selected Scriptures Over the past two Sundays we have considered the Great Commission of the church. Jesus commanded His followers to take the good news of His salvation to every corner of the globe. Those first Christians were faithful in spreading the Gospel through the known world of their day, and then they passed the task onto the next generation. For nearly two thousand years, the mighty army of God has invaded enemy territory, rescuing souls held hostage by the kingdom of darkness and bringing them into the kingdom of light.
That duty has now been passed to us. Each generation has the responsibility to reach its own.1 We have considered the global implications of this task these last two weeks; today I want to bring it closer to home. The Great Commission not only calls us to go across the seas with the message of Christ; sometimes it entails going across the street. This not only takes place with massive crowds of people filling a stadium or church to hear a preacher; this often occurs as one individual speaks with another individual.
This one-on-one outreach is often called “evangelism.” That word, along with the related word “evangelist,” puts off a lot of people, including Christians. But I believe that is because we do not understand what the term means. One of the best definitions derives from Archbishop William Temple. “To evangelize is so to present Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit that men come to put their faith in God through him, to accept him as their Saviour and to serve him as their King in the fellowship of his Church.” That, and no less, is evangelism.2 A simpler definition comes from D. T. Niles, a missionary of Ceylon, who described evangelism as “one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread.”3
Often we try to excuse ourselves from evangelism because we are not articulate speakers who can persuade a large audience to follow Christ. Truth be told, in the early days of the church it wasn’t revivals or eloquent preachers that most influenced pagan society but everyday Christians doing everyday evangelism.4
This morning I want to address the subject, “Sharing Our Story.” That is really what evangelism is all about. As I mentioned in a previous message, we are not called to be the judge or the prosecuting attorney in a sinner’s life; we are called to be a witness.5 By talking about what we have seen, heard, and experienced, as well as the truth of God’s Word, we can share our testimony with one who does not know Christ, in the hope of leading them to saving faith. We will consider the preparation and then the presentation of our story with both biblical principles and patterns to follow.
Let’s first consider the preparation of our story. I realize some people might say, “Why should I prepare in advance? I’ll just let the Spirit guide me at the moment!” I’m sure that happens at times, but the Bible tells us in 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” When it comes to evangelism, we should follow the Boy Scouts’ motto: Be prepared.
Our testimony should first be personal. We are simply telling another person the story of how Christ has made a difference in your life. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:9 that we were chosen by God “to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you” (msg). This is the essence of witnessing—simply sharing our personal experiences regarding the Lord.
A personal testimony is essential because it is unique. There is no other story just like yours, so only you can share it. You may not be a Bible scholar, but you are the authority on your life, and it’s hard to argue with personal experience. Actually, your personal testimony is often more effective than a sermon, because unbelievers see pastors as professional salesmen, but see you as a “satisfied customer,” so they give you more credibility.6
A personal testimony is effective because it is understandable. Personal stories are easier to relate to than principles. They capture our attention, and we remember them longer. Unbelievers would probably lose interest if you started quoting theologians, but they have a natural curiosity about experiences they’ve never had. Shared stories build a relational bridge that Jesus can walk across from your heart to theirs.7
The best way to “be prepared” is to follow these three simple steps:
1. What my life was like before I met Jesus
2. How I committed my life to Jesus
3. The difference Jesus has made in my life
Be careful on the first step. The goal is not to impress the other person with how bad we were, but with how good Jesus is! Don’t embellish or go into gory detail about your life before Christ. If there is a point of connection between your past and the other person’s present situation, you may want to share that. But do not fabricate your story in order to astound or relate to the other person! In a courtroom that is called perjury; in God’s eyes it is called lying.
Try to keep your story simple. Don’t try to memorize it word-for-word, because then others will think it is a sales pitch. Be relaxed, be conversational, be you! It is more important that you come across as real than that you have every little detail right.
