. In our last article on the subject of evangelism we promised to discuss the subject of the relationship between the life of the Christian and the work of evangelism. We emphasized in our last article that we all in the office of all believers have a calling in the glorious and wonderful work of evangelism. We wrote especially about our calling to give a testimony of the truth of the Word of God and of His wonderful works. It is necessary for us to give a testimony with our mouths. Without speaking of the truth of the Word of God it is impossible to do the work of evangelism. Our testimony must be personal, living, and zealous. We must be able to give a testimony of the truth of God as we have come to love and know the Word of God and His wonderful salvation. However, the testimony of our mouth cannot stand alone. It must be supported by our life of godliness. The Bible tells us this very often. We are told in Matthew 5:16 “Let your light so shine before men, that they might see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Paul exhorts us inEphesians 4:1 to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.” Again in Philippians 1:27 he exhorts, “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ.” There must always be harmony between our confession of faith and our life of godliness. If this is not so, then our lives will make a lie out of the confession of our mouth and we will bring blasphemy to the name of our God. No man will believe what we confess with our mouth if our actions are evil and corrupt. Our lives must be a very demonstration of the truth that we believe and confess. All this is of utmost importance for the work of evangelism. Evil and corrupt lives will ruin all possibility of doing evangelism. Holy and godly lives support and further the work of evangelism. Our Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 23 lists among the reasons why the Christian must do good works this reason: “that by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ.”
We have entitled this article, “Evangelism and Practical Godliness.” By godliness we mean centrally and first of all a zealous and fervent love for God and an earnest desire and striving to live according to the Word of God for His glory. We mean by godliness a walking in all the good works which God has before ordained for us. Godliness involves the showing forth of the fruits of the Spirit of God such as goodness, righteousness, truth, hope, joy, and love. By practical godliness we refer to that godliness that comes to manifestation in the practice of our daily lives. It is such godliness as causes our lives to differ from the world, to differ radically and evidently. We distinguish practical godliness from that form of godliness which is nothing more than an abstract defending of doctrines. It is of course of utmost importance that we defend the doctrines and truths of the Word of God. Without knowledge and doctrines the people of God will perish. There can be no evangelism without truth and doctrines. But this doctrine must also be lived, it must come to manifestation in our daily practice. Otherwise it is of no significance and value whatsoever. It is nothing more than sounding brass and tinkling cymbal. Our godliness must be such that it causes people around us to marvel at the greatness of our God and our Savior Jesus Christ Whom we confess and serve.
Our godliness must be the one outstanding thing in our life. Our godliness must be such that it causes men to ask the reason for it. Our godliness must be such that it causes men to covet our faith, our joy, our hope, and our peace. Though men may hate the righteousness of God and despise His truth they must always be put to silence by the godliness of our life. We must be blameless and without reproach in the midst of the wicked world in which we live. Above all we as Christians who would do the work of evangelism must be known as men who love and fear God. The result of practical godliness will be that, as our catechism says, others will be gained to Christ. The ungodly who hate God and persecute His saints will be condemned.
We could not possibly of course go into all that belongs to practical godliness, neither is this necessary to establish the point. Let us consider just a few examples. Surely godliness is a fervent love for God and therefore also for His Word. This fervent love must be heard in our conversation and seen in all our actions. It must be our heart’s desire to know more and more about our wonderful God and Savior Jesus Christ. It must be the greatest desire of all our life to live in a way that is truly pleasing and glorifying unto our God. Men must be able to say from our words and our actions, “Oh how they fear and love God.” The reason why we do certain things and do not do others, the manner in which we do all things, must evidently be our love for God.
The truly godly man is one who frequents the house of the Lord, not only on the Lord’s Day but also for many other Christian meetings. We love to go to the house of the Lord because we love God, and in the house of the Lord we find the fellowship and blessing of the Lord. Practical godliness must then be such that it is evident that we love to go to the house of the Lord because of the blessing that we find there. We do not go to the house of the Lord out of mere custom or tradition but out of a fervent love for God. We surely could not, for example, expect to be able in the work of evangelism to encourage others to come with us to the house of the Lord if we do not ourselves love to be there. So great and so evident must our love be for the house of the Lord that men begin to ask what it is that we are finding there that we so intensely seek after and love so dearly. It is impossible for a church to do evangelism if many of her own members do not care to come to the worship services and meetings during the week. Where the members of the church themselves do not care to come, no outsider can be encouraged to come. That is obvious.
