24 July, 2014 Tim Hanson
The task of evangelism has just got harder!
Doesn’t every generation say this? But it does seem that there is some justification for saying it in our day and being correct.
Let’s be clear: Britain has never really been a Christian country. Not in the sense that there was once a time when most people were Christian and were therefore serious about repenting of sin, trusting Christ’s death and seeking to live in faithfulness and obedience to His word.
However, in the past the majority of people in this land were at least sympathetic to Christian belief and behaviour. There was a general consensus that this was probably true and probably the best way to live. Therefore Christian evangelism was expected and respected. Even if people didn’t become Christians, they knew that evangelism would happen and they didn’t mind that it was happening.
Things have changed! Christians are now thought to be stupid and irrelevant (a generalisation, I know) and most people would rather that we just shut up.
Recently, I was involved in a ‘Grill a Christian’ event at our local Sixth Form college. From the questions and the comments, there was no doubt about who in the room was considered to be an idiot! Therefore, when we seek to train local churches for the task of evangelism, we have to prepare them for all the trouble that might come their way.
Jesus did exactly this. In John 15:18 we read this: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” These words are spoken to the disciples but the rest of the New Testament says that this will be normal Christian experience.
2 Timothy 3:12 says, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Part of living a ‘Godly life’ is bearing witness to Christ. When we train people for evangelism we must be honest and tell them that they will get hurt. It’s no good being dishonest. For example, when my teenage daughter went to the dentist the other day, she was nervous about the injection that was coming her way. She said, “It’ll hurt.” I could have said, “No, it won’t; you won’t even feel it.” That would have been dishonest. I did say, “Yes, it will hurt, but you’ll be fine.”
Likewise, we need to tell Christians that evangelism will hurt, but we’ll be fine. There’s no point being dishonest and telling people that it will be easy.
So what do we do to encourage people in this great work?
1) We have to keep commanding Christians to believe the Gospel.
This reminds us that central to equipping a church for mission is the week-by-week teaching of God’s Word. And central to our preaching must be the constant pleading with God’s people to believe that Word.
In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul draws out two motivations for apostolic evangelism. These must also be our motivations.
The first is in verse 11: “Since we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.”
In his commentary on 2 Corinthians, Paul Barnett says this, “This ‘knowledge’ Paul now states as “the fear of the Lord, that is, of Christ’s judgement of his servants, like the apostle Paul.”
‘The Lord’ is a great figure of authority and He is our judge. It is right to fear Him and the prospect of being accountable to Him. As we teach God’s word and call Christians to believe it, we will need to remind them of God’s supreme authority and of His judgement. His authority is something that we find hard to accept because our sinful nature is rebellious and wants to claim independence from God’s authority.
The fact of judgement and accountability is something we like to ignore; but our mission must be motivated by our fear of the Lord.
The second is in verse 14: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.”
Christ’s love for sinners is beyond compare; it transforming; it is all of grace. It is, of course, shown most wonderfully at the cross, for “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
If we have even begun to grasp the depth of this love, then it surely compels us. When we know the privilege and the joy of having been reconciled, then surely we are compelled to “implore others on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
As we teach God’s word and call Christians to believe it, we will need to remind them of Christ’s love. Our mission must be motivated by the love of Christ.
2) We have to keep reminding people to trust the power of the Gospel.
Again, there’s a commitment to honesty required here. We regularly hear Romans 1:16: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”
It is a verse that is given to us to inspire our confidence and to give us a spring in our evangelistic step. But do we sometimes think that it means obvious and immediate success? That the message will be heard and understood, and people will repent and believe? This Gospel is the “power of God for salvation” but it is also the message “of foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
So, we must talk about Jesus. We must talk about His death and resurrection. This message is God’s power to save but some people will think we are foolish.
How will we respond? We could just stop talking about Jesus, His death and His resurrection. But we can’t – because this message is God’s power to save.
We could change the message. But we can’t, because this message is God’s power to save.
I am well aware that little or nothing that is surprising or innovative has been said in what is written above. However, I am also aware that the church where I have served for 13 years needs me to do this work, week by week, without ever stopping.
We all need to be commanded to believe God’s word. We all need to be convinced that the Gospel is the power of God. These two tasks must underpin everything that we do. In our preaching, our home groups, our formal and informal 1:1 discipleship, we must keep commanding and convincing.