AN AWESOME ROLE
If you have never been abruptly staggered by Biblical truth, please let me try to do that with a shortened emphasis of just two verses of New Testament Scripture. It’s from Paul and these are the verses:
“… Jesus Christ … hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation … and hath committed unto us the word …”
II Corinthians 5:18-19
Let’s consider this truth again in today’s English: “… God has given us the privilege of urging everyone to come into his favor and be reconciled to him … This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others …” Let’s call it “an awesome role.”
And that thrills us and then drills us! It overwhelms us and then overpowers us. We have that awesome role of standing literally in the place of Christ! All we can say is—this tremendous privilege is also overwhelming responsibility. I stand in Christ’s stead!
And, believe me—there are two sides, the tremendous privilege to be allowed to tell people how they can be forgiven, given the gift of eternal life, and have full confidence of life beyond the grave. We get to tell them that—what greater honor, vocation, and privilege. We get to be the one to communicate that message. Oh, that we would be overwhelmed with what it means to stand before a person or people in the place of Jesus Christ! Yes—in the place of Christ!
This means, for you and me the first privilege, since we stand in Christ’s stead, is to be an authentic and worthy representation of Christ. — We are to make Jesus Christ visible, audible, and desirable to people. A wonderful English evangelist made an unforgettable statement. He said in a court of law the witness gives evidence, but in life Christians are to be evidence. Did you get it? — Not “give” evidence but “be” evidence! What a radical difference that is.
So we are not out to win arguments about Jesus, we are out to win hearts to Him, and we do that when we make it easier for a person to believe in Jesus than to reject Him. And the old saying comes into play, if we were more winsome, we would win some. It’s a play on words, but we cannot simply discard it. Again, we are to be a public, visible representative of Jesus Christ before people who are not yet His followers. So take a look at your personality and appearance.
And then, on the other hand, the awesome responsibility. It’s solemn, and the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel tells us that if we fail to tell them and warn of the danger, their blood will be on our hands! (read Ezekiel 33:7-9). And Paul must have been very much aware of the meaning of this because he said to those early Christian leaders who came to say goodbye to him at Miletus, “I testify to you and you are witnesses, that I am free from the blood of all men because I did not fail to declare to you the whole counsel of God …” (Acts 20:26-27) Paul was gripped with a sense of obligation and of the responsibility he considered personal.
And we cannot help but ask, “How can we be so happy-go-lucky? Do we really understand what this means? And the serious obligation we have!” But let there be balance, I would rather have as a motive the great privilege rather than be weighed down with the awesome responsibility. And in the final analysis, the privilege is to be the most powerful motive with the love of Christ compelling us (see II Corinthians 5:14). We, must not dismiss it as a minor matter.
And yet, in his classic book of early church evangelism Michael Green indicated that, for them just after the crucifixion and resurrection, it was not the Great Commission that dominated their minds, it was the realization that if they failed to tell others, they would have to answer to Jesus himself! And when we back off and think of all the wonderful things and advantages put at our fingertips and we still do not have an enthusiasm for sharing Christ—it’s a terrible indictment.
The famous Puritan preacher Richard Haldane was scorching on this subject boldly saying, “No man can be a Christian who is unconcerned for the salvation of others.” James S. Stewart spoke of the disgrace and shame of “smuggling our own souls into heaven.”
And even from the world of scholars like you would find at Oxford or Cambridge or Harvard comes C. S. Lewis, atheist, agnostic, then a believer in God, and then at last a follower of Jesus Christ. He says this, “The salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies of the world.” Wesley said it this way, “We have one business on earth—to save souls!” So this entire subject takes on an added dimension.
And it must be restated—this must not be the odd and peculiar “hobby of a minority of Christians,” it is the continual task of all of us—there is no escape from this truth. We are all to be involved to some degree.
James Denny, the British theologian, said, no matter what is taught about evangelism, it appears to be (note his words) “the disinterested interest of a comparative few”! But, no! In reality, that may be the way it seems, but from a totally Biblical perspective every single follower of Jesus is a God-ordained agent of evangelism, all are!
So, let’s get beyond the negative—the responsibility, the obligation, the orders to do it—and find how it is to be continually a positive thing. And, incredibly, that is captured in one single sentence by an amazing man, Robert Coleman. He was an esteemed professor of evangelism and an author of several great books on that subject. Here is his breakthrough statement highlighted:
“When our hearts are filled with Christ’s presence, evangelism is as inevitable as it is contagious.”
