Rev. Kortering is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches. Previous article in this series: July 2006, p. 423.
As we consider the subject of how we equip ourselves for the work of personal evangelism, I like to focus on five things.
First, we must begin by checking our hearts. Each one of us must ask himself this question, Am I right with my God? Personal evangelism, or personal witnessing, is a spiritual act that requires spirituality. All such spirituality is expressed by our own personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ.
Jesus makes this point in His Parable of the Lost Son, sometimes called the Parable of the Prodigal Son, recorded in Luke 15:11-32. We can quickly review the main points of this parable. The younger son requested the inheritance of his father before his father died, he received it, and he squandered it in a far country. He had a spiritual awakening there when things went very badly after he had wasted all his money. He recalled that the servants in his father’s house had more comforts than he did. But he realized fully that he could not just pack up and return home. He had sinned against his father by placing greater value on his money than on his friendship with him in the home. Hence, he proposed to himself that the way of reconciliation involved two things. He had to admit to his father that his past action forfeited his claim to any benefits of being his son, since he had disowned his father. He had to tell his father that his request was not for recognition of sonship, but simply for a place in the paternal home as a servant. More than that, he had to admit that his past actions were sinful against his father and that he had to tell him, “I have sinned and am no more worthy to be called thy son” (v. 19).
Upon his return, this young man learned what paternal love was really like. His father was longing for his return, was glad to receive his son back, was ready to forgive him, and gave him a place of honor in the family. All of this was his expression of forgiveness in response to repentance. Obviously, this is the main point of the parable for all Christians.
When we are honest about our spiritual state and condition before God, we quickly identify with this prodigal. We know from our own experience our desperate state and our inability to do anything that makes us acceptable to our Father in heaven. We learn time and time again what love is really like—Father accepts us for the sake of Jesus His Son. Our acceptance is not based on our being good enough for Father, but rather in that Father makes us good enough for Himself in the death and resurrection of His own Son. Love flows from Father to us and is the source of our being accepted. The proof of our understanding such forgiveness is demonstrated by our love, which we return to Father and to Jesus His Son. We celebrate our acceptance by listening to our Father and feasting in His house. Our worship is our delight in Father. We marvel at the depth of His forgiveness and acceptance of such unworthy children.
By contrast, the elder brother, who was such a good fellow, goes into a rage. Even the father in the parable admits that the elder brother was a good young man. He did obey, he did keep the rules of the family, he did conform to all the desires and aspirations of the father. But he could not forgive his brother who had erred and gone astray. He criticized his father when he gave a feast for him. He poured out his criticism and judgment of his father and his brother. Why did he do this? The reason was that he did not know his own sins or unworthiness. He could see the faults of others but not his own. He was a Pharisee, self righteous, judgmental, outwardly good but inwardly far from enjoying God’s forgiving love.
What does this have to do with personal evangelism? Everything. If we do not know our own personal sins and salvation in Jesus Christ, we act like the elder brother. So easily we can view ourselves as very good and acceptable to God. In the next breath we can so easily criticize others, our fellow church members, other Christians, our neighbors, and pat ourselves on the back and brag about how much more faithful we are. Such a spirit will never reach out to others, because it lacks the love that is necessary to do the work. The more self-righteous we are, the more judgmental we are of others. The next thing we do is to justify our refusal to share the gospel with unworthy sinners. A forgiven prodigal, such as we ought to be, is so appreciative of Father’s love and acceptance that it motivates him to consider that what happened to him can by Father’s mercy happen to the most unworthy of sinners who cross his path. Father may even use us as His instruments to lead others to the house of feasting, and nothing would make us more pleased with Father.
Second, to equip ourselves for personal evangelism we need to understand that this activity is God’s will for us and that our obedience to it is an answer to His call. I put it this way deliberately. We must not think of personal witnessing as something that is extra and beyond the call of duty. Every Christian has the calling to be engaged in this activity. This is true because of his prophetic office, given to him by our Lord Jesus Christ. We have spelled this out in detail in past articles, so here we just insert this point to keep this perspective. The call to serve King Jesus as a Christian includes three aspects: a prophetic, priestly, and kingly dimension. In connection with the prophetic aspect, we are anointed, by our union with Jesus Christ, to be able to speak His word to others. Parents do this in the instruction of their children; laborers do this when they describe the reason of the hope that is in them to fellow workers; we do this as neighbors in our interaction with them. The point that is important here is this, that we may properly compare the call of a pastor to the call of the Christian as prophet. They are different, surely, and must not be identified as one and the same. But we can say this, that just as important as the call from God to serve in the ministry is to the pastor, so important is the call to witness to every Christian. It is God’s will that we do it. With the call is the promise of spiritual enabling. Since God calls us to engage in personal evangelism, we turn to Him for wisdom and strength to do it. The call helps us to see the seriousness of the labor and the strengthening that comes from the God who called us.
Third, we must examine our motives for doing this work of personal evangelism. We can look at this from different points of view. If we are not engaged in this activity, we might ask ourselves why this is. There are a number of possibilities. Does it seem to you, perhaps, that the church emphasizes thepreaching of the gospel to such an extent that the importance of your prophetic role as a believer is minimized? I am convinced that the PR position regarding the official preaching of the gospel does not do this. If you do not busy yourself with personal evangelism, might it, instead, be due to spiritual coldness as mentioned above? Or might there be some sin in your life that you would have to abandon if you are to get sincere about your personal witnessing? If you have any sin that controls you or that you commit, obviously you would have to abandon that sin if you will give a good testimony. Examples of this would be cursing, drunkenness, filthy conversation, or what have you. Do you want to convince yourself that you don’t have to witness to others—in order that you can hide your own sin in your bosom? Another possibility is that you may feel completely inadequate and overwhelmed by this activity and convince yourself that you are just not cut out for it.
