One of the realities God is impressing on me this year is the poor state of evangelism in this country. It’s as if Christians in America have forgotten the Great Commission, the mandate of our Lord to share the Gospel with the lost of the world.
More and more, I realize we modern Christians face have distanced ourselves from the story of the Gospel. It’s not that we don’t know the Gospel enough to share it. Most of us do. Instead, our problem is our inability to see ourselves as a part of that story.
A quick visit to any three Christian blogs will inevitably bring up mentions of the closed state of the canon. Some people, in fact, seem to base their entire theology on the fact of the closed canon rather than the person of the living Christ. Don’t get me wrong; there are no new books of the Bible being written. I fully support that the canon is closed.
However, I just as fully believe that God never stopped speaking. His voice continues to go out. That voice brings transformation because it is active, especially in the lives of those who learn the secret of abiding in Christ. Our God is a living entity who does not stand mute.
And this brings me to the Gospel.
What Jesus has done as evidenced by the Gospel is well known and indisputable. What I believe we tend to forget is what Jesus is still doing. He still changes lives. In this way, the Gospel perpetually lives, like a story continually being written—because the truth of the Gospel story has not come to an end.
We Christians today persist as an isolated, self-centered lot. Few of us see our individual lives as part of anything larger than ourselves, much less part of the narrative of God’s redemptive story. Yet our lives and what Jesus has done in them are no different than those of the patriarchs and saints of yore. The reality of Jesus Christ meeting Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus centuries ago is no more valid that Jesus Christ meeting you or me on our own figurative Damascus road. We have our own Gospel story to tell, our own encounter with the Lord of the Universe, and our story matters to God as much as Saul of Tarsus’s does.
Because we have forgotten this, we have forfeited an important piece of what we share with the lost. Yet what is more powerful than telling a lost person our own story of how Jesus took us from darkness into light? We fret about somehow failing to string together the elements of the Romans Road, the Four Spiritual Laws, the Bridge Illustration, lessons from Evangelism Explosion, our Topical Memory System passages, or whatever evangelism technique we feel deficient in, when what God desires most from us is that we can share with another person what Jesus did for us in taking us from death to life. We may remember the Gospel, but we have failed to see ourselves in it.
Many out there feel the world is winding down, and it may be. It is not hard to see the day coming when no one can work. In light of this, I offer this word: You will never know the Scriptures perfectly unless you memorize the entire Bible, and by the time you do, you probably will not have had the chance to talk with anyone about Christ. What you can do, though, is use the Scriptures you do know in conjunction with your own story of how Jesus saved you.
Stories change lives. Your changed life is a story. All of this is wrapped up in the greatest story of all, the Gospel. If you are in Christ, you are living that story with every breath you take.
If that story matters to God, then I’m sure He wants you to share it with others. And there is no better time to share it than today.
9 thoughts on “Finding Yourself in the Gospel Story”
Many evangelicals have not been doing much (any) evangelism because of what it’s been made by evangelicals — “Let me tell you about what I got!”
The gospel of the cross is what evangelical leadership insists we talk about, and typically from our own personal conversion experience which devolves into some arcane theological argument. This is not consistent with the majority of scripture. A good exercise is to go thru the gospels and Acts and list conversion stories — how many proclaimed Christ versus how many are “Let me tell you what I got.”
The gospel of the cross is merely the first step in the gospel of the Kingdom. If you read the “Great Commission” as it’s written, rather than as you’ve been taught, you’ll see it says to make disciples, not simply new converts. And spare us the belief that there are no disciples until we create some converts.
Pray over Luke 6.17-20 and it may be revealed to you the division between the seekers and the disciples. Note how Jesus relates differently to each group.
You may think me blind, but I don’t see this evidence that evangelicals are telling people, “Let me tell you about what I got”—at all. In fact, I know very few people who do evangelism on ANY level, even that of “This is what Jesus did for me.”
Perhaps we American Christians have all become so inured to our materialistic lifestyles that we can see nothing of what Jesus has truly done for us, so we believe we have no message. God forbid that this be the case, but I suspect it is for a lot of people. If we believe that we have not “kept up with the Joneses,” then perhaps we feel that Christ has not done enough for us, so how can we possibly witness to others about a God who won’t keep us in the manner to which we are accustomed (or wish we were)? Sadly, I believe that is the reasoning for a great many American Christians.
As to the issue of your story and the Gospel, do you not believe that your story of your encounter with Jesus is as valid as the accounts in the Bible?
As someone who has examined the conversions of individuals in Acts, I find it tough to make any universal statements about “how it works” other than to say that God meets people where they are and with what they need. The jailer’s desperate plea for a savior who will protect him is different from the eunuch’s desire for a transcendent solution to an intellectual question. And yet the answer to both is the same. I’m amazed at how many different ways people come to Jesus as I talk with fellow believers.
