Your Personal Character Matters in Evangelism

by Derek Brown

In our discussion of evangelism, it is vital that we talk often about the content of our evangelistic efforts and the reasons for why we should evangelize; but we would be missing something if we never made reference to our personal character. We emphasize the content of evangelism because it is the gospel that saves, not our personal holiness (Rom 1:16-17). In fact, the gospel is so powerful it can save people even when it is proclaimed by those who don’t even believe it, or who are preaching it with ungodly motives (see Phil 1:12-18). If we hope to see our friends and family embrace the gospel and find rest and salvation in Christ, we must get the gospel right. 

Yet we should not conclude, on this basis, that our character is unimportant. When someone professes to know Christ and walks in a way contrary to Christ’s Word, those around him will more easily disregard the gospel because there doesn’t seem to be any reality in it. Nothing hinders the power of a message more than hypocrisy in the messenger.  

This is a vital consideration for all Christians. Professing Christians who slowly succumb to spiritual compromise will find that power of Christ is no longer a vibrant flame in their lives; it is a small flicker, threatening to vanish completely. To speak to others about a heavenly gospel while walking lockstep with the world only tarnishes Christ’s reputation and may serve to harden the hearts of unbelievers. Our character matters.

In this article we will examine five character qualities we think are of particular importance when it comes to sharing the gospel.

We mention courage first because it is Spirit-empowered courage that will enable you to walk in a pattern of Christ-like character in the midst of unbelieving opposition; and it is courage that will enable you to open your mouth to share the gospel with others. If we are not walking in courage, it is not likely we will cultivate a sharp Christian character or frequently share the gospel in all its fullness.

Courage is a virtue the Christian church desperately needs. Precious few of us make any genuine spiritual impact among our friends, family, coworkers, fellow students, and colleagues because we are afraid to risk our reputations, to deal with awkward conversations, or bear the weight of ridicule. As a result of our fear of man, our spiritual light dims and our saltiness disappears.

But courage is not the product of our will power; it is the fruit of faith. Note the connection between courage and faith in the following passage.

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God…. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.

Hebrews 11:7-10

Noah was willing to bear the ridicule of his contemporaries because he believed what God said would come true. Abraham was willing to step into a frightening unknown because he had faith in God’s promise to provide him with a heavenly city. Moses chose a tougher temporal life because he looked forward to (by faith) his inheritance of an eternal reward.

What these passages teach us, then, is that if we are going to cultivate courage, we must cultivate a deep faith in the promises of God and the reality of our eternal inheritance. Unless we see with the eyes of our hearts the unfathomable riches of an eternal relationship with God and Christ, we won’t be able to withstand the peer pressure and natural tendency to drift to the easy and comfortable path of least resistance. But all of this implies that we need conviction.

What is conviction? Conviction is the state of being convinced. To be convinced is to be so overtaken by a truth that our thoughts, feelings, and actions are now directed by that truth. To be a Christian, by definition, is to be convinced of the truth of the gospel. Consider Paul’s description of the Thessalonians at the time they believed the gospel: “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess 1:4-5). Paul was confident that the Thessalonians were Christians—that God had chosen them for salvation—because they had received the word of the gospel “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” To have saving faith is to be convinced that the gospel is true and that Jesus is real. So, as we noted at the beginning of this book, in order to effectively share the gospel, we must first believe the gospel. We must be convinced that the gospel is true.        

But we also need to consider how we can maintain our convictions. It is possible for the convictions of genuine Christians to lose their sharpness due to constant friction against the world and its opposition to the truth. The world we live in and the people we engage are, by nature, set against the gospel we believe (see Rom 8:6-7; 2 Cor 4:1-6). And, although people may be at times friendly or relatively tolerant of our Christian faith, when we start to take a bold stand for Christ and the truth of the gospel, we may find out rather quickly that it is simply easier to keep quiet. But to yield to this kind of pressure will only blunt our convictions and dampen our spiritual zeal.

So, how do we maintain our convictions? First, we must learn to feed and strengthen our convictions with the Word of God. This means you must make regular hearing of the public preaching of the Word an immovable priority, which means you must make church an immovable priority. Sadly, though, many professing Christians drift from Christ and from effective ministry because they allow their church attendance to become merely optional or to be replaced by other Sunday activities and hobbies. Yet, it is the local church in which Christ has established the preaching of His Word and the accountability of His body for our perseverance in the faith (Heb 3:12-15). To neglect the local church will lead, eventually, to dull convictions and a loss of courage.

