As I think about military concepts like basic training or boot camp- including the spiritual kind, it is interesting to note how difficult it can be- even fear inducing, for soldiers to obey even one of the most basic of commands or orders from their superior. The same can be said of following the Christian’s commands.
In a series I’ve been preaching at my church by the same title, I’ve discovered that no single command seems to strike as much fear into the hearts of disciples than disciple-making – specifically, evangelism.
I must admit I’m a bit scared of heights (acrophobia), for others, it may be enclosed spaces (claustrophobia) though for most people the greatest human fear seems to be public speaking (glossophobia). For Christians, I believe there’s a parallel of sorts to that fear- evangelism- the sharing of our faith, or to keep the mental health analogy going, evangophobia if there’s such a word!
In fact, most missiological studies indicate that the average Christian fails to share his or her faith more than once a year if at all. If true, that’s a problem for at least two reasons: (1) that would be disobedience of a direct command of God found in the Great Commission and elsewhere, to make disciples, (2) because a failure to share or proclaim the faith, is a failure to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.
I can boldly make that statement because withholding the greatest, life-saving news anyone can ever hear – the gospel of Jesus Christ from a lost and dying soul, is among the most unloving things a Christian can do. If we’re to manifest the agape love of God that sacrificially meets needs, then that would include giving the truth about Jesus Christ, since he is what the world needs most.
Now, why do we exhibit “evangophobia?” Three fear factors may be the prime contributors:
Fear of man: I might get mocked, upset people, or create conflict. Yes, you may. Rejection and ridicule come with the territory in evangelism.
Additionally, some might argue that their issue is time (I don’t have time for that). I don’t doubt that for some, that is a factor. But that’s usually not the case for most. As someone was fond of saying, ‘We all have the same 24-hours in the day as everyone else. It’s not lack of time, but how you choose to spend it.’
Fear of failure: I feel alone and powerless to evangelize. This fear may be healthy to have, if it reminds you that you have to rely on the Holy Spirit in evangelism. It is also unwarranted, in that for those of us who believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation (the Doctrines of Grace), we know we can ‘sow and sleep’, meaning give the gospel faithfully and accurately, and then rest in the Lord’s providence and monergistic role in regenerating sinners.
Fear of ignorance: I just don’t know what to say. I am not prepared to do evangelism. It’s that fear one has of sounding ignorant or being unable to answer a big question. In response to the fear of not knowing what to say, the Bible tell us to get prepared!
We are responsible to understand what the gospel is and the nature of the kingdom, prayerfully looking for someone we can tell the truth to, as the apostle Peter spoke of our “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16).”
There are many methods- some better than others that prepare us to share our faith and over the years, we’ve taught our church more than one: The Way of the Master, Tell the Truth, Two Ways to Live and Three Crowns, which are all good, biblically sound methods of evangelizing. No one way is perfectly suited for every occasion or person, as Jesus and the apostles illustrated.
But there are also times and places where we don’t have a lot of time to share something about Christ and the gospel with someone, so we need to be prepared to share something that is both coherent as well as concise. Such an opportunity may present itself to us on an airplane, an elevator, a line at the grocery store or a coffee shop.
Regardless, there are certain communicable truths that are essential for Christians to be mindful to share with unbelievers, whether it be in a thirty second sermon or let’s say five minutes or so.
As I thought about what the apostle Paul brought to the Athenian philosophers and skeptics on Mars Hill in Greece, from Acts 17, I came up with five meta categories of thought, or theological truths that disciples of Christ can give in as little as five minutes of disciple making which sum up God’s plan of salvation: God, man, inability, gospel and faith.
The context of Paul’s apologia or defense of the faith and gospel preaching in Acts 17, comes as the result of his being “provoked” or literally irritated and burning with anger over the pagan worship of false idols there, among them an ‘Unknown god’, of which Paul took the opportunity to deconstruct with the new construction building of these five truths which took a bit longer to communicate than five minutes, though we may be able to condense them into that period of time.
- God (Acts 17:22-25)
Paul began his discourse with something he could work with- something these lost people could relate to, in order to take the conversation from the secular to the spiritual. Some of these people we find were agnostic (without knowledge of God) in referring to an unknown god, leading Paul to answer the question of origins (‘How did we get here’)?
The apostle argued that God has given witness about Himself through what He created: ” The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1). This is what theologians would refer to as the general or natural revelation that God gives to all mankind of himself through the beauty and complexity of creation (Romans 1:19-20) and the conscience of his image bearers (Romans 2:14-16).