Our personal testimony need not end at the moment we trusted in Jesus Christ. Since that time we have encountered a number of experiences that God has helped us through. Think about incidents in your life where God has brought you through times of pain, sorrow, depression, illness, failure, or disappointment. Be sensitive to what your unbelieving friend will relate to best. Different situations call for different testimonies.8
Our testimony should secondly be pertinent. By this I mean we must remember the whole reason we are sharing our story. In addition to telling our story, we are also telling His story. We must back up our personal testimony with the pertinent truth of God’s Word. I like how the New Century Version of Romans 1:17 defines our message: “The Good News shows how God makes people right with himself—that it begins and ends with faith.” The Good News is that when we trust God’s grace to save us through what Jesus did, our sins are forgiven, we get a purpose for living, and we are promised a future home in heaven.9
“But I don’t know enough of the Bible to share all that stuff!” you might be thinking. “And am I supposed to carry a big Bible with me all the time, just in case I have the chance to witness?” There is a solution to both of those issues. For the first, I have made available a business card entitled “The Romans Road” featuring five passages all from the book of Romans detailing the truth of our sin and God’s salvation. On the back of the card is a sample prayer for someone who is ready to trust in Christ. I would suggest that you find a pocket-size (or purse-size, for you ladies) New Testament that you carry with you everywhere you go—just like you carry your wallet. Keep the Romans Road card in the New Testament, and you will always be prepared to share your faith!
Our testimony should third be practical. In other words, once you are finished sharing your story and the Scriptures, your should give your friend something they can do. It’s not enough for them to listen and say, “That’s a nice story…I’m glad that works for you.” We must show them how our story can become their story by means of His story. They may not be ready at that time to trust in Jesus—and if that is the case, don’t push them!—but we should always give the other person the opportunity to act on what we have told them. You may be able to lead them in a prayer similar to the one on the reverse side of the Romans Road card.
The Presentation of Our Story
Now that we are prepared, let’s move on to the presentation of our story. This requires that we be connected both with God and with other people. It cannot be one or the other; it must be both. The temptation is either so to make contact with the world that we lose contact with God; or so to develop our contact with God that we lose touch with the world. Unless we are connected with Christ we have no testimony to bear; unless we are connected with others, we have no one to whom to bear it.10
Much of our difficulty stems from falsely equating separation and isolation. We are to be in the world but not of the world. Separation means we do not live as sinners live; isolation means we have nothing to do with them at all. Studies have shown that, on average, a new Christian is good for non-Christian contacts for about two years. After that time, they are completed surrounded by fellow believers and isolated from the outside world. How sad! Yes, it is good to have Christian fellowship, and we are encouraged and edified by each other, but if we don’t personally know anyone who is lost, what good are we accomplishing here on earth? We will have all eternity to enjoy each other’s company; we were left here on earth because there is a job to do!
Instead of withdrawing, we are to go out and communicate with the world. We need to discover how, practically, we can initiate and develop friendships with non-Christians and then realistically, relevantly, and lovingly explain to them the gospel of Jesus Christ.11
Let’s consider four active components to the presentation of our story as we reach out to the lost with the good news of Jesus.
First, be particular. By that I do not mean to discriminate against certain ones as opposed to others, but rather focus your attention on a few—or even just one—that you know or can get to know on a personal level. Some Christians make the mistake of supposing that God intends them to speak a word for Christ to everyone they meet. This can be ineffective at least and overwhelming at most. Rather than waiting for haphazard opportunities to share our story, we begin by praying that God will lay upon our heart a burden for one or two particular people upon whom to concentrate our efforts.12
Second, be proactive. The Great Commission begins with the word, “Go.” We are not to wait for them to come, we are to go to where they are. When I say we should go where the person is, I don’t only mean geographically. We need to get to know them.
