A Witnessing People

By Richard Bewes   •   May 26, 2009

In England, it is commonly accepted that the very center of London is represented by the statue of “Eros,” which is situated in Piccadilly Circus. What is less known perhaps is that the winged, boyish figure equipped with bow and arrow stands as a memorial to a mighty man of the Gospel–Ashley Cooper, the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury.

A great politician and philanthropist, Ashley Cooper blazed in his personal witness among friends and strangers alike–and permanently improved the welfare of downtrodden masses across 19th-century Britain.

It was the prospect of Christ’s return that drove him. Toward the end of his life, Cooper declared, “I do not think that in the last 40 years I have lived one conscious hour that was not influenced by the thought of our Lord’s return.”

This is New Testament thinking. Jesus warned His disciples to live and witness in the light of the coming Day that will finally sign off our present world system: the darkening of the sun, the cosmic disturbances, the universal despair among the nations and the dazzling glory of the Son of Man, returning to gather in His elect, but also to judge a world asleep in the death of unbelief (Matthew 24). The apostolic writers were not shy about taking up this theme.

“Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?” Peter challenges (2 Peter 3:11). Here the apostle is primarily addressing the Christian fellowship in the repeated use of his phrase “Dear friends” (2 Peter 3:1, 8, 14, 17). Earlier he had described the inside saboteurs of the Church. Indeed Chapter 2 could well be titled “The Church Wreckers’ Guide.” But in Chapter 3, Peter switches from the saboteurs to the saints, and he also acknowledges the challenges of the scoffers (2 Peter 3:3).

Throughout all history, “the saints” (does that include you?) have had to face “the saboteurs,” and outpreach them. An American pastor once said of the many heretical groups that eventually subside, “The Isms all become Wasms!” But we have also had to face “the scoffers.” Second Peter 3:4-6 tell us that scoffers have been around since Noah. Across the centuries we have learned to outlast them, fortified by the reminders of God’s judgments through history.

Yet the vast bulk of humanity is composed of what can simply be called “the sinners” –unforgiven men and women who, as strangers to the saving love of God in Jesus Christ, are heading toward an eternity of utter loss, separated completely from Him.

This is what galvanized the early Church in its sensational expansion. The third-century Christian leader Eusebius, known as “the father of church history,” called the first 200 years of Christianity a period of evangelism and preaching. And Augustine exclaimed 1,600 years ago, “One loving spirit sets another on fire!” Across 58,000 miles of Roman trunk road, the Christian message took root in the greatest empire ever known, and this accomplishment was largely done by individuals one to one.

There is no time to lose! True, as in Peter’s day, the cry goes up, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” The Bible’s explanation of the time-lag is in full accordance with the character of God. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

The call is for Christ’s followers to capitalize on the extended day of grace while it is still with us–among friends, family and working colleagues. It will not last forever!

At present, the Gospel emphasizes Isaiah 55:7: “Let the wicked forsake his way … Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him.” God desires everyone to repent. But then we read in Revelation 22:11: “Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile…”

The let of grace comes first, always. But what if, in the face of every possible exhortation and warning, individuals persist in their refusal of God’s merciful forgiveness and harden themselves? Then the letl of judgment must operate. The first let is that of the urgent appeal of love in action. The second let is that of Gospel withdrawal. As in the case of Pharaoh of Egypt–and all who determine to follow their own way to the end–God ultimately declares, “Let them alone.” The coming Day of the Lord has the last word.

And the Day will come like a thief (2 Peter 3:10). Of course a thief comes secretly, but the final Day will be the most public event of all time! Thus, the emphasis in the word thief is not so much on the secrecy of the event as on its unexpectedness. In our witness and personal outreach, we cannot count on an endless extension of the day of grace. Now is the time to evangelize.

One to one–I have found it’s the best way. Many have been the times at All Souls Church in London, when I would ask a new believer, “How did you get into all this, with the Bible and church?” Invariably the answer was, “Oh, I had a friend.”

Winning a friend! How is it done? The answer is that there are as many ways as there are people. Here are some tips I have found helpful and successful:

  • Create doubt in the mind of unbelieving friends. Simply ask about their view of life and its meaning–and work from there.
  • Build trust. When someone feels “safe” with us, all things are possible. Your relationship is a priority.
  • Carry a Bible into every day, whether in your pocket, briefcase or handbag. Start this now.
  • Learn Scriptures, especially those key verses that explain salvation, so that you can “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). When your unbelieving friends and family begin to ask you questions, you will be prepared to present the glorious claims of Christ from God’s Word.
  • Learn from failure–there’s always a “next time.” Don’t worry about making mistakes or not exactly sharing the right word at the right time. Ask God for another opportunity.
  • • Pray faithfully–nothing is more important than daily naming those individuals before the throne of Heaven!

Down through history, those who were most effective in changing the people and societies of their own present day were those who had a strong view of the future. We share with the prophets and the apostles a belief that we are heading toward a Coming and a Conclusion. And Christ will usher it in!

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