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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Genuine," a word for Evangelism

A famous pastor tells of being bedside as a pastor he admired was breathing his last breaths on this earth. The dying pastor was said to have repeated, "One more for Jesus. One more for Jesus." He died with these words on his lips. Clearly, this was a man who was driven to help people become believers, and the famous pastor who wrote up this account deeply admires the man and the evangelistic spirit.

I do too. I don't always burn with such fervor. In some ways, I wish I did. I wonder why I am not always as focused and ambitious and hungry when it comes to evangelism. Sometimes I am, but not always, and maybe not often enough. One thing I do know. I don't want to become so evangelistically ambitious that I don't see people.

What I mean is this. People outside the church aren't to be categorized as "lost." When they come into the church, they shouldn't be moved to another category: "prospects."

And if, after coming into church, they happen to receive Jesus and become born again, and my witness was a part of it, I don't get to store that conversion as a credit on my evangelical scorecard. We're not talking about "the lost," "prospects," or any other categorization we might come up with. We're talking about people.

Jesus loved people before they every made a decision to follow him or not. In fact, in the case of the rich man who wanted salvation, Jesus knew he would walk away from the chance to be a disciple. Knowing this man's failure was coming, Jesus "looked at him and loved him" (Mark 10:21). The love was not tied in any way to the response to the gospel. Jesus loved the man no matter how he responded.

That's genuine love. Sometimes, I get the sense that some Christians relish the idea of the lost going to Hell, so they will get what's coming to them. I truly believe someone is lost without Jesus. Much of the time, I tune God out and rely on myself, and in those moments, I am lost. "Lost" describes me, or anyone, more than it categorizes. Evangelism should not be the goal of saving the lost; that is a result of evangelism, but the goal should be loving people because Jesus loved us.

So how do we love? We spend time with people - lots of time. This is either repeated exposure, or long, intense exchanges. And along with that, this includes casual times where the talk is gardening or the Oscars or cars or some other surface level topic. We love by presence and by time.

We also love by listening. People need to be heard. At the evangelism conference we attended last month, we heard a twenty-something person sharing on a video. She was dressed in all black, including fingernail polish and lipstick. She expressed deep wounds in her soul. And she begged for people to her hear. In that regard, the need to be heard, she was in the same boat as the plumber or the pencil-pushing accountant or the hip-hop dancer or anyone else. We all need to be heard. Evangelistic listening involves hearing the other, honoring them whether we agree with them or not, and responding with compassion and in a judgment-free way.

Genuine love - spending time, listening evangelistically - this paves the way for conversations about God and knowing God and what it means to go to heaven and what it means to know God as we live this life. Those conversations mean so much more than just getting "them" saved when the conversations are done in relationships where there is genuine love. How does the well-known scripture go? "For God so loved the world." We are called to love the world.

Of course we want the chance to help people know Jesus. But how we go about it is as important as what we accomplish. The method matters. So, yes, we go and share the gospel of salvation that is given to all who come to Jesus. We tell that story, the story of the cross. We tell it to people who know that we love them because before we ever started telling, we were there, listening, giving genuine love

9 comments:

  1. If you don't tell people about the eternal consequences of their sin you are not truly loving them. God loves, yes but he also is a holy God who judges sin and sinners. To preach a gospel of love without judgment is to preach a different gospel. God saves us, yes but from what? He saves us from God.

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  2. "The goal should be loving people because Jesus loved us." Amen, Rob! Thanks for this. Of course we need to share the full message of the gospel, including the need for repentance, with people in order to love them truly. We also saw a video at the conference in which a man who did not profess any faith asked "If you really believe you know how to escape eternal judgment, how much would you have to hate people not to tell them about it?" I think the key is that God knows the condition of souls (and thus what will reach them at any given time) far better than we do. When do they need to hear about love and mercy, and when are they ripe for the conviction of sin and judgment? We need to cultivate sensitivity to the Holy Spirit's guidance at all times in order not to miss an opportunity. In general, though, I find that people are almost always open to an expression of love and care but far less often to a warning of judgment. Frequently, love and acceptance opens a door to discussion of sin that would otherwise have remained firmly shut. Sadly, I hear many more people who are not Christians calling us judgmental hypocrites than I hear remarking on how loving we are, which is how Jesus wanted us to be known.

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  3. True evangelism reflects the true character of God. Presenting a partial gospel leads people to a partial god and is idolatry. Liberals also say we are cannibals. Should we stop communion for fear of offending someone? I don't think so.

