I wish I could claim originality for the title of my article, but it was actually given to me by a friend. I can claim appreciation of how it corrects the well intentioned (but misleading) quote from St. Francis Assisi – “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.” The quote is designed to affirm the inevitable and beneficial impact of God’s grace displayed through His people and their redemptive relationships with others. But no one becomes a Christian by simply admiring and appreciating the lifestyle of a committed Christian. Our life-behavior can be an instrument of pre-evangelism and affirm the life-changing power of the Gospel to the skeptic, but men and women are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. And faith comes not by simply watching Gospel deeds but by hearing Gospel words. “… faith comes by HEARING and hearing the Word of Christ” (Rom 10:17).
Since sharing Christ verbally is essential for all to become Christians, how can we learn to do it effectively? Let me pastorally suggest three avenues every believer can use to engage in personal evangelism.
- One of the most powerful ways to share the Truth is personal testimony. Remember, a personal testimony is not necessarily evangelism but it can be an instrument of evangelism. How many times in the Gospels do we witness Jesus encounter an unbeliever, draw them to salvation and immediately the converted believer starts to share the Gospel? From the woman at the well to the Leper to the blind man and Zacheus at Jericho etc.; they and others all heard the truth, surrendered to Christ then began sharing their testimony. Additionally there is the Apostle Paul who used his testimony on multiple occasions, 5 times recorded in Scripture. Sometimes he gives the full version of his testimony and sometimes an edited version. Personally, I have tried to model this by having my “elevator” testimony and my “lunch” testimony. If I only have three floors with someone, I have prepared a version of my testimony to share before the door opens. Sometimes, I’ll have the opportunity to give my testimony and confess Christ in a thoughtful, inviting and conversational manner over lunch. However you think through yours, be ready when the Lord opens up these moments.
- Another way of engaging in personal evangelism is to ask good questions. Most are familiar with EE (Evangelism Explosion) which teaches believers to treat others with dignity by requesting permission to talk with them about the Gospel and then asking two questions to further a Gospel conversation. I call them a “transitional” question (If you were to die tonight do you know where you will spend eternity?) and the “qualifying” question (If you were to stand before God and He asks why He should let you in Heaven, what would your answer be?). I know it is fashionable to critique this method, but I can only say that I have found them effective for 40 years, and I will probably continue to use them as they open up the opportunity for me to share the Good News from I John 5:13 – “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” I like the questions because they are comparable to what Jesus did in on the road to Caesarea Philippi. He used questions to get to the truth of the Gospel by first asking the disciples a transitional question. (Who do people say that the Son of Man is?) and then a qualifying question (Who do you say that I am?).
Also, I enjoy asking people, “do you think there is a Heaven?” Everyone always answers “yes!” – even those who profess to be atheist. I believe they all answer the same because of what Scripture says in Ecclesiastes 3:11 “…He has put eternity into man’s heart…” Everyone you meet has an opinion and they believe you deserve to hear it so ask the question and then listen, looking for the opportunity to share Christ after hearing their heart.
- I love to use Romans 6:23 in evangelism. I simply ask, “Do you realize that the thrust of God’s message in the Bible can be found in one verse?” It is not exhaustive of everything in the Bible, but it does bring the message of the Gospel into sharp focus. One verse with the one word that is my favorite word in the Bible. “The wages of sin is death BUT the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We earn death (spiritual, physical and eternal death), but the sentence continues and next comes that wonderful word BUT. God has purchased for us with a costly gift that He freely gives to those who surrender and trust Christ as Lord and Savior.
So preach the Gospel and as my friend said, “Use words. They are necessary!” Treat people with dignity through conversations that convey respect and ask pointed questions, remembering that evangelism is not an event but a process. Sometimes you sow, water, and cultivate; but other times you get the privilege of reaping the fruit Christ has secured in the harvest.
My favorite question of all is, “Is there any reason why you should not surrender to Christ as Lord and Savior?” I have enjoyed a lifetime of experiencing the blessing of that question being answered “no” by those the Lord has called to life! But, the question is also a blessing because I can continue the conversation if they say “yes, there is a reason.” Then we can explore their reasons or objections together.
Know the Gospel. Believe the Gospel. And preach the Gospel “using words.” They are necessary and has promised to speak through you. “…and the sheep follow Him because they know His voice.” John 10:4