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By Richard Gunther
There are many books available, written on the subject of reaching the lost, so I am not interested in adding yet another book to the pile, however I was asked for a few comments.
As I see it, any normal Christian will want to share the good news of salvation with everyone they meet as a matter of course, as a natural response to their born again condition. But just how, when, and where this witnessing is done is quite important, because done wrongly, it can cause more trouble than its worth.
I think the first thing any Christian ought to do, if they want to be an effective witness, is begin a regular, daily Bible-reading plan. The best defense of any subject is a thorough knowledge of that subject, and the best source of a thorough knowledge of the gospel is the Bible. The more one knows of God’s Word, the better equipped one is to counter any challenge which may come along. In much the same way, the more one knows about the real article, the more obvious is the counterfeit. To be fully equipped, we must know the Bible. It contains all the spiritual truth we need.
Two areas of witnessing.
As a general rule, the best way to witness to people who already know you, is to say as little as possible, and show by your life that you are changed. On the other hand, if you want to reach a total stranger, the best approach is head on.
Here’s what Ray Comfort said about witnessing to family members: “As a new Christian, I did almost irreparable damage by acting like a wild bull in a crystal showroom. I bullied my mum, my dad, and many of my friends into making a “decision for Christ.” I was sincere, loving, kind, and stupid. I didn’t understand that salvation doesn’t come through making a “decision”, but through repentance, and repentance is God-given – 2Tim.2:5 (“In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth,”) The Bible teaches that no-one can come to the Son except the Father “draws” them (John 6:44) If you are able to get a decision, but the person has no conviction of sin, you will almost certainly end up with a stillborn (or a false convert) on your hands.”
“In my “zeal without knowledge” I actually inoculated the very ones I was so desperately trying to reach.”
He goes on to say: “Avoid verbal confrontation until you have knowledge that will guide your zeal. Pray for wisdom and sensitivity to God’s timing. You may have only one shot, so make it count. Keep your cool.”
I think the point to remember is, we should not be in a hurry. Remember, the people around us have already had thousands of opportunities to become a Christian. It’s not as if we are their only chance. In our country we have easy access to Bibles, Christian radio, Christian TV, we have church programs, and many Christian events, there is open air preaching, gospel tracts, and posters, Christian bookshops, and so on. In fact, I would go as far as saying we hardly need to do much at all, because first of all the witness is amply available to most New Zealanders every day, and secondly, the path a person takes from being a sinner to being saved is a work of the Holy Spirit, not the result of our puny effort.
However, having said this, I would never want to minimize the importance of a good witness at the right time to the right person. What we say and what we do may be the critical factor in turning someone from hell to heaven. This brings us to the subject of:
Walking in the Spirit. This is probably the most important aspect of being a good witness. How clean is your life? Do you smoke? Do you swear? Are you a frequent drinker? Do you grumble and criticize others? What do people see when they look at you – a good representation of Jesus, or a poor one? Do you keep the traffic rules? Are you a walking contradiction, or is your life a consistent witness for Jesus? Do you talk about morals and then stay up late to watch a movie full of foul language and cursing? Does your walk match your talk? If it doesn’t, you will meet only derision and skepticism when you try to share your faith.
If Christians aren’t different from the unsaved, why on earth would an unsaved person even want to be a Christian?
Take the examples of Jesus, and of Paul. Jesus of course was always in close communion with the Father, so everything he did and said was in line with what pleased God, and to a lesser extent Paul walked closely with God. Paul told us “be ye followers of me”, and called the churches to take him as an example, Jesus told us to be His representatives – “You are my friends if you do whatsoever I command you.” and other similar statements. Christians are meant to be copies of Jesus – just as the Nazi’s were copies of Hitler, and the Red Army soldiers were copies of Mao Tse Tung.
So if we live each day “in the light”, in tune with God, sensitive to His guidance, we will not need to worry about a thing. Our plan may be to evangelize the world, but God’s plan may be that we get the dishes done, and clean the toilet, and put out the washing. We may want to establish a global evangelization network, but God may want us to pull our neighbour’s wheely-bin up their path.
