Written Word

Evangelism – Part 2: Taking the Opportunity

How do we begin? Where do we go? What do we say? Who do we start with? Beginning our evangelism among those who already believe in God is a good place to start; that was the apostolic practice. Many of the Jews to whom the apostles preached the gospel were God-fearing people – good, honourable decent people – but they did not know how God makes people right with him. This point is brought out by Paul, who grieves over their spiritual condition: “Brothers,” Paul says, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:1-4) If there were ever a suitable place to insert a word of hope for people who don’t know Jesus, but nevertheless are sincere and religious, this would be the place. Instead, Paul makes it clear that it is only through faith in the atoning death of Jesus that salvation is found.

How many of your friends are good people, exemplary parents, honourable employees, delightful to be around, and religious? But are they converted to Jesus Christ? Have they confessed him as Lord and been baptised in his name? Or are they just very good people who assume they are right with God? These people need to hear the message of the grace of God expressed in a crucified Christ. Strange as it may seem, there is need for evangelism to be done among many who call themselves Christians.

Taking the Opportunity

All around us there are opportunities to share the gospel. We need to cultivate the habit of seeing these opportunities. A few examples from the Scriptures will be helpful. A woman came to draw water from a well and Jesus spoke to her about “living water.” He engaged her in conversation, demonstrated that he is the Messiah, and she believed (John 4:1-42). The Apostle Paul was an opportunist. In Philippi he found a group of women who had gathered for prayer, and joined them: “We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.” (Acts 16:13-15) Evangelism was taking place among religious people. When the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement was active in Ireland I was often invited to attend their meetings and share a message from the word of God. I was able to teach several who believed and were baptised.

Arriving in Athens, Paul did not hit the tourist spots. Instead, he sought out an opportunity to proclaim the one, true, living God to a people steeped in idolatry. Before the Areopagus he 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.” (Acts 17:22-23) Paul was looking for an opportunity, and he found one. Finally, when he was on trial before King Agrippa, Paul took full advantage of the opportunity to explain the gospel of Jesus. He demonstrated from Scripture “that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” Agrippa’s response was less than encouraging. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” Undeterred, Paul continued pressing home the claims of the gospel so much that Agrippa said, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:23-28). Paul did not focus his attention on trying to secure his personal release by drawing attention to the unfairness of his arrest; instead, he boldly continued to proclaim his belief that Jesus of Nazareth died and rose from the dead to secure remission of sins for all who believe.