We as Reformed Christians love the truth of the Sovereignty of God. For us this is the central truth of the whole of the Word of God. We often stress the great truth of “to God alone be the glory.” But what does this mean in terms of our practical godliness? What does this mean concerning our regard for the law of God? Surely it must mean that we with godly fear strictly adhere to the commandments of the Lord. We do this not out of a cold legalism but as those who are constrained by the love of God. It is for the godly man an urgent matter to keep the law of God all the days of his life and in all and every sphere of his life. Though the godly man carries about with him his old man of sin, he does not use this as an occasion and excuse for his transgression of the law of God. Practically in his daily life it can be seen that he strives to keep the commandments of his God.
What does the truth of the sovereignty of God mean for our trust in God and for the attitude that we take toward our life and the hardships of our life? Surely the man who constantly goes around complaining because of the hardships and difficulties of his life does not reveal a faith in the sovereign goodness of God. Though we may confess with our mouth the sovereignty of God in our work of evangelism, no man will believe this if we are in our practical life an unbelieving and murmuring people. On the other hand, our testimony of the sovereignty of God is beautifully and powerfully supported if we are known as a people who manifest the grace of contentment, always giving God the honor and glory and thanking Him for His wonderful goodness. Surely some of the greatest testimony comes from those who know how to rejoice and give thanks in the midst of adversity. Such a testimony will cause men to marvel at our God and covet our peace and assurance.
For the Christian who lives in practical godliness sin is a grievous thing. When he does fall into sin then there is with such a man a very evident and deep sorrow for that sin. His greatest desire is, in the way of repentance and confession, to return to the favor and love of His God. He does not continue in sin. He says before God and man, “I have sinned grievously; oh, that I might be forgiven and reconciled to God and man.” The godly man does not seek by all kinds of ways to justify his own actions and excuse his own sin; he simply in deep humility acknowledges and confesses his sin. When that sin is against his fellow man, practical godliness means that he is such a man that seeks immediately to confess his sin unto his neighbor and seeks his forgiveness. The man who walks in practical godliness will not allow the sun to go down on his wrath. How terrible it is when a man who goes by the name Christian and is known to belong to our church forever holds a grudge against his neighbor. He does evil and does not repent of that evil. He is known as a hard and merciless man who will never forgive. What a poor testimony that is to the forgiving mercy of our God and our Savior Jesus Christ. Can we expect our neighbors to have any desire at all to come into the fellowship of the church where men never repent of evil against their neighbors and, when evil is done to them, they never forgive? How wonderful it is and what a strong support for the work of evangelism if we confess our sin to our neighbor, seek quickly to be reconciled, and, when sinned against, we in mercy and love immediately forgive. Such practical godliness will make men desire our faith and our goodness.
Practical godliness certainly must be revealed in the love that we have for our neighbor. This love must first of all be revealed in the church. According to the words of our Lord the disciples of Christ must be known by the love that they have for one another. Sometimes our churches are filled with petty bickering and fighting. How strong are the warnings of Scripture against those who war and fight in the church, those who bite and devour one another with their tongues. There is little that does as great damage to the cause of Christ Jesus as evil spirits and evil actions among the members. Surely no one would want to belong to a church where there is constant bickering and fighting. The cause of evangelism is virtually destroyed by such things in the church. On the other hand the cause of evangelism is greatly aided when men around us are jealous of the love that we have for one another. It happens that the jealousy for this love may cause someone from the outside of the church to come to church under the preaching of the Word. Such love is a most powerful factor in the work of evangelism. In a world where there is nothing but wrath and hatred, the church in the work of evangelism must afford a sphere where the true love of Christ Jesus reigns, and is experienced and felt.
The Bible tells us that we must do good unto all men. That surely belongs to practical godliness. That means that if we see our neighbors in great distress and need we are the first as godly men to come to their aid. Living in practical godliness means that we can be counted on when there is great need and distress to help to the best of our abilities. We are filled with what the Bible calls bowels of compassion and tender mercy for the distressed and the needy. How necessary this is for the work of evangelism. How our Lord is our example in this.
We could yet go into the whole area of our business dealings with our neighbors. Are we known as a people who are always honest and just in our dealings with our neighbors? Is there truly a difference in the way we conduct our business or are we apt to lie and cheat as much as or more than our ungodly neighbor? Are we ever only seeking our own advantage? Are we manifest as a materialistic and money-loving people? What a terrible testimony to the gospel of Christ Jesus such things bring.
We could go on and on, of course, in this discussion. Let us all relate this matter of evangelism and practical godliness to our own lives. We as Protestant Reformed Churches have a reputation of being strong in the doctrines of the Reformed Faith. We can thank the Lord for this. But are we also outstanding because of the practical godly walk of our members?