You and I have no differences on the discipleship issue. I think we spend far too much time concentrating on conversion and not enough on lifelong discipleship.
Of course the story of my first encounter is as valid as those recorded in the bible. My first encounter with my wife was just as valid, too, but so what? Relevance is the issue, not validity. What is relevant is Jesus, not me or you.
The question is what do we communicate to others. If you think that, when the jailer pled for protection, Peter told him all about how Jesus had healed his mother in law and then filled his nets with fish and then called him — well, this would be something you conjectured or were taught outside of scripture.
Ragamuffin seems to be in sync with the biblical examples that we can read. Reflecting God’s love in physical ways speaks louder than theological arguments.
If Christians in the US spent as much time, effort, and money on evangelism as we do on politics the net effect would be a more Godly society than any political action could ever bring. I am not saying that Christians should avoid political involvement. What I am saying is that by all appearances evangelical Christianity in this country places more emphasis on politics than it does evangelism. I know there are exceptions, but in general I observe an out of balance emphasis on politics over living our faith.
I disagree to an extent, Dan. I don’t think it’s so much that there is no evangelism taking place. I just think that the old school methods have lost a good bit of their luster in the face of a changing culture. My experience, and that of many people I know, is that Christians come off like someone selling a product rather than someone simply sharing some good news. They aren’t bearing witness to something good that’s happened to them, they are following a formula or reciting a script. People feel manipulated and it’s not that far removed from the feeling people get when one of their friends gets into Amway.
I’ve tried to employ the various methods of evangelism that people put forth. I’m sincere and want people to know Christ. But every one of them comes off as manipulative and canned to me and (from what I could tell) to the people I was employing them upon. Time and again I’ve come back to the conclusion that the absolute best method of witnessing isn’t a method at all. It’s a life well-lived in front of others that eventually and naturally lends itself to deeper conversations that work their way around to spiritual matters.
There’s a person at work that I’m seeing this happen with and I’m not even “trying” so to speak. Me and a fellow Christian have just lived our lives, not being goofy legalists or overbearing moralists, but just trying to be Christlike in our reactions and how we work and treat people. You spend any length of time around someone and they start to notice stuff like that. Then come the questions and you can tell a little bit about why you are the way you are. But even then, you don’t take a small door cracking open and barge in trying to cram the Gospel in there in one shot. You answer the questions and let them think for a while. Give them enough to answer the question but not so much that they never want to get near the subject again. Now we’re starting to see changes in them and they’re freely admitting that “you guys are having an interesting effect on me.”
Now some would jump in with both feet and try to “get ’em saved” as quickly as possible because the rapture might come any day and then what? I tend to trust in the sovereignty of God and believe that the Holy Spirit normally does things over time as someone assesses what they’re hearing and seeing and begins to “count the cost.” And decisions made in that context are ones I think tend to be lasting and real rather than emotionally driven or pressure-oriented.
So I think that evangelism is still happening, but it might be changing to deal with a much more jaded culture.
People who don’t believe are not going to spread their lack of belief. That, I think, is at the root of the lack of evangelism. Those who call themselves Christians aren’t. People today are evangelical, but they spread the gospel of their cell phone, the latest movie, or their political beliefs. These things they can believe in, so these things they spread the gospel about. We kid ourselves when we say “well, it’s different when it comes to religion.” It’s not. If we believed, we would encourage others to believe as well.
Believe and you, and all those around you, will be saved.
I think your post is right on. I have forgotten my own Gospel story, so I dont think I have much to share with people. I didnt think your post was so much about the method of evangelism as it was about the spirit of evangelism. If we forget what changes Jesus has brought into our lives we will have very little to say when our friends ask us why we bother to go to church. But I share the same sentiment as Ragamuffin. A few years ago I gave up on really directed evangelism because it didnt work and it wasnt me. I think there is a reason there were only a limited number of Apostles and evangelists in the first century. Maybe most of us are needed in a supporting role, and one that can provide the stability new believers and seekers need to begin confronting the big questions. Maybe the culture here is too jaded and cant really trust people who claim to have all the answers.
Ragamuffin nailed it on the head…..I also have great success with the method prescribed , slide in softly in total nonjudgmental love and let the Holy Spirit do the work
The problem as I see it is that the Gospel story instead of being the story of our ongoing salvation ( ie living in the Kingdom ) has been perverted to a one time event and a bunch of flapping on about the ‘rapture’ as some kind of reward.
I have a friend , a powerful prayer warrior, with an awesome personal testimony and potential to reach many, yet is very ineffectual ( all though he’d like to be otherwise ) in evangelizing due to his “need to get em saved so they can be raptured” paradigm
With me a big shift happened when I started to see and read the Bible as autobiographical ……its my story too…….the canon may be closed but the story isn’t finished………..when it says that we are his body it means just that……….why is that so hard to grasp…??