Comment from across the partnerships

Evangelism in an entitlement age

2 April, 2015 Lizzy Smallwood


I’ve been sharing the good news with loads of people recently, and I’ve been seeing an amazing response – people becoming followers left, right and centre. The problem is that they are now followers of the 5:2 Fast Diet and the reason they are giving it a try is because they can see the difference it has made to my weight. What a shame I can’t be so confident sharing the good news about Jesus... what a shame people don’t seem to be able to spot so easily the difference He makes in my life. Do you, like me, think: ‘If only I could be braver in speaking about Jesus? If only my life showed Him more clearly?’

So, where do we start? Let’s begin by looking at two of Paul’s classic passages on evangelism to set some principles for us.

2 Corinthians 4:1-10
1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

2 Thessalonians 1:3–10

3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters,[b] and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.
5 All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.

What can we see from these passages? First, if we want to see people’s lives transformed by the Gospel in this life and saved for eternity, we must trust totally in God’s transforming power as we live out the Gospel amongst them and pass it on to them.
No amount of well-organised programmes will work if Christians aren’t actually speaking about Christ, and living out their devotion to Christ amongst pagans.

Expect to suffer
Although we don’t like to hear it, Paul makes it very clear in both passages that evangelism costs. It is a risky business. We will often suffer. I remember John Chapman once saying that, when Paul arrived in town to preach the Gospel, he didn’t check out accommodation at the local B&B… he checked out accommodation at the local jail because that’s where he invariably ended up.

But, amazingly, it was as he suffered that the message rang out – and people were bowled over by the Gospel.

If we don’t get this expectation straight in our heads, we will give up at the first sign of opposition. But if we expect to suffer – to face ridicule or rejection – then we will start taking risks for Christ’s sake. We will follow Paul’s example, as the Thessalonians did.

Isn’t it true in life isn’t it that, if you expect something to hurt but know it’s good for you, you do it anyway? Take exercise, or visiting the dentist. So it is that we must get this straight. Expect to suffer! Then take risks…

Jesus is Lord! Not us, or them...
It’s worth saying, too, that evangelism isn’t limited to telling people what Jesus did on the cross. We are also engaged in evangelism whenever we speak about the true and living God and his rightful claim on people’s lives. Not just what Jesus has done for us, but what we owe him in terms of worship; giving him our whole lives. The Thessalonians didn’t just “pray the prayer”: they actively turned from idols to serve the true and living God. Their lives were transformed: turned inside out.
Paul said to the Corinthians: “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”

Tim Keller has suggested that a useful strategy in our evangelism should be to identify people’s idols for them. Ask someone, “If God were to deny you something, what thing would it be that would make you really angry?” Their answer reveals two things. First, their idol: you can see what they live for. From there it’s pretty simple to demonstrate to someone how futile it is to build their life on transient things.

Secondly, it reveals their wrong approach to God – their ‘entitlement attitude’. What’s an entitlement attitude? It’s something we see in our culture all the time.
- As we drive in our cars, road rage is all about entitlement attitude. How dare you pull out in front of me! How dare you not say thank you when I let you out!
- You see it as we sulk in the restaurant because they have run out of sticky toffee pudding. How dare they not have enough of what I want!
- We see it in Urban Priority Areas as people rail against the authorities when they don’t get the benefits to which they feel they are entitled.
- And, most importantly, we see entitlement attitude when people shake their fists at God because he hasn’t given them exactly what they think they deserve in their lives – when they treat God like a divine Father Christmas who exists to give them what they want.

The modern attitude to suffering and death all springs from society’s entitlement attitude. How dare God let my loved one die! How dare God let me get ill. How dare God not give me the husband and family I deserve, or the financial security I need… It is into this climate that we are to speak of Christ and his lordship over people. And it usually goes down like the proverbial lead balloon.

Our tendency, in this individualistic personal entitlement culture, is to take a good news/bad news approach. We’ll tell them the good news about salvation first and then tell them the bad news about Christ being the Lord of their life later, like the small print on a dodgy contract.
If we only talk in terms of Jesus our Saviour, we are in danger of perpetuating syncretism, where people just bolt Jesus on to their idolatrous, self-centred lives. Jesus is just a bonus; a nice life – or should I say death – insurance policy for beyond the grave.

That’s not what God wants our evangelism to be like.

No: we must be proclaiming Jesus as rightful Lord of people’s lives, and modelling what that looks like in reality. It may not result in as many bums on seats but it will be much closer to what Paul was doing in the early church. Of course, the whole story is good news:
· Jesus can’t be our saviour unless he is LORD.
· He can’t be gracious to us unless he is our Judge.
· He can’t bring us into his kingdom unless he is the King.
So one challenge is to have a much bigger picture of evangelism.

Another challenge to us is that we must live radically different lives; lives that show no entitlement attitude. But the fact is that sometimes we don’t act any differently from our pagan friends. Next time you are with your non-Christian friends and family, listen to yourself speak about your life. Is your conversation much different from that of the people around you? Are you, in fact, taken up with exactly the same idols, as they are – wealth, popularity, status, success, relationships?

But if we have understood God’s grace, if we have understood how much we have been forgiven and what it cost Christ, and if we have understood that God owes us nothing except his wrath, then it will show in the way we live, it will show in our attitude to others, and it will show in the way we deal with setbacks and suffering. And in today’s culture of entitlement attitude, that difference will shine out.

Lizzy Smallwood Lizzy is wife to Simon (Pastor of St George’s Dagenham) and mum of two. She has spoken at the London women’s convention and produced a number of excellent evangelistic resources. 

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