Dr. Pearson Johnson, Director of Student Care
This is the final post in the three-part series on seeking common ground.
The search for common ground with those we seek to evangelize is fraught with many dangers. We have sought to understand both the nature of the problem in seeking common ground, as well as the nature of those we seek to reach with the gospel. In this post, we want to focus on how the Scripture encourages us to approach unbelievers with the gospel. Compared to many missiological methods and theories of contextualization, the Bible gives a relatively simple and straightforward methodology when it comes to gospel witnessing.
We have to begin with the right assumptions. We have already determined that there are certain truths that we can start with, based on what the Bible says about mankind. All men know that they are created by a great God and that they are accountable to Him. All men, because of their depravity, suppress that truth. Many altogether deny it, and set up other forms of idolatrous worship in the place of the true God. All men know they have sinned against the God who created them. Though they will creatively excuse themselves, all know they will one day face judgment for their sin.
As we considered previously, Romans 1:19-20 explains that people know the truth, consciously reject it, and so are without excuse. In addition, 2 Corinthians 4:4 shows us that there is another power involved. It states: “the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” Not only do men reject the truth because of their sin, but they are blinded toward the gospel’s truth by Satan’s work.
What is the Bible’s answer to the opposition of the sinner and of Satan himself to the message of salvation? The answer is in 2 Corinthians 4. Paul gives us a series of teachings that should guide our gospel witness. He teaches us that our witness should be filled with faith. We must believe that when the gospel is plainly presented in dependence on God’s power, it can transform sinners and overcome Satan!
First, because of the change the gospel has brought to our lives, we must “faint not.” We determine from the outset that we will present the gospel without becoming discouraged, knowing the same God who saved us can save anyone! It is not our responsibility to save others. It is only our duty to faithfully and earnestly proclaim the message. In faith, we must leave the results in God’s merciful and just hands.
Second, we must speak the truth plainly, not changing the gospel in a way we think will make it more acceptable. Paul uses strong words in verse 2, such as “handling the Word of God deceitfully,” to describe those who do not speak the entire truth of the gospel. Many preachers and missionaries promote a gospel that avoids talking about sin and repentance or right and wrong since that is odious to modern hearers and considered intolerant in a culture of religious diversity. Some preach a gospel that allows hearers to remain in their false religious systems. Paul is clear that this type of approach is not faithful to the true gospel and is certainly not faith-filled.
Paul’s third instruction is to confront the conscience of unbelievers by clearly speaking or “manifesting” the truth, knowing God is watching us do so (v. 2b). This is one place where our assumptions make a difference. We know, based on the truth of God’s Word, that their conscience will bear witness to the truth of our message.
This kind of straightforward gospel witness takes a great deal of boldness. Sometimes we are tempted to think effective evangelists can only be those who are naturally outgoing and thick-skinned. Sometimes we think people are effective only if they have a stirring, emotional testimony. His fourth point teaches us that, rather than promoting ourselves, we must focus on promoting Jesus Christ as Lord, and affirm the fact we are simply servants delivering our Lord’s message. Evangelistic boldness does not find its source in us, but in the message itself. Evangelism is not about the messenger, but wholly about the God of the message!
What if the hearer seems particularly sinful, hardened or opposed to the gospel? Paul reminds us next, that the powerful God who caused the light of Christ to break into the darkness of our hearts can do the same in the heart of any one to whom we are witnessing (v. 6). There are no shades of darkness—no levels of spiritual deadness. All, alike, are darkened and dead. As well, any person can be enlightened and enlivened.
Finally, he tells us that God works through simple, “earthen vessel” messengers, so that His surpassing power will be displayed in the saving of sinners (v.7). We may be weak, afflicted, persecuted, and opposed, but this only contributes to the radiance of the glory of God when we faithfully speak the gospel message and see lives changed!
Rather than searching for common ground, we must forge ahead in faith. We must believe what the Bible says about the sinner. We must believe what it says about the gospel. We must believe what it says about us as the messenger. Paul concludes by saying in v. 13: “We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak.” Let’s forge ahead in faith for the glory of God!
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.