Let’s face it: we’re chicken. No one likes being ostracised, ridiculed, or shown hostility. So we often stay quiet and don’t evangelise our friends and family. However, I must say that reactions of ostracism, ridicule and hostility are actually quite rare. But we fear it nonetheless.
What I want to deal with here, though, is something I have come across in every church I have attended. There is a rationalisation common amongst Christians that says if we live a good life before others, that will be enough. Recently Duane Litfin wrote an excellent article on this topic in Christianity Today (“Works and Words: Why you can’t preach the Gospel with Deeds”). He says: “How often do we hear these days, with passion and approval, the famous dictum attributed to Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary”?”
As someone who grew up in the Jewish religion, let me tell you that I would not be a Christian now if the Christians around me held to this view. I grew up knowing nothing about Jesus whatsoever. The actions of Christians around
me told me precisely nothing. I could not know about my sin, and Jesus’ death paying the penalty for my sin in my place, by looking at the behaviour of Christians. That notion is patently ridiculous.
I thank God for the godly Christians who told me about Jesus. Their behaviour was indeed different and was one of the things that led me to ask them about their beliefs. Behaviour is indeed important. But it is no substitute whatsoever for preaching the gospel. We have to use words.
To quote Litfin again: “The belief that we can “preach the gospel” with our actions alone represents muddled thinking. However important our actions may be (and they are very important indeed) … they are not “preaching the gospel.” … If the gospel is to be communicated at all, it must be put into words.”
An example from Litfin: “Imagine you have been assigned the task of communicating the following idea to a particular individual: Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great at the Macedonian court between 342 and ca. 339 B.C. Unfortunately, you discover that your pupil has no previous knowledge of either Aristotle or Alexander, what a tutor is, what Macedonia is, who Christ was, or consequently, what B.C. means. What’s worse, you do not have the verbal code available to you. Your pupil does not speak your language, and you do not speak his. All you have available are nonverbal channels of communication. How would you go about your task?
Your assignment would be impossible. You cannot communicate this type of content nonverbally. What facial expressions, or gestures, or eye behaviour, or actions could express information about Alexander or Macedonia or B.C.? The nonverbal code is incapable of bearing this kind of weight. You require a verbal code—that is, words and sentences and paragraphs—to convey your meaning. Without them, your task is undoable.”
I would love honesty from my fellow brothers and sisters. Don’t say that you will just try and evangelise through your actions. There is no such thing. People are only saved through hearing and believing the message of the gospel, in words. Admit that you are scared, and then we can do something about that and move forward! I find evangelism scary. But it is always such a blessing to share the good news of Jesus with others. And when someone accepts the gospel and is saved – there is nothing better.