I’m still on the theme of evangelism today and wanted to follow up on the book review of Share Jesus without Fear with some considerations for those committing themselves to sharing God’s Word with a lost world:
A Christian author once mentioned, in reference to evangelism, that dealing with the lost will cause believers to get their hands dirty and sweaty, not unlike tending to yard work. He stressed the importance of using evangelism as a tool to clear up misconceptions and misperceptions that people have concerning the Gospel, but noted that dealing with people is often messy.
As I read those comments and considered the messy nature of evangelism, it struck me just how ugly and nasty sin and its effects truly are. Believers are called to spread the Gospel in a world replete with sin and its devastating consequences. So, it should come as no surprise to us that, when we do encounter people whose lives have been shattered by sin, they might not be all smiles and hugs. We might not be able to simply waltz up, tell them Jesus loves them, and move on to the next statistic, er, I mean, person.
Proclaiming the Gospel involves a commitment to loving one’s neighbor. That often means dealing with the painful, tragic, messy effects that sin has had on that neighbor’s life and effective evangelism often means learning to love folks who, frankly, might do things that just offend us to no end. We may have to actually spend a little time and effort. We may have to establish a relationship (for real). And by the way, that time and effort also involves learning a little bit about ourselves and our own shortcomings in the process (but don’t tell anyone that I admitted that).
Evangelist William McRaney notes that the seeds of the Gospel are planted in non-believers by showing Jesus’ love. Among other things, loving someone means caring about them. We are invested in what happens in their lives. Loving someone means empathetic listening (to be read: put down the cell phone, carve some quality time out of your day and really connect with a person, sharing in their joys and crying with them in their grief, etc.).
Building trusting, lasting relationships with non-believers may expose Christians to some tragic elements of sin. However, we should never forget that Jesus, our perfect example of evangelism, was a friend of sinners. He was right there in their midst. He loved them, listened to them, ministered to them. Why? Because He came to seek and to save the lost. Our obedience to Jesus means that we now, among other things, are tasked with that ministry of reconciliation to a lost world, as Christ’s representatives. We are called to be light in the darkness.
Now, it may take some considerable time and effort on our parts before someone makes a commitment to Christ. But think about it in terms of a marriage commitment. Just as two people will generally want to know each other pretty well before agreeing to spend their lives together, the average person is probably going to want to know and understand some things about Jesus prior to handing his or her life over to him. Though it can and may very well happen quickly under the miraculous work of the Spirit, we should expect that a person will go through a process leading to salvation, with some taking much longer than others in coming to a decision. This means be prepared and committed to stick with them for the long haul.
Last but not least, in order for any of our efforts to be taken seriously, our Christian lives need to be authentic. When we are involved in someone’s life and we are living our own lives out as distinctly separate from the self-satisfying value system of the world, we lend credibility to the power of Jesus to effect lasting change on people’s lives and they react to it. When we aren’t, people know and they react to it. In our post-modern world, people believe more with their heart than with their head. They are very perceptive and quick to sense hypocrisy. However, this keen perception also senses authenticity. The task at hand, then, is to believe in the Gospel and live our lives as a testimony to our faith, such that our relationships are based on the firmest of foundations.
Ultimately, people are not likely to believe the truth until they first see Jesus’ life and truth demonstrated consistently and authentically in us. May we, then, be Jesus to them, that his message would spread to others and they may know him as we know him. May we be committed to getting our hands dirty in doing the Master’s gardening and tending our gardens until relieved of that responsibility.