ReConnecting to Evangelism
Topic: Evangelism Passage: Romans 5:6–5:10
Grace Community Church
Feb. 26, 2017
Re:Connecting to Evangelism
Turn with me to Rom. 5 as we wrap up the Re:Connecting series this morning. Next week we begin a study of the book of Ecclesiastes, a book that contains rich wisdom and perspective for our brief life on this planet and I'm looking forward to how the Lord is going to speak to us from this incredible book.
Eighteen years ago Santiago Sanchez began digging a tunnel in the jungle in El Salvador, and he has been digging every day since. A journalist who went into the tunnel to report on it confessed that by the time he got halfway he was struggling to breath and had to turn back. Other than Santiago, no one has ever made it to the end of the tunnel.
The reason Santiago has devoted the last 18 years of his life to digging a tunnel is that he believes God told him to. He doesn't know where the tunnel is going or why he's digging it, but as he enters the tunnel at 3am every morning, he is convinced he's doing the Lord's work. He believes it's the job God gave him to do.
Who can really say whether the Lord really called Santiago to dig this tunnel or not, but we do know that the Lord has given us, His church, a job to do, and the great thing is, unlike Santiago, we don't need to wonder what the purpose of that job is, or why we do it. The job God has given the church is to share the gospel with those who don't know Jesus. In this last Re:Connecting message let's connect with evangelism by answering three basic but very important questions: what is evangelism, why are we to evangelize, and how do we evangelize.
What is evangelism?
The Greek word for evangelism means to proclaim good news. That good news was summed up by the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:6-10
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Rom. 5:6-10
The Bible says we were sinners, enemies of God, and totally unable to ever save ourselves. Jesus used the word lost to describe our desperate state. We were lost. The word lost can have two meanings: when we misplace something we say it's lost. One of the great unsolved mysteries in my life has to do with a baseball and a family vacation. Years ago my family took a vacation to Silver Bay YMCA and one day we went out to their baseball field to hit and catch a ball. One of us hit the ball pretty good and it went over the heads of the Snapp in-fielders and landed in the grass. And it disappeared. I don't mean it was hard to find. I mean it disappeared like ships and planes disappear in the Bermuda Triangle. We looked and looked and looked. And it's not like it was a field with high grass or anything. It was fairly short cropped grass. Where could it go? We spent a lot of time looking for it, but we never found it. It was lost, never to be found.
Sin messed up our compass so that we don't know the direction to God or to life or to the good that God intended for us. We are lost - wandering sheep who don't know the way back to God. But the other meaning of the word "lost" applies too. It means to perish. Every year more than 2 dozen large ships sink or disappear at sea, taking their crews with them. They're not wandering or misguided. They are lost at sea. It means they've perished.
We were all destined to perish, but in a far worse way than any tragedy that could befall us on earth. The Bible says that we were destined to spend eternity separated from God, separated from all that is good and right, and no way to save ourselves, and no way to get back to God. We were sinners and enemies of God and helpless to change our lostness. That's the bad news.
But Jesus came to give us incredibly good news. In Luke 19:10 he says that he came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). Paul tells us that God demonstrated His amazing love for us in this: Christ died for us. Jesus perished on the cross so that we would never have to perish. When we believe in Christ, we are justified (made righteous in God's sight), saved (think of the sailor about to perish under the waves when a boat comes and rescues him), and reconciled back to God, which means we go from enemies of God to being friends of God. That is good news!
But God doesn't want us to keep that good news to ourselves. He wants us to proclaim that good news to others who are perishing. That's what evangelism is.
Why do we evangelize?
Let's be honest, for most of us, evangelism is really hard to do. We don't mind talking about it and theorizing about what it should look like, but we rarely actually do it. What if we mess up? What if they laugh at us? What if we offend that person? What if we lose a friendship? Knowing what evangelism is just isn't enough to motivate us to actually step out and tell someone about the good news of Christ.
To motivate us to take the risk, to break the silence, we need to know why we should proclaim the good news. And the short answer to that is, love.
2 Cor. 5:14-15 says: For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
At the core of the good news of Jesus is love. God so loved the world. God demonstrated His love for us in this, while we were still sinners Christ died for us. But Paul says that love of Christ when it gets inside of us, can't help but bubble outward towards others.
If we really believe that all people - every man, woman, and child - is lost and perishing, if we really believe that everyone needs Christ to be saved, then love will compel us to tell them the good news about what Christ has done for us and for them.
