Starting a Conversation

In a previous post titled “What is Evangelism?”, the following definition of what it means to evangelize was presented:

 “To evangelize is to present Christ Jesus to sinful people in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come to put their trust in God through Him.”

The article proposed that this definition defined four important aspects of personal evangelism:

1. It defines the mission of the evangelist – “to present Christ”.

2. It defines the primary audience for the gospel message – “sinful people”.

3. It defines the problem the gospel message addresses – “our sin”.

4. It defines the power behind both the gospel message and the response to that message – the Holy Spirit, thus establishing the sovereignty of God in the salvation of men.

Armed with the above definition, and with a burden for a lost loved one, friend, or even a perfect stranger, you are ready to go. How does it start?

First of all, pray – before, during, and after. Pray specifically that God will open hearts to receive the message. And secondly, no matter how you get the conversation off the ground, do so with gentleness and respect. Remember that it is God who saves and that your mission is simply to share Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t ‘force’ a conversation. You could actually enter an ongoing conversation, or you might have an opportunity to initiate the discussion. What follows is an example of the conversation process.

1. Just start talking about a current news item in which somebody did something we all would consider a bad thing to do. Just pick something that’s a hot topic. Once you start talking about it and are agreed that so-and-so did a bad thing, ask…..

2. Why did so-and-so do that? That WILL get an answer. The answer will guide you to the next question. Whatever the answer is it will be what your conversation partner thinks motivated so-and-so to do a bad thing. Whatever the specific answer is, it will automatically lead to the next question. Example might be: “I think he/she must be a bad person.” then ask:

3. WHY/HOW is it that so-and-so is bad? You can get a variety of reasons to lead you to the NEXT question.

The object of the questions is to be able to get to a point of agreement that the real problem is something ‘inside’ so-and-so. Outside influences don’t cause bad behavior. There’s something inside a person that is at issue. In James we are told that we sin when we are drawn away by our own lust/passions. Keep that in the back of your mind.

Once you agree about an internal problem ask:

4. What do you think the internal problem is?,. You can even add ….’and how did you think it got there?’ Regardless of the answer you can inject God into the discussion with something that doesn’t accuse, but rather points out that there’s a book called the Bible that talks about this guy called Adam. You are sharing a story from a ‘source’ document, not preaching. And it keeps going.

Once you agree it very well could be this thing called sin (the bad news of the gospel) you ask another question:

5. What do you think can be done to solve the problem of sin? You know the answer and prayerfully anticipate the opportunity to provide another answer from the same ‘source’ book.

And the conversation continues step by step until you have shared God’s answer from the ‘source’ book. At some point it might be time to consider a response to the message. Then you can say something like “Based on what you have heard so far, do you think you are ready to respond (the gospel must be responded to), or ARE you still on the way?” You very could hear that someone is ready to respond, or you could hear a person say, “I’m still on the way, I guess………”, which keeps the door to conversation open.

Do you see what’s going on in the ‘conversation’? You don’t preach, you PRESENT Christ. You don’t push for anything, you just talk about God’s plan of salvation from a ‘source’ book – the Bible. Asking questions shows you care what someone thinks. And really care. If you don’t weep for that lost soul, pray to God for ‘a weep’. He will give it to you.

My friends, be blessed as you share your Savior!

Advertisements

What is Evangelism?

Many people use the word evangelism in different ways. However, what does the Bible say about this important word? When we look to Scripture, we run into a problem: there is no direct-equivalent word for our English word evangelism in the New Testament. Its origin is rooted in three Greek words:

euangelion—“gospel”—to describe what is said (Mark 1:14–15)

euangelistes—“evangelist”—to describe the person who is telling the gospel (Acts 21:8; Eph. 4:11)

euangelizo— “to proclaim the gospel”—to describe the activity of telling the gospel (Rom. 10:15).

Evangelism, then, is the English term for the act of communicating the gospel, an act conveyed in the New Testament by the verb euangelizo (‘to bring good news’).[i]

The verb evangelize is used over 50 times in the New Testament, including 25 by Luke and 21 by Paul. As stated above, its essential meaning is to announce or proclaim Good News. . The underlying picture is that of a herald or town crier who sounds the trumpet and conveys the news from the king. In that sense, the task of a herald isn’t to express his opinions or ideas, but to deliver his message in the humility of heart that must accompany such authority of speech.[ii]

After years of study concerning what it means to evangelize, this writer’s all-time favorite definition comes from Alistair Begg:

“To evangelize is to present Christ Jesus to sinful people in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come to put their trust in God through Him.”[iii]

What a RICH definition:

1. It defines the mission of the evangelist – “to present Christ”.

While it doesn’t tell us exactly what to present about Christ, the Apostle Paul did in one of letters to the church at Corinth. He defined the gospel as being of first importance, and “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…” (1 Cor 15:3). My friends, that is the core of the gospel message, the GOOD NEWS!

