One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in evangelism is telling people the good news without telling them the bad news. No wonder I’m met with blank stares or “That’s nice for you, but not for me.” When we don’t tell unbelievers about sin and wrath, they often think grace is irrelevant. They don’t see their need for a savior.
I know I’m not alone. Myself, I suspect I don’t like sharing the bad news because of fear of man. I don’t want to offend people or bring up words like hell and wrath and sin because then the conversation may get weird. I don’t like awkward moments. I want to seem cool. I want to win people to Christ simply by telling people only about Christ and avoiding all the difficult parts.
But true evangelism requires more. As it’s been said, evangelism is sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with an unbeliever with the aim of persuading them to repent and trust in Christ. So you’re not just sharing your testimony (although that can be helpful). And we’re not just telling people about Jesus aimlessly. The goal — which only God can produce — is repentance and trust.
Any gospel message that doesn’t talk about hell and sin and wrath is incomplete. Not wrong, just deficient. In order to be faithful to the gospel message, we must be willing to talk about the hard parts of our faith. Talking about the hard parts of the Christian faith is an act of loving our neighbors. But of course, you want to do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).
John MacArthur and Evangelism
I’m assuming some of these thoughts already mentioned were also on John MacArthur’s mind when he wrote, The Gospel According to Jesus. Recently, I’ve been skimming through Ian Murray’s book on some influential evangelical leaders and last but certainly not least, he covers MacArthur.
Murray mentions a few thoughts about evangelism from MacArthur’s book: “This opens a question fundamental to the whole understanding of evangelism. The opponents of MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus were correct in seeing that he was proposing teaching which was very disruptive of the popular evangelistic practice. He was saying that the presentation of the gospel must begin with God. The starting point is not what Jesus can do for you. The message must start with bad news, namely that God is holy and in light of that holiness the sinner stands condemned and worthy of hell. The first thing men need to hear is how contrary they are to God and that ‘repentance towards God’ is demanded of them. ‘Trust in Jesus’ is not the starting point.”
This line stood out to me: “the presentation of the gospel must begin with God.”
Here I am trying to tell people the good news without the bad news. But the message begins with God.
To be sure, the purpose of all of this is not to purposely go around offending non-Christians, and then self-rewarding with a badge of honor, thinking you made a difference for Jesus. I don’t even think that you need to always start with the bad news in every evangelistic conversation. Sometimes sharing your testimony or inviting people to your church is a good start. But at some point — whether it is through the preaching of God’s Word or through the Spirit convicting your non-Christian friend of their sin as they read the Bible you bought them or you personally telling them the gospel— the unrepentant sinner must hear of the bad news. Again: it’s an act of love.
We keep telling people to “trust Jesus” and “accept Christ” and “look to Jesus.” These are true statements, but I imagine a non-Christian who hears those words without also hearing the bad news thinks, “why?” or “what in the world are you talking about?” We’re so used to using Christianese that we don’t stop to consider that people don’t know what we’re talking about when we use these expressions.
Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian, says: “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward… How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”
I’m not a good evangelist. But I want to get better. I want to be loving and bold and share both the good and bad news. I’m encouraged by the fact that the number of God’s elect cannot be increased or diminished. The pressure is not on me (or you). God will save whomever he wants, whenever he wants. But it’s not like we don’t have a part to play. We do. In fact, our evangelistic efforts are usually the means by which God uses to save. One way to improve in our churches and in our personal evangelism is simply by not being ashamed of talking about both the bad and good news.
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