Real Deal Evangelism
- November 04, 2019
- Jessica Fields
My friend Anna is the best evangelist I know.
I care about the environment, but to be truthful, it isn’t always evident in the way that I live my life. I’ll opt to recycle and avoid single use plastics, but if it’s inconvenient, I’ll chuck things in the trash and grab a plastic fork without giving it much thought.
But Anna — Anna carries her coffee cup and lunch box with her wherever she goes. She’ll ask cafe owners if they have reusable options, and she goes out of her way to recycle things. Anna sees the beauty and value in the environment, she sees the way her actions and the actions of others impact the planet, and she does something about it to make the world better.
[As an aside, her view of the way we need to treat the environment is far more Christ-like than that of most Christians, including myself. I think approaching things with the view that the earth will fade away is a cop out, especially when so much of the reason our planet is in this state is because of the sinful greed, gluttony, and apathy of those of us that inhabit it.]
When I met Anna, she was pretty dismayed with my willingness to use the disposable takeaway cups at cafes. So she bought me a to-go mug, and she encouraged me to use it when we grabbed coffee. At first, I brought my cup along to please Anna, but the more that I’ve used it, the more I see how what I do actually has an impact. And while Anna never judges my value for not making environmentally conscious choices, she does judge my actions, and rightfully so, because I’m making choices that are harmful, rather than helpful. Her passion for this planet impacts nearly all of her actions, and it bleeds into every aspect of her life.
The way Anna evangelizes about the environment? It’s changed the way I want to evangelize about Jesus.
My relationship with God is the singularly most important thing in my life. I want the Gospel to be evident in everything I do and every interaction I have, and I want the people I love to know that Jesus that I know, and to experience the freedom found in Christ.
When Anna wanted me to love the environment like she did, she didn’t come yelling at me. She didn’t show up as an angry protester on the side of the road, telling me that I was killing the planet (even if my actions meant I was, in fact, ruining the planet). She didn’t think less of me when I forgot my keep cup. I felt convicted by her convictions, but my motivation to be more like her didn’t stem from guilt, but from a new understanding of what environmentalism meant.
So when I look at Anna’s model, I once again question the value of the street preacher, yelling about sin and fire and brimstone. I question the value of aggressive debates and and confronting billboards and angry televangelists. Does the observer walk away really knowing who Jesus is?
Maybe Anna’s model works because it was the model of the early Christians, who modeled themselves after Christ.
Jesus associated with tax collectors and adulterers, the people society said were low and beyond help. He loved them where they were, He called them out of their sin, and He walked alongside them in the path towards righteousness. And when He left, He left the Holy Spirit to do the walking, and to comfort and convict the believer in this journey of sanctification.
We are called to the same thing: Love people, right where they are. Call people out of sin and shame and brokenness, and into the glorious grace of a good and faithful God. Walk alongside them daily, with encouragement and grace.
We don’t need to shy away from calling out sin, but we need to flee from ever giving the impression that we are sinless. The only difference between a Christian and anyone else, in terms of our standing before God, is the atoning work of Jesus on the cross.
I’m not evangelizing for the easiest way to get rid of shame, and I’m not evangelizing for a guaranteed spot in Heaven. I’m talking about Jesus, the true Son of God who died a very real death to save me from the crushing weight of my sin, that I might see and worship the Father for who He truly is.
It’s easy for my friend to evangelize about the environment, because she sees the worth of what she’s fighting for. It’s an objectively worthy thing to fight for, and while me understanding that as well is part of her evangelistic motive, what she’s really on about is the environment getting the care and respect it deserves. So too should be my evangelism for Christ — I pray that my friends and family spend their eternity in the presence of God, but what I’m really on about is that the God who created all things gets the honor due to Him.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. — Philippians 3:8-10
I’ve always found the apostle Paul to be intense, and reading through Acts has done nothing to change my mind. Paul is focused on one thing — the surpassing worth of knowing his Lord. His statement to the elders in Ephesus (Acts 20:24) has stuck with me for weeks: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
No value? All things are rubbish? It just seems a bit dramatic. But that’s what Paul is saying. Yes, there are things that matter to him — he wept as he said his goodbyes to the Ephesians. Paul has loved people deeply, and I think we can be confident he felt fear at points when his life was threatened. But as much as those things mattered, the Gospel mattered infinitely more. That’s evangelism. Going on about the thing that lights a fire in your soul. Being so passionate that your entire life reflects and is shaped by the object of your passion. Being so deeply convinced that what you believe is objectively true and impactful that others need to know about it and change in light of it.
What does that mean for our evangelism? I think that means we do the hard and dirty work of living for Christ every single day. I think it means we really and truly know Jesus so that we can make Him known. It means making it easy for friends to come along to church, even if that makes your Sunday a bit more complicated. It means genuinely listening to and loving others, not as a project, but because the God who deeply loves us also deeply loves them, and He has commanded us to love and serve our neighbor.
It’s a hard game. It’s not meant to be easy. But I can’t shake the feeling that Paul had it right — when we see Jesus rightly, everything else falls away in comparison with the surpassing worth of knowing our Lord. And when you get that, and you get who God truly is, you can’t help but share it.