The beginning of a new year is a gift to us. We have the ability to reflect on the year that was – whether it was good or bad – and feel as though we get to hit a reset button. Hundreds of days lie ahead of us, giving us the hope that this year will be different. We make resolutions (or joke about not making resolutions because we know we’ll break them) and our resolutions typically involve self-improvement – working out, eating better, or good spiritual aims of a Bible reading plan or praying calendar.
These resolutions, or at least desires, are all good; but what if this year was about how you could affect the life of someone else? What if this year we followed Paul’s advice to Timothy to “do the work of the evangelist”? Evangelism is a gift that empowers some so supernaturally that it is easy to them, but for the rest of us, it feels challenging and intimidating.
A few years ago, I grew tired of hearing about others “on mission” and evangelizing with so little of it in my own life. Something in me desperately desired for evangelism to become a normal part of my life. I learned a lot that year, mainly by failing (if that’s possible) at evangelism. In the years since, I’ve learned even more. Today and tomorrow, I’ll be expounding on how this could be the year you move off the missional bench and into the game. Here’s a preview of what’s to come.
- Gospel enjoyment leads to gospel evangelism. Our lives revolve around what we love and so does evangelism. We talk about what we enjoy – from family and friends to our favorite TV shows, sports teams, and hobbies. Most of us think of evangelism as a duty to be accomplished or an obligation of Christian discipleship, but evangelism becomes normal when the gospel of Jesus Christ is what we love. Gospel enjoyment leads to gospel evangelism.
- Learn what evangelism actually is. Richard Peace in Conversion in the New Testament says that “how we conceive of conversions determines how we do evangelism” and goes on to highlight that the American church’s typical view on conversion is akin to Paul on the Damascus road. This has guided us towards a certain understanding and application of evangelism, but Peace explains that evangelism is a process for some while it is an event for others.
- Pray for specific people at specific times. When Jesus sees the crowds in Matthew 9, He speaks the now-famous phrase, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” But what follows is an exhortation to prayer. There is much involved in this exhortation and if we are ever to do the work of an evangelist, we must start where Jesus guides His disciples to start.
In the coming days, I’ll expand on these three aspects with the hope that evangelism becomes a regular, normal, and natural inclination of Christ followers. This could be the year mission moves from rhetoric to reality for you and your church.
1. Gospel Enjoyment Leads to Gospel Evangelism
We all have a friend that won’t stop talking about their kids (guilty), one who is a little too obsessed with their favorite team, and one who analyzes their favorite TV show a little too much. We wouldn’t call their incessant conversation about these topics that they love evangelism, but it is precisely what it is. Everyone is evangelizing about something, sharing about what they love and why they love it.
Unfortunately, the church has taught, dialogued, and exhorted people to evangelism without joy making it a duty that we all must do rather than the natural expression of those who love God. The work of the evangelist starts with the work of loving and enjoying God and His gospel through Jesus Christ. The great commandments must be before the great commission or mission will fade.
Is it Good News to You?
Gospel enjoyment is loving, celebrating, and finding joy in the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It’s good news because in God’s redemptive plan, Jesus lives the perfect life (the one we could never live), died an atoning death in our place (the death we deserved), and resurrected from the dead (accomplishing the victory we could never accomplish ourselves). In His good plan, He sent His Holy Spirit to live in us, for His righteousness to be credited to us and then enacted through us.
But do you see this as good news? Does it bring you joy or is it a fact that you have cognitively agreed is right?
I’ve known joyless belief and I’ve watched joyless Christianity in the church as if it were normal, but it is not the Christianity that God describes and invites us to in the scriptures. Jesus summarizes the commandments into the Great Commandment – to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. In John 15, He speaks of abiding in the love of God that we may have His joy and it may be in full. Jesus prays in John 17 that His followers would have His joy fulfilled in them and that they would embody the Father’s love.
Paul tells us in Romans 14:17 that “the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking (religion) but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Psalm 16:11 reminds us that in the presence of God is fullness of joy. The scriptures are filled with the idea of joy.
Why is our joy so important to Jesus? Why do the scriptures speak so much to it?
First, because of the character of God. He is both justice and mercy, wrath and grace, but those who embrace Him by faith in Jesus receive and experience Him as a God of love, joy, peace, grace, and mercy. To know God is to know joy and love in all that it truly is.
Second, it’s because we are designed to live not by a set of rules or ideas, but to live by what we love. In Desiring the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith says: “Our ultimate love is oriented by and to a picture of what we think it looks like to live well, and that picture then governs, shapes, and motivates our decisions and actions.”
We were designed by God to live for what we love, and to love what is most lovely: God revealed to us by the scriptures and ultimately by Jesus. Our loves and affections fall on things we find valuable because God designed us to value what is most valuable. Our affections are given to things less valuable, but the gospel of Jesus Christ aims to awaken us to what is most valuable, to invite us to experience it by faith. This faith invites us in and then invites us to shape our life around the story that God is telling.
When This Becomes Good News, Evangelism Becomes Normal
This is good news to all who embrace it and when we love it, we live for it. When we live for it, we talk about it. This is the starting point for evangelism, to reorient our love and affections towards He who is most lovely. We must aim to replace unbelief with belief in the goodness of God through Jesus by devotional practice, repentance, and confession.
I knew this as truth, but only when I began to love it did it become easy to talk about in a normal everyday conversation. Almost five years ago, I was leading a college ministry, talking about the gospel and telling others to share their faith, but then the gospel of Jesus Christ became bigger to me than it had before. It struck my heart that I was far more wicked than I had ever dared imagine, but in Christ I was far more accepted than I could ever dream.
Suddenly there was a change in me. I grew to love this truth as good news for my everyday life, as the very truth that could shape my approach to work, parenting, marriage, finances, and hobbies. When it began to shape my life, it became what I discussed with my co-workers in their cubicles over lunch break, my neighbors when they came over for dinner, and my family and friends when we spent time together. Even my failures at work or home became opportunities to share how the gospel responds to them.
The how-to of evangelism must follow the want-to of evangelism, and the want-to of evangelism comes when we love and enjoy the gospel of Jesus Christ. Gospel evangelism is not a duty we are invited to, but a joy flowing naturally from gospel enjoyment.
Read Part 2 HERE.