For years I rejected the idea that before sharing the Gospel as Christians we should nurture relationships and build bridges with people we see on a regular fashion before sharing the Gospel of free grace. Neighbors, friends, schoolmates, family or workmates, they must all hear the Gospel the very first time you see them. After all, you never know when they will die. They could die the very night you first met or saw them without the Lord, and their blood will be demanded from your hands. The Lord is powerless to use anyone or anything but you in sharing the cross with them.
That is the position I used to take very dogmatically. Now, I don’t mean to say with this that there should be no sense of urgency in reaching the lost or that I am minimizing in any way the gravity of the issue. Even those close to you or that you see on a regular fashion, there may be circumstances in which you might have to share the Gospel with them right away. I am speaking, however, of our day-to-day routines. There are people we see everyday who do not believe in Christ. It is to these people, to whom you are an open letter, to whom your life is exposed to day after day, who are watching you to see whether you really possess what you confess. It is of these that I am talking about.
I have a schoolmate who is a Roman Catholic. She helped me with some resources for the program we are studying in school, very valuable stuff for me. I wanted to reach out to her, since I had previously discussed the issue of abortion with another classmate, and she heard our exchange. It was then that I realized she is a Roman Catholic. I decided the best way to start what I hope will flourish into a great opportunity for sharing the Gospel later this year was to give her a book, a book that would help her see the Christ of Scripture rather than the Christ of Rome. She replied back by not only accepting the book graciously, but by giving me one as well. That book is written by a “former” Christian, more particularly, a Calvinist (from what I perceive), which I think will only add richness to the discussions I hope to have with her in the future. Why is that? Because that author formerly held to the Five Solas of the Reformation. What a more perfect way to introduce the Gospel, God willing, than through the history of the Reformation?
More to the point of this post, if the Lord does not will for us to have a discussion and all I was able to give her was that book, praise the Lord. In the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 (NASB),
“What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
God is sovereign, and I trust He will use me in whatever way He sees fit. If He wills for me to have a discussion with her in which I will firmly and graciously share the cross, great! If He doesn’t, great! He may use someone else to do it, but He may certainly use the book to get her mind thinking.
My point is this: God is sovereign. He will save His sheep (John 6, John 10, John 17). If one of the means He uses for that purpose is my speaking to her, that would be an honor for me. If He doesn’t, He is gracious and good in not doing so. We cannot live our lives thinking that we have to be repeating the message of the Gospel every second of every day to every single person, no matter how honest and noble the intention, because we would then be neglecting the other commandments, duties, and blessings God has given to His people.
My friends at the Santa Monica promenade have an open mic session every Saturday afternoon. They don’t repeat the message of the Gospel every second. It certainly is a part of the session, but they open the mic for people to ask any question they want. In those sessions there is discussion on apologetics, gospel-preaching, politics, finances, theology, science, philosophy, among many other subjects. It does not have to be only Gospel-preaching all the time. Some people choose to do that, and that’s fine, but some don’t, and that’s also fine.
So before you think that you have to repeat the Gospel every second, pause for a moment and read what I said before again: God is sovereign in salvation, not man. I believe that is partly the reason why I rejected the idea of nurturing relationships and dismissed it and generalized it as part of the “social evangelism” movement.
By “social evangelism” I mean that prevalent movement that espouses things like the misquote by St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words,” which is ridiculous because it is impossible to preach the Gospel without using words, much less the right words. I mean the movement that shares a watered down gospel in order to be politically correct and “sensitive.” I mean the movement that seeks to make God subservient to man rather than man subservient to God.
What do I mean, then, by building bridges before sharing the Gospel with someone? In the words of the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith,
“Good works are only such as God hath commanded in his Holy Word, and not such as without the warrant thereof are devised by men out of blind zeal, or upon any pretence of good intentions. These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith; and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that having their fruit unto holiness they may have the end eternal life.” Art. 16:1-2
Good works include those things that add to the beauty the Gospel already has, that makes it beautiful to those who listen to it, even if it is foolishness and an aroma of death to them (1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:16). They are those things that make people say what was said of Daniel in Daniel 6:4-5,
“Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him. Then these men said, “We will not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God.”