Second, we feed and strengthen our convictions by making Bible reading, biblical meditation, and prayer a priority in our lives. It is vital that we regularly place ourselves under solid preaching and teaching at the local church level. But it is also important that we find nourishment and refreshment in God’s Word by going to it during the week. The onslaughts of our enemy are relentless (1 Pet 5:7). The repairing of our defenses, therefore, must be constant (Eph 6:18). Spending time in God’s Word, reading, meditating on what you read, and praying to God for help each day will help you remain steadfast in the midst of opposition (Ps 1:1-3; 19:6-11). 

Finally, we maintain our convictions by obeying the truth that we know. I have been making the case that it is conviction that fuels courage, and conviction is sharpened and strengthened by the Word of God. But we must also keep in mind that there is a reciprocal dynamic between our convictions and our courage, between our faith and our obedience, where each feeds and strengthens the other. If we don’t act on what we know, our convictions cannot grow. But if we obey the truth, we enlarge our capacity to know God and His Word. “I understand more than the aged,” the Psalmist writes, “for I keep your precepts” (Ps 119:100). Failing to put the truth into practice, however, leads to spiritual stagnation, regression, and the loss of conviction (see Heb 5:11-14). 

Integrity is also a vital character quality that Christians must be careful to cultivate. Integrity has to do with wholeness, soundness, and completeness. A person who is characterized by integrity is someone who doesn’t have any cracks in their life. Their life is pure; they are not a mixture of various conflicting elements. When someone lacks integrity, they will act and speak in contrary ways depending on the setting in which they find themselves.

For example, if you go to church a couple days a week where you worship, hear the Bible taught, and talk with your brothers and sisters about the things of God, and then turn around and give yourself to impure conversation, sensual entertainment, and sexual sin while with your non-Christian friends and colleagues, then you are not living with integrity. If you profess Christ but cheat on tests or your taxes, you are not living with integrity. If you claim to know God but break rules on campus or in the office, you are not living with integrity.

The opposite of integrity is hypocrisy. Of all the sins that Jesus stands against, hypocrisy is among the ones He hates the most. Throughout the gospels we find Jesus regularly rebuking the religious leaders for their failure to match their actions with their words. Jesus told His disciples to not be like them, for they “preach[ed] but did not practice” (Matt 23:3). The religious leaders presented a spiritual façade to the people, but inwardly they didn’t love God or obey His commandments from the heart. They instructed people on how to live for and please God, but they didn’t abide by their own instruction. They were hypocrites.

When we fail to live with integrity, we set ourselves on a course for destruction and humiliation. Furthermore, when blatant inconsistences show up in our lives, we give people the impression that Jesus has little power to change us in ways that really matter. In other words, by our lack of integrity, we call into question the reality of the gospel and the character of Christ. Any attempt at evangelism will, for all intents and purposes, fall on deaf ears. 

But when we, by the power of the Spirit and faith in the gospel, live with integrity, we place ourselves within the security of God’s protection (Prov 2:7), and we are able to walk in wisdom and avoid unnecessary trouble and pain (Prov 11:3; 28:18). Our evangelism will take on a renewed power because our words match our lives.

None of this is meant to suggest that we must be perfect in order to evangelize. As we will see when we discuss the last character trait on this list (humility), part of living in a way that adorns the gospel is a willingness to confess our sin when we are guilty of it. Evangelism is not telling people to be like Jesus; rather, evangelism is telling people what Jesus has done for them because they have failed miserably to do what God has created them to do. Nevertheless, the person who claims to know Jesus must “walk in the same way he walked” (1 John 2:6), and Jesus walked with impeccable integrity. His disciples therefore must strive, though imperfectly, to do the same.  

Sexual Purity
Christians often wrestle with God’s will for their lives. We may ponder what field of study to pursue while in college, what kind of job to seek after graduation or after a career change, who to date, who to marry, where to live, and so on. It is good to consider the will of God in each of these important areas of life, yet often our concerns over the will of God grow out of a misunderstanding of what Scripture teaches us about this topic. Contrary to what many eager Christians believe, Scripture does not teach that God has a secret will for each of our lives that we must discover and pursue. Nor does the Bible teach that we will wreck our chance of happiness if we fail to discover this secret will of God for our lives.

