“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The righteous man shall live by faith’.”
– Romans 1.16-17
I read an article last week on which I have been chewing and praying and thinking and agonizing. The article is speaking about effective ministry to college students and it offers a list of suggestions as to how best reach them. Point number two is: “Use a Relational Approach”. Here is the thesis of the point:
“One of the most common mistakes I see churches make with their approach to reaching students stems from a misunderstanding of what today’s students need most. On today’s university campuses, there is a growing need for a pre-evangelism strategy before we can get into a healthy gospel conversation with an unbeliever. Not only has the come-and-get-it approach passed us by, but so has the cold-turkey, door-to-door, sharing the Four Spiritual Laws approach of the ’70s and ’80s. In short, winning students to Christ is much more of a process than a one-time event. This process cannot be microwaved. Obviously God can do whatever he pleases, and people come to Christ every day through a cold-turkey gospel presentation, but I would propose a more relational approach, particularly for the college campus context.”
I wholeheartedly agree that Churches make the mistake of reaching students is misunderstanding what they need. But what they need is not a buddy. What they need is not another person to waste their time hanging out and eating pizza. What they need is to have their sins forgiven by almighty God and to enter into a life-long passionate love relationship with the creator of the universe and to be saved from eternal damnation.
I once spent a summer on a mission trip in a country where it is illegal to talk about Jesus and the Gospel. In orientation for that trip, the imagery was painted for us that some fields are so hardened and rocky that we have to go in and remove the boulders before we can till the ground before we can plant the seeds which might grow into faith. I bought that analogy hook, line and sinker. I went in and thought, I am going to show these people Jesus through my actions and maybe they will see that there is something different about me and maybe I will dispel some negative stereotypes that they have about Americans and Christians, and maybe someone down the road will be able to share the Truth with them.
This is a lie from Hell, do not believe it. Does Jesus ever tell us to go out and prepare the soil? No. He says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10,2, Matt 9.37). Does Jesus send us to go out to make friends, no he sends us out as “lambs in the midst of wolves”, and he Himself, our perfect example, said of His own ministry, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Luke 10.3, Matt 10.34-35). Does Jesus ever tell us to be good examples without words, no he says “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16.15-16).
Please do not misunderstand me to hear me saying that relationships are not important. God has created us for relationships, it is through relationships that we are held accountable, we are pushed on towards holiness, we share the life-giving truth of the Gospel and we exemplify the changing work of God in our lives to our friends, coworkers, neighbors and acquaintances.
But let’s be honest here. When you meet someone, how long does it take for his passions to come out? We are naturally looking for something on which to connect: sports, work, music, pass times… So why is it that we would hide our faith? If we truly believe that you have the greatest news for eternity, why would we not share it? We would bring up your brand new job, or a new relationship, but not our life-changing experience with God Almighty? We ought to be so transformed by Jesus that his story just flows from our mouths all of the time.
And if we are timid for any reason, let us remember that “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Rom 10.17). There is no salvation apart from faith. And one cannot come to faith unless he has heard of his need for a Savior, the work of Jesus Christ and on that knowledge the Spirit leads him to repent. We plant the seeds, and God causes the growth (1 Cor 3.6).
We cannot prepare someone’s heart. We cannot soften the soil. We cannot remove the boulders that would hinder the seed of the Gospel from growing into faith. It is not our responsibility! God says, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ez 36.26-27). He is the one who prepares hearts. He is the one who removes the stubborn, hardened heart and places His spirit within to lead to faith.
Faith is a gift from God. Not of man, so that no man may boast (Eph 2.8-9). When we go out and talk about Jesus to someone who is not a believer, that person is spiritually dead (Eph 2.1) Being friends with him does not make him only semi-dead, or warm up that cold lifeless heart in any way. God has to shock that heart to life with a defibrillator, and that defibrillator is the Holy Spirit entering in and taking up residence.
The wonder of this miracle is that God chooses to use us to be the vessels by which He makes His Gospel known! Cornelius was a contemporary of Jesus, a ranking official in Italy. The Bible says that he was a devout man who feared God even though he was not a Jew (Acts 10.2). So God gave him a vision and told him to invite Peter (one of the apostles) to come tell Him the Truth. Peter came, told him the Gospel, and Cornelius and his whole family believed.
The Holy Spirit had gone forth and prepared Cornelius’ heart as well as his whole family’s. Then Peter came and through the preaching and hearing of the Word, they were saved. I know a man who so fully believes in the future hope of eternity in Heaven, and mankind’s need of this salvation that he shares the Gospel with everyone he meets. He calls his lifestyle relational evangelism: “I’ll tell everyone the Gospel and those who want to believe will be my friend”. I wrote earlier on an atheist’s perspective of evangelism that is quite convicting here.
Does this mean that we do not befriend non-believers? Does this mean that we do not live a lifestyle that represents Christ in everything that we do so as to be a good witness? Does this mean that we do not live life-long examples in front of our non believing friends, coworkers and family members, continually reasoning with them to believe? May it never be! Jesus says: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5.16). But no one can glorify God if all they see is a good deed. They have to know why you are doing it. At all times let us times share the Gospel, always using words to explain our actions.
Let us not satiate our guilt for not sharing by saying that we want to prove that we are normal or trustworthy or break down barriers to the Gospel. We are not normal. We are aliens (1 Peter 2.11) and this world is not our home (Heb 13.14). By all means, let us break down the barriers to the Gospel. Let us not disgrace our Heavenly Father by placing any stumbling block in front of a person, but live morally excellent lives and honor God through our actions and through our words so that we can reap that harvest that is plentiful and waiting.