What is the greatest obstacle to evangelism today? Some may think that it is fear of how others will respond, or a feeling of being unqualified to answer the questions of friends who do not believe in Jesus.
I believe the reason goes deeper than that.
In North America, we have a society of people who generally have a sense of sufficiency in themselves. People do not feel a need for a relationship with God. They feel that they are getting along all right on their own, so they see no need for salvation.
We also have a culture where, if people do believe in God, they tend to fashion Him in their own image–with all of their human limitations. Everyone thus determines what they want to believe. Nothing is nailed down; people set their own standard of value, and truth becomes relative. Tolerance becomes the great virtue of society, and claims of authority based on the Word of God can make one look like a bigot.
And it is not just “the world” that thinks like this. Christians, too, have become creatures of our culture. Instead of changing the culture as the Gospel does, we have allowed the culture to change us.
The situation may look bleak, but God is never defeated. The Gospel of the Kingdom will reach the ends of the earth. That is absolutely certain, because God said it (Matthew 24:14). And God’s nature is such that His love cannot be self-contained; it must flow to others. He made humans in His image so they could know Him and reciprocate in love to Him.
Evangelism is making known the truth that God loves us. Our rebellion did not change His love for us. God is just and holy, and our sin brought judgment. But in the infinite love of God, He was willing to bear that judgment for us. This is the central focus of the Gospel, that Jesus died for our sins and rose again so we could have eternal life. And when we repent–or turn away from our sins–and receive God’s grace through faith, our lives are transformed.
As God’s love overflows in our hearts, the result is evangelism. When we realize the reality of the cross in our lives, we experience a compulsion to make the Gospel known. We understand that the Gospel is the only hope for the world, and as we share it, we gain a sense that we are fulfilling our destiny. Engaging in evangelism, we realize that we are doing what God made us to do.
But we must recognize a deeper dimension than is often portrayed in what we call evangelism. In the Great Commission, we are not told to make converts but to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). The invitation of our Lord was to “follow Me” (Matthew 4:19). A disciple is a learner, a follower. And by following Him, we grow in His likeness, in His character.
Where there is true discipling in the love of Christ, inevitably the Church will grow. People will see that the Church is different from the world. They will see it in a lifestyle that reaches out in compassion like Jesus did.
I have been studying, teaching and practicing evangelism for more than 50 years. I’m not ready to stop; the fire is still burning in me. Why? Certainly there is the realization that the Gospel must be told and that it is the only hope for a perishing world–that there is no other name under heaven whereby we must be saved, except the Name of Jesus (Acts 4:12).
But there is a deeper reason, and that is the certainty that God will accomplish the purpose He had for us when He made us and gave His Son to redeem us.
In Daniel 7, we see the prophecy of the coming of the Son of Man. We are told He will receive a kingdom that will never perish, a kingdom that will encompass every tongue, tribe, people and nation. Then, in Revelation 7, John records a vision of the throne in heaven and a multitude gathered around, praising God for eternity. They have robes that have been washed white, made pure in the blood of the Lamb–and they come from every tongue, tribe, people and nation.
Do you realize what John is describing? The Great Commission fulfilled. It’s already accomplished. In the schedule of God, it’s a reality. We just happen to live on this side of eternity as God fulfills His purposes. But the end is known from the beginning, and it’s that sense of consummation that fills my heart with joy and makes fire burn in my bones.
When you read the headlines in the newspaper, and it seems like conditions in the world are going from bad to worse, remember that this is not the final chapter. God is at work, and He will accomplish His purpose. The beautiful thing is that today in many parts of the world we see it happening. I wish we could see it in North America, but in many other parts of the world, this is probably the greatest day in evangelism that we’ve ever known.
I was in China a year or so ago, and I met with a group of house pastors. Every one of them was a first-generation Christian; none of them had been to Bible school or seminary. But every one of them was leading a house church.
One pastor said that he came to Christ several years ago, after he and his wife began to read a Bible someone had given her. He then invited his friends to study the Bible with him, and that Bible study soon became a church. It reached a point where they couldn’t fit everyone into the house, so they formed another group on a different night. Now they have six groups, and the pastor said, “The only limitation we have to more growth is that I need more leaders. We’ve run out of people who can care for all of these people who want help.”
We don’t see this sense of urgency here in North America, but we must regain it. The night is coming, when no one can work, Jesus reminds us (John 9:4). And this is a day of opportunity–unprecedented opportunity. It is the love of Christ that compels us, the Apostle Paul said (2 Corinthians 5:14). We need a revival of love in the Church.
The Great Commission is a call that everyone in the Church is to fulfill. This is the priesthood of all believers, as I see it. We should be making disciples when we sit at the table with our spouse. We should be making disciples when we are out with people, when we go shopping or to a ballgame, or when we’re having a round of golf. Who would ever want to play golf unless they were making disciples? But what a beautiful way to do so! That’s the way Jesus made disciples–by being with people and teaching them by precept and example.
As His disciples, we should be doing that, too. We should follow His example in caring for people, loving them like Jesus did. When you’re a servant, people will want to know more. That creates an opportunity for making disciples. So you show them the Gospel, and when they believe on Christ, it’s natural. They want to follow Him.
I tell my students, “Get Jesus out there. Don’t talk too much about church or society. Lift up Jesus. Jesus is the magnet.” People today are hungry to know about Jesus, and they’ll listen when you tell them about a Savior who loved them and gave Himself for them, who died on the cross for them and then rose from the dead. That’s a message we can proclaim. There’s no other hope for this world. And I believe someday that message is going to reach the ends of the earth. Not everyone will believe. But those who do believe are going to create a great multitude that will praise God forever.