We preach, God opens eyes
In evangelism we are called upon to present spiritual truths to men and women who are incapable of understanding these truths because the god of this age has blinded their minds. Written right across the situation is the word ‘impossible’. Spurgeon was right when he said, ‘No minister living can save a soul; nor can all of us together, nor all the saints on earth or in heaven, work regeneration in a single person. The whole business on our part is the height of absurdity.’ But there are good and essential reasons why we must try.
Encouragements to witness and preach
Firstly, we ourselves were once spiritually dead and the ‘impossible’ happened to us. We were saved. So we know from our own experience that the impossible is in fact possible.
Secondly, we know why it is possible. It is God who saves. Let us look at the context of 2 Corinthians 4:4:
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
In these glorious verses Paul is telling us that the salvation of a soul is a creative act of God, a work analogous to the creation of the universe itself. God Himself illuminates the darkened heart. He sheds into the soul the light, not of creation, but of His own glory, revealed in Jesus Christ. Thus God, in His sovereign power, breaks through the darkness of spiritual ignorance and death, making Himself known to the sinner in regenerating power. That is how salvation happens, and why it is possible.
Thirdly, God has purposed to save ‘a great multitude that no one could count’ (Rev. 7:9). He chose them in Christ ‘before the creation of the world’ that they might be ‘holy and blameless in his sight’ (Eph. 1:4). Paul tells us in Romans 8:29-30 that God foreknew them, predestined them to be like Christ, justified them and glorified them. Although much of this is still future in human experience, it is already an accomplished fact as far as God is concerned. Among Christians, the subject of election and predestination is undoubtedly one of the most controversial. Some believers will not tolerate it at any price, regarding it as totally abhorrent, objecting that it is unfair and removes human responsibility. Others love and cherish it. God is our Creator, so we dare not demand that He should answer to our reasoning. Who are we to dismiss something so clear simply because it is not acceptable to our reasoning? Election is one of the most thrilling and humbling truths in the Bible.
Evangelism and our responsibility
Far from making us lazy about evangelism, the certainty that the elect will be safely gathered in is a great incentive to evangelise. When Paul was having problems in Corinth, God encouraged him with the words: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For… I have many people in this city’ (Acts 18:9-10). The ‘many people’ referred to were the elect who were still waiting to hear the message of salvation in Christ. They would do so only if Paul continued to preach boldly. Clearly, as Christians we are encouraged that salvation is ‘of the Lord’. It is all of grace and there is no substitute in evangelism for the power of the Holy Spirit. It is God who saves, yes. But He has also chosen to use the vehicle of the gospel to accomplish salvation.
God has provided a Saviour. Sin came by man and so by man must come the remedy for sin. Jesus had to become man in order to deal legally and justly with our sin. Salvation was planned in heaven, but it could not be accomplished in heaven. The only solution was for God to become man, so that by His death He could purchase salvation for His people. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life’ (John 3:16). Here we have a perfect statement of God’s glorious remedy for sin.
As Christians we are encouraged that salvation is ‘of the Lord’. It is all of grace and there is no substitute in evangelism for the power of the Holy Spirit. But God works through us; we have a key part in making this gospel known.
Love and reality
Our approach should be summed up in two words: love and reality. People today don’t trust others as they once did. They do not trust politicians. They do not trust business people or commercial advertising. They have become cynical and expect to be cheated, and react accordingly in their attitudes and relationships. They need to be weaned from their suspicion by seeing that we love them and care for them. Love has to be shown in all sorts of practical ways. You will never reach your neighbours with the gospel if the only time you speak to them is to invite them to church.
Is it not true that most believers have very few friends who are not Christians? There are several reasons for this. When we were saved we were changed and some unbelieving friends, not being able to understand this change, cut us off. We also, on our part, may have cut off unbelieving friends, because their habits and interests were inconsistent with following Christ. Clearly, believers are not to be ‘of the world’. But we remain in the world, and to cut off all friendships with non-Christians is, in evangelistic terms, disastrous. If we are uncomfortable with them, they will feel uncomfortable with us, and there will be little possibility of influencing them. Love for the lost means involvement with them, though not of course with their sins.
Then there is reality. Non-Christians need to see that our faith is real and meaningful to us. They are watching us all the time and looking to see how we cope as Christians with things like sickness, death, frustration, disappointment and sorrow. It is no use telling someone how wonderful it is to be a Christian, what joy and peace and satisfaction you have in Christ, and then reacting as the world reacts when troubles come. A consistent Christian walk is a powerful aid to evangelism. Without reality in life, all our professions of faith in Christ will ring hollow. Paul tells Titus that believers should ‘adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things’ (Titus 2:10, AV).
To witness you must have found Christ for yourself and it may be that you are still searching. If you are beginning to despair, here is a great encouragement for you. It is not so much that you are seeking God, as that God is seeking you. Jesus came into this world ‘to seek and to save what was lost’ (Luke 19:10). Your search for God is not a hopeless one, for He has promised, ‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart’ (Jer. 29:13).
Peter Jeffery, based in Wales, has an itinerant ministry of preaching and evangelism.