Evangelism as a Way of Life

Scriptures: Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 4:17-23

Today we have our final sermon of the series on evangelism. As noted, it is “Evangelism as a Way of Life.” Evangelism, of course, involves telling and sharing the good news, and we went through that. We went through how it needs to start in the family, with children and grandchildren. We talked about some of the differences between ministry and mission and evangelism, and that while ministry or outreach is a good vehicle for evangelism, that it is not the same thing as evangelism.

In fact, I want to quote from an article by a man named John Rothra. He looked at seven different kinds of evangelism. I’m not going to go through all seven, and I probably wouldn’t mention street preaching, for instance, anyway. But he says Servant Evangelism, aka Service Evangelism, is popularized by Steve Sjogren’s Conspiracy of Kindness and Alvin Reid’s manual, Servanthood Evangelism, and this approach uses simple acts of kindness or service for evangelism.

Its strengths are that it emphasizes showing love as a way to open doors to evangelism, it is simple and often affordable to implement, and it can be done at any time and tries to create opportunities to share the gospel. The weaknesses are that people can improperly believe the service to be evangelism, serving may be emphasized and evangelism de-emphasized, and there’s limited training on personal evangelism, and though doable by individuals, it seems more apropos to group outreach.

It was, I thought, a very solid analysis. He said, “In the final analysis, I am a fan of servanthood evangelism, especially for churches, small groups, and youth groups. It doesn’t require a large budget, can be done with relative ease, can be exciting and fun, and has a tremendous opportunity to open doors to the gospel. The world accuses Christians of preaching love and not showing love; evangelists critique Christians for showing love and not preaching love. Servanthood evangelism done properly shows love and preaches love, addressing both criticisms.”

So there are flip sides of the coin. You really can’t separate the two. But you cannot let one subsume the other, or overtake the other. Evangelism is sharing the good news.

And this is important for us to understand because of our tendency within our lifestyle. We want to have a lifestyle that honors God and is evangelistic. Now what does that mean? If we go back to the word “evangelism,” it means one that shares the good news.

In Ephesians, Paul tells them to not live anymore as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. You see, they don’t have the life of God. They don’t exhibit the life of God. It is not something that comes in and through them to those around them.

And he insinuates there that if you live as the Gentiles do, then there is no way that you can witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s a powerful thing to tell us this, in this day and age, when it seems like the forces to compel us to go with the culture of the day are so strong.

Not that they haven’t been strong throughout all history. Peer pressure has always, always been huge. Each generation, I’m sure, thinks that theirs is the worst generation that has come, and “nobody has had it as bad as we’ve had.” But the fact is, right now it seems like there are incredible pressures to stay silent, and just do what everybody else is doing.

And Paul says that that’s futile, that you cannot do it. You have to live with the mind of Christ. You have to be tapped into the life of God. And your very life must be a witness or a testimony to your relationship with God. Notice that it is a testimony to your relationship with God. It’s not the gospel itself.

The same man, John Rothra, talked about lifestyle evangelism.

Lifestyle evangelism is often understood one of two ways:

  • Live right and people will see the gospel in one’s life
  • Live right and people will ask about God

This method is built on the foundation of how one lives, with the idea that one’s life will lead others to Christ, or at least lead others to ask about him.

The strengths are that it encourages righteous living and self-evaluation, and it also helps one’s life accord with the gospel. Its weaknesses are that it is not biblical evangelism, only a means to possible evangelism, and it employs a highly passive approach.

Lifestyle evangelism is best summed up in a phrase I’ve heard many times: “My life is my witness.” That statement, however, falls apart when one considers being a witness, for instance in Acts 1:8. And he gives an example that he got from seminary, that I’m not sure how well I like it, but I couldn’t find anything better.

Suppose that a woman witnessed a crime, and the prosecuting attorney calls her up to the stand, and says, “So tell us, what did you see?” And she sits there and smiles at him. And after a few moments he says, “Share with us what you saw, please.” And she sits there and smiles at him. And he says, “Did you even see this event? You claim to be a witness.” She gets a very offended look on her face, and she says, “Sir, of course I saw it. My life is my witness.” It’s not very much help as far as testimony, is it?

Living is not evangelizing. Lifestyle is not evangelism. Only proclaiming the gospel is evangelism. One’s life affirms or detracts from the credibility of our testimony; it does not replace our testimony. It is a fine difference, but it is one, I think, that is critical for us to understand today, because we have so often – and I’m with John Rothra in this – have heard so often this concept of lifestyle evangelism. “If I just live right, then they will know.”

Living should give us an opportunity to share. There is another kind of evangelism he speaks of called conversational or relational evangelism. Now some may distinguish between conversational and relational. Conversational evangelism is starting a conversation for the purpose of sharing the gospel. Relational evangelism seeks to relate to the person, looking for permission, that is, an open door to discuss spiritual matters.

While they may technically be different, their general approach is the same: sharing the gospel during normal conversation. Thus he is treating them as one. Conversational evangelism is the method most often used by Jesus. It involves finding ways in normal, everyday conversations to share the gospel with someone else. This can occur in a store checkout line, at a sporting event, on an airplane, or almost anywhere.

Its strengths are that it is personal evangelism; it can occur any time with any person; a variety of tools can be used (for instance, tracts, the Bible, etc.); it doesn’t require schedules, only willingness; it can be done by anyone; it is the method used regularly by Jesus and the disciples; and it involves going out and sharing. The weaknesses are that it can be intimidating to some, and it is often misunderstood – some think it requires special training or gifts.

