The prospect of evangelism causes many Christians to break out in a cold sweat.
To maintain our sanity we need to understand clearly who is responsible for what in sharing the Good News.
In particular we need to address the questions, 'What is God's part and what does he expect of me?'
Get the answers to those questions wrong and you will find that your experience of evangelism is an unhappy one because you have fallen into one of the following traps:
- 'If God is in control there is no point in me doing anything.'
- 'I feel so guilty that I don't share my faith with everyone I meet.'
- 'I must find a better technique to make people come to Christ.'
- 'I give up! None of those I talk to has followed Christ.'
So what's the answer?
We need first to see the big picture - it is God who is in control of history and the universe itself. He is its Creator (Gn 1:1-2; Ps 8:3; 2 Pet 3:5), Owner (Ps 24:1; Jb 41:11), Sustainer (Heb 1:3; Ps 147:8-9,15-18), Director (Dn 2:21, 4:17; Is 40:15,22-24) and Redeemer (Rm 8:20-22; 2 Cor 4:16-5:5)
It is he who will bring history to an end (Rev 5:9-6:1). His ultimate plan is a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1; Is 65:17, 66:22) where there will be no more death, crying or pain (Rev 21:4), populated by a people drawn from every nation (Gn 12:3, Rev 7:9) who have been set apart to do his will (Titus 2:11-14; 1 Pet 2:9). He is now in the process of gathering this people (Mt 24:31) before the world as we know it is destroyed (Zeph 1:2-3; 2 Pet 3:7; Rev 21:1). This is achieved through evangelism, the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:15-17; Rm 10:14-17).
God's Sovereignty in Evangelism
The proclamation of the Gospel requires human instruments (us), but it is God's work. It is he who:
- Gives us the Word to proclaim (Rom 1:1,16)
- Opens doors of opportunity to proclaim it (Acts 14:27; Col 4:3)
- Gives us the courage to speak (2 Tim 4:17; Acts 4:29; Eph 6:19-20)
- Enables hearers to understand the message (Acts 16:14)
- Convicts people of sin (John 16:8)
- Enables sinners to repent (Acts 5:31,11:18; Eph 2:8)
- Brings about rebirth (Acts 2:38; Rom 8:9; John 3:3-8)
God does all these things! The fact that God is sovereign in evangelism takes an enormous burden off our shoulders.
But it doesn't mean that we can sit back and let him do all the work. William Carey, the father of the modern missionary movement was told by the hyper-Calvinists of his day that if God wanted to save the lost, he would do it without his help. Carey's refusal to believe this led to the massive spread of the Gospel around the world in the 19th Century. God has chosen to use us. It is certainly his work to open blind eyes and unstop deaf ears, so that people will recognize Jesus as Lord - but it is our work (in his strength) faithfully to proclaim and defend the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is God's means to bring men and women to faith.
What are the Implications for Us?
1. The biggest obstacle to evangelism is not technique but opposition. Our enemy the devil's opposition will take many forms...often our indifference means he hardly need bother doing anything else. But in reality he is a defeated enemy because Christ who lives in us has conquered him (Eph 1:19-21) and we share his victory (Eph 2:4-7; 1 Cor 10:13; 1 Jn 4:4).
2. Our response needs to be spiritual and practical. Paul's response was to pray and encourage others to pray also (Eph 6:18-20). Prayer is central because it is a recognition of our humble dependence on God. If he does not inspire and empower our efforts, our work will be in vain (Ps 127:1). We must pray for opportunities and courage.
3. But it does not stop with prayer. We must also obey. We are commanded to ...'go and make disciples...' (Mt 28:19). We have actively to step out in faith and take the opportunities he gives us.
God is in control of the universe and our own lives. Evangelism, the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is his work, but we are his instruments. We need first to pray for opportunities, and the courage to use them to step out in faith.
This article is adapted from CMF’s Confident Christianity course