The Man in the Water
Recently I heard the story of Arland Williams. On an icy, wintry day in January, 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 took off from the Washington National Airport, but had too much ice and slush on its wings to get altitude and crashed into the 14th Street Bridge in Washington DC and then plunged into the icy waters of the Potomac. Only 6 people survived the crash clinging to the airplane tail in the frigid waters, As a rescue helicopter dropped a life line to the survivors, Arland Williams caught it, and handed it to the person next to him. As the helicopter flew one survivor after another to the shore and came back, again and again, Arland Williams handed the rope over to the someone else until finally, when the helicopter got the five others safely to shore and went back for Arland, he had succumbed to his injuries and drowned.
Unlike Arland, as Christians, we already have a lifeline firmly secured to Christ and nothing can ever sever that tie. But we do have the opportunity, by passing on the gospel to others, to hand an eternal lifeline to other eternal souls, the lifeline of Christ. He came to seek and save the lost - to pull us from the frigid waters of sin and separation from God, and put us on the solid rock of Christ.
Why evangelize? Why tell people the good news of Christ? Answering that question is essential if we are to be motivated to take the risk. If we evangelize because we're told to, or because we feel guilty if we don't, or we just want people to agree with us, we probably aren't going to do it, and if we do, it will be with the wrong motives. The why is this: the love of Christ compels us. We can't sit on the sidelines watching people perish and be ok with that. Love makes us want to pass the lifeline to someone, and another, and another, and another. Love makes us want to tell the good news and pray that others come to know Jesus as their Savior as well.
How do we evangelize?
Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!... 19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. 1 Cor. 9:16, 19-23
We can't hand the lifeline to someone unless we get close to them. What Paul is saying is that we should be flexible enough to enter the unbeliever's world and relate to them as much as possible without compromising our faith. That's what Jesus did; he got close to the kind of people the religious leaders looked down on. Paul looked for what he had in common with others and related to them on that basis - always to hand them the lifeline of Christ.
One way we can avoid this is to turn our sensitivity dial down a little bit. On my garage door opener there is a sensitivity dial that can be set higher or lower. If it's set too high - in other words making the door opener very sensitive to any resistance - then the door won’t shut if it feels any friction at all. Our relationships with others can be like that, if we are too sensitive we can shut the door on a relationship the moment they say or do something that doesn't line up with our convictions or beliefs. Christians can mistakenly think that holiness is a kind of bubble wrap that protects us from contact with a contaminated world. Jesus didn't live like that. When Jesus walked the earth he was perfectly holy and hated sin with a passion we can't even imagine. But his sensitivity dial must have been turned down because he loved and embraced cheats and prostitutes and liars and serial adulterers and a woman caught in the act of adultery and he drew them near to himself!! He didn't ignore or condone their sin, but he didn't avoid them or reject them either. He didn't come to avoid the lost, he came to seek and save the lost.
Let me close with a practical way we can do this. I remember many years ago going through the four spiritual laws with friends, trying to lead them to faith in Christ. Old style evangelism often looked like that: you'd share with someone in the effort to lead them to believe. If they responded, you'd invite them to church where you'd hope they'd become a part of the church, and eventually feel a sense of belonging in the church. So the order went something like this: lead them to believe, invite them to become a part of the church, leading to a sense of belonging in the church family. Believe, become, belong.
People are much more skeptical of everything today, and it takes building a relationship for most people to let you get close enough to hand them a lifeline, the lifeline of Christ. Eddie Cole suggests this change in the order: invite people who don't know Jesus into our community and love them. Let them know you relate to them right where they are. Let them know they belong, even if they don't believe in Jesus. Our prayer is that eventually they will take the lifeline and believe in Christ, and become a part of the church and the mission of handing the lifeline of Christ to others, but whether they do or not, they are loved and feel a sense of belonging in the church.
Instead of believe, become, belong, the order is belong, believe, become. Our sensitivity dials (which are often just self-righteous dials) are turned down, we love people wherever they're at, and our message to people is: you belong here. Whether you believe or not, we want you to belong. We care about you as a person, not just as a notch on our belt. We relate to you where you are - you belong. We're unashamed that we want to hand them the lifeline to Christ, but whether they take that lifeline or not, we love them, we relate to them, and they belong.
Let's ask the Lord to help us to turn down our sensitivity and turn up his love for people in our hearts. And then believe that He will use us as messengers of His good news to a world that desperately needs good news. Let's pray.
If you're really not sure what it means to be a Christian, I want to say, you belong here. We care about you and respect you right where you are. We pray that you come to believe in Jesus and take the lifeline for yourself, but we will never hound you or pressure you or judge you. God 's big enough to convince you that He's real.
But there might be someone here this morning and the Lord is speaking to your heart and you know, I'm ready. I'm ready to believe in Jesus. Ready to take the lifeline he died to give me. If that's you, pray silently along with me.