“For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” Gal. 1:10.
There are really only two kinds of evangelism. One is to the glory of God. The other is to the glory of man. One is God-centered, the other is self-centered. God-centered evangelism focuses on God, His works, His self-revelation, and His salvation. Man-centered evangelism focuses on human works and human ability.
The muses of cultural conformity lull us to pleasure our selfishness and hedonism at every turn. They color their teaching with a veneer of Bible terminology and God-talk. They redefine biblical evangelism to accommodate man’s worship of himself. Don’t people flock to hear their patronizing platitudes?
But man’s way are not God’s ways, nor are man’s thoughts God’s thoughts. Even as the heavens are higher than the earth, so God’s ways are far superior to man’s ways. The dichotomy between God’s ways and man’s ways exists in every realm of life, including evangelism.
There are many ways that evangelism becomes man-centered. The negative spiritual results of such compromise are many. Nevertheless, the following eight counter-positions may help us capture and refocus our evangelism to the glory of God.
- Focus on Jesus—Not Us
Keep the focus of your evangelism conversation Jesus. It’s not about you or I. It’s about Him, His love, His life, His death, and His resurrection. He and only He can and will save. Even when sharing our testimony of salvation, the focus should be on our total unworthiness and Christ’s great worthiness—His love, His effectual death for sin, and His gift of unmerited righteousness to everyone who repents and believes. The focus of every gospel conversation should be to get to Jesus as quickly as possible.
- Focus on the Gospel—Not Our Lifestyle
Living in conformity with the gospel is Christianity 101. However, there is a philosophy abroad that posits that Christians needs to “earn” the privilege to share the gospel with others by living a lifestyle in front of them or by building a relationship with them. While both of these are non-negotiables of living the Christian life, the result of these prerequisites to the gospel leads to man-centered evangelism.
Requiring a lifestyle as a precursor to evangelism assumes that Jesus did not earn the privilege for us to share the gospel when He died on the cross. His work was insufficient for effective evangelism to elicit healthy responses to the gospel. “Earning the right” presumes that the Jesus did not have the have the authority to command His followers to proclaim His gospel, and win disciples to Him, without the nuanced prerequisite of “earning the right.” It places a human caveat between Christ’s command and our obedience. The requirement leaves the Christian in a nebulous pause:
- How long until I have “earned the right”?
- What must I do to “earn the right”?
- Have I done enough to “earn the right”?
- Surely friend X is not open to the gospel, because I have not done enough to “earn the right”?
Christ followers are left seeking to earn the right to share the gospel to a hostile world. Did not Jesus earn the right to share the gospel with His hometown acquaintances? In fact, Jesus’ own hometown people disbelieved in Him and sought to kill Him. Was it the fault of Jesus for not doing enough miracles in His hometown? No Jesus gave the reason:
“But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.’” Mark 6:4.
- Focus on God’s Power—Not Ours
With a focus on human effort and attainment in evangelism comes a focus on human results. Substantial human results in evangelism can bring human pride. On the other hand, diminished results in evangelism can lead to discouragement and introspection. But surely, gospel transformation is completely a divine process. The evangelist merely acts as a conduit for the eternal gospel. Only the Holy Spirit can convict of sin. Only the gospel remains the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.
Furthermore, one of the greatest hindrances to biblical evangelism is fear of failure, followed by a sense of personal responsibility if the person rejects Christ, and ending in debilitating introspection of apparent failure in evangelism. All of these doubts emerge from an unhealthy focus on human-centered evangelism. It’s not about us, but about Jesus. It’s not about our abilities, its about the tremendous power of the gospel message.
- Focus on the Scriptures—Not Our Words
The Tempter would tempt us to use our words, our ideas and illustrations, our stories. The Evil One would lure us into dropping the mighty sword of the Spirit. He knows that the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment by use of the Holy Scriptures.
When the words of the Bible are brought into a gospel conversation, another person is invited into the conversation: God Himself.
When God enters a conversation, He begins His work of conviction. He means just what He says, and His words will make their mark. When God speaks to mankind, He uses His own words. So also, we should use His words when we share His gospel.
- Focus on the Great Commission—Not Personal Feelings
Christ was very clear in what He wanted His disciples to do. His commission was not a recommendation, nor is it stated in equivocal language. Jesus wanted His disciples to go into all the world and to preach the gospel to all creation. He wanted His suffering and resurrection to be preached, resulting in repentance and remission of sins. Jesus wanted all of His followers to become fishers of men and to win disciples for Him. He did not say it would be easy, but acknowledged that we ought not fear men, but fear God. He warned that there would be antagonism and persecution both from the lost and from other Christians.
