Evangelism Explosion. The Romans Road. The Sinners Prayer. Church Visitation. Door to door preaching. Street preaching.
Coming into Christianity from atheism was certainly an eye-opener. One minute you’re laughing about how stupid Christians are — the next minute you’re one of them telling other people how to be ‘saved.’
I knew telling people how to be saved was important and life-changing because people told me how to be saved and it changed my life. I was probably a pretty clumsy ‘witness’ at first, but God loved me and I loved telling people about Jesus. The question was, how best to do that.
Here’s what I think Jesus had in mind.
I first wrote this article in 1974 under the title of Friendship Evangelism. Though more than 40 years have passed since putting pen to paper with some ideas about sharing the ‘good news’ with people, the basics of evangelism haven’t changed. I’ve updated the title, but will leave the article as it was in my mind and heart decades ago.
A Scary Proposition
Evangelism. The word frightens a lot of Christians. It means things like preaching to crowds, knocking on doors, talking with strangers, passing out tracts, inviting people to special church services, sharing your personal testimony with others, getting people to pray to receive Christ. The word “evangelism” also brings out guilt in many.
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Matthew 28:19-20
“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Mark 16:15
I’ve known hundreds of Christians who believe they are failures because they don’t spend their lives preaching the gospel and winning scores of people to Christ each year. These are good people who love God but are defeated in their attempts to serve Him through evangelism.
God’s Mission for Us
Let’s dive right in to the core of what God expects of His people.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-20
Wow! God has given us the “word of reconciliation.” He has given us the position of “Christ’s ambassador.” What does it mean?
The first thing in Bible study is to know who is writing and to whom. 2 Corinithians 1:1 gives us our answer:
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia.”
The Apostle Paul is the writer. His audience is every believer. That’s important to note. Paul did not change the address of his audience in his letter to the Corinthians. He is still writing to every believer when we get to chapter 5. I invite you to read the first 4 chapters to see that this is true.
Here are some of the things we learn from Paul about our mission.
- He starts with the fact that we are a “new creature.” The Greek words are kaine ktisis. Kaine is not “new” in time, but new as to form and quality. Ktisis is the product of creation. We are God’s “new creations.” The idea is of a “fresh start.” That’s what God gave us. The old things are gone. The new has come. It’s the way Christians face God every day. We come to Him knowing he has forgiven us and given us that fresh start. Our past sins and failures aren’t a weight around us. They are gone, forgiven at the cross!
- “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ.” God is the “source” of our life and blessings. He “reconciled” us to Himself and He did it through His Son, Jesus Christ. “Reconciled” is katallaxantos. It means “change from one thing to another, exchange.” The spiritual idea from the Greek is that God changed us from one thing to another. Paul explained that well in Romans 5:10: “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” We started our lives as enemies of God. He “changed” that relationship through the death of Christ. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:1-3 that we were “dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” That’s where every human being begins: an enemy with God, an object of His righteous wrath. So, what changes that? “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).” God’s Love, Mercy and Grace make the difference! Dead men don’t come alive on their own. Dead men are at the mercy of the living. The Living God had Mercy on us and gave us Life Everlasting to His Grace. He took what was once an enemy and an object of His wrath and loved and forgave and breathed new life into each of us! He “reconciled” us to Himself.
- The God Who did all that for us has given us the same ministry. He gave us the ministry of reconciliation! The Greek word is diakonian. It means “service.” Our service to God is that of “reconciliation.” What is that? “… that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” Reconciliation is our ministry. God first reconciled us to Himself through Christ. Every member of the Body of Christ has experienced God’s reconciliation. We know what happened to us. We know how it happened. We know the change that’s taken place in our lives. We know what it was like before. We know what it’s like now. The longer we walk with God, the more we understand His reconciliation. Now, that’s what God wants us to do while we’re on earth. Serve Him by telling others about God’s reconciliation. How do we do that?
The Apostle Paul taught that the Body of Christ is made up of many parts.
“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Sprit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many … Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27
Paul also taught that members of the Body of Christ have different spiritual gifts. We’re not all the same. God has built variety into His plan.
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many … Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27
What does that have to do with evangelism (the Ministry of Reconciliation)? We need to stop comparing ourselves with other people! We need to do what God has in mind for us. You are a very special individual with unique personal talents and spiritual gifts. If you don’t know what they are, look to God and other wise counsel and find out. God has something in mind for all of us and His goal is “the common good.” That “common good” has to begin with reconciliation because unsaved people are enemies of God. They are dead in their sins. They are objects of God’s wrath. How can unsaved people enjoy the “common good” from that awful position? They can’t! Someone has to “tell” them about God’s Love for them. Someone has to “tell” them Jesus died for them. Someone has to “tell” them that salvation is by Grace through Faith alone.