It is fairly safe to say that it is hard to win somebody’s soul unless we have first won his confidence, if not his friendship. Before someone will trust in Christ, they must first trust us. We must go out of our way to get to know our friend.13
An example of being proactive is seen in Acts 8:26-35,
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.” The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
In this instance Philip is directed by the Spirit of God to go to a certain place, and when he got there he was moved to approach a certain person. This person, a high court official of an African nation (ancient Ethiopia is modern day Sudan, not what we now know as Ethiopia14), who was reading a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
Notice Philip’s strategy. Rather than beginning with Jesus, he starts with where the eunuch was. The eunuch was reading Scripture—probably out loud, so that Philip knew what he was reading—and Philip asked if he understood it. The eunuch then invited Philip to explain the Scripture to him. (What an open door for ministry that is!)
Today, we need to be careful not to give people answers before we know what their questions are. Sure, Jesus Christ is the ultimate Answer they need, but if we don’t bother to find out where they are in their search, they won’t want to listen to our answer! Most likely, we won’t find people reading the Bible out loud like this eunuch was. They are more likely to be talking about news, politics, sports, fashion, or the latest in movies, books, television, or music. Find out where they are, where their interests lie, and engage them there. Then, as Philip did, we can begin at that very place and tell them the good news about Jesus.
Third, be positive. Our Scriptural illustration of this is seen in Paul’s approach in Athens as found in Acts 17:16-23,
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”
Notice the positive approach he took. While walking the streets of Athens, Paul noticed how many altars to various gods were present. This idolatry “greatly distressed” the apostle, but he did not allow that to show when he finally got to speak to them. He began by commending them for being “very religious.” This word could be used in a positive or negative sense. It is most likely that Paul meant it in a good sense, to provide a way in to his address that would engage the attention of the audience.15 This was an exercise in tactfulness, and tact will go a long way in successfully harvesting souls.
We must be careful not to display our displeasure at what others believe or practice, even when their beliefs and practices are diametrically opposed to the Word of God. Several years ago the novel (and later movie) The da Vinci Code was extremely popular. I personally found the story blasphemous and historically fraudulent. But when I had the opportunity to interact with someone who was interested in the story, I had to set aside those feelings and not let them cloud my thinking. The same might be true about a person’s beliefs about God, Jesus, heaven and hell, or a host of other topics. Let’s learn a lesson of tactfulness from Paul and find some common ground as a foundation. Then, as Chuck Swindoll suggests,
Always start where your audience is. Paul hooked those men in his first sentence. You can too, if you spend some time thinking about it. Know your audience well enough to build a bridge quickly. Find a way to get into their world and then build a bridge to Christ.16 Finally, be passionate. We cannot share Christ to someone as a professional undertaking, like a doctor prescribing a medicine. It is a personal matter between two people.17 If our heart is not into it, the other person will know. And they won’t listen.
Our God is a passionate God. He passionately loves some things and passionately hates other things. As you grow closer to him, he will give you a passion for something he cares about deeply so you can be a spokesman for him in the world. It may be a passion about a problem, a purpose, a principle, or a group of people. Whatever it is, you will feel compelled to speak up about it and do what you can to make a difference.
God uses passionate people to further his kingdom. He may give you a godly passion for starting new churches, strengthening families, funding Bible translations, or training Christian leaders. You may be given a godly passion for reaching a particular group of people with the gospel: businessmen, teenagers, foreign exchange students, young mothers, or those with a particular hobby or sport. If you ask God, he will burden your heart for a specific country or ethnic group that desperately needs a strong Christian witness. God gives us different passions so that everything he wants done in the world will get done. You should not expect everyone else to be passionate about your passion. Instead, we must listen to and value each other’s life message because nobody can say it all. Never belittle someone else’s godly passion.18 Never feel guilty because you do not share another’s passion.
There’s a well known missions hymn, “We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations.” Without taking anything away from its global focus, I would also like to add, “We’ve a Story to Tell to Our Neighbors.” The missions field does not have to be across the seas; it can be across the street. Jesus said we are to be witnesses “first in Jerusalem,” which was where they lived at the time. Let’s start at home and share our story with the lost!