In my last article, I shared three things that I believe every Christian must be doing before they step out into the world to start sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ: study the Word of God, pray, and give worship and praise to the Lord who saved you. All three of these things are the necessisties of any Christian walk. There can be no growth and maturing without them. And they are absolutely essential in preparing one’s self for the spiritual warfare that is the saving of souls. Today, in the theme of preparing ourselves for witnessing, I want to address some rather unbliblical methods that are being employed by Christians, ministries and churches that should avoided. Believe it or not, it really does make a difference about how you share your faith. The methods that I want to share today are very popular, but they are antithetical to the gospel and have often been responsible for creating false converts, those who profess a faith in Christ, but have never truly repented and put their faith in them. If we are to be obedient to the command to preach the gospel, then we want to avoid those methods that are not in line with God’s word.
God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life
Perhaps one of the most common evangelistic approaches today is for the Christian to approach an unrepentant, unregenerate sinner and to explain to him or her that God deeply and truly loves that person and has a “wonderful plan” for their life. The pitch usually states that all the joys of this world are insufficient, always leaving us wanting more. We chase after the elusive concept of happiness, but are never really satisfied. But if the sinner will just “accept Jesus” who died for their sins (a concept only briefly mentioned and never explained) then God will grant them peace, love and joy in abundance, fulfilling all the wants and desires the world never could. The sinner is then encouraged to pray a prayer, to make Jesus their Lord, and then is told without question that they are a Christian and to never, ever doubt it.
This approach sounds so kind and loving, ensuring the lost person that the promises of God will be extended to them without question, so how could there be anything wrong with it? Unfortunately, there is a lot wrong. Let’s start with the fact that the presentation that God “loves the sinner” is innacurate. A sinner, by definition, is a lawbreaker and rebel against the Lord who created him or her. Remember that God is holy and righteous, so much so that a guilty sinner cannot stand in His presence and not be destroyed. In fact, Psalm 7: 11 states, “God is a just judge, and is angry with the wicked every day.” It is a false statement to tell a sinner that God loves them when there are standing in a rebellious state before Him. Such a claim leaves the sinner believing God likes them “for who they are” and that their sins are not really an abomination before Him. If they do not understand the nature of their sin, sinners will not repent before a holy God.
Another problem is the promise that God has a wonderful plan for the sinner. This is problematic on many levels. First off, in their sinful state, the only plan God has for them is judgment. Certainly, this in not “wonderful.” Secondly, if a person truly becomes a Christian, Jesus taught His followers, “Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him,” (John 13: 16). If Christ is the Christian’s master, and Christ was so hated by the world that He was persecuted and crucified, what is the promise for the Christian? Followers of Christ can expect the world to hate and persecute them, and that life in this world will not be comfortable for them. The promises of peace and having an “abundant life” for the Christian are not tied to worldly comforts, but having peace with God through Christ’s shed blood and by no longer being shackled to our sinful nature. Yet, to the unregenerate sinner, such a promise of a “wonderful life” is devoid of such meaning because they lack understanding of their sinful state and coming judgement. Christians dare not use the fruits of salvation as a draw card to entice the unbeliever into becoming a Christian.
Just Let People See Jesus in You
In our current, post-modern culture, telling someone that their life is considered sinful before God and they are pending His righteous judgment is probably the worst “sin” a person can commit. In fact, telling people that your beliefs are right and their’s are wrong is equally terrible in the eyes of society. So the church has developed a much less assertive method of evangelism. This is the “live your life in such a way that people just have to ask you about it” method. I have heard on many occasions from professing Christians that we shouldn’t be pushy or preachy with unbelievers. We should just live good and kind lives. This will clearly lead those around us to see there is something different about us and cause them to ask us what it is. When they do, then we can tell them that Jesus gives us that joy and peace that the rest of the world lacks. Unfortunately, when you press the issue, most Christians will admit that this rarely, if ever happens.
The sad truth of the matter is that this method of evangelism accomplishes nothing. While the Christian must live a life of obedience to God, without an explanation of what the gospel is and why we obey the Lord out of love, the sinner has nothing to differentiate our “good lives” from that of the Hindu, the Muslim or the atheist. Their standard of “good” is a worldly standard, and they will equate the goodness of the Christian is the same as any other religious, or non-religious, person. In other words, they have no real reason to believe that your “good life” is any different than anyone else’s, so there is no need to believe there is anything special about it.
The other problem with this is that the unsaved person is standing before God with His holy and righteous wrath awaiting them. If we desire to see them saved from the fires of Hell, why are we hoping to entice them with a few good works? To borrow an analogy from Ray Comfort, if you saw a neighbor’s house on fire, would you walk up and down the sidewalk in a happy and kind manner hoping to draw them out? Or would you run up to the door, yelling and screaming about the danger they were in and urging them to flee to safety? If you truly care about the unsaved sinner, you will warn them about the danger now, while there is still time.
Friendship evangelism is a modern concept that teaches the Christian must befriend and nuture a realtionship with a person before the subject of Jesus ever comes up. In fact, it is stressed that the Christian must “earn the right” to share the gospel with that person before they ever open their mouth on the subject. The belief is that if we, as Christians, do not earn this right, then we could drive off the person by being too “preachy” or “judgmental” and they will never “accept Jesus.”
Such a method denies several things. First, it denies the very power of the gospel itself. If the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), then I never need to dress it up, ease it in, or earn the right to proclaim it. It is the very message of God that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners. There is no more important message to share with someone, a message that has eternal consequences. To delay sharing it because I need to “earn the right” denies that the simple proclamation of it is insufficient and that I must add something to it, my own work, before it can be used.