2. It defines the primary audience for the GOOD NEWS – “sinful people” who have yet to trust in Christ as the solution to the problem of sin.

3. It defines the power behind the proclamation of the GOOD NEWS – “the power of the Holy Spirit”. The Holy Spirit is the power behind both the proclamation of the Gospel, and the power behind a genuine affirmative response to the message of the Gospel.

4. It defines the goal of our evangelistic efforts – that “they (sinners) may come to put their trust in God through Him”. That sinners would realize their sinful condition and genuinely trust in Christ for forgiveness is the desired response to the message we proclaim. A ‘genuine’ response is one that pours forth from a God-opened heart (See Lydia in Acts 16), and one that is not the result of our ‘powers of persuasion’, whatever that might look like.

Simply put, our part in evangelism is to faithfully present Christ as the answer to problem of sin. It means that we need to talk about the BAD news (the problem of sin), followed by the GOOD NEWS!

When we look at what passes as presenting Christ in today’s evangelical environment, it seems clear that the bad news concerning sin, and the need for repentance, have all but been forgotten entirely! If you think that a mistaken notion, just listen/watch just about any sermon from any of today’s popular pulpits/stages while asking the question “Where’s Paul’s gospel?

When it comes to our personal efforts at sharing Christ, it’s always easier to talk about what receiving Christ means in terms of temporal and heavenly benefits than it is to share the bad news that at times drives people away. But remember Lydia. God opens hearts to hear the what we have to say, both the bad news and the good news.

What can be done to best prepare us for personal evangelism? For this old guy, there’s a simple two-part answer.

1. KNOW Paul’s gospel!

2. Ask God for 1) tears for the lost and 2) that He would open the hearts of those with whom we share His Son


[i] Jeremy Bouma, ‘What is Evangelism?’

[ii] Alistair Begg, Crossing the Barriers, Lesson 1

[iii] Ibid.

Presuppositional Apologetics and Personal Evangelism

Sounds rather ominous, doe it not? Really deep stuff! Well, not necessarily. First, let’s define our terms.

“Presuppositionalism is a school of Christian apologetics that believes the Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. It presupposes that the Bible is divine revelation and attempts to expose flaws in other worldviews. It claims that apart from presuppositions, one could not make sense of any human experience, and there can be no set of neutral assumptions from which to reason with a non-Christian”.[i]

 To evangelize is to present Christ Jesus to sinful people in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come to put their trust in God through Him.”[ii]

We all have presuppositions, certain beliefs or assumptions with which we enter discussions. They frame our thoughts about a matter as well as our argument. In matters of personal evangelism, it means that we believe what the Bible tells us about ourselves as human beings, as well as what it has to has to say about lost sinners. We let those truths guide us in our sharing of the good news.

So, what does the Bible tell us about ourselves as human beings? For me, the two most significant facts are found in Romans, Chapter 1.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of (fallen) men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” (Rom 1:18-19) Emphasis mine.

First, since fallen men are full of ungodliness and unrighteousness, they are subjects of God’s wrath. Secondly, fallen men know that God exists, yet the suppress the truth in their unrighteousness. In other words, God doesn’t believe in atheists.

With that truth in mind, what else the Bible have to tell us about those with who we desire to share the gospel? We’ll share just a few.

1. They don’t seek God.

 “As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom 3:10-11)

2. They hate God and can do nothing to please him.

For the mind that is set on the flesh (the only mind the sinner has) is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:7-8) Emphasis mine.

3.  They cannot, in and of themselves, even understand the gospel!

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:14)

“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4)

 

So how does this affect our evangelistic efforts? There are several ways:

1. If all of us, by nature, already know that God exists, we do not have to ‘prove’ the existence of God. In fact, some would suggest that if we engage in proving the existence of God to an unbeliever, we are presenting a ‘case for God’ and making the unbeliever the ‘judge’.