Being a Christian is a moment by moment lifestyle choice. It is an unbroken conversation with a Friend. It is a day by day experience between you and God. It doesn’t really matter whether anyone or everyone is changed because of your life. The most important thing you can do is establish a close friendship with God – as if you are the only person on earth. Once you have this direct line to God, then you can work outwards from it to reach others. Witnessing has to start with a relationship between you and God.
The danger of working the other way round is extreme. How can you tell people about “the new life in Christ” if you yourself are not experiencing it? On what grounds can you invite sinners into a “new life” if you have not found it yourself? On what grounds can you claim that God can set people free from sin when you are addicted to something, or swear habitually? What businessman would try to sell a product he had no trust or faith in? “I recommend you buy this Volkswagon, but I myself drive a Holden because I haven’t actually driven a Volkswagon just yet – but I hear they are good cars!” Before we tell anyone about the wonderful Christian life, we ought to be living it ourselves, otherwise our words will have a hollow ring.
One of the distinctive methods of witnessing used by Jesus, Paul and other Christians in the Bible, was to begin with the familiar, as a bridge to the spiritual. For example, Jesus met a woman by a well and started talking about water, but when she responded in a way that suggested she was open to receive more, Jesus went on from ordinary water to spiritual water. Paul on Mars hill began with Nature, then moved through to creation, and quoted some local heathen poets before finishing with an appeal to the Greeks to seek the true God who created all things
In the same way, we too can do some fishing with ordinary bait. This takes skill, and it has to be learned, but once you become a keen and expert fisher of souls you will enjoy the challenge.
But there’s no point in fishing if the fish aren’t biting.
Successful fishing is done this way: First of all you meet someone, and you start to think about what you think they might be interested in. You dangle a little natural bait – it may be rugby, basketball, gardening, food, the latest news, or the weather – and if the fish bites, you have started the process. You talk naturally for a while, looking for more areas of interest, and tune in to their answers, then the conversation may veer slightly towards spiritual matters. If at this point the other person shows an interest in going further, commit yourself to that path, but if they show no interest, do not continue that way. Do not! Work on building a friendly relationship. This is what usually comes from these meetings, and it is only the odd, rare conversation which ends up in the spiritual because most people we meet are not engaged in deep, soul-searching angst. But a friendly relationship gives you a platform on which to work in the future, should God grant you another meeting. If you shut the relationship down by pushing the spiritual, they will not want to talk to you again. Opportunity lost.
What if they respond positively?
Many people want a method for witnessing, and there are many methods, some good, some not so good. The best method, I think, is to have no method, but rather be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but having said this, if you get the opportunity, there is one method which works well, and that involves using two things: Law and Grace.
In my experience, the very best, most effective method of witnessing is to present the Law of God. Here is a rough outline of how it can be done:
Start by being graceful and kind. Show the other person you respect and love them. You may like to ask them if they mind if you share something with them. If they are interested go ahead, if not stop immediately.
Now begin to present the Law of God. Have they always loved God with all their heart, mind and strength? Have they always loved their neighbour? Have they ever told a lie? Have they ever stolen something? Have they always honoured and respected their parents? You don’t need to go through all the Commandments, just pick three or four, and move on as you get a response. An honest person will admit they have broken all the Commandments you bring up, if not in deed, then certainly in their thoughts. Now you can point out to them that God’s Law has found them guilty of . . . whatever they admitted to. This makes them guilty before God.
I was using this method not long ago with a man I met in the railway station. We sat at a table and chatted about music for a while, then the conversation veered into the spiritual because said I didn’t listen to some kinds of music because of the words in the lyrics. “As a Christian I’m not allowed to swear, so I don’t listen to swearing in case it gets to me.” He asked me what was a Christian, so I offered to explain to him what a Christian was. I started with Genesis, describing Adam and Eve and the warning by God about the fruit, then I explained the first sin, and how it came about, then I went on to the Law given by Moses and showed the man how God’s standard is presented in the Ten Commandments. As I went through the Commandments the man’s head went down and he asked if he could become a Christian too. God gave him the conviction, not me. All I did was a little witnessing. It wasn’t difficult, or complicated. It wasn’t a matter of pressuring him into making a decision. In some ways it didn’t matter at all to me one way or the other, because all I was doing was my job.