Rather, the Bible gives us clear, straightforward statements about God’s will that we, if we are Christians, are able to fulfill. For example, Paul tells us to “give thanks to God in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you” (1 Thess 5:18). Thanksgiving in all situations, therefore, is God’s will for you. It is also God’s will for you to submit to the ruling authorities in your life: parents, government, employers, and those who oversee the institution you are presently attending. As we yield to the authorities in our lives, we lessen the opportunity for unbelievers to say something against us or against Christ.   

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people (1 Pet 2:13-15).

It is also God’s will that you abstain from sexual immorality. Consider these words from the apostle Paul:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 (emphasis added)

You may not know yet what major you should choose or who to marry or where to live, but you can know something about the direction and conduct of your life with absolute certainty right now: it is God’s will for you to remain sexually pure. To walk in holiness (sanctification; v. 3) means, at the very least, that you refrain from sexual immorality. This means that we “know how to control” our bodies in “holiness and honor,” and not in the unbridled craving of lust like those who don’t know God. 

Yet no command in Scripture is so consistently repudiated by the world as God’s command to remain sexually pure. Such biblical injunctions are viewed by the larger part of our society as archaic, restrictive, burdensome, and unhealthy. Those who hold to them are usually viewed with pity, disdain, suspicion, or a combination of all three.

Nevertheless, sexual purity is God’s will for you. Why? Because God is a killjoy who loves to load unbearable laws upon His creatures? Hardly. God commands us to remain sexually pure because He desires to protect the beauty and goodness of the marriage covenant by guarding the seal of that covenant; namely, sexual intercourse. “To you and to you only will I give myself in sexual intimacy,” the husband and bride say on their wedding day. The gift of sexual intercourse between a man and a woman is given to serve as the seal of the promise they have made to each other through their wedding vows. To indulge in this gift within marriage brings great glory to God and allows the couple to taste some of the most exquisite pleasures this earthly life has to offer within the protection and safety of the marriage covenant (see Prov 5:15-20).

To partake in sexual intimacy outside of marriage or to indulge in pornography before or while one is married is to dishonor God, undermine the marriage covenant, and actually work against our joy. Rather than promoting our happiness, sexual sin destroys it because it defiles our conscience, defiles our bodies (2 Cor 6:16-18), and invites God’s anger: “that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you” (1 Thess 4:6). If we persist in sexual sin, we will soon find ourselves without any assurance of salvation, for our actions presently demonstrate that we are not exercising saving faith. How can I make such a claim? Because saving faith in Christ deals seriously with sexual sin, even at the root of lust.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

Matthew 5:27-30

Jesus is not suggesting in this passage that genuine salvation can be lost; rather, He is saying that our salvation will be demonstrated in the way we handle sexual sin, even at the deepest level of heart desire. If we are Christians, we will heed Jesus’ warning in this passage and deal radically with sexual sin for the sake of our souls.

What does this have to do with sharing the gospel? Everything. When we profess to know Christ yet walk in sexual sin, our witness is severely tarnished. By our actions we hinder unbelievers from recognizing a genuine difference between Christianity and the world, and we show blatant disregard for something that God has said is very precious to Him (see Heb 13:4). We also defile our consciences, which disables us from courageously proclaiming the gospel. “The wicked flee when no one pursues,” the Proverbs remind us, “but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Prov 28:1). Boldness in sharing the gospel grows in the soil of personal holiness and a clean conscience; it wilts and dies when the soil is tainted with sexual sin.

Finally, if we desire to conduct a faithful, and by God’s grace, effective evangelistic ministry among our friends, family, and fellow employees, then we must cultivate humility. Humility, however, is a virtue largely misunderstood in our contemporary culture. To many, humility is often characterized by uncertainty in matters of moral and spiritual importance. That is, if you are someone who claims to know the truth in a particular religious matter, you will be viewed as proud, by definition. If you hem and haw over issues related to the nature of reality, the person and attributes of God, the possibility of truth, the resurrection of Jesus, and so on, you will be viewed as humble; you may even get invited to appear on television to give your insightful opinions to a nodding panel of religious experts.

This misunderstanding of humility is the fruit of viewing this virtue in relation to man rather than in relation to God. Biblically, to be humble is to tremble before God’s Word (Isa 66:1-2), to fear the Lord (Prov 1:7), to remain teachable to Scripture (2 Tim 3:16-17), and to listen and learn from those who are wise and godly as they walk in holiness (Prov 13:20). To be genuinely humble is to recognize that your salvation has come entirely from God’s hand apart from any of your help or cooperation (see Rom 3:27; 1 Cor 1:26-31; 4:7). 

