Friday, September 20, 2013

Four Approaches To Evangelism *

Part two of Four: 
How to Help Unbelievers Realize They are Sinners and Need A Savior

In my previous blog article, I suggested that the largest percentage of people we engage in evangelistic/apologetic conservations will most likely be people who  think of salvation as being achieved according to their behavior, especially how they compare with “really bad people” (rapists, murderers, drug dealers, child abusers, etc.). In other words, God will accept people into heaven on the basis of “how good” they are. This assumption is true not only for followers of non-Christian religions—which always stress some form of “works righteous” salvation—but also for people with no particular religious affiliations at all. In fact I went a step further and suggested that that even people who raise apologetic issues for why they reject Christianity often assume that God will welcome them into heaven in spite of their doubts and skepticism.  Why? Because, again, they are basically “good” and “decent” people.

We have already looked at two of the four approaches to evangelism: Part one introduced this series, part two focused on sharing the gospel and part three focused on lifestyle evangelism. Part four, the present article, deals with applying “law,” and part five will explain how and when to use apologetics. Actually, Jesus engaged in all four approaches. Lifestyle evangelism is obvious; Jesus’ entire life and ministry was the quintessence of lifestyle evangelism. This is so self-evident we don’t need to pursue it further. And of course Jesus shared the Gospel, and one example is particularly relevant because it illustrates why He chose gospel rather than law or apologetics.

When we witness to someone who believes in God; knows they are a sinner whose lifestyle is unacceptable to God (and themselves); who craves change; and yearns to experience God’s love, acceptance, and forgiveness—we do not need to apply law (demonstrate they are sinners in need of a Savior) or apologetics (remove intellectual obstacles). Rather we share the Gospel; we explain that everything he or she desires is theirs as a free gift from Jesus Christ. In these occasions, it’s obvious that God has prepared the person’s heart and mind to hear and receive the Gospel message (e.g. Acts 16:14; 1Cor. 3:5-6; 12:3, and many other passages).

John 4:3-16 recounts the story of Jesus talking with a Samaritan woman. This woman had been married five times and was living with yet another man (v. 17-18). How did Jesus deal with her? Did He directly condemn her sexual sins and therefore her failure to obey the law? No. She knew she was a sinner (v. 29). Did Jesus use apologetics to defend His messiahship? No. When He claimed to be the Messiah in verse 25-26, the woman didn’t challenge Him. (I think it’s fascinating that the first time the Bible relates that Jesus openly claimed to be the Messiah was to a Samaritan!)  Instead, Jesus proclaimed the gospel. He offered the woman forgiveness—“living water” (v. 10, 13-14; cf 7:38-39). The Bible further records that many of the Samaritans became believers because of the woman’s personal testimony (v. 39) and Jesus’ preaching (v. 39-42).

But what about the people were discussing in this and the next few blog articles? People who think they are “good enough” to get into heaven on their own merits? With these people, at least initially, we may have to apply “law.”  And there is a perfect example of Jesus using this approach. But before we look at this and then explore how to apply it ourselves, we need to understand what is meant by “law” when used in the New Testament sense.

In the Old Testament, law is used in several ways. In particular, there were (1) ceremonial laws (laws that concern Israel’s religious rituals), (2) civil laws (used to maintain order and justice in Jewish society, and (3) moral laws (most clearly articulated in the Ten Commandments). When we speak of “law” in terms of evangelism, we are referring to moral laws. Jewish ceremonial and civil laws are no longer applicable because Jesus did away with them when he fulfilled the Old Testament law through His sinless life and perfect obedience to the law (Mt 5:17). On the other hand, moral laws still pertain today. How do we know? Because nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus or the apostles endorse the ceremonial or civil laws. In fact they condemn them, such as Jesus did on several occasions about the Sabbath and Paul about circumcision. Moral laws, on the other hand, were repeatedly restated in the New Testament by both Jesus and the apostles (e.g. condemnation of murder, adultery, lying, homosexuality, and so on.

Moral law, then, is what God demands of us. In other words, if it were possible for people to “go to heaven” on their own merits or so-called “good works,” moral law tells  them what they would have to do. Gospel, on the other hand, as Christians know, is what God has done for us because we are unable to fulfill the law. It’s the free gift of grace, forgiveness, and salvation through the work of Christ (e.g. Acts 13:38-39; Gal 2:16).

