more than inviting people to join us in being and doing what we have all been created for! Thus, worship from God’s intention in the beginning serves as the impetus for evangelism and the purpose of our mission.
  6. The corporate worship of the church ought to change the culture. When believers as individuals, families, and churches together live a life of worship, even as we were intended to do before the fall and are able to do now because of the cross, individuals and the culture are changed as a result.

We have the most amazing story to tell in history. But it is a story that begins in Genesis and continues throughout the books of the Bible. And it is still worth telling today.

The Danger of Becoming an Awakenings Agnostic

When is the first time you remember seeing God move? The first time you remember being aware of his presence, seeing him change lives, or knowing he was near? I remember seeing God save young people, some of whom were hippie-types. I remember our church converting a skating rink into a “One Way Christian Night Club.” I remember wanting to know Jesus personally. I was 11.

When was the last time you saw him move? Just last week I had the honor of helping someone place their faith in Christ alone for salvation. That never gets old. Sunday, as I taught on my Sharing Jesus book for my friend Kie Bowman at Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, I sensed God’s good hand, and was renewed in my heart that God called me to encourage believers in evangelism. How about you? When did you last see him answer prayer, change a life, or change your life?

When is the next time you will see him move? Are you anticipating his work in your life?

I know what you may be thinking: “Hang on, you are asking questions about our experiences–isn’t it a dangerous thing to focus on our experiences?” Yes, but no more dangerous than to ignore the reality that our God is living and active and at work in our world.  The Word of God, his unchanging truth, is always the arbiter of our experience. But the Bible that guides us teems with accounts of the activity of God at work in the world.

I’m always wary of people who overly emphasize experience. But I’m concerned about the other side of this: believers who interpret the Bible by their non-experience. We have an entire generation who has never really seen God move in power, except in spots here and there. The cumulative effect can be to develop a suspicion toward anything out of the ordinary. We could even become agnostics toward spiritual awakening. Jonathan Edwards wrote several of his treatises on revival to respond to professing believers who were skeptical of the work of God.

God has moved mightily in the past. We see it throughout the Word, as I noted above. We see it in history, through powerful missionary movements, in remarkable stories of God’s people standing firm in persecution, and in great revival movements. I love to tell my students some of the stories of revival. For some, it’s a stimulus to seek God with a fresh heart. For others, I fear it’s just some stories totally detached from their experience with Christ.

We don’t seek revival for the experience of it. We pray for a God-intervention, an awakening, to know God more. We ask for God’s power to be more effective in serving him and to bring more glory to his name. We pray for God to awaken the church because God can do more in a week of his activity than we can do in a decade in our own power.

There is another thing: an awakening really does change things. It changes the church, and it sweeps many into the kingdom of God. I’ve seen bits and pieces of this in my life on earth. I’ve never been the same from such visitations.

Don’t seek an experience, but don’t be suspicious of them either. Seek the face of God more than his hand, and walk with him with deep affection, and pray for revival. Like the Psalmist prayed in Psalm 85, and Habakkuk prayed, and as Isaiah prayed in 64:1. Our world is a mess, and our hope is in God.

By the way, several years ago a professor of mine named Malcolm McDow and I wrote a history of awakenings called Firefall. More recently we updated it. If you are hungry to know more about how God has moved in the past to be stirred to pray today, you can get it here. My life has been shaped greatly by the stories of revival.

One more thing: I warn my students, and I want to warn you–you can be in the middle of the activity of God and miss him at work. You wouldn’t be the first. That reality drives me to prayer. I believe our God is at work in powerful ways, and I don’t want to miss being a part of his activity. As you pray, pray for revival.

Seven Core Convictions about Evangelism

In I Thessalonians 1:5 Paul says several things about how the gospel came to the Thessalonians: it came not only in word (it came in word, but more); in power, with the Holy Spirit, and with CONVICTION. Paul completed his thought by noting how these Thessalonians saw how they lived among them. But I want to focus on the word “conviction.” Paul had undeniable convictions. What are your convictions regarding evangelism? Here are seven of mine:

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 told 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.

4. Most believers want to witness but do not. Therefore, we must evangelize purposefully. I have been in a couple thousand churches over the past decades. 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 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.

5. The gospel is the greatest message we could ever tell. Therefore, we must evangelize confidently. As a university student, I was discipled by a man named Curtis. 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. We have to see America as the mission field it is and share Christ from the posture of a missionary in a land that does not know Christ. That’s a large reason I wrote the Sharing Jesus book.

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 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!