I explained how the Law shows us our need for forgiveness, how it acts like a mirror and reveals to us our true state, then I presented Jesus, the only sacrifice for sin. The man nodded as he understood the gospel message, then I told him what he needed to do to be saved. I did not push him into the ‘sinner’s prayer’. I left him to God to sort out.
The Law of God.
I would like to stress the importance of using the Law in witnessing. I know there are many roads to Jesus, and I would not want to devalue any of them, but The Law is the road most used in the Bible. It was used by Jesus and Paul, and all the great reformers of the 18th century preached the Law before they preached Grace. The Law is a universal weapon. It can be used with all cultures, and all nationalities. All Christians can carry the mighty weapon of the Law with them, and they can use it in every witnessing situation, whereas many of the other methods are only useful in specific circumstances. The Law is like a powerful jawbone with ten sharp teeth, it is a line of ten mighty cannons, it is like ten massive signposts all pointing to hell. The law of God, when used meekly and with love, can cut through the toughest heart and reach the sinner inside. It exposes sinners in ten ways for what they are – guilty before God. It shows people that they are not “good” after all, and it shows them their need for salvation. It is God’s great gift to Christians, and as a tool for evangelism it has no equal.
If you have the great privilege of leading someone through the Law, and you start to see conviction coming, don’t rush on to salvation. If need be, stop with the Law, and let God draw that person deeper into remorse. If you have to, leave them for a few days. Godly repentance is a gift from God. What too many Christians do is give sinners the gospel of salvation before the sinner has even repented. This is a stupid thing to do, because the result is a false convert who has never repented.
There are two kinds of sinner: (1) the sinner who has very little conscience, and who complacently cruises through life without much care for spiritual matters, and (2) the sinner who has a working conscience, and who knows he has offended God, and feels guilty.
In the second case, the work of conviction has already begun, so your role is to present the remedy – the gospel of salvation. But in the first case, the aw must be presented, until conviction comes. It is s futile waste of time presenting salvation to someone who has no idea why they would need it.
Other ways to witness.
There are many ways of getting the message of God’s love across to other people, and I would not want to try to list them all, but if too much of this sort of witnessing is done, the public may be completely ‘turned off’ Christianity. A danger with the ‘blanket coverage’ with Christian witnessing materials is the way it is perceived by some as a sort of ‘junk mail’, or ‘graffiti’, or even as ‘vandalism’, so some thought must be put into the placing of Christian materials. For example one should not drop Christian tracts on the floors of other people’s buildings, or litter parks, bus seats or footpaths. One should not stick Christian stickers anywhere, as they are a pain to remove. Try to be considerate.
There are however, some good places where gospel tracts, or Christian reading materials can be left, such as in shopping carts, doctor’s waiting room tables, plane and bus seat pockets and so on. These are all public areas where literature is quite often placed by advertisers. Gospel tracts qualify because they too are advertising. They can also be letterboxed.
It’s a good idea to capitalize on weddings, birthdays, and other special days, such as Easter and Christmas and other occasions, where a Christian gift can be included with a non-Christian or secular gift. On any other day some people would be offended at receiving a Christian gift, but they can’t complain on Christmas day. I particularly like to place a gospel message into books when I return them to the library, or I go to the library and place a few slips of paper into the books and magazines while browsing. I also make my own tracts. I make stickers and glue them to stones which I gather from the beach. These make lovely gifts, and also carry a small, punch message.
Witnessing in your home can be made a lot easier if you use your wall space to hang some beautiful posters or pictures with a Bible message. Choose carefully, and when you have visitors God will speak to them without you having to say a word.