None of the above is an adequate reason for our not practicing personal evangelism.
It is also possible that we may practice personal evangelism but from wrong motives. We might say, I need more fulfillment in my life as a Christian, and if I witness to others, it gives me this dimension. Now it is true that this does result from practicing evangelism, but we must be very careful that our doing it is not pride or self-serving. We can add to this that some Christians might view witnessing for Christ and God as an act of good that helps them gain favor with God and acceptance by Him. Then we have a wrong idea of faith and works. Our acceptance by God is not based on anything we do. It is based on the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross and His perfect obedience in keeping the law of righteousness for us. We might imagine that if we witness to others, we serve our fellow man in the best way. Again, that is true, but our motive for serving our God must never be man. It must always be God. For God’s sake we must reach out and share the gospel with others, that it may please God to use us to introduce a non-Christian to God and His Son.
Finally, we must not do it to please the church. Yes, it pleases the church when members exercise their living faith and witness, but the motivation must not be to please men, not even our pastor or elders. It must always be to please God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Thus we can summarize the proper motivation. This involves three things. It is, first of all, in obedience to God who has called us to this prophetic office and equips us to exercise it to His glory. The chief motive of all mission work, and personal witness as well, is to bring glory to our God. We do this when we faithfully speak His word of truth to all who ask us a reason of the hope within. Second, we do it out of love for our neighbor for God’s sake. Again, it is not simply love for our neighbor as a human being. It is that of course, but we must love him for God’s sake. God placed this neighbor upon our pathway. This may have the express purpose that, as we demonstrate God’s love for us and we show that to him, he comes to know the Father as the prodigal son of the parable.
Third, personal evangelism adds a beautiful dimension to our personal life as a Christian. We are blessed by this activity, and God tells us this as well. We are enriched spiritually when we see a non-Christian struggle through his doubts and fears, his stubbornness and sins, and come to the cross of Jesus for forgiveness and to the family of God for friendship. Members are personally enriched as the entire congregation is blessed through the wonder of grace God works in their midst.
Fourth, we must take inventory of the gifts God has given to us for this work. We have emphasized repeatedly that the call to faithful witness includes the assurance of divine enabling. Even though it is true that God can use a nominal Christian to bring this word of witness, as He sometimes does in the pulpit of the church as well, it is not God’s usual way, and we do not want to rely on such abstraction. Evidence of the divine call is associated with the giving of the gifts.
Hence, as we consider the subject of equipping ourselves for this notable activity of personal evangelism, we must examine ourselves regarding gifts for this work. We carefully distinguish these gifts from the temporary gifts of the Spirit given to the apostles in the early church, such as miracles and speaking in tongues, which have ceased (I Cor. 13:8). God also gives special gifts to those who are called to the holy office of ministers, elders, and deacons. We are speaking of the gifts given to fulfill the prophetic office of every believer. Actually, they are no different than those given to the special offices, except that they pertain to the office of believer. The description of these gifts in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1, as they relate to the special offices, can certainly apply to every believer. The point is that not every believer has received these gifts, and therefore they do become the measure of those called to the special offices, in whom these gifts must be present. Every believer who possesses these gifts (and there are certainly more believers that possess these gifts than those who serve in special office) is blessed by God to use them in personal evangelism. This is the answer to women who impose themselves on the office of minister of the gospel, claiming they have the gifts. Having the gifts does not determine the call to holy office, which is restricted by Scripture to men only. These women must be encouraged to use such gifts in serving God in other ways, both in the church and in the world. To some degree every Christian has these gifts, but some possess them in a greater measure. And by grace these gifts can also be cultivated for greater service. If you feel yourself inadequate or unqualified to engage in personal evangelism, do not use this as an excuse to abandon your calling. Rather, search carefully your spiritual condition before God and sort out where you lack and what needs development, and then focus on that. Paul said in I Timothy 4:7 that we must exercise ourselves unto godliness. The word there is the same as a gymnast, which indicates persistence, repetitive practice to perfect the skills.
Finally, we must remind ourselves that our preparation for evangelism includes the use of prayer.
As is true in all areas of spiritual conduct, such work is not natural, it is a wonder of grace. This is the answer to any lack of incentive or ability to do it. Lack of incentive is natural because it is the response of the natural man to God’s wonderful work of grace. We must never “give in” to such thoughts and responses. As Christians we are no longer under the control of our natural man. If we were, then we could rightly say, “I can’t, and therefore I won’t practice personal evangelism.” Rather, the perspective of the inspired apostle Paul encourages us to express, after our struggle with our personal demons, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord that I am delivered from the body of this death so that I can serve Him with my sanctified mind and soul.”
The only way we can get out of the prison of our own weaknesses, and even our sins, is through the grace of God in Jesus Christ. These blessings of anointing, which are so important for us in order to fulfill our holy prophetic office, come to us through fervent prayer. When we ask God for the presence of His Holy Spirit, He provides this for us through worship on the Lord’s Day and as we engage in daily family and personal prayer and worship. Spiritual stamina, which is essential for difficult and challenging work, comes to us from our heavenly Father as He administers it to us through Jesus Christ our Lord. We must never measure our ability without taking into account what God is able to do as He equips us.
These five areas of consideration are important for us as we prayerfully equip ourselves for this great work that God assigns to us.