So doing evangelism is all in motivation and the one single motivation is Jesus Christ fully alive within, “filled with Christ’s presence.” We see for at least three centuries the Christian faith expanded by its own momentum. Evangelism happened! It seemed to go on effortlessly from one to another spreading ceaselessly like breaking light at sunrise. It was spontaneous, it was continuous, and it was also—and please note this—it was contagious! And that was true for about three hundred years until the Christian faith became more of a strictly organized religion than a loving relationship with Jesus Christ. Suddenly the thrill was gone!
As long as people were thrilled with the person of Christ, it happened. James S. Stewart has a powerful phrase, it was “the proclamation of the mighty acts of God” seen in the person of Jesus Christ. It was people in love with Christ, thrilled to talk about Him and to tell how wonderful He is based on the amazing things He did for all people. It was highly contagious. This was a magnetic force, their secret.
Now D. T. Niles has a good definition, “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread.” Now, if I were starving and I found hot bread, loaf after loaf freely available, and I ate until I was full, and then went out on a cold, dark street filled with starving people, what would I do? How would I react? In what way would I go about convincing people to go and eat?
I would not need to be taught a technique—presentation would come spontaneously. I would not need to practice some canned speech—it would be a convincing overflow. And that was exactly as it was in the early days of the Christian faith, it flowed out! They had a strong love for Jesus, a heart of compassion for people, and as a result—a flaming tongue to tell! They were believable witnesses!
Let’s return to our classic quote; here it is again: “When our hearts are filled with Christ’s presence, evangelism is as inevitable as it is contagious.” It can be said another way; let me help. Henry Martyn was an effective missionary who went through many life trials, yet he was an effective evangelist. He said, “The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions [or evangelism or soul winning or witnessing]. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become.” It’s all in that spirit, all built on the love of Jesus Christ controlling us, and more, again please, “The nearer we get to Him, the more intense …”
We see it now—very clearly. We can teach evangelistic techniques (and we need some to help us)—but we can teach them until we are blue in the face and red around the neck—and it will not happen unless there is fervent love for Jesus Christ, and unless, we are convinced of the wonderful thing He did for us, that He can do for others. That basic motivation is absolutely essential. Without that in reality, nothing happens evangelistically!
Let’s return; this is where we started, with an understanding that we are standing before people literally in the place of Christ! So we add verse 20 to it, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ. God is making his appeal through us …” (II Corinthians 5:20) And once again, the single most important prerequisite of an effective ambassador is that this person be enthusiastic about what he represents. That is the absolutely crucial motivation, love and wholeheartedness. So we superimpose this to our role in evangelism and it becomes crystal clear.
So that, when we are overwhelmed with Jesus Christ and see ourselves as His personal ambassador—all our experience and our conviction causes us to think: the greatest act of real love I can show to another is to introduce that person to Jesus Christ. It is in that context, that setting, that we take the initiative just as Jesus skillfully did with the woman at the well of Jacob at Sychar (read John 4).
We build a bridge of friendship and with Christ we go over that bridge. We are not silent witnesses thinking our friendship is enough. Our enemy will tell us, “It’s enough and this is not the time.” We need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and take full advantage of the God-given opportunity that He gives us that may never come again.
That starts effectively on the basis of friendship. Jesus was always a “friend of sinners” (Luke 15:2). Like He, we must overcome social hurdles and racial or cultural barriers if we are effective soul winners. We build a bridge—a bridge of friendship over which we invite Jesus to pass into their life. Remember, Jesus attracted people.
And simply, based on that friendship, there are two questions: “Would you allow me to ask you a personal question?” If yes, then, “Have you come to know Christ personally, or are you in the process of coming to know Him?” That is direct and yet non-offensive to a person; start there. At that point there are three vital verbs to emphasize. These are found in John 1:12. They are “believe,” “receive,” and “become.” Stay with that and keep it focused on Jesus and a positive witness.
Of course, this essay is not fully comprehensive—but is basic and straightforward, and, most importantly, it’s Biblical. So I ask all of us (literally) in one simple sentence to say in prayer to the Lord how you desire Him to use you as a personal evangelist.
“God calls different people to different ministries and endows them with appropriate gifts … We should not resist specialization. Everybody cannot do everything. Some are called to be evangelists … There is a proper place for individual specialists.”
John R. W. Stott Former Chaplain to Queen Elizabeth