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  4. David, how many times did Jesus talk about Hell (eternal judgment) to everyday people (prostitutes/tax collectors, etc)? He talked about Hell to religious people, religious insiders, what we would today call church members. But how many times did he mentions eternal damnation to unreligious, unchurched people? Not often. I am not going to take an approach that he didn't take. You might have some rebuttle for this. You might throw the word "liberal" around. But, I'd love to hear your responsive without pasting labels on things. Just identify where Jesus told people they were going to Hell. Did he Pilate that? Or Herod? Or a prostitue? No. He talked about Hell to the religious scribes, the priests, the Pharisees. Your response is culturally conditioned by the Catholic church (which spent a lot of time identifying insiders and outsiders) and by the Reformation (which tried to refine the list of insiders and outsiders). Jesus did not do that. So, I am going to do my best to reflect his approach.

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  5. David, one other thought on judgment. One of the things that turn unbelievers away from the gospel is their sense of how judgmental Christians are. The message of judgment is something someone has to be ready to hear. Just because you or I tell an unchurched, unbelieving person "God will judge your sins and send you to Hell" doesn't mean they will believe it. Evangelizing in that way will only make the other person angry. It will not bring them closer to God. Maybe in a few cases it would work, but most people just aren't going to hear that. If a Mormon told you that you were going to Hell if you didn't convert to his religion, you wouldn't respond to that. So what makes you think a nonChristian will be interested in such a heavy-handed approach? Telling nonbelievers, "God's going to judge you" is not news to them. They already know Christians think that. That's what they expect us to say. It's an ineffective approach.

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  6. I think you tell people the truth. After you plant the seed it is up to God to make it grow. I'm not sure Jesus was doing church evangelism. He spoke to people primarily in parables. We have the whole Bible in front of us and can present the whole gospel.

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  7. the person rob called "David"March 4, 2012 at 6:55 PM

    Perhaps your method is best. But, I'm having a hard time understanding it, please explain how to do evangelism with (1) no mention of the eternal consequences of sin, and (2) using Jesus' method from the four gospels of speaking to the common man. Your rules not mine, but I would add one thing: why did Jesus have to die? You will of course not mention anything that would lead the person to believe they are to be judged (lest you be seen as judgmental - if I understand your comments correctly).

    For the record I did not say to tell people to go to hell -- that was your interpretation. I advocated telling them about the "eternal consequences of their sin" (copied and pasted).

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  8. My experience with people is if you tell them the eternal consequences of their, they won't accept what you are saying unless they are already believers. And then, they are already believers, so they already know. Trust, through friendship and relationship has to be built up and this takes time. You have to be someone I trust before I accept anything you say about eternal judgment or eternal consequences for sin. In the context of relationship, were trust has been established, that is where conversations about sin and sin's consequences are most effective. Outside the time consuming work of building a relationship, I don't see anything gained in confronting people with their sin because, why should they listen? You can quote Bible until you're blue in the face. They are unbelievers! They don't see the Bible as authoritative the way Christians do. So cramming it down their throats is a waste of time. Do we want to be able to say, "I told people about eternal consequences?" Or do we actually want people's lives changed by them coming to faith in Christ? What's the goal? If a Mormon or a Muslim told you that you were going to be judged for your lack of faith, would you all of sudden believer them? An unbeliever is not going to suddenly turn to Jesus because someone he does not know or trust tells him he will be judged in his sin. He's far more likely to be open to the gospel if the person sharing it is someone he knows and trusts.

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  9. A disciple of Jesus ChristMarch 10, 2012 at 7:41 AM

    I don't advocate telling people the consequences of sin as an end in itself. Nor do I advocate telling them the consequences of sin alone. I'm advocating reflecting the total character of God in the gospel. God has ordained the preaching of the word as his means of bring people to faith in Christ. You have to preach the whole word from Genesis to Revelation without leaving anything out. Every chapter of every book. Every verse of every chapter and every jot and tidle of every word.

    You can't love someone into the kingdom of Jesus Christ. If you could Christ's love would already be sufficient to bring them in. They will be convicted of sin and come to faith in Christ by something much easier to do -- preach the word.

    You didn't answer my question. How do you present the gospel of Jesus without mentioning the eternal consequences of sin and without letting people know there will be a judgment?

    When Jesus sent out the 12 they preached a message of repentance from sin. They didn't go out the befriend people so that they could slip in the gospel. You also have to be willing to let people go. Jesus told the 12 to shake the dust off their feet when people didn't receive them. He wasn't worried about being politically correct.

    When Jesus returns I want to be able to say I presented the gospel truth. Not that I befriended sinners by withholding the central message of the gospel. Not everyone will except the word, but we preach the word faithfully regardless.

    How can you say cramming the bible down unbeliever's throats is a waste of time? Surely you don't mean that. First of all who said anything about cramming it down someone's throat? Is it really necessary to misrepresent what I am saying that way? The Bible is sufficient and necessary to bring someone to faith in Christ. Our job is to present the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help us God. Amen.

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