Will Basham - February 6, 2018
Ask someone who doesn’t share their faith why they don’t and you’ll receive an answer that in some way revolves around fear. We must preach and proclaim that a guaranteed victory eradicates fear!
I love basketball and used to be somewhat decent at it. I remember watching my alma mater high school varsity team play a large high school in our area. The other team was stacked with NBA talent. My alma mater had no chance of defeating them. I watched in amusement as they ran the score up high, dunk after dunk, complete with ridiculous 3-pointers and alley-oops. You think those future NBA stars were nervous and paralyzed with fear before the game? Of course not. They knew they couldn’t lose.
We in the reformed tradition should be (and often are) the best of evangelists. We know we can’t lose. Our theology shouldn’t drive us to the sidelines but to the mission field! Still I hear cries from angry preachers that Calvinists “don’t believe in evangelism” and claims that our theology negates the practice. However, I’m thoroughly convinced that the best evangelists are the ones who believe in a sovereign God who saves without human aid. The fact that He allows me to play some small part in gospel proclamation gets me jacked and running full-steam out of the locker room.
Evangelism is about introducing people to our savior for His glory. Let’s be clear: it’s not merely a program in your church or a focused study in seminary. It is consumed within God’s mission for His church. The word evangelism comes from the Greek word euangelion (ευαγγελιον) which is often translated, “gospel.” This has profound implications for us, particularly those of us who love the word, “gospel.” In our pursuit of gospel centrality, we must realize that the word “evangelist” could very easily be translated as “gospelist.” That means that if we claim to be gospel centered then evangelism must be the lifeblood of our local churches. Being gospel centered means being evangelism driven.
Evangelism is already practical for those of us who are seeking to carry out the great commission. There’s not really much we ought to do to “make” it practical or relevant. The gospel simply is practical and relevant; it needs no help from us. Evangelism is the proclamation of that simple, life-giving message of hope that the great commission is wrapped in. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Evangelism is really just the first step in discipleship. We would do well to not try so hard to separate the two. A healthy view of evangelism will prove it as the first and necessary step to making a disciple. I will often even refer to my time with unbelievers as discipleship, or at least “pre-discipleship,” fully expecting fruit from the evangelistic relationship. I have this expectancy from a conviction that God will be faithful to do His work of saving sinners.
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” If you’re doing evangelism as a programmed, systematic approach to lost people and repudiating the supernatural aspect of it, you’re doing it wrong. Good evangelists wholly rely on God to regenerate sinners. Salvation is by grace: something that we couldn’t accomplish for ourselves and something that we sure as heck can’t accomplish for anyone else. When we realize that “only God gives the growth,” we’re well on our way to our rightful place in someone else’s soteriology. Nevertheless, here are some practical steps to jump on board with what God will accomplish in His saving of sinners.
We would do well to brake our routines. Yes, I spelled that correctly. What I mean is that we ought to look for opportunities within our everyday rhythms to pump the brakes, slowing down to see the calamity around us. Ever been in a line of traffic only to find out that there’s absolutely no obstruction to the highway? Just a wreck on the side of the road that everyone needs to look at, so they slow down. We ought to train ourselves to slow down when we see calamity so we can see the gospel work there.
To be a good evangelist, you don’t have to quit your job, make some cardboard signs, and stand on the street. Actually, the best evangelists are the ones who learn to integrate the gospel into what they already do. Be early for everything. Yes, everything. Being early means that if needed, you can have a 5 minute gospel conversation when you run into someone at the coffee shop. We can’t invade people’s lives with the gospel if we don’t have time for them. Make time for the unbelievers around you.
I meet Christians all the time who have absolutely no non-Christian friends. This is a problem that I understand, being a pastor. It’s easy for me to remain within my Christian fellowships and not venture outside of that. What makes matters more difficult is that few non-Christians want a friend who is a pastor. So this requires extreme intentionality. One example is that I coach my son’s sports teams in the “secular” league in our town instead of opting for the Christianized version. I’ve been able to hang out with so many other dads in the same season of life as me and get to know them.
Some of you may be thinking, “Yeah, but I’m not really that outgoing.” The great commission wasn’t given to the most outgoing upper echelon of the church. It was given to the church in her entirety. That means, no matter your personality type, you have a responsibility to be one of these “gospelists.” If you happen to be an introvert, please know that I’m not telling you that you must befriend everyone. But pair this idea with the idea of slowing down [mentioned above] and watching as the Spirit brings you opportunity. I promise you, He will deliver you opportunities to share your faith that fall perfectly in line with the personality He has given you.
Here’s one thing I’ve learned: kindness will transcend cultures as well as sub-cultures. To share the gospel, we must share our joy, our kindness, and our love. You don’t have to show up at some gathering of non-believers in your city pretending to have everything in common with them. Just be friendly. And be real; which leads me to my last point.
If the gospel has consumed you, evangelism should come from an overflow of your heart. I have a deep and genuine love for my lost friends and family and want them to know Christ. People are not projects, so don’t treat them like they are. We’re witnessing to those created in God’s image, beckoning them toward the cross.
I grew up with Matt. We played ball together and were extremely close friends throughout middle school, high school, and even college. After 15 years of being best friends with this guy, I finally got convicted. He wasn’t a Christian. So I offered to buy him lunch. We sat down at a local Mexican restaurant one day. I went for straight honesty and transparency. I didn’t have a gospel tract or a flow chart or a toy to show him the gospel. I began with an apology. I sliced through the awkwardness with authenticity and asked him to forgive me for not sharing about the most important thing in my life. Then I asked him if it would be ok if I took just a moment to explain.
I explained. He repented. As we prayed over our meal, Matt asked Jesus to save him. That happened almost 5 years ago and I recently heard Matt recount that story in front of our church. It brought tears to my eyes. You see, Matt’s process of discipleship began there in that Mexican restaurant and it’s still in progress. Now he’s a deacon at the church I pastor and he’s making more disciples.
The gospel has the power to offend. Your message could be received or rejected. But we have to remember that authenticity alleviates awkwardness, it dispels fear, and it conveys truth.
Ultimately, evangelism is not about the people we proclaim to; it’s about God and the glory He rightly deserves. Jesus told us the two greatest commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The first and greatest commandment has everything to do with God’s glory. The second commandment has everything to do with evangelism. God’s vertical glory from us personally and His horizontal glory from us relationally. Jesus says the second is “like” the first. That means even our interactions with others are solely for God’s glory. We evangelize for His glory alone because evangelism is a temporary task. God’s glory is forever.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 28:19–20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 3:5–7). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 22:37–39). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.