Music is a powerful witness. If you have a walkman with speakers, you can play Christian tapes while you walk about town – just as unsaved people walk about broadcasting their secular music.
Then there are T-shirt designs, bumper or car-window stickers, badges, printed hats and so on. Use your imagination. A humorous poster is always a good eye-catcher. Just think how much of your world is invaded by secular people all vying for your attention with their secular products – Christian can do this too – after all, this is their God’s world so why not fill some spaces with Christian material.
If you are wealthy enough, you can donate Christian videos, tapes and books to your local library or schools. On the other hand, you can go to your library and ask them for certain Christian publications, which you give the name and publisher details for. Who knows, they might buy that book and stock it for others to borrow? I have managed to get the local picture theatre screen a movie, which wasn’t scheduled to come here, just by going in three times and asking for it, and the library has stocked some books because I actually took them in and sold them to the library.
Evangelists and Witnesses.
God has given evangelists to the Church, and that is their gifting, Eph.4:11. These people can fill a tent, or preach to enormous crowds, and if the Church can recognize and utilize these people, it can work around them, and organize meetings for them.
On the other hand, although all Christians can do evangelism to a certain extent, they are not all evangelists. But all Christians can be witnesses. The word means something along the lines of ‘someone who knows’, as the apostles knew about Jesus because of what they saw and heard. Obviously present day Christians have not seen or heard Jesus in the same way in which those first Christians did, but we have a number of things we can boldly speak about: we believe the Bible is a true and accurate account, so we can witness to that, we believe God has transformed our lives so we can testify to that, and we can speak about the ways God works in our lives, such as answered prayer, provision and guidance, so we can talk about that.
Answered prayer especially is a wonderful tool. It is disarming because it is our personal experience we are relating. “This happened to me . . .” It is confirmation of God’s reality. It challenges the world’s words “luck” and “coincidence”. It gradually builds into quite a formidable body of work, as answered prayer follows answered prayer, until the chances of these things being simply the result of chance or luck are ruled out completely. Eventually it is unarguable, and unbelievers have no way of explaining it away. It actually proves the existence of God and backs up the credibility of His Word.
Proverbs 11:30 tells us, “He who wins souls is wise. If we are wise, we will discern the condition of a person’s heart. If he is a sincere seeker for truth, tell him the good news. If he is like the arrogant lawyer (Luke 10:25-29) who has no understanding of sin, righteousness or judgement, use the Law to stir his conscience. If he is not conscious of his sin, use the Law to convict him. If he has a knowledge of sin, give him the gospel (Matt 19: 17-22).
When the fruit is ripe, it should practically fall off the tree, as with the Ethiopian eunuch. God led Philip to a soul that was ripe for salvation. If you have to twist and turn to pull an apple off a branch, you will probably find it to be sour and not worth the effort.
Looking at Acts 8:26,27, Chuck Swindoll said, “God has placed you where He has placed no-one else. No one-one else has the same relationships you have. No-one will stand in the same grocery store line at exactly the same moment you do. No-one else will come across a hungering diplomat in the desert at exactly the same time you do. God hasn’t put you in those places merely to model the truth. Listen for the voice of the Spirit to whisper in your ear. Watch for the stranger on the road. And be aware of your opportunities to go where He would send you.”
Acts 8:26-27: “And
the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south
unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. And he
arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority
under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure,
and had come to Jerusalem for to worship . . .”
Relax and enjoy your walk with God. This is the best way to be a witness. If you are close to God, you will know the truth and be ready always to share it, when an opportunity presents itself. The work of winning the world for Christ is primarily God’s responsibility, so we don’t have to carry its weight. All we are called to do is live as faithful witnesses and present the gospel whenever we are given the opportunity. Salvation from start to finish is a work of the Spirit so cannot cause anyone to become a Christian. We can of course pray for the lost, but after that we have to keep our hands from meddling. This comes as a great relief to some Christians, who have adopted the silly idea that other people’s salvation depends on them. It never did. Jesus is building His Church, and we are but a small part of His great plan.
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