- Man (Acts 17:26-28)
Since God is creator, it stands to reason that he is the sovereign ruler over his creation. The text of Acts 17 tells, “he marked out the appointed times” of mankind. Psalm 139 tells us our days are counted and God knows what they are- when we live and when we die. We came from one common ancestor (“made from one man”) – Adam and that means there’s only one race – and that’s the human race.
Paul’s call for repentance later in this passage and his words from Romans 3 and Ephesians 2, affirm the Bible’s claim from cover to cover that unredeemed man is essentially and spiritually, dead, deaf, dumb, blind and in desperate need of redemption and reconciliation with his creator God whom he has rebelled against.
Amazingly, God has seen fit to give a universal and external call to everyone on earth to not only be reconciled to him, but to know him personally, not just superficially, which was a radical thought for some of the Athenians, being the idea that man can come to know and love God and be loved by God.
That can only happen however, if man recognizes something important…
- Inability (Acts 17:29)
Paul exhorted these Athenian agnostics to understand their inability to worship God however they wanted to, which was to worship idols. He not so subtly called out their sin of idolatry, as one commentator said, “God made us in His image, so it is foolish for us to make gods in our own image!”
Paul told them you can’t serve or please God on your own and you are incapable of earning his favor, his blessing or his salvation. Simply put, man does not have the ability, the heart or the knowhow in his unredeemed state to do any of that.
- Gospel (Acts 17:30-31)
Paul in this passage, brings the good news that is the gospel when he moves from man’s inability to his accountability and therefore the stark reality of the implications of the gospel. God is a just judge who cannot fellowship with sinners who are covered in sin and unrighteousness. Therefore, something or someone has to change- and that’s us.
We must be bold enough to communicate the gospel truth that the time has come for sinners to repent or turn to God and away from a life of sin. Now is the time for repentance and faith in Christ. The gospel gift has been offered and is out there for everyone if we would just take 5 to give 5 to them. By the way, we can take more than five minutes of course as we have opportunity.
Why must we repent to God and trust in Jesus? Paul tells us in Acts 17:31, “ because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Not only is God gracious and merciful, but he’s perfectly righteous and just, meaning the just judge must hold us accountable to the law as any good judge would, and he metes out the consequence – judgment to be pronounced to law-breakers. Admittedly, this will be a stumbling block to those people who love the idea of justice, until it comes to them.
A law breaker gets pulled over for speeding and what they’re looking for from the police officer on the scene is not justice, but immediate mercy and forgiveness. We love and want justice when we’ve been offended. People just hate it, when they’re the offender, and sinners have been rebellious towards God, offending him and breaking his laws for a lifetime.
Paul’s simply saying sinners should have to pay the price for their unrighteousness – should meet justice and adds that God the Father will judge the world by God the Son, Jesus- being the God/man whom the Father has appointed to do just that, being the Messiah and king of this kingdom.
His resurrection in fact, is the “assurance” – or proof of his judgeship, having risen from the dead to prove that not only is he God in the flesh, but that Jesus is worthy of being the judge of the guilty and the dead, having conquered the guilt of sin and death. The fifth and last thing God and the Bible want us to know is…
- Faith (Acts 17:32-34)
We learn from the final passage of this text that we basically will get three kinds of reaction to the sharing of the gospel and our faith in Christ: yes, no and maybe. Paul’s response to the mockers- the ‘no-no’s,’ led to his departure. He left them where they were. Indeed, there comes a time when you’ve said or posted, emailed and written enough. People can be stiff-necked and will want to debate you just to win an argument. They don’t really want Christ.
So, we ‘shake the dust off our feet, and we don’t ‘cast pearl before swine.’ Meaning, with some skeptics, we say, I’m not going to give them any more gospel truth right now- to paraphrase that classic movie line because, “They can’t handle the truth!” It may not be their time to receive the beauty and the value of the gospel, or maybe, you casted or watered a seed and the Lord will have someone else come for the harvest of it (1 Corinthians 4).
Indeed, some, will come, repent, “join” and believe in Christ. Our responsibility is to obey the Christian’s command to make disciples while there is time and that takes fear-killing preparation.
As one writer who experienced a dramatic evangelistic opportunity on an airplane in danger of a crash landing, said, “Any moment could be your last. You are not in control. Be ready. Your next walk around your neighborhood could be your last moment on earth. Your condo complex could tumble down on you while you’re sleeping.” He said that interestingly enough, before the Surfside condo tragedy occurred here in South Florida.
He added, “Your next drive could end in twisted metal. Your life could be over before you drop your kids off at daycare.” Therefore, it may behoove us to learn how to take 5 to give 5.