Now I know all this is fairly elementary stuff for most Christian readers. But it’s the necessary groundwork in order to fully understand how and why law is a valuable tool for evangelism and apologetics. In my next blog article, we’ll see how Jesus applied law in His own encounters with the people He evangelized, which will act as a guide when we apply it ourselves.

*    This and the other blog articles in this series are adapted from copyrighted material and may not be reproduced in book or article form, either electronically or in print, without permission. But feel free to link this blog to your own website, personal email list, Facebook friends and groups, or email it to people who may benefit from it. I explore the topic of this present series of articles more fully in my book Engaging the Closed Minded; Presenting Your Faith to the Confirmed Unbeliever (Kregel Publications).

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Four Approaches to Evangelism *

Part Four: How to Help Unbelievers Realize They are Sinners
                   and Need A Savior

 When I taught apologetic courses in Bible College,  as part of their semester grade, my students were required to interview two unbelievers using a religious survey I designed for them. The purpose was to identify obstacles that prevented the unbelievers from seriously considering Christianity—and to give the students an opportunity to use what they learned in class in actual witnessing encounters.  Some went to airports, others a mall, and some interviewed non-Christian friends and family. Two of the questions on the survey were these: “Suppose you died today and were to stand before God and He asked you, ‘Why should I allow you into Heaven,’ what would you say?” The other, similar question, was this: “In your opinion what is God requirements for someone to get into heaven.”

About 70 percent of the responses to these questions said, in effect, that entering heaven has to do with how good a person is. In other words, salvation depends on the life one lives. If you are upright, kind to other people, help out when someone needs it, give to charity and so on, you are good enough in God’s eyes to enter heaven

The fact is few people think that they are going to hell. Ask someone. They are not going to say, “Oh yeah, I’m going to hell—looking forward to it!” (And if they do say this, in their hearts they don’t believe it or reject the idea of hell). More likely they’ll respond something like this: “I know I will go to heaven because I’m a good person. I don’t get drunk, steal, or cheat on my spouse. I pay my taxes and give to charity. I even go to church now and then—and drop a few bucks in the pot. I’m a decent human being; God will accept me into heaven.”

The point I’m making is that most non-Christians think of sin as if it were grades on a report card. If they get enough good grades, it will offset their bad grades, and they will still “pass”—make it into Heaven. Let me illustrate this:

·         Tell a white lie you get an “A.” (“I didn’t tell Dan I thought his article stunk because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.”)

·         Steal a few pens or notepads from work you get a “B.” (“They have hundreds of them and everyone does it. Besides, I work at least an extra hour every week and don’t put it on my timecard. They own me!”)

·         Cheat on your taxes you get a “C.” (“Let’s face it, the IRS expects people to fudge a little on their taxes. Everyone does it. Anyway, I sometimes give money to charity and never claim it”)

·         Watch pornography or take recreational drugs you get a “D,” but you are still eligible (ok, barely) for Heaven. Why? Because (“I’m not hurting anyone else. I’m not married, so what if I look at pornography? And I don’t steal to buy my drugs like some other people. It’s my business if I do drugs now and then.”)

·         However, if someone murders, rapes, deals drugs, or abuses children, they get an “F” and deserve hell.

You see, in many people’s minds, “small” sins hardly qualify as bad behavior (or they don’t even recognize them as sin). And even if they occasionally commit a “big” sin, like pornography or recreational drugs, it can be offset if they live an otherwise descent life. If a person is a good citizen,  gives to charity, serves in the military, mows the old lady’s yard next door, it puts them in good standing with God.

You get the picture. Our “good” behavior cancels out our “bad” behavior. It’s only when someone commits a truly horrendous sin, such as murder, rape, child abuse and so on—when one physically hurts another person or financially destroys them—that he or she deserves hell.

Now, where am I going with this—and what does it have to do with evangelism or apologetics? The reason I mention this is because these individuals probably comprise the largest segment of secular and religious non-Christians in America today—and consequently the people we most often encounter in evangelism and apologetics. We need a strategy on how to engage them. Even people that raise apologetic issues for why they reject Christianity often harbor the belief that they are good enough to go to heaven, even if Christianity is true.

In the next couple blog articles, I’ll give suggestions on how to help these people recognize they are sinners in need of a Savior.

*  This and the other blog articles in this series are copyrighted material and may not be reproduced electronically or in print. But feel free to link this blog to your own website, personal email list, or Facebook friends and groups. I explore the topic of this series of articles more fully in my book Engaging the Closed Minded; Presenting Your Faith to the Confirmed Unbeliever (Kregel Publications).