In two previous articles on evangelism, I considered what evangelism is and what it isn’t, and how to get the gospel right. Now it is time to do the difficult yet necessary heart-work of asking why many of us don’t evangelize while also looking to Scripture to find a remedy for these excuses.
The Fear of Man
If we were honest, the first reason why many of us fail to regularly share the gospel with others is because we are afraid to share the gospel with others. We fear possible ridicule from those who find the claims of Scripture either unsophisticated or, from their perspective, demonstrably untrue. We may fear creating awkward moments in our conversations or facing verbal assaults for sharing Christ. We might even fear the physical harm and persecution that might come from our attempts at evangelism.
Scripture, however, strongly exhorts us to put away this fear of man by trusting in our great and gracious God. “The fear of man is a snare,” Solomon reminds us, “but he who trusts the Lord will be safe” (Prov 29:25). Yes, ridicule, awkwardness, verbal assaults, and even physical harm and death are possibilities when we evangelize.
We are taking a message that must offend before it can bless. The word of the cross will appear foolish to those who do not yet know the depth and danger of their sin (1 Cor 1:18). The gospel exposes and convicts of sin (John 3:20-21; 16:8). The human heart rages against God and Christ (Rom 1:32). So yes, let’s be honest: people might shout at us or shoot us if we share the gospel with them. But that is exactly why the Scripture’s lay out such lavish future promises for those who overcome the fear of man and such severe warnings for those who don’t.
Consider for a moment the way Jesus argues in Matthew 10:24-33.
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
Here, Jesus encourages his disciples to faithfully acknowledge him before others by reminding them that God will, despite the fact that they are presently enduring persecution, vindicate them for their faith in Christ (“nothing is covered that will not be revealed”). Jesus adds more encouragement by reminding them that their Father loves them very much (“you are of more value than many sparrows”), implying that he will take care of them through the persecution all the way into heaven.
But Jesus also warns them that any professing disciple who is characterized by denying Christ—that is, one who is regularly folding in the face of potential conflict and failing to share the gospel due to the fear man—is in danger of being denied by Christ at the final judgment and destroyed in hell (see also Rev 21:8).
Is this salvation by personal evangelism? No. Jesus is simply noting that true faith will be expressed by one overcoming the fear of man and faithfully acknowledging Christ. Of course, none of us will do this perfectly. But by God’s grace, true disciples will grow in their consistently in acknowledging Christ before others through evangelism.
Many of us don’t have time to evangelize because we’ve filled our lives with school, work, and recreation. Yes, life is busy, and there are many things to which we must give our attention. My point here is not to diminish the effort you put in to steward your education or your job well. Nor do I think it is wrong for you to participate in clubs, extracurricular activities, and intramural sports while you are in school or to engage in recreational activities as a working professional. Several of these opportunities can be legitimate ways to spend your time!
What I am concerned about is packing your schedule to the point where you can’t pursue other important biblical priorities. Many Christians in America wrestle with maintaining a calendar that allows time for important disciplines like Bible reading, prayer, ministry, and evangelism. We need to be careful that we don’t allow our obligations and activities to crowd out biblical priorities, like sharing the gospel with others. We also need to be aware of the tendency to over-schedule in order to avoid important biblical disciplines. When we begin to recognize the Bible’s clear calling to share Christ with others, we may be tempted to avoid this tough assignment by stuffing our schedule with alternatives so that we have an apparent excuse to not evangelize. Many if not all of these things may be good things—extra work, intramural sports, rock-climbing, book clubs—but when they are slotted into our schedule in order to keep evangelism from finding a space, we have fallen into a spiritually precarious pattern.
Some professing Christians don’t evangelize because they are ignorant. Perhaps you don’t realize that Scripture calls you to evangelize, regardless of your circumstances or place in life. In other words, you may have bought in to the misconception that only pastors or professional evangelists are responsible to preach the gospel to the lost. Perhaps you are ignorant of the gospel itself. That is, either you don’t have a saving knowledge of the gospel and are not a believer, or, you only have such a basic grasp of the gospel that you feel as though you couldn’t effectively share it with others.
You might also be ignorant of the present urgency to share the gospel. In this case, you have enough knowledge and recognize that God calls you to share the gospel, but you have forgotten about the irreversibility and certainty of death, the reality of hell, and need for people to hear the gospel in order to be saved. It is my goal in this these posts on evangelism to remedy all three of these areas of ignorance.
A life out-of-step with the truth of the gospel will greatly impede our desire and ability to share the gospel. First, hypocrisy tarnishes our testimony and makes it appear that there is no reality in what we say about Jesus and the truth of the Bible. A love of money and an inordinate desire for earthly enjoyments will douse our spiritual passion and keep us from evangelism because the Word of God will be hindered from working effectively in our own hearts (see Matt 13:22; Mark 4:19).
Finally, unrepentant sin will rob us of the joy and hamper our evangelism. It was after David finally repented of his sins of adultery and murder that he asked God to “restore to him the joy of his salvation” (Ps 51:12). The immediate response to this renewed joy was evangelism: “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you (Ps 51:13). If we are not pursuing holiness it will be difficult to call people to repentance and faith in a holy God.
No Relationships with Unbelievers
We might fail to evangelize because we don’t know anyone to evangelize. Some Christians, out of fear of falling into worldliness (see above) isolate themselves from unbelievers and insulate their lives with an impenetrable wall of Christians so that they never have to feel the discomfort of discussing spiritual things with those who don’t know Christ.
You also may not have any relationships with unbelievers because you tend to keep to yourself. You are a diligent student and employee, as well as a faithful church member, but generally speaking, you would call yourself an introvert. I don’t want to dismiss the truth that God has created each of us differently and given us unique abilities and gifts. It’s a simple fact that some of us are more outgoing, and some of us like to keep to ourselves. That’s great! The world needs people who work in sales and those who love to research.
But we cannot allow our personalities to become an excuse for why we don’t engage unbelievers with the gospel. If you are more “introverted,” it might take a little more effort to develop relationships with unbelievers. But your context provides you with a wealth of opportunities to form friendships and acquaintances with unbelievers. Fellow employees, roommates, classmates, teammates, members of your clubs and intramural sport teams are all people you can get to know and with whom you can engage with the gospel. Step out in faith, ask Christ for help, and, for the glory of God, overcome your tendency to keep to yourself.
Little to No Prayer Given to Evangelism
If we don’t give much time to praying for evangelistic opportunities and for divine aid in witnessing to our friends and fellow employees, we probably won’t find ourselves actually doing much evangelism. When we turn to the New Testament, we find apostolic examples of praying and asking others to pray for evangelistic opportunities.
Paul confessed that he prayed earnestly for the salvation of his fellow Jews (Rom 10:1). He also asked others to pray that God would provide evangelistic opportunities (Col 4:3) and enable him to speak well in these encounters (Col 4:4). If we know the love of Christ, one of our first impulses should be to pray for others to be saved and experience the forgiveness of sins.
Yes, we may not have opportunity to share the gospel with every person in our lives; but we should at least find our hearts offering prayers to God for their salvation. And, what we’ve found is that the more you give yourself to deliberate prayer for your unbelieving friends, the more likely you will be emboldened to share the good news with them.
Selfishness and a Lack of Love for Others
One of the most painful realizations you might make as you consider this topic of evangelism is that you don’t really have a heart for the lost. You may have never considered yourself to be a selfish person, but as you ponder the goodness of Christ, the urgency of the gospel, and the spiritual condition of unbelievers, you may discover that you are far more enraptured by your own interests, projects, hobbies, and problems than you are about sharing the gospel with others.
When we come face-to-face with our evangelistic indifference, it should provoke deep sorrow, for this indifference is a direct symptom of selfishness and our lack of love for other image bearers. And this is not a secondary issue that we can “deal with later.” A lack of love is a sign of spiritual sickness (see 1 John 4:20).
I do not want to burden you with an overly introspective conscience. But I do want you to consider how easy it is to become so entranced with our own lives that we neglect the urgent calling of evangelism. Ultimately, we pray that these reflections provoke genuine repentance in your life at a heart level. Genuine love for Christ and for others will compel us to share the gospel.
Love of Comfort and Ease
Similarly, we may neglect evangelism because we simply don’t want to inconvenience ourselves. In order to regularly share the gospel, we must make time for evangelism and be willing to bear reproach from unbelievers, to persevere through awkward conversations, and to even give up some of our hobbies to make time for this great task of gospel proclamation. If we allow a love for comfort and ease to gain a foothold on our hearts, it will become nearly impossible to make evangelism any kind of priority.
Again, I am not suggesting that Christians can never enjoy wholesome hobbies and recreation or that Christians should only spend their time evangelizing. Nor do I dismiss the reality that evangelism is often difficult. Nevertheless, while there may be a few, I don’t think the majority of Christians are in danger of overloading their schedules with evangelism to the point of neglecting other important responsibilities. Rather, I think many of us have a built-in expectation for uninterrupted comfort.
Christ, however, overturned this approach to the Christian life when he laid down the requirements for discipleship:
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.Luke 9:23-26
The Christian life is, at basic, a life of Spirit-empowered, gospel-motivated self-denial. Those who parade around with outward religion but have no inward reality are characterized by a “love of self” (2 Tim 3:1) and are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim 3:4). The reality of our faith will be expressed by our willingness to set aside our immediate desires for comfort and ease for the sake of obedience to our Lord.
You might also be kept from sharing the gospel because you have come to believe some sub-par doctrine. There are two specific systems of theology we think possess a unique ability to stifle a Christian’s practice of evangelism. The first is hyper-Calvinism. The second is Arminianism.
Hyper-Calvinism is a system of doctrine that draws unwarranted logical conclusions from isolated biblical truths. Historically, hyper-Calvinists have held strongly in the sovereignty of God. That is, they seek to honor what Scripture says about God’s providential control over the entire universe. That’s a good thing: the Bible is clear that God exercises providential control over every aspect of his creation, down to the very roll of the dice (Prov 16:33; cf. Eph 1:3-10). Where they go wrong is allowing the Bible’s teaching on God’s sovereignty to squelch or override other clear biblical teaching regarding man’s responsibly to repent from his sins and believe.
Here’s how hyper-Calvinistic logic works. God is meticulously sovereign over all creation. God chooses who will believe in Christ. Man is unable to repent or believe in Christ unless he is chosen by God. Therefore, we can never exhort people to repent and believe in the gospel. Moreover, we should not encourage sinners to exercise saving faith and repentance until they know they are elect. This kind of logic is deadly (it actually keeps people from believing in Christ for salvation) and it greatly dampens an evangelistic spirit. It is not without coincidence that historically, churches that have embraced this biblically unfounded logic have eventually died. If you have little interest in evangelism, it may be the case that you have imbibed this kind of teaching. But just as the Bible is clear about God’s sovereignty, so it is clear about the need to call all people to believe in Christ without any thought of whether they are elect. The call of the gospel is for all people to “repent and believe” (see Mark 1:15). God has given us no pre-conversion signs to determine if someone is elect; he has given us the gospel that says repent and believe in Jesus Christ. When someone repents and believe then, and only then, can they have confidence that they are elect.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Arminianism. Arminianism is a system of teaching that upholds God’s sovereignty but argues that his sovereignty doesn’t overrule our free will. In Arminianism, the will is free only if it is able to choose on thing or its opposite at any given moment. In other words, to be truly free, the will must be able to make a decision apart from any internal or external influence.
When it comes to salvation, then, true freedom (in the Arminian scheme) requires that a person be able to choose Christ without any effective internal or external influence. God has provided everyone an equal opportunity to repent and believe, and he may woo and call someone to faith through the preaching of the gospel, but he will never violate their “freedom” by causing them to repent and believe in any direct or effective sense.
People who accept this doctrinal system, therefore, may feel an undue pressure to convince others to believe in Christ. If it is only a matter of exercising one’s free will, then all one needs to do is provide the perfect argument or the most winsome gospel presentation and people will believe in Christ. In a significant way, then, another person’s salvation is depends on the evangelist. If we begin to think this way, we might be discouraged from regularly sharing the gospel because we will feel like utter failures when we don’t win converts. (We might also be tempted to dilute the gospel so that we can get people to make professions of faith before they really understand the fullness of the good news.)
This approach to evangelism is also inadequate. It’s true that only those who hear the gospel will be saved: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). But it is God who saves through the gospel. God must change the heart and raise the dead sinner to life, but he only does that work through the gospel.So, yes, let’s labor to rightly understand and accurately present the gospel to others. But we must also anchor our souls in the truth that only God can enable sinners to repent and believe the gospel (see John 6:44; Eph 2:10; Col 1:13-14). When these two twin truths take equal root in our hearts, we will be able to share the gospel with urgency (people must repent and believe) and joy (because we rely on the only One who can save).
Mistaken Idea of What’s Needed for Evangelism
Some of us are kept from regularly evangelizing because we think we need a master’s degree in theology before we can start sharing the gospel. This is a subtle but effective strategy Satan has used for centuries to keep genuine Christians from proclaiming the gospel.
The glory of Christianity is that you don’t need to know much to be saved, and you don’t need to know much in order to help others trust in Jesus Christ. All you need to possess before you can share the gospel is the gospel. You can distill the gospel into a few simple elements: God, man, Christ, response.
The apostle Paul summarized the gospel like this:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.1 Corinthians 15:3-6
Paul’s gospel summary implies that one need to have some knowledge of God and our human nature, for Paul mentions that Christ died for our sins. But is focal point for Paul the death and resurrection of Christ. What is the gospel? Christ died for your sins according to the Scriptures, he was buried, and was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
In our articles on evangelism, we want to better equip you to share the gospel with others because we believe that effective evangelism will most often be the fruit of those who have equipped themselves with some essential evangelistic tools. We don’t want to give the impression, however, that you must master these skills before you share the gospel. Indeed, we believe that the best way for you to grow in your evangelistic skill is by doing evangelism. In other words, build your apologetic armory as you survey the field of battle through real-time evangelistic encounters.