Although conversational evangelism is probably the least common method of evangelism, it is undoubtedly the most effective. It is simply sharing Jesus with someone in normal, everyday conversation.

This is the opportunity that our lifestyle gives us when we follow Jesus openly and without fear. This is the opportunity that we need to take when those things occur, and without fear – because perfect love casts of all fear – share the good news and the source of our hope.

This is the kind of evangelism that links with lifestyle, I believe, in a way that would make us the most effective. And frankly, given the gifts for hospitality and relationship that are in this church, for instance, and in many churches, I think it’s probably the best way to do it. We don’t have the kind of finances to have a huge event, an evangelist revival thing. If we invited Franklin Graham, I doubt that he would show up. We just don’t have the venue for it.

And outreach is sometimes limited by our own physical abilities or time or money, as he noted. And so that’s another thing that we can overcome, and we do in many ways. But the conversational reach, a relational form of evangelism based on our life and our links with other people, is by far, I think, the one that we would be able to do best.

Now there’s a caveat to that. If everybody you know all goes to the church and has already heard the Gospel and has already responded, and you’re telling it to each other, it’s a good reminder. But it’s not evangelism.

This means having the courage to reach out to new people, form relationships with new people in different situations, and being able to share with them, based on the credibility of your own life, the good news of the gospel.

And when we do that, there are a couple of things that I want us to remember. One is a concept I’ve been struggling with, that I read in another article, that I forgot to put the citation to. And this is a person that said, if you want to evangelize, don’t show urgency. Now that seems counter-intuitive. It’s a matter of life and death, eternal life and eternal death, and we want to be passionate about it.

But this person notes, just as the urgency of Christmas shopping rush only works on shoppers, the urgency of spiritual crisis only works on churchgoers. Those who don’t go to church won’t be attracted to us or to Jesus by creating a sense of urgency, whether real or imagined. People have enough stress in their lives, they have goods and services sold to them through a false sense of urgency so often, that there’s a built-in distrust of it.

In Western culture, the resistance to the church and the message of Jesus (not necessarily the same thing) is not primarily based on ignorance, anger, or even stubbornness. It’s apathy. They’re not upset or worried. They just don’t care. The uncommitted person isn’t waiting for a cue that “This is the weekend to get the deal of a lifetime at your local church.” They’re not thinking about it at all.

Churches that want to reach new people need to work against urgency, not foster it, to reduce people’s stress, not increase it. Instead of pushing a sense of urgency, we need to foster a sense of wonder, of love, of beauty, and of hope. Don’t add to people’s burdens. Show them how Jesus came to ease their burdens. Create a church environment that is welcoming, engaging, joyous, and calming.

It was an interesting concept. And it’s also one that, I believe, not only is true and biblical but is one that, without realizing it, I have spoken of before. The real crux of why it is good news is because of the hope that we gain, the joy that becomes available to us as believers. That’s what is shared.

Yes, it’s part of the gospel. There is the need for them to recognize that they have been sinful, for us to share that everybody, not just them, but you and everybody else is sinful and in need of salvation. And yes, we need to recognize that it can only happen here in this lifetime, that if they try to wait until they’re dead, it’s too late. And you never know when you’re going to pass.

But at the same time, the winsome witness, as it’s called in Scripture, is one that promises hope and peace and joy, a lightning of the burdens that you’ve been trying to carry on your own for so long, the ones that you may feel you’re not strong enough to carry. But we know Someone who is. And He will never leave us nor forsake us, but will always be there with us, helping to carry us along.

And while it’s not scripture, many of you know the poem called “Footprints in the Sand.” It is a wonderful story, and I think it makes that point extremely well, that God is always with us, that God is strengthening us, and God even carries us.

The other thing I want you to remember is something that I had mentioned previously. And that is that we are Reformed believers. I mention this to take some of the pressure off of you, to make you freer to share the gospel. And that belief we have as Reformed believers is consistent with Reform theology, that if a person is one of the elect, he will come to faith and repentance. It is divinely predestined that this will happen, and it is impossible for it not to happen.

But God has not shared with us two vital pieces of information. He has not told us just who the elect are, or how they will be brought to repentance. He has decreed that we are to share the message with everyone, in every way possible, within the bounds He sets in His word. Charles Spurgeon once said, “If all the elect had a white stripe on their backs, I would quit preaching and begin lifting shirt tails.”

God has not put a visible mark on the elect So we are to treat all men and women as if they are among the elect, and are to share the gospel far and wide. We need to have a personal sense of urgency. Because it’s important to us. But we don’t need to tell them that it has to be right now, so much as we want to woo them in a way that they say, “Give me more.”

And we are not responsible for their response, as Reformed believers. That’s the part where the pressure’s been taken off of you. It depends on God and His Holy Spirit. He knows His elect. He predestined them. The Holy Spirit will convict them. The Holy Spirit will open their eyes. But we are the vehicle that He uses to reach them.

So it is incumbent upon us to be sure that we evangelize whenever possible, that we share the gospel – in conversation, in relation, in ministry, in mission, in outreach. And with each other. Because you never know when God is going to use you. And that’s an exciting thing, not a scary thing, that God would use you, imperfect as you are, to bring His love and peace to the heart and soul of someone else. And that’s good news.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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