We can compare it with a football team. If everyone threw the ball, who would catch it? If everyone caught the ball, who would throw it? If everyone ran the ball, who would block the tacklers? The best teams work well when everyone on the team knows their job, does it well and respects the work of others on the team.
Paul said it well in Ephesians 4:16:
“From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
As each part does its work. Isn’t that a cool idea? Everybody playing together as a team. Everyone doing their job well and for the common good.
Paul wrote 1 Cornithians 12 to get everyone in the Body of Christ singing off the same song sheet. EVERYONE is important in God’s plan. No one is better than anyone else. No one has more of God’s favor than another. Listen to what Paul wrote:
“And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked. That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.” 1 Corinthians 12:21-25
Read those beautiful words one more time: “…there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.” That excites me! God wants UNITY in the Body of Christ. He wants Christians to care for each other. It’s from that place of safe harbor that believers can go out to minister to the needs of lost souls. People in the world are looking for real answers. They want to be part of something that works. Too much of what they’ve seen called “Christianity” hasn’t worked. We’ve disappointed them for one reason or another. They just don’t believe our message. The number ONE reason people have given me for not being interested in receiving Christ is the lives of Christians they’ve known.
I personally believe it’s because unsaved people hear us “talk” about how God changes us, but they don’t see a real change in our lives. We have to “walk the talk.” If there’s no real change in us, if unsaved people look at us and believe they’re just as good or even better than us, why would they want to change to be like us? They don’t and they won’t! The first step in evangelism is living a changed life – living a “reconciled” life.
The second step is becoming their friend.
That brings me to the importance of Friendship Evangelism. It begins with our personal strength in Christ and His strength in us. It begins with our having a deep and viable relationship with the living God. I’ve been with many church members as they shared the Gospel with others. Unfortunately, many had little to say beyond a prepared speech and a few pat answers. They were unhappy or unfulfilled in their own walk with God and had very little to “show and tell.” They had few resources upon which to draw. They shared Christ because they “had to”, not because they “wanted to.” If your life is full and rich, it’s just natural to tell others about what’s so great about your life. But if it isn’t, well, there’s not much you can say. So, start by enjoying your relationship with God. That places you in a position of strength.
Remember that “evangelism” is more than just leading someone to receive Christ as their Savior. The “good news” of Christianity is more than just starting with Christ – it’s also “finishing” with Christ. Receiving Christ is only the first step. It’s an important step, but it’s not everything. Winning a football game means putting your heart and soul into winning from the opening kickoff to the last play of the last minute of the game.
Friendship Evangelism means “caring” for people. “The best evangelism takes place in a context of mutual trust and respect. It takes place between friends.”
- Christians need to care about the people they hope to reach.
- Christians need to accept the people they hope to reach.
- Christians need to love the people they hope to reach.
- Christians need to establish meaningful relationships with the people they hope to reach.
- Christians need to stay close to the people they reach.
- Christians need to help the people they reach get through the tough times.
Why do people love Jesus so much? Because He loved them so much!
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
The best evangelism comes when you really love and care about someone. Demonstrate your love for others. Show them – don’t just tell them.
How do you do that? Lots of ways:
- Think about them. Pray for them. Ask God to provide openings for you to show His love for them.
- Talk with them. Listen to them. Be their friend. Show you care. Spend quality time with them. Concentrate on what’s important to them.
- Go out of your way to do good things for them. Be the best friend they have ever had. Let God’s love pour through you to them.
- Share God’s truths with them. Keep in mind that we are God’s “ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” An ambassador speaks on behalf of the leader of his nation and makes an appeal to the one in opposition. Unsaved people are just like what we were once: enemies, objects of wrath, dead in transgressions and sins. God loves them and wants to save them. God makes His appeal to them “through us.” We are “conduits of Grace.” This means you need to know what the Bible teaches. A good ambassador prepares well and understands the terms of the “appeal” fully.
- Show them the way to Christ.
- Share with them how you received Christ as your Savior.
- Show them how they can do it.
- Once they receive Christ, stay close to them, like you would a newborn baby. A new Christian needs lots of guidance. Continue to be their friend. Remember what it was like when you were a new believer. Do for them the good things someone did for you or what you “wish” someone had done for you.
- Help them become grounded in God’s Word.
- Show them the kind of life God has for His children. Demonstrate it. Explain it.
- Tell them about their new enemy, Satan. Help them understand what he will try to do to them and how he’ll do it.
- Pray for them day and night. Never give up.
Being a friend is something we can all do. Friendship Evangelism is something we can all do. You and I can make the difference in the lives of a lot of people during our lifetime. If every believer would be a friend to someone and gently lead them to a knowledge of Christ … what a world we would see!