Imagine the following scenarios: What if you saw your neighbor’s house on fire and wanted to rush in to rescue them? Would you be timid about helping them to safety because you never took the time to get to know them over the years? What if you were walking across a parking lot and saw a woman being brutally attacked by a man? Would you mind your own business because perhaps the lady isn’t aware of your good intentions? The obvious answer to the questions in the previous scenarios is, of course not. In each of these cases, the depth, length, or background of the relationship doesn’t matter because these people knew they were facing death and the only thing that matters to them is life. The time for small talk has passed and the time to warn people is now. Many of our modern evangelical churches believe they can circumvent the seeming unpleasantness of preaching repentance to the lost by building relationships and friendships with them first.
Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
A growing number of evangelical pastors and leaders in our day are diluting the message of the gospel. Preaching the gospel and witnessing has morphed into pep talks on relationship building and developing friendships. Many churches are concerned with what the surrounding community thinks about them and many Christians are equally concerned with what people think about them rather than what God thinks. If we witness to someone and lovingly warn them that they are eternally lost without Jesus, we worry that we might come across too harsh. So the fix must be in building relationships and friendship evangelism, right? Wrong, because nowhere in scripture do we ever see the early church or apostles ‘softening’ up the recipient to be able to receive the good news. The gospel, no matter how much people would like to candy coat it, is both beautiful and frightening.
2 Corinthians 2:14-17 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.
Why does Paul call some people, peddlers of God’s word? Paul was seemingly aware that some teachers were diluting the gospel down to something it wasn’t meant to be. Life, death, heaven, hell, and eternity can never be made to be trivial matters in which we reduce down to small talk. In the context of this chapter, it is clear Paul said that through us, the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ is spread everywhere. To one group of hearers, it is the fragrance of death, but to another group it is life. I’ve heard it said and it bears repeating that grace is truly amazing to those who are desperately aware of their need for it.
Dear pastor, teacher, evangelist, and well-meaning believer, please don’t get caught up in the contemporary nonsense that is the seeker-sensitive soft sell gospel. The modern attempts of friendship evangelization have a lot to do with increased church attendance and the world’s acceptance, but nothing to do with making disciples for the Kingdom.
We are not selling a car, or a vacuum cleaner, we are messengers the gospel of Christ. Don’t cheapen it by awkwardly building a bridge that can handle the truth. No amount of human effort or planning can prepare a person’s heart to receive the good news. We need to quit being concerned with what people will think about us or if they can handle the truth because people are dying and going into eternity without Jesus. Some people will reject us, in that case, we shake the dust off and move on. If we trust the Holy Spirit to do the work and not in our winsome personality, perhaps some people will come to repentance because they realize they are in eternal danger.
There is no pattern of getting the recipient ready to handle the gospel message anywhere in the New Testament. This type of well-meaning but misguided teaching is disseminated by the likes of people such as Rick Warren who is best known for Purpose Driven Life, Andy Stanley of Catalyst conferences, and others who are utilizing salesmanship and marketing tactics to fill churches. As I said at the beginning of this article, there is very little time to waste because people are dying. We don’t have the time, luxury, or a New Testament model of sitting around and engaging in small talk with lost people. Today is the day of salvation, so who are we to put obstacles in the way of a person who just might come to saving faith in Jesus. The most unbiblical statement I’ve ever known regarding spreading the gospel was given by Andy Stanley when he said:
“If we were able to rewrite the script for the reputation of Christianity, I think we would put the emphasis on developing relationships with non-believers, serving them, loving them, and making them feel accepted, only then would we earn the right to share the gospel.” -Andy Stanley
Fellow Bible teacher Mark Cahill sums up the unbiblical comments of Andy Stanley:
When Jesus witnessed to the woman at the well, did He get her water first before He earned the right to share the gospel with her? When Jesus was talking with the rich young ruler, did he help him with his stock portfolio before He shared eternal truth with him? And what nice things was Stephen going to do for the people that were stoning him, because he was telling them about seeing Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father? Should he have asked them if he could wash off their rocks first, before they threw them at him? When the Jews were having Paul arrested in Acts 21 and Paul got a chance to preach to the crowd, should he have handed out skittles, given away free concert tickets, or washed their cars before he shared the truth of Jesus Christ with them? Hogwash and balderdash is all I can think of. One more time we are being duped by what people say instead of listening to what God tells us. As one guy said, if you were at the World Trade Center on September 10th, and you knew all those people would die the next day, what would you say to them? It doesn’t seem like to me that you would have had a lot of time to get them to like you, or to do a bunch of nice things for them. If you really want lost people to love you, then give up Christianity and go and find another faith to believe in –Mark Cahill of Mark Cahill Ministries
Our job isn’t to woo the community into thinking we are a building full of nice people or to win the hearts and minds of the surrounding neighborhoods. It isn’t the purpose of a Christian to engage in countless hours of small talk in order to get one person to finally capitulate and reluctantly decide to come to our church one day. That mindset does nothing to make disciples. Let me go a step further by saying I believe people in the world can spot a salesman a mile away. Quit trying to sell, convince, and befriend people into ‘accepting’ Jesus. He doesn’t want a person’s tepid acceptance, He want’s to be their Lord.
Please understand where my heart is in this article: I’m jealous for the church. I love fellow believers and I’m tired of people being driven toward a different message than the one in the Bible. Here’s the thing, I have no problem talking to people over coffee or lunch. I have no issues with engaging people in conversations about life and pursuing genuine friendships as we try to turn our conversations toward eternal matters. The thing we have to remember is that every face to face we have with people is an opportunity to tell them about salvation through Jesus. It might just be the only time they hear the gospel. So rather than talking about your kid’s soccer practice, