Personal Evangelism: How?
October 20, 1996 / No. 2806
Last week on this radio program we explained the truth that every believer has the calling by his words and by his actions to speak of the hope of salvation, the salvation that God has freely given. We saw further that there must be one motivation principally in our hearts when we give this witness. That motivation is the glory of God – God’s glory as it is seen in the salvation of souls, and also in the damnation of those who will not believe. We must have a burning desire for the glory of God, God who is worthy to be known, God who is worthy to be spoken of, God whose glory should be reflected in all of our words and actions as we live before our neighbors.
Now we want to come before the question of how we are to go about personal evangelism. We saw last time the duty that we have to witness personally of our salvation and of the truth of God. We saw last time the motivation that must be in our hearts. Now we ask the question: How? How do we go about a personal witness?
I want to answer that question in two ways today. First of all, we have to have an understanding of the things that we cannot do. Secondly, we must be obedient to the things that God calls us to do.
Understanding the things we cannot do
What are the things we cannot do in our evangelism? I think there at least three.
First of all, we cannot awaken others to a realization of their desperate condition. God can. His Word and Spirit can. But we do not have that power in ourselves. When we bring the witness of the gospel, there are two enemies that meet us: spiritual ignorance and spiritual darkness. These are formidable enemies because it is willful ignorance and it is loved darkness. Ephesians 4:17, 18 speaks of that. There the apostle Paul underscores those two things. We read, “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” The Word of God says that man is, of himself, darkened in his understanding and in a state of ignorance, so that the gospel is foreign to his thinking. It does not make sense to him unless the Lord shine into him a gracious light.
That does not mean that the conscience of man is not active. In every man it is active. You can get men to consent that they are not what they should be. You certainly can get people to acknowledge that there are all kinds of miseries and problems. But that their desperate condition is that they are sinners under the wrath of God – you cannot get people to see that. That is not in our power. The power must be in the Word of God brought to them, and in the Holy Spirit. That is because, as the Bible says, this ignorance and darkness is willful. Romans 1:18 – who hold the truth under in unrighteousness. II Peter 3:5 – of this they are willingly ignorant. John 3:19 – men love the darkness and not the light.
This is the tragedy of man who has fallen in sin. In the realm of nature men know their plight and want deliverance. A man who is drowning understands what is going on and wants deliverance. If a person is in a plague and knows that there is a medicine to cure him and to prevent the plague from killing him he wants that medicine. But men are ignorant of their desperate condition in sin, and willfully so.
Only one can bring them to that light, and that is the Holy Spirit of God. John 16:8, “And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” The Holy Spirit brings to men’s conscience what is beyond anything natural to that conscience. The natural conscience of a man may be very deep, and, after many years, confess the deep sins of the past. But conviction before God that he is a proud, miserable, and unrighteous sinner – the human conscience will never speak to a man of that. That is his problem. And it is only the grace of God that is able to convict him of that.
Secondly, we cannot show the beauty of Jesus and the wonder of the gospel. As we cannot show a man and give a man to understand his desperate condition in sin (that is the work of the Holy Spirit), so also we cannot show the beauty of Christ. That does not mean that we do not speak of the excellencies of Jesus Christ. But, again, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit a man cannot see that wonderful beauty of Jesus Christ and the suitability of the gospel. We read in Isaiah 53 that, according to man, there is no beauty in Christ that we should desire Him. Again, in I Corinthians 2:12-14 we read that natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him. Whether a man has an IQ of 85 or 165, apart from the work of grace in his heart nothing can make him see Christ as precious.
We read in I Peter 2:7 that unto you who believe, Christ is precious. But apart from that gift of faith Jesus Christ is not seen as precious and beautiful. Why? Because the will of a man must be changed. The understanding must be enlightened. He cannot embrace Christ. And Christ is foolishness to him until those things happen – still more so because the devil and his own materialism has deceived the man. We read in II Corinthians 4:3, “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.” And again in II Corinthians 4:5 and 6, but we preach Christ crucified, “for God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” God must shine His light into our hearts to give to us to see the beauty of Jesus Christ.
So we cannot convince a person of his desperate condition. We cannot give a person to see the beauty of Christ. These are both the work of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, the third thing we cannot do is produce in men repentance in faith. We cannot do that in our power. Now without repentance and faith there is no salvation. That is the clear teaching of the Bible. But that repentance and faith is not brought about by our labor. We do not have the ability to inject that into somebody else. We do not have the ability to draw that out of the stuff of human nature. It is not in man to do these things. It does not reside in man to believe and accept Jesus Christ – just as life does not abide in a stone. Much evangelism, in fact the greatest amount of evangelism, is based upon that proud heresy, but it is not true. It is the prerogative of God. It is not true that it is dormant in man, that the ability is in man, to accept Jesus Christ, and that this ability simply must be awakened within man. That is not true. The ability to repent and to believe is a divine gift bestowed by God in the hearts of men and women. II Timothy 2:24-26 – if God peradventure may give them repentance unto the acknowledging of the truth. James 1:18 – of His own will begat He us with the word of truth that we should be a kind of firstfruits. Philippians 1:29 – for it is given to you in the behalf of Christ, not only to suffer for His name, but also to believe. Then, in Acts 11:18 – when they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God granted repentance unto life. God must produce repentance and faith.
Does that discourage you when you hear what you cannot do? You cannot convince a man of his desperate condition under sin. You cannot get a man to see the beauty of Jesus Christ. And you cannot produce in a man repentance and faith. Does that discourage you? It ought not to discourage you! You see, if you could perform all of those things, then anyone else could perform the opposite and undo what you have done. No, these realities of what we cannot do ought to direct us clearly and urgently to the means that God gives us in personal evangelism. What are we to do?
Obedient to the things that God calls us to do
In obedience to God, there are a number of things which we are called to do and which God is pleased to use powerfully unto conversion and repentance. You see, if we think that the salvation of souls is in our hands, then we will resort to our own methods. But if we believe that the salvation of a soul is not in our hands, then we will not use our own methods or schemes but we will seek out those that God has appointed to accomplish that end. If I think that it is my work, I will go out and select my tools and I will consult myself as to how I think this ought to be done. But if I believe it is another’s work, I will ask him. I will ask him what tools are to be used in the accomplishment of this purpose.
I Corinthians 3 says to let every man take heed how he buildeth. What has God, in His infinite mind, ordained for the accomplishment of the salvation of souls? Be careful that you do not begin to select your way, for if you select your own methods, you are saying to God that this is your work. Now I Corinthians 1 tells us that God is pleased to accomplish the salvation of souls centrally through the preaching of the gospel. (We read, by the way, in I Corinthians 1:21 that it pleases God by the preaching of the gospel to save them that believe.)
But more, God has also chosen those means which are going to humble man and exalt Himself. God chose means to bring about salvation which men consider weak and foolish, means that men would dispense with and say, “But there’s nothing to that.” So men come up with their own means of making salvation. They talk about making a decision, walking down the aisle, erecting a revival tent, using bands and drums, and establishing mega-churches.
But this is contrary to God. What does God in His Word say will be used for the salvation of souls? There are a number of things.
First is prayer – prayer for their salvation, even as it pleases God or as is good in His sight. Romans 10:1 – my heart’s desire and prayer is that Israel might be saved. The word “prayer” that the apostle Paul uses in this passage is the word “supplication,” a deliberate petition for a definite need which is keenly felt. Paul’s desire for the salvation of Israel expressed itself in prayer – prayer arising out of the situation of the spiritual indifference and hardness of his relatives, of his neighbors who did not confess, repent, and who were in darkness. We pray that our life and our words before the unconverted might be used of God to work salvation, if God be so pleased. Ezekiel 36:26 says, a new heart I will give to you, and a new spirit I will put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. I will do this, saith the Lord God. But then we read in verse 37, “Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.” God is pleased that we pray. God is pleased through the prayers of His people to accomplish His own sovereign purpose of the salvation of His children. So the first thing is prayer.
Secondly, we are to go about our witness by the influence of a consistent and sincere Christian life. That was I Peter 3:15. It is spoken in the context that believers are living in the midst of unbelievers who are going to ridicule and have suspicion and threaten them for their Christian walk of life. God says, as you live among the world you must always be sanctifying the Lord God in your heart. As you live in fellowship with the holy God, you must so walk that you are conscious always of Him.
Then those around you are going to ask, What makes you tick? The world is going to come to you and say, We abuse you, we ridicule you, and yet you continue to walk that Christian lifestyle. We try to get you to come along with us in sin and you are as stubborn as a brick. And you continue to love according to the Word of God. We say things that are calculated to get a reaction, to get you angry. And you don’t blow up. But if you do, you apologize. What is there about you, what makes you tick? Then you have the opportunity, from a consistent life style, to speak of the hope that is in you.
Thirdly, by a faithful witness spoken of the gospel. We must speak. There must not be a shameful silence, but our words must speak of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now we have different gifts. Some of us believe that our gifts are very meager. But the point is, we must use the gifts that we have. We must secure good pamphlets and tapes which speak of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must have a knowledge of the Bible. That does not mean that we simply take some statement of the gospel and memorize it as a little thing that we throw out. No. The gospel and the knowledge of the Bible must simply flow out of our lives.
Fourthly, we must bring our neighbors, our acquaintances, our friends to the appointed means of grace which is the preaching of the Word of God in the church services. There is the special presence of God among His people. And we must seek to invite and bring with us others into the church service because in that church service there are two things: the presence of God among His people, and the Word of God preached and proclaimed.
In I Corinthians 14 Paul is speaking of one who comes into the service and sees the reverence of that service and is convinced through the reverence and godliness of that service. We read in verse 25, “And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face, he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.” You see, the influence of God’s presence among His people who have truly come to worship Him is used of God to work conversion and repentance.
And that is why the church must worship according to the Word of God, and must always be characterized by a profound reverence and love for God so that in the prayers, in the singing, and in the preaching of a worship service everything is arranged to honor God and to honor His Word. Paul says that an unlearned man, an unconverted man will come in and will know that there is something different here, God is here. It is not like any other place.
That is the tragedy which is seen so often today. Worship services are intended to make a man of unbelief feel at home as if he were in a nightclub or in a stadium and that God is just another person. There is the dimming of His glory and reverence in worship services. That is contrary to the Word of God. A worship service must be reverent, according to God’s own Word. It must proclaim that God is present among His people in order that those who are invited into that worship service may be so convinced and convicted, truly God is in this place. The presence of a mighty King and a powerful Savior.
But we must invite them to the worship services also because there is the preaching of the Word. It is through the preaching of the gospel that God is pleased to save those that believe. There the Word of God is proclaimed. And there the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of God’s children unto conversion and repentance.
Those are the things that we must do: pray, live a consistent life, speak of the hope that is in us, and call others to come with us to the church of Jesus Christ where God is present and where His Word is heard.
Do you do these things? Is this your desire?
Then may we ever humble our hearts before God, may we look to God who is able always to save His people. And may we give all the credit in the salvation to God. He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
Let us pray.
Our Father in heaven, we pray that we may be faithful in our calling to witness, in our calling to pray, in our calling to live a consistent example before the world, in our calling to speak of the truths of Thy Word to our neighbor, and in our calling to bring others with us to the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Wilt Thou use these things to gather Thy church. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.