Is it possible that many times we are just trying to share the Gospel with people without intending to create any sort of relationship with them, many times in a very unbecoming way? Is it possible to be in a “share frenzy” while at the same time neglecting to obey God in the way we handle our finances, our temper, our responsibilities? Can it be that in many ways we are enabling people to slander the gospel by the way we act towards them or to our own duties? Shouldn’t we of all people be the most gracious, the most loving, the kindest, the most ready to serve, and the most patient people of all? How can unbelievers glorify God through our Christ-likeness? When they see us, who are supposed to follow in the footsteps of Christ and the Apostles, and they see that very thing, they will see that our profession matches our expression of that message, and they will thus glorify God. For what good will the message of the gospel do to the mind of an unbeliever if we are not showing any evidence of change? What worth will they see in Christ if we act exactly like the unbelievers do?
No, we will not be perfect, we will fail. But that in no way takes away from our duty to live our lives for the glory of God and the benefit of our fellow man.
This was meant to be a short Facebook post, but let me now say the short statement I wanted to from the beginning: Want to share the Gospel with that family member you see everyday? Bring them some food, a glass of water, show yourself a servant to him or her. Want to reach out to that classmate or workmate you see everyday? Invite them over to your house for dinner, show yourself a servant to them. Want your neighbor to hear the Gospel? Invite them over to dinner, bring them food, help them in their distress (illness, someone they know suffering, etc.), help them move that box to the garage, show yourself a servant to them. Win the right to share the Gospel with that person. Build a bridge that you may cross later to share the Gospel, if God so wills. Don’t burn bridges before you have even built them.
The Gospel is already offensive enough (to the unbeliever): God created man upright and gave him a law that would have been unto life had he kept it (Genesis 2:15-17). Man represented all of mankind, so when he sinned, we sinned in him and have inherited his guilt and corruption (Romans 5). We are born sinners, hating God and man, in rebellion to the King of the universe (Romans 3). The just retribution for our rebellion is eternal, conscious suffering in hell, away from the presence and grace of the Lamb (Matthew 10:28; Luke 16:24; Jude 12-13; Revelation 14:11; Revelation 19:20, etc.). Man cannot save himself by anything he does because every action of his is polluted and tainted by sin (Romans 3). God is holy and righteous, and He cannot accept anything corrupted by sin. God requires perfection, and no man can be perfect (Matthew 5:48). God does not lower His standard because we are unable to fulfill His law, however. God cannot demand anything less than what he is: thrice holy and just (Isaiah 6). Our only hope of perfect righteousness would have to be extra nos (outside of us). It would have to be a man because he would have to represent men, not dogs or horses. He would have to be God as well because no man can perfectly and satisfactorily propitiate the wrath of God on behalf of sinners. Jesus Christ, our only mediator and surety, perfectly fulfilled the law and bore the wrath of the Father on behalf of his people. He was raised three days after His death (1 Corinthians 15), thus proving that the Father accepted His mediation, and now sits at the right hand of Majesty in heaven interceding for His people (Hebrews 8:1). He came once as a meek lamb, but He will return to judge the living and the dead in fiery and swift judgment (1 Thessalonians 1). The only way to escape the just wrath of God “against those who disobey the gospel” (2 Thessalonians 1:8) is by grace through faith in Christ’s work alone, “and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-10). You must, therefore, repent and believe the gospel, Christ offered in the place of sinners, Christ the only way, the only truth, and the only life (John 14:6); Christ, the only mediator (1 Timothy 2:5), God and Savior (Titus 2:13). You can’t save yourself (Galatians 3:10-12; James 2:8-12; Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:20). You are not good (Romans 3). You are doomed unless you appropriate Christ through God-given faith. Repent, renounce your sins and come to Christ.
To the carnal mind, that is the most offensive and enraging message that can ever be preached. God decided to use this that to unbelievers is foolishness to exalt himself and put man in his place (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). Don’t make the Gospel more offensive than it already is. Build bridges, nurture relationships, and then graciously share and contend for the truth in love, firmly and without wavering, but with charity (Jude 3; 1 Peter 3:15). When they hear you they may reject it, but they will know you are living proof of the grace of God, and that it shows through your life.
Pray for God to give you opportunities to share the Gospel and move as you pray, but also study the Word of God, spend time in prayer, spend time with your family, enjoy the blessings of God, and live in the knowledge of the providence of God. Don’t neglect the whole of Christianity for one thing. Let everything be Gospel-centered, but don’t become a broken record. Let your life be a living witness of the renewing, saving grace of God.
I will finish with the words of the Apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:1-11,
“Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.
For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.
Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.”
Soli Deo Gloria