2. If it’s true that the unbeliever is living in rebellion against the God he/she knows exist, that person by nature also hates God’s gospel. We are actually presenting the gospel to someone who doesn’t want to hear it.

3. If it’s also true that the unbeliever, in his/her natural state, cannot even understand the message of the gospel why do we present it at all?  I tell you why I do.

You see, along with believing what the Bible says about us as fallen creatures (our presuppositions), I also believe that God saves all those whom he has chosen to save in exactly the same manner (another presupposition). Don’t worry, I’m not going to get into a long dissertation about the doctrine of salvation. But I do believe that there are two ‘steps’, if you will, in God’s saving of sinners.

1. God opens hearts to hear the gospel.

2. God sends a messenger to present the gospel to that divinely opened heart.

Do you remember Lydia in Acts, Chapter 16? Paul and company went down to a river outside of Philippi looking for a place of prayer and there was a small group of women already gathered there. Paul spoke to them and we are told:

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14) (Emphasis mine.)

In short, God opened Lydia’s heart to hear the gospel, sent Paul as his messenger to present that gospel and Lydia was baptized (along with her household) and invited Paul & company to stay at her house!

 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” (Acts 16:15)

We don’t need to be told specifically that ‘Lydia was saved that day’; the text speaks for itself. God had a purpose ion opening her heart and God’s purposes cannot fail.

So, what does that mean for personal evangelism? It means that we have the great privilege to be God’s ‘gospel’ messengers. Our job is to ‘get the gospel right’ (Christ died for our sins) and share it with others. Our prayer for the lost is simple. “God, open their hearts to hear.”

We don’t need to try and pry open hard hearts with clever presentations. We don’t even need to ask people to open their own hearts. They can’t. That’s God’s business. Unless God opens a heart to hear the truth of the message, our words are just words. But when God opens a sinner’s heart and the gospel is heard, salvation happens.

In summary, presuppositional apologetics –  believing what God says about fallen men and believing what we are told about how God saves sinners actually simplifies our evangelism. Our ‘work’ is knowing and being faithful to the gospel message (See 1 Cor 15:1-5) and being available to share that message as God leads us. No tricks, no gimmicks. We’re not ‘salesmen’. We’re simply messengers. It is God who saves sinners!


[i] John Frame, 2006

[ii] Alistair Begg, Crossing the Barriers

The Parable of the Sower and Bad Evangelism

by John MacArthur

One of the dominant myths in evangelicalism is that the growth of Christianity hinges on its popularity. The idea that more people will repent if only the preacher were cooler or funnier invariably causes the church to suffer through a ridiculous parade of entrepreneurial types who act as though their personal charm can draw people to Christ. But you cannot manufacture converts by changing the message or stylizing the messenger.

This error leads to the harmful notion that a pastor’s conduct and speech should be shaped by the culture in which he ministers. Many preachers have such strong cravings for cultural acceptance they are actually willing to alter God’s message of salvation in order to achieve it. Subjects like sin, guilt, and repentance are regularly jettisoned so as not to offend or alienate non-Christians.

Such compromises do nothing to increase the church’s witness within the culture. In fact, they have the opposite effect. By creating celebrity preachers with synthetic gospels they only succeed in filling churches with unrepentant sinners. Instead of making the world more like the church, such efforts only succeed in making the church more like the world. This is precisely what Christ’s teaching in Luke 8:5–8 was designed to avoid.

The Nagging Question in Evangelism

The disciples, having a genuine burden that others would believe, must have been astounded that the masses were not repenting. The problem wasn’t Jesus’ ability to attract an audience—the crowds were huge, often numbering in the tens of thousands. But very few were repenting and embracing the Savior. The disciples’ own expectations of a global kingdom without end (Isaiah 9 and 45) were faltering. It must have been easy to lay the blame at the indicting, hard, demanding message that Christ preached (cf. John 6:60-61).

The Lord responded to the rising tide of doubt by telling a series of parables about evangelism. A year before He would give the Great Commission, Jesus told His first parable about a farmer sowing seed:

The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great. (Luke 8:5–8)

This agricultural illustration is a paradigmatic explanation of what evangelism should look like. It is designed to answer the fundamental evangelistic question: Why do some people repent and believe the gospel while others reject it?

The Invariable Sower

Luke 8:5–8 is commonly known as the Parable of the Sower. But that popular title is indicative of the widespread confusion we see today regarding its interpretation and application. The parable isn’t about the sower.

