If you have followed DefCon or any other site that affirms gospel-centered theology, you have already run across mounds upon mounds of reasons why lifestyle evangelism is unbiblical. We’ve expounded, extrapolated, and exegeted this to death in order to reveal why trying to win souls by simply just living your life before the unsaved is plainly unbiblical. But the one thing we have failed to do is teach how to engage a person that believes we should simply let our good works shine before men, and then be ready to give an answer for the reason of the hope that lies within you when they ask you.
I like to keep the target of an article directly in my gaze. Therefore I will not exhaustively offer my insights as to why I think this strategy of evangelism is good or bad depending on the context. But here is a mock conversation that will reveal the most devastating question you can ask someone that believes in lifestyle evangelism, which will allow the drill of the gospel to penetrate the problem at its core and root out this man-centered method.
(Background: You are walking down the street and you see someone with a sign by a booth that says “FREE HUGS.” You notice it also has Jesus’ name on some of the other signs, so you walk over to investigate)
Lifestyle Evangelist (LE): Would you like a free hug today?
You: Sure. What’s it for?
LE: We just want to demonstrate the love of Christ and show that we love you?
You: Ah. I see. Do you preach the gospel when you get people who are interested?
LE: We are showing the gospel by sharing the love of Christ through hugs.
You: So what is the greatest demonstration of God’s love to mankind?
LE: Jesus Christ dying for our sins.
You: So how do your hugs measure up?
Did you catch the point? The last two questions really expose the root problem of merely “demonstrating” the love of Christ without opening your mouth about the gospel. And the previous to last question really sets up the penetrating question at hand.
If someone feels that they are being more effective (which is pragmatism by the way) by sharing the gospel through their lifestyle and neglect to share the good news of Christ, by asking them, “What is the greatest demonstration of God’s love?” you will bypass any defense and shoot right to the source of why Christians should even bother to spread the gospel in the first place. The sacrifice of Christ for sin! Even more so, when you ask them “How does their (insert good work here) measure up?” it pinches the nerve of this pragmatic error and hopefully causes the hearer to question their means of “spreading” the gospel. Or, in their minds, letting their good works shine. Because it causes the person to take notice that they are basically saying their good work, whatever that may be, is a proper or better demonstration than Christ’s sacrifice for sin.
If it is true that Christ died for our sin, and that while we were still sinning, Christ died for us, if this gruesome act is what God had to undergo in order to save men from sin, death, and hell, how in the world could any of our good works ever measure up!? Sure we do good works because we are saved, and yes, as a byproduct of our preaching our good works compliment our message, but there is nothing (and I mean nothing) that we can do (ever) that will be a better demonstration of God’s love other than what He has already done! Let’s read that one more time. This is extremely important. There is nothing we can do to demonstrate the love of God in such a way that would project the glory of the gospel than what God has already done. That should be one of the greatest assurances for fearlessly speaking the gospel. But oftentimes, it’s not. Forgive us Lord for our unbelief.
I’m not saying taking up your cross is not a powerful testimony. But it’s not the gospel. I’m not saying you can’t give to the poor. But it’s not the gospel. I’m not saying you can’t show kindness, goodness, meekness, humility, love, self control, gentleness, and the like. But it’s not the gospel. I am not saying that your works amount to absolutely nothing when trying to be a witness in the world. But it’s not the gospel! All these things are types and shadows that should point to the gospel message. And even if they do demonstrate the power and love of Christ in some measure, none of our good works should be held to such a high regard that we think it measures up to the love of Christ efficaciously demonstrated to us on the cross. Tell the old, old story of He who paid an eternal price for our sin and gave Himself for us to make us free from sin’s power!
Remember that the above conversation is only an example. Each conversation is unique and can flow in different directions. However, don’t lose sight of the main point. It might take a little persuasion to reveal what you are trying to say, but as long as you keep the last question in sight (really the last two questions), you should be able to drive home the single, most important point of how the gospel should be shared – that we should tell someone what is the gospel, not just show them! To do otherwise is to essentially say that what we are doing is a better demonstration than what God has done.
-Until we go home