In 1871, the American evangelist, Dwight (“DL”) Moody was preaching to huge crowds each night in Chicago. At the end of each message he would give an appeal for people to either respond immediately to the gospel message he had just presented, or at least go home and consider it. But on Sunday October 8th, 1871, a huge fire broke out in Chicago. It burned through the city for days and became known as The Great Chicago Fire. Around 10,000 people were homeless as a result, and hundreds of people lost their lives. Moody was heart-broken when he realised that many of the people who had died were the people who had attended that Sunday night meeting where he had urged them to consider accepting Christ. His deep grief over this tragedy led him to make a vow that he would never again merely urge people to simply consider accepting Christ. From now on, he vowed, he would plead with all those he preached to – to immediately turn away from their sins and turn to the Saviour. DL Moody committed his life and ministry as an evangelist to be someone who would always strive to close the deal because he was now aware—more than ever—that people’s eternal destinies were in jeopardy!
WHAT IS EVANGELISM?
As a young Christian I soon developed a burden for the lost. I began street-witnessing in Geelong as a teenager, going out every Friday night to hand out gospel tracts. Around 1984 I travelled around Australia street-preaching. As the call of God on my life became clearer I knew that I had to undertake formal theological training. It was during this phase when I enrolled in an evangelism course that I discovered that “What is evangelism?” was not a straight forward question. Was evangelism just preaching the gospel? Could this preaching really be considered evangelism if the gospel was not presented very clearly? Could it be considered evangelism is no-one ever came to Christ as a result? Did it necessarily involve preaching?
I even came across scholars who argued that evangelism could be done without preaching or even inviting people to turn to Christ. These scholars would cite Francis of Assisi whom they claim had said, “Everywhere you go, preach the gospel—and if you have to—use words!” (I have since discovered that Francis said nothing of the sort!) While there is merit to letting our light shine by doing good deeds that help others (Mat. 5:16) as a means to reach out to them, it was not what Christ taught was the means for sharing the gospel. God has ordained that the gospel necessarily involves the use of words. In fact, we might consider our charitable works as pre-evangelism.
WHAT IS PRE-EVANGELISM?
In Christ’s parable of the sower (Mark 4:3-9) He described four types of people: those whose hearts were either – hardened like a well-worn path, full of rocks, riddled with thorns, or well-cultivated good soil. How do we turn a hardened-hearted person into a well-cultivated-hearted person? While there’s no magic formula, it at least involves being courteous, kind, and generous (note 1Peter 2:12; 2Cor. 8:21; 9:13; Phil. 2:15; Titus 2:8; Mat. 5:16). It often also involves patiently answering objections and questions (1Peter 3:15) which is referred to as apologetics (which means giving answers). And perhaps the most challenging of all, undoing the hurt caused by hypocritical Christians by re-building trust so that a person can distinguish the message of Christ from the person who claimed to follow Christ but did not do it sincerely. Unless we cultivate a person’s heart by a clear demonstration of our love for and commitment to Christ, we will never be able to close the deal in persuading a person to turn from sin and turn to the Saviour.
Based on the Parable of the Sower, evangelism can result in someone accepting or rejecting Christ’s offer to bear their sin, guilt and shame and mediate for them to adopted by God the Father as child of God with full inheritance rights. For a long time I wondered why God would bother using His redeemed people as His messengers of this infinitely valuable offer. After all, I had reasoned, wouldn’t people be more inclined to accept this offer if God Himself appeared to them to make this offer? Sadly, I have since discovered, God Himself did appear and make this offer to people—but He was still rejected by them (Jn. 1:10-11)! I eventually came to realise that God in His wisdom has ordained that this offer of salvation must be accepted with humility which requires that it is delivered by another frail but redeemed human being.
God created mankind as His image bearers who enjoy certain divine prerogatives including the ability to choose whether we will be loyal to Him or not. This unfortunately was why mankind originally fell from innocence into the bondage and deception of sin. But the wages of serving sin as your master is eternal condemnation and irrevocable separation from God (Rom. 6:23; Rev. 20:12-15). Yet God has ordained that it is in the proclamation of the gospel (the good news which announces the means by which a person can be redeemed from their slavery to sin) that a person can be saved from their sins and set free from a life of bondage to Satan. God implores all people to turn to Him to satisfy the deep thirst of their soul—but He necessarily uses His humble people to summon people to turn to Him and to call them to repentance and to close the deal by accepting His offer now.
WE WORK AS AN EVANGELISM TEAM AS A CHURCH
We can all contribute to the evangelism of our friends, neighbours, family or work colleagues. Our consistent, authentic, sincere following of Christ is foundational to this. Our acts of selfless kindness, the hallmark of a true follower of Christ, can begin the work of softening a hard heart which may lead them to Christ as their Saviour. Our contribution might also be our invitation to our friend or family member to come and hear the gospel in a church service or special evangelistic meeting. The person who accepts this offer may experience a warm welcome from the members of the church’s congregation that their heart is deeply touched. Our combined prayers for those who do not yet know Christ can result in extraordinary miracles of conversions is another way we can support each other in evangelism. But our evangelism ultimately must be proclaimed with an appeal for people to turn from their devotion to their sin, to being fully devoted to Christ. Only then, will they have accepted God’s gracious offer of mercy can we say that we have now closed the deal and successfully evangelised. In the closing verses of the Bible
What’s holding you back from turning to the Saviour to receive His offer of forgiveness for your sins? Will you receive Christ as your Lord and Saviour? If you were to die now, would you have the assurance that you would enjoy peace with God for eternity? Will you now ask God to forgive you and have His way in your life? These are all questions to be asked to close the deal in evangelism. What’s the “deal”? The deal is what has often been described as The Great Exchange. We exchange our brokenness and shame for God’s forgiveness and a new life as His son or daughter. It’s that simple. It starts by accepting the truth. It then causes us to ask God for His gift of salvation. It results in us accepting His offer and living a life of gratitude toward God for what He has done by sending His Son to die in our place, rise from the dead for our redemption, and ascend back to the Father to secure our inheritance with Him. C.S. Lewis concluded Mere Christianity with these deal closing words:
But there must be a real giving up of the self…The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him…Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life…But look to Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
MERE CHRISTIANITY, pages 226-227
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