Think of the last time you shared the gospel. Perhaps you shared the good news with a stranger at the bus stop. Maybe you recently told a fellow employee about Christ and their need for salvation. You may have just shared the gospel with your Buddhist aunt and uncle during a family get-together. How did it go? Did you meet stern resistance? Genuine interest? Bored indifference?
It is always encouraging to engage with someone who appears to have some genuine interest in the gospel. If we meet resistance or indifference often enough, however, this negative pattern may even lead us to believe that we should expect these unfavorable responses whenever we share the gospel. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether or not we have any biblical grounds on which to anticipate a positive response to the gospel, or is it best to resign ourselves to the idea that most people will ignore or rebuff our efforts. In other words, does the Bible direct us to share the good news expectantly or pessimistically? While it is true that the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection is offensive to the natural human heart and therefore may elicit a sharply negative response (1 Cor 2:1-14), it is also true that the gospel is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Rom 1:16).
Yes, we need a realistic outlook for our evangelistic labors. Jesus said the way is narrow that leads to life and few find it (Matt 7:14). Sinners hate the light and leverage their life to avoid contact with it (John 3:19). The human heart is blinded by its own hardness and by Satan himself (Eph 4:13; 2 Cor 4:3-4). The task that lies before us is beset, not with difficulty, but with impossibility. We cannot, of ourselves, call dead people to life (Eph 2:1-3).
But these truths about the desperate state of sinners don’t necessarily require that we approach evangelism pessimistically. Counter-intuitively, the impossibility of our task actually prepares us to preach the gospel with the hopeful anticipation that our efforts will lead to salvation. How can this be? Because the very nature of the gospel, the purpose of the incarnation, the character of the gospel call, the promise that God will answer our prayers, and the nearness of Jesus in our evangelistic work together provide a solid basis to expect that God can and will move to save sinners in our midst as we proclaim the gospel. Let’s examine each of these points.
(1) The Nature of the Gospel
We should evangelize expectantly because the message we proclaim possesses an inherent power to create saving faith, promote genuine repentance, and unite a sinner to Jesus Christ (Rom 1:16; 10:17). The good news we share has the power to shatter a hard heart, pierce the veil of unbelief, and transform the most recalcitrant atheist into a humble, Christ-loving saint. We may be tempted to think that God can’t possibly save our unbelieving neighbor, friend, or relative because they are so deeply entrenched in sin and rebellion against their Creator. But God is able to open the eyes of anyone through the good news of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:1-6). The apostle Paul is case in point (1 Tim 1:15-16).
(2) The Purpose of the Incarnation
We should also be motivated to evangelize with eager expectation because Christ came for the express purpose of saving sinners (John 3:16-17). The Son of God humbled himself and took to his Person a genuine human nature, suffered, died, and rose again from the dead in order to save people from the power and penalty of their sin. The salvation of sinners was not a secondary aim of the incarnation: it was the aim of the incarnation.
(3) The Character of the Gospel Call
The gospel call itself should provoke some expectancy in our evangelistic endeavors. We are not taught by Christ or the apostles to make evangelistic suggestions: “You might want to give Jesus a try.” No, we are to command people to be reconciled to God (Acts 17:30-31). Jesus began his ministry with imperatives: “Repent and believe the gospel” (Matt 4:13) and his disciples continued this tradition in their public proclamations. One reason why we don’t expect people to repent and believe when we share the gospel is because we never actually tell them to repent and believe. We may tell them about Jesus and his work on the cross and his resurrection, but if we never get around to commanding their faith and repentance, we have no grounds on which to expect our efforts to bear the fruit of faith and repentance.
(4) The Extravagant Promises of Answered Prayer
We can share the gospel with the hope that our listeners will believe because God promises to answer our prayers when we pray according to God’s will. Jesus said, “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). As we abide in Christ’s words, we begin to learn what pleases God so we can pray accordingly. We’ve already noted that the chief goal of the incarnation was the salvation of sinners, so we know for certain that it is God’s will that people be saved. We can, therefore, pray for the salvation of specific sinners with the hope that God would deliver them from eternal judgment. Fruitful evangelistic ministry glorifies God: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8).
Yes, it is true that we cannot ultimately determine who is saved–salvation is God’s work. But the reality of God’s sovereignty over salvation should never be used to dampen our passion to see people saved and to labor to that end. Paul the apostle ministered expectantly even though he knew not everyone with whom he shared the gospel would believe: “I have become all things to all people so that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:23). We need a fresh reminder to grab hold of these amazing promises of answered prayer and seek the salvation of the people in our lives.
(5) The Nearness of Jesus to His Disciples
When Jesus gave his disciples their marching orders just before his ascension, he attached an empowering promise to his parting instructions: “Behold, I am with you, even to the end of the age.” Making disciples is a challenging business, and it begins with evangelism. Recognizing that difficulty intrinsic to calling sinners to repentance, Jesus promised his followers that he would be near them in their disciple-making ventures. Such nearness should bolster our confidence to proclaim the gospel to sinners who are in desperate need of God’s grace. At every moment in our evangelistic efforts, Jesus is by our side, making his appeal to sinners through us (2 Cor 5:20). If the Lord Jesus himself is present in our evangelistic work, we are right to anticipate his power to open eyes and change hearts is present as well.
Some if not many of us may struggle to find motivation to evangelize. Yes, we recognize the urgency. Yes, we are aware of what is at stake. But we may still remain tentative because we don’t really think our efforts will amount to anything. Let Scripture renew your commitment to evangelize expectantly, sharing the good news in the confidence that God is able to save anyone at anytime through the power of the gospel message.