What is surprising about the farmer in the story is how little control he actually has in the growing of crops. There are no adjectives used to describe his style or skill.

In a subsequent parable (Mark 4:26–29) Jesus states that he who sows the seed is actually ignorant of how the seed transforms itself into a mature plant. After sowing the seed, the farmer “goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know” (Mark 4:27).

This ignorance is not unique to the sower in Christ’s parables but rather is true of everyone who sows. The growth of the seed is a mystery that even the most advanced farmer cannot explain. And that reality is the key to understanding the Lord’s first parable.

Jesus explained that the seed is the gospel or “word of the kingdom”, the farmer is the evangelist, and the soil represents the heart of the hearer (Matthew 13:19). The evangelist scatters the seed—that is, explains the gospel to people—and some of those people believe and receive life. How this happens is a divine mystery to the evangelist. One thing is clear, however: though he is the human means, it does not ultimately depend on him. The power of the gospel is in the working of the Spirit, not in the style of the sower (Romans 1:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Peter 1:23). It is the Spirit of God who raises souls from death to life, not the methods or techniques of the messenger.

The apostle Paul understood this principle. When he brought the gospel to Corinth, he planted the church and left it in the care of Apollos. Later he described the experience this way: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). God was the one who actually drew sinners to Himself, changed their hearts, and caused them to be sanctified. Paul and Apollos were both faithful, but they most certainly were not the explanation for the supernatural life and growth. This truth caused Paul to say, “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7).

This runs counter to the notion that the results of evangelism can be influenced by the cultural assimilation of the pastor or the style of music used at his crusades. The preacher who thinks designer jeans will make his message more palatable is akin to a farmer investing in a designer seed bag so that the soil will be more receptive to his seeds.

Jesus intentionally highlights the farmer’s lack of influence over the growth of the seed. The entire parable makes the statement that as far as evangelism goes, it simply does not matter what the evangelist wears or how he does his hair. Such externals are not what makes the seed grow. Anyone who argues that a preacher who imitates a particular segment of culture is better able to reach that culture, has completely failed to understand Jesus’ point in the parable.

All the farmer can do is sow, and all the evangelist can do is proclaim. As a preacher, if I thought someone’s salvation was contingent upon my persuasiveness or relevance, I could never sleep. But instead I know that “the Lord knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19). It is not coincidental that the New Testament never calls evangelists to bear the responsibility for another person’s salvation. Rather, having proclaimed the message faithfully, we are called to rest in the sovereignty of God—much like the farmer in Mark 4:27 who sleeps through the night after a day of scattering seed.

Christ’s description of the farmer provides the biblical model for evangelism. The evangelist must plant the gospel seed, without which no one can be saved (Romans 10:14–17). Then he must trust God with the results, since only the Spirit can give life (John 3:5–8).

The Invariable Seed

Not only is the farmer’s style irrelevant to the success of his crops but Jesus also does not suggest that the sower should alter his seed to facilitate growth. And this absence of discussion about the seed directly corresponds to evangelism. Jesus assumes that Christians will evangelize using the true seed—the gospel.

Most preachers outwardly profess that the gospel is an unalterable non-negotiable, but that doesn’t stop them from subtly softening its sharp edges. Modern gospel presentations frequently portray God as indifferent to sin and not its judge; the sinner as the victim, not the offender; the cross of Christ as the remedy to frustrations and unfulfilled dreams, not the propitiation for our sins; and a divine endgame that revolves around our temporal happiness, not our eternal state.

One of the primary refrains about evangelism today is that the church needs to update the methods without altering the message. But if we’re not faithfully preaching the truth about man’s sinfulness, God’s grace and mercy, the sinner’s need for repentance and faith, and the completed work of Christ, we’re not protecting and preserving the gospel message.

Believers are sternly warned in Scripture against tampering with the message (Galatians 1:6–9; 2 John 9–11). If a frustrated evangelist looks at how difficult his task is, or how closed his culture seems to be to the gospel, the problem is not with the faithful messenger or the true gospel. Rather, it lies in the nature of the soil into which the true seed falls.

Thus the sower and the seed are constants in Christ’s parable. The only variable is the soil—the receptivity of the hearer. And in the days ahead, we’ll take a closer look at the characteristics of each soil type we’ll find on our mission field.