Secondly, it denies the manner throughout scripture we see it proclaimed. During His earthly ministry, Christ confronted sinners with their desperate need for salvation. In John 3, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night with great flowing words of praise. Christ did not even hesitate, but told him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” (John 3: 3) Jesus did not attempt to win this influential teacher as a friend, rather he drove straight into the heart of the matter, wasting no time. In the following chapter, Jesus speaks to the woman at the well in Samaria. Once again, we see our Lord wasting no time addressing the alduterous lifestyle of a woman who just met him. He did not attempt a long, extended effort at befriending her, Jesus spoke plainly to her about her greatest need. And if theses examples are not enough, look to Peter at Pentecost where he addressed the crowds and 3,000 came to repentance and faith (Acts 2). Or look to Paul on Mars Hill in Athens where Paul spoke to a crowd of pagan philosophers (Acts 17). In neither case did either of these apostles attempt to befriend the crowds, they simply proclaimed the gospel, trusting in the power of God to bring salvation.
Lastly, it denies the command of God Himself. Jesus commanded His disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,” (Mark 16: 15) and to “…make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19). If we practice friendship evangelism, as it is defined today, then we are stating we do not have to follow this command until we feel we are good and ready. We are going to delay the need to obey God’s command until such a time as we feel comfortable to do so. Yet, nowhere in scripture is such a caveat given. Nowhere does Christ command that the gospel message be delayed until a more opportune time. In fact, we are reminded continually that we do not know the hour of Christ’s return, or even when our last breath with be. The gospel message is one that must be proclaimed with urgency. To delay that because we must make them our friend first denies that God will take that person out of this life at a time of His choosing, which could be well before that “friendship” is established. If we practice this method, we are assuming God will allow that person to never encounter death until we have share the gospel with them. That is a dangerous presumption to make. We should never delay this most important message of all.
So What Do I Actually Say?
There is in fact a truly biblical method of evangelism. A method that exposes the unregenerate sinner to his condemned state before God and his desperate need for a Savior. In my next article I will address this method specifically.
Gosh – the men pleasers and easy believers ain’t gonna like this!
Press on! Let us seek to please our maker and our King.
I consider that comment high praise! Thank you sir.
Thank you for this much-needed message. One question: Romans chapter 5 says that God showed His love for sinners by sending His Son to die for us. Where does the Bible say that God hates sinners? I do agree that telling someone who is still unrepentant of sin that God loves them is not the wisest thing to say, but I don’t see how it is factually incorrect.
It’s sad to see how many people begin “God has a wonderful plan for your life…”
Great posts about sharing the gospel Chris, I’m in exactly this place at this moment in my life.
I knew something was iffy with friendship evangelism (something our church promotes as primary), but your explanation gave me a better understanding, and to determine the insufficiency of the Gospel because we have to earn a right to speak it is spot on. Sure, some occasions may call for us to give the gospel to friends, but many many many people are not our friends. What of Paul on Mars Hill – how many did he know personally? Great food for thought there.
Living the gospel – we are not the gospel, otherwise what do we proclaim? There is a scriptural reference about living in such a way that others will praise your Father in heaven. This is not an excuse to say nothing.
I’m anticipating your explanation of the biblical gospel and will be giving it some close scrutiny.
In response to Rollins re God’s hate:
Ps. 5:5, Ps 11:5, Hosea 9:15, Amos 6:8, Malachi 1:2 (Esau I have hated – ow!) Malachi 2:16 and finally Hebrews 1:8. Hope this helps. There is much wisdom to be gained in trying to explain this, especially as so many would have been told that God hates sin, but loves the sinner.
What would you say to saying, “God has demonstrated His love in the giving of His Son for our sins”? This would avoid telling them directly that God loves them personally in their sins but would point to the cross where God’s love was truly manifested in His Son (John 3:16; Romans 5:8-9).
Just curious. Great post by the way!
That is a very biblical presentation and I would support using it. However, we must be diligent to explain to the unbeliever what sin is and why there are under judgment from God. This will be an issue I will address in my next article.
Agreed. The Law shows we are sinners and guilty before a holy God and shows the glory of the cross. Until we tremble before the Law, we will not stand in awe of the grace of God nor the cross of Christ.
There is another issue with Friendship Evangelism that I’m surprised doesn’t get mentioned more often. You are befriending a person under false pretenses for the purposes of changing them. Is your motive pure? Usually. But the fact remains that you have an ulterior motive, and are attempting subversion. Now, on top of all that, what if they say no? Then you have to either admit that you were committing fraud – in the name of Jesus Christ – or continue a friendship that cannot serve its purpose.
reblogged this part, too:
I feel like this article was addressed to me. I have attended a few Evangelism courses and they varied so much in how to aproach the non-believer that I have tried many different ways to bring the Gospel to the public. Two years ago, my Pastor even told me that he felt the friendship way was the best. I have actually discovered that if I ask someone if they have heard about the Gospel and understand what it is all about, I often can talk to the person about it. Also I write to stangers about the Gospel and all that goes with it. They usually have a lot of questions which I answer the best I can. I have recently gone back to scripture and to other sources to refresh my memory. There are questions I have a tough time answering. I am not as well read as many of you are. I was definatly called by God to Evangelize, I heard a very loud voice say Evangalist and at the same time I was healed. At the time I was a brand new “Born Again Christion”, and had never read the Bible. I had given myself to God completely on His terms not mine. I have followed his instructions in my life. I had little instruction of what I was supposed to do and how I was supposed to Evangelize though, I have faltered.
I am very glad that you have brought attention to believers, the wrong way to share the Gospel.
Ray Comfort has a unique way of presenting the Gospel, which I haven’t tried yet.