Evangelism isn't about filling a quota. It's about taking a risk and loving those who need the grace of God as much as you do.
I am an evangelical.
For those of us who call ourselves evangelicals, our name betrays our fervor for evangelism. Evangelicals want to share the evangel — the "good news" of Jesus Christ. That's part of what defines us.
Ask an evangelical what life's purpose is, and he might say, "To take as many people to heaven with me as possible."
I am an evangelical.
So when I went to an evangelical seminary, I was not surprised that the institution required us to take a class called "Evangelism." In fact, I couldn't wait to take it. I had never felt very confident about evangelizing, and I wanted to find out how I could "be a better witness" and "win more souls for Christ."
One of the requirements for the class was that we attempt to share the gospel at least five times during the semester. We weren't graded on how well we presented the evangel or on whether or not our target repented. The professor just wanted us to practice sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.
So one Friday night, I joined a group of students who gathered faithfully each week to share Christ in downtown Dallas. We drove to the bus station, and before long I started talking to various people. I sincerely wanted to share the gospel — but I also wanted to finish the assignment. (I had plenty of other courses that semester!) By the end of the evening, I had made five attempts. I met my class quota.
Unfortunately, I missed the point of the assignment and the point of evangelism. As evangelicals, we think the Christian life is about numbers — "Look how many people I brought with me to heaven!" But it's not about numbers. It's about love.
What Is the Evangel?
To understand evangelism, we need to remind ourselves what the evangel is. The gospel is a story. It tells your story and my story, and how our stories intersect with the story of Jesus. The Scriptures lay out the narrative in greater detail, but three primary elements should show up in any retelling of the gospel.
The human problem of sin and the consequence of eternal death. Here's where your story and mine come in. We are human, and by nature, we all sin (Rom. 3:9-12, 23). Not one of us seeks after God, our Creator from whom we have our existence. We all reject Him and run after our own self-centered desires. Scripture makes clear the consequence of sin: Eternal death (Matt. 25:31-46; Rom. 6:23).
The good news of Jesus Christ — His life, death, and resurrection. Once we admit our deep human problem, we can sense our need for rescue. Here we run into the story of Jesus. Here we encounter true love.
God the Father sent His Son, Jesus, to take on human flesh. Jesus lived a perfect life, died an unjust death in our place, and rose from the dead in a physical body that will never decay.
If Jesus didn't live a perfect life, then He was nothing more than a sinner. If Jesus didn't die, then our sin remains on our hands. And if Jesus didn't rise from the dead, then, as Paul says, "we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Cor. 15:19), leaving us no hope of resurrection ourselves. But Jesus is the perfect sacrifice for our sin, and only because of His love can we partake in His imperishable resurrection.
The required human response: Salvation is by grace, through faith. How do we partake in the hope of Christ and find release from sin and death? By God's grace, through faith. We call what God has done through Jesus, grace. God the Father sacrificed the life of His Son so that we — wretched creatures, rebels against our Creator — might have eternal life in Him.
For us to receive His grace, God doesn't require us to do more good things than bad, or to lash ourselves seventy times a day for our sin. Christ already paid our penalty and lived the perfect life that we could not. Instead, we must believe in Jesus and rely on His work alone for salvation (Eph. 2:8-9).
In summary, the good news is that, in light of our human sin problem, Jesus lived a perfect life, died in our place, and rose to eternal victory over sin and death. God provides a way by grace. We respond by believing.
Why Share the Gospel?
I am an evangelical. Sharing the evangel is important to who evangelicals are. But why?
Because the evangel portrays love in its purest form. The Son of God suffered the worst death ever — bearing not only physical pain, but the weight of our sin and His separation from the Father. And He didn't do it for numbers. He didn't do it to keep a tally. He did it for love. If He didn't do it for love, He would not have done it at all.
One problem I faced at the bus station in downtown Dallas was forgetting the love of God. I saw a homeless man, whose odor slowed my pace. His soiled face and straggly beard made me think twice about talking with him. But since I am an evangelical, I approached him.
However, I didn't ask myself, "Do you love this dirty, smelly homeless man?" Sure, I wanted him to "get saved." But did I love him? I couldn't truly love him until I saw him the way Christ saw him: A rebellious, unworthy sinner who desperately needed the grace of God. Jesus saw no difference between him and me.
As grimy as the man's hands felt, as rank as his threadbare clothes smelled, he incarnated me. I am filthy. I stink with sin. I have despised God and hated His kindness. I needed rescued from my homeless state.
Jesus looked at my filth and said, "I love you, not for anything you have done, but simply because I am God." As Jesus loved me, I need to love that man — to see past his putrid exterior to a man who needs Christ as much as I do. I need to look past the cold aloofness of my big-shot executive neighbor to see his desperate emptiness. Past my sister's "party 'til the sun rises" attitude to a girl who longs for true love. Jesus looked past my rebellious heart to see my need, and loved me with His life.
What is evangelism? It is first seeing ourselves as we truly are — resistant, self-centered sinners who, if it weren't for the grace of God, would always choose the feast of evil. Then it's seeing the rich work God has done in us: We have encountered true love. And it's seeing people as they are — they're just like me. Finally, it's loving them so they can experience the true love of God.
Being an Evangelical
I am an evangelical. But I don't think my purpose in life is to bring as many people to heaven with me as possible. It's broader than that. It's to introduce the world to the God who loves them. It's to love them in the same way He loved me, to extend the grace of Jesus to everyone around me.
Some evangelicals live for numbers: "How many converts have I won?" Others are amazed by the love of God: "Wow, God has loved me immeasurably beyond anything I can imagine. The love of my best friend is like squeezing a drop from a sun-baked rag compared to God's monsoonal love. I want to love others like that. And I want to tell them what it's like to be loved by Him."
What kind of evangelical are you?
Copyright 2006 David Barshinger. All rights reserved.