It will also be helpful to solidify your testimony. While not a replacement for the gospel, your personal testimony of salvation is a way you can highlight the power of Christ in your own life and open a door to articulate the good news of Christ.
Bad Past Experience
A bad experience sharing the gospel can discourage us from reaching out again or for a long time afterward. Maybe the person with whom you shared last time got really angry and berated or even threatened you. Maybe you lacked grace and kindness in the way you talked, and you fear that you will get irritated again if you encounter opposition. Perhaps you found yourself unable to answer several of the questions offered by the person with whom you were sharing the gospel and you feel inadequate for the task of gospel proclamation.
Again, I get it. We have had difficult experiences in sharing the gospel—sometimes due to the other person and sometimes due to our own sinfulness and untamed zeal. But God is patient and gracious, and He even uses our weakest attempts at evangelism to work miracles in the lives of unbelievers. If you’ve had a bad past experience while evangelizing, please do not let this keep you from seeking out more opportunities. Renew your courage by trusting in God (see Fear of Man above), repent from sin if you were to blame, and take some time to study if you find yourself unable to answer common questions and objections.
Failure to Make Evangelism a Discipline
A mistake of young believers who only recently experienced the sin-forgiving, heart-resurrecting power of Jesus Christ, is to believe that obedience in the Christian life will flow effortlessly from their present passion for God and the gospel. While we are always refreshed and challenged by the child-like trust and spiritual passion of new believers, we are also aware that genuine, long-term growth in Christ cannot rely merely upon desire and passion. Christians must exercise discipline in their lives if they are going to maintain their heart for God and produce the fruit of holy obedience.
Evangelism is not an exception. Just like we must discipline ourselves to read our Bibles, pray, attend church on a regular basis, and so on, so we must discipline ourselves to regularly evangelize.But what is discipline? Discipline is consistent application of focused, unyielding effort to fulfill a particular practice in order to accomplish a specific goal. The goal is faithful proclamation of the gospel and the salvation of sinners. The practice is evangelism. But if we are not intentional about evangelism, and we only rely on the times when we “feel” like sharing the gospel, we will likely find that after a few months of the “feel-like-it” method we’ve barely spoken to anyone about Christ.
The bridge between desire and practice is intentional effort (see Prov 13:4), so we must make evangelism a discipline. Perhaps you decide that every other Friday afternoon you will go with another believer will set up a table in the free-speech area of your university with free snacks and free grace (gospel tracts) to hand out to passing students. Perhaps you decide that you will talk to at least two people a month about Jesus Christ. Maybe you determine that you will host a four-week evangelistic Bible study during lunch break twice in the coming year. Whatever you decide, it is vital to remember that evangelism rarely ever “just happens.” It takes intentional effort on our part to make sure we are actually speaking to others regularly about the grace of Jesus Christ.
Not Genuinely Saved
I’ve left this possibility for the end because we want to give the benefit of the doubt to those of us who struggle with consistently engaging others with the gospel. Just because you struggle to love others and find time to evangelize doesn’t necessarily indicate that you not a Christian. In fact, the struggle may be a sign of the Spirit’s convicting work in your life. But it is a possibility, so we must address it.
As we noted in a previous article, one reason why we need to understand the gospel is so that we can be sure that we are saved before we talk to others about trusting in Christ. It’s possible that you don’t have a desire for evangelism because you’re simply not a Christian.
Allow me to speak to you very plainly: If you have tasted of the goodness of Christ in the gospel, you should feel compelled, at some level, to share that mercy with others (see Psalm 51:13). You may wrestle with the fear of man and grapple with finding time to evangelize. I get that. But if you are bereft of desire to share the gospel of God’s grace with perishing sinners, it is difficult to conclude that you have the Spirit of grace residing in you. “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter,” the great evangelistic preacher Charles Spurgeon once wrote. “To be a soul winner is the happiest thing in the world. And with every soul you bring to Jesus Christ, you seem to get a new heaven here upon earth.” If the thought of someone going from spiritual death to spiritual life, from eternal judgment to eternal joy, from slavery to sin to freedom in Christ doesn’t provoke some excitement in you, then we have to wonder if you’ve experienced these things yourself.
This has been a tough article. It is painful to have Scripture unearth our laziness, cowardice, anxiety, ignorance, wrong thinking, and lack of love. But it is a kind of pain that leads to health, like when we undergo surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. The goal of this article is not to keep you wallowing in self-condemnation, however. It is our prayer that you will use these exhortations to seek the Lord in repentance and for a renewed passion to share the gospel with your friends and colleagues.