Law and Grace:
A Biblical Correction to Modern Evangelism
- revised 4 / 2012
As a Christian it is only natural that you want to share the good news of Jesus. The Holy Spirit who is sealed within you(Eph. 4:30) compels you to do so, not just out of obedience to the Lord but also out of love for the lost. Like Paul who said "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16) it is also natural that you will get impatient in waiting for those Spirit-led opportunities that may seem to come your way only rarely.
Well I have good news for you! Since the Holy Spirit lives within you, those "Spirit-led opportunities" can and should come from within you too! Just like Paul as he reasoned "in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there"(Acts 17:17) it is both spiritual and biblical to take the initiative when it comes to sharing the good news of salvation with the lost.
However, if the gospel is indeed "good news", why then can it be so intimidating to share it? The truth is that the good news of salvation through faith in Christ makes no sense without the bad news that we are condemned without Him - and who wants to share bad news? It can be tempting, then, to leave out the bad news and only share the good, but this presents a distorted understanding of the gospel that can have dangerous consequences.
Jesus described the problem perfectly in Matthew 7:6 - "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces." Our sacred, precious Pearl of Great Price is none other than Christ crucified, and of course you and I hate to see the world try to trample him under their feet, not appreciating who He is and what He has done. Why? It's simple. They don't appreciate the Savior because they don't know they need saving. Many who do "accept Jesus" often feel like they are doing him a favor!
After hundreds of conversations with people in the marketplace, I have seen that most people - including "church people" - believe that if there is a heaven, they are good enough to go there. And who dares tell them otherwise? For the past century, the focus of preaching and evangelism have been on the "good news" of the cross and salvation, with little attention paid to the "bad news" of our sin, judgment, and the punishment of hell. Because God's holiness and our sin and rebellion against Him are trivialized, hell is seen as an unreasonable punishment that few need worry about. For many, Jesus has become an optional accessory, an opportunity for life enhancement rather than our only hope of salvation.
Yet Jesus said that "wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."(Matt. 7:13-14) In fact, although Jesus preached more about hell than he did about heaven, warnings about the just punishment for our sin have become strangely unfashionable in the past century or so. Or, the occasional fire and brimstone preacher may use the threat of hell as a manipulative tool, often for personal gain, but fails to convince his listeners that our loving God also loves justice and will indeed punish unrepentant and unforgiven sinners.
"Okay, let me get this straight - I need to tell people they are sinners and will be punished in hell? You've got to be kidding!" My answer?No, I'm not kidding, and yes, you do need to tell them the truth about sin and hell. But you can do it without a judgmental attitude, in a way that will show them that hell is a reasonable punishment. Instead of pointing fingers, you can ask a few simple questions to help them understand where they stand with God and what the consequences are. Let people judge themselves, but make sure it is by God's standard, not the worlds.This will be easier than you think because all have His standard written on their hearts, they all have the knowledge of good and evil. I can't tell you how many people, strangers to me just minutes before, have openly admitted to me that they are liars, thieves, blasphemers, and adulterers and murderers at heart. How? Do as Jesus did!
WHAT DID JESUS DO?
Are you a good person? The rich young man who came to Jesus thought he was. He asked how he could inherit eternal life, expecting praise and commendation. Instead Jesus gave him the law: "You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.' " (Mark 10:17-27) This young man proudly claimed to have kept them all, so Jesus went to the heart of this man's sin: his wealth was more important to him than God, breaking the1rst and 2nd commandments. Jesus could have said "all have sinned" (Romans 3:23) but then this man would have found safety in numbers. Instead Jesus personalized his sin, making him see himself as he really was before a holy God: a lawbreaker deserving God's wrath. And how did the man react? He was silenced by the law just as Paul described: "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God."(Romans 3:19) What do people do after the law silences their excuses and self-justification? Some leave, like the rich young man, but most stay to listen. They hope there is more to the story.They heard the bad news, now they want to hear the good news. We must make use of the law as it is intended to be used: "So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith." (Galations 3:23)
I have been surprised to find out how many people are willing to tell their beliefs to a stranger in answer to good questions. This can begin interesting conversations with people in all walks of life with many different beliefs without needing to judge or point a finger at them. Why?In part I know I am winning the right to be heard by listening. I also know that after I ask just a few questions about how well they have kept God's law - or even their own standard of right and wrong - they will usually be silenced by their conscience and much more able and ready to listen.
I used to try to convince people that their life will be better with Jesus in it, feeling like a used car salesman in the process. I was "throwing my pearls to the pigs", trying to convince them they needed something they didn't even want. Now, the law leads to grace, and it is a wonderful privilege to share the good news of Jesus with hearts hungry to receive it.Most people are thankful for the conversation, and no matter where they are spiritually, whether they are a prodigal, a seeker, a beginning believer or even those advanced in faith, they all can benefit when we plant a seed of truth that God brings growth to. Though we must be careful to avoid giving false assurance of salvation, we can encourage those who come to repentance and faith to verbally confess Jesus as their Lord and point them to various scriptures that assure salvation and encourage local church involvement.
WHAT'S IN IT FOR ME?
What kind of a question is that? A very good one, because there is a very good answer! Paul, who knew by experience, wrote "I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ."(Philemon 1:6)
Just as the law is the "missing link" of modern evangelism, I believe initiative evangelism is the missing link in the contemporary church.Learning by doing was at the heart of Jesus' discipleship program as He sent out his disciples to witness in pairs. Worship becomes more sincere when you know you will boldly proclaim the same truths to a lost world.Bible study is taken seriously when you know you are preparing for spiritual warfare. Prayer becomes fervent when you know you fully intend to follow it up with action. Fellowship becomes sweet between comrades on a mission. Your theology will be sharpened as all your shallow presumptions are challenged.
If you've read this far, you must care about reaching out to the lost, but do you care enough to do something about it? It may sound scary and overwhelming but after setting a goal of witnessing every day I can say this; it does get much easier and you will definitely improve with practice!Here are two excellent "law and grace" evangelistic resources to get you started:
· "One Thing You Can't Do In Heaven" by Mark Cahill
· "Way of the Master" by Ray Comfort