Yet, when we are walking in Godward humility, we will inevitably walk in humility toward other people. This humility will not be expressed in uncertainties about truths that are manifestly clear in the Bible. Rather, our humility will be conveyed in our gentleness toward unbelievers (2 Tim 2:24-26), in a quickness to admit when we have sinned against others (Acts 23:5), a readiness to forgive those who have sinned against us (Matt 6:14-15), and a willingness to receive helpful advice when it corresponds with or does not directly contradict the teaching of God’s Word (Prov 12:15).

But this kind of humility is not something we muster up in ourselves by our own will power. Like the other character qualities we’ve considered, humility grows out of a right understanding of God’s Word. Paul’s second letter to Timothy provides us with the truth that we need to cultivate and grow in genuine humility toward others. Consider this passage about midway through Paul’s epistle:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

2 Timothy 2:24-26

In the immediate context, Paul is offering instruction to Timothy, a young pastor, on how to conduct his ministry in the local church. The theological footings upon which Paul constructs these principles, however, are immediately applicable to all Christians.

First notice Paul’s description of humility in this passage. The Lord’s servant is not to be quarrelsome but kind to all, patiently enduring evil, and correcting his opponents with gentleness. Yet we see in Paul’s instruction the beautiful symmetry of godly kindness and conviction, for we are to not only be gentle with those who disagree with us; we are to be able to teach them the truth and correct them when they are wrong about God, Scripture, Christ, or the truth of the gospel. As Christians, we are called to walk in kindness toward all people yet be able to instruct them in what is true. How can we possibly conduct this kind of ministry or cultivate this Spirit-wrought blend of kindness and conviction? Paul gives the answer in the latter half of the passage.

God never gives us mere commandments. Whenever Paul or the other authors of the New Testament give a command, you can always trace this command back to a more foundational truth or set of truths about God and the gospel. In this case, Paul grounds his instruction on how to conduct ourselves among unbelievers in rich theology about the sovereignty of God and the spiritual plight of unbelievers.

Specifically, Paul reminds us it is God who grants repentance to the unbeliever. Ultimately, it is not up to us to convert and save anyone. The power to convince someone of the truth of Christ does not lie in us; it lies exclusively in the gospel as is illumined by the Holy Spirit. Your roommates, classmates, fellow employees, and family members reject Christ, not because they haven’t been presented with enough convincing evidence, but because they are ensnared by sin and Satan. Our archenemy, as Paul says elsewhere, is actively blinding the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the glory of the gospel of Christ (2 Cor 4:1-6), and only God can open their eyes to see that Christ is real and true and precious.

Knowing these important truths enables us to walk in kindness toward others. First, we recognize that we were in the same exact situation prior to God’s sovereign work in our lives. We didn’t draw ourselves to Christ, the Father did (John 6:44). We didn’t create our own faith and repentance; God gave them to us (Phil 1:29; 2 Tim 2:25-26). We didn’t come to Christ because we were more intelligent than others, but because God chose to shine spiritual light into the eyes of our heart (2 Cor 4:1-6). And, ultimately, God didn’t choose to save us because of our righteousness or our good works, but because of His own good plan and pleasure (Eph 1:3-6; 2:8-9; Rom 8:28-32). We brought nothing to salvation except our sin, rebellion, ignorance, and hatred for God. How can we feel anything but broken-hearted gentleness toward our unbelieving friends when the only difference between us and them is the pure grace of God?

Second, we understand that other unbelievers are not our enemy: Satan is. We may be tempted when talking with others about the gospel to start to think of them as our enemies when they oppose our message. Yes, they might make themselves your enemy and begin to hate you due to your insistence that they need to repent and believe in Christ in order to be saved from their sin and condemnation (see Luke 6:27; John 15:18). But from your perspective, they are never your enemy in the sense that you hate them. No, unbelievers are not our enemies; they have been captured by our true enemy and are presently unaware of their plight. They are, therefore, worthy of our compassion and love, not our scorn and hatred.

While it is true that our character is not what saves a person from eternal judgment, our character does adorn the gospel we proclaim to others. As we labor to get the gospel right, let us also labor to cultivate Christ-like character for God’s glory and for the good of our neighbor. As we walk in the truth and live according to the truth, God will count us faithful regardless of how many people we are able to lead to Christ through our ministry. And faithfulness is all that Christ asks from us:

And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, “Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:20-21).

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