If personal feelings rule in our hearts, it is highly likely that we will never share the gospel. If Christ’s commands control our hearts, then obedience to the Great Commission will not be a matter of preference but of obligation.
- Focus on Biblical Methods—Not Our Methods
The New Testament is replete with instructions on sharing the gospel, as well as with examples of sharing the gospel. Evangelism to the glory of God will mine the pages of the Bible for guidance as to how best to evangelize. Christ has provided His words as the foundation for life—including in the area of evangelism. We would do well to submit to Christ’s instructions and follow the numerous biblical examples.
Every Great Awakening in the history of the churches has always been accompanied by Christians following and obeying New Testament methods of evangelism!
As a student of the history of evangelism, it has become apparent to me that every movement of the Spirit of God in the history of the churches always includes preachers following both the message and methods of the Bible in the areas of preaching and evangelism. If we are to see a movement of God in our time, it will be spurred on when God’s people take God’s Word seriously and follow its guidance, with a focus on biblical methods of evangelism.
- Focus on Seeking God's Elect—Not Those We Decide Need to Be Saved
It is easy to become emotional about seeing sinners saved. So emotional that we pray, beg, and plead with God that family members, neighbors, coworkers, and long-time friends be saved—and so we should. However, God is not obligated to save them. It might not be in His ultimate plan. This truth is hard to handle.
Sometimes with the salvation of family or those we have befriended we become “Name It and Claim It.” I have prayed for so-and-so be saved. In fact, I totally believe God that so-and-so will be saved. Hence, so-and-so will be saved. Meanwhile, God is not under obligation to save those we have determine should be predestined to salvation!
God is not under obligation to save those we have determine should be predestined to salvation.
This one fact alone should give us holy pause in all our human-oriented evangelism efforts. Consider that God is not even obligated to save the unsaved spouse of a believer:
“For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save yourhusband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” 1 Cor 7:16.
Even in the case of a believer married to an unbeliever, Paul did not assure the believer that the unbeliever would be saved. How much more with any other human relationship.
So, while God does “truly love the world” and while Christ “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for our only but also for the whole world,” this does not in any way affirm universal salvation. Nor does it affirm that all whom we desire to be saved will be saved.
While a posture of expectancy is desirable every time we share the gospel—expecting God to be at work through His word in every person—expecting every recipient of the gospel to have a hearing of faith—we cannot transfer our spiritual well-wishes upon another person’s soul. Ultimately, salvation is God’s decision. Each person is a soul unto themselves, and each person must decide for themselves. It is not the decision of a third party to operate salvation in the soul of another.
- Focus on Lost Souls—Not Our Comforts
Christ commanded His disciples to look, lift up their eyes, and see the fields, that they were already ripe unto harvest. He directed their gaze away from themselves and into the fields. Jesus moved the attention of His disciples away from the comforts of the well—where they were talking. He wanted them to perceive the harvest. Jesus always calls His disciples to focus on every tribe, tongue, and nation. As unreasonable and impossible as it may sound, He calls all His people to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. It is an urgent call—requiring urgent obedience!
Evangelism to the glory of God requires a lifestyle of repentance. It requires repentance from a sin-stained life to receive the righteousness of Christ. All we offer Jesus is our sin. And through His substitutionary death and resurrection Jesus gives us His perfect righteousness. However, repentance does not end with conversion. Conversion only marks the beginning. Repentance continues as we submit to His Scriptures making Jesus the Master of every part of our lives.
In evangelism we volitionally put to death self-centered evangelism to focus on Christ-centered evangelism. We move from tickling people’s ears with our thoughts and ideas to allowing the Holy Spirit to work in, with, and by the Word of God. We understand that the way is narrow, and that only a few will repent and believe. We seek those with a hearing of faith, pouring the gospel into their souls.
The result of God-centered evangelism is spiritual transformation of individual souls—one-by-one. In God-centered evangelism we join God in His work of calling His elect unto Himself! True God-centered evangelism requires a constant decision to move outside of our own will, and to say with Jesus, “Thy will be done.” The Sirens of ease whisper in our consciences to compromise by downgrading to human-centered evangelism. We must not abide their seductions. God’s Word and only God’s Word must be our master.
“Lord, may You rule in my life, and may Your will be done today in my life, even as Your will is being done today in heaven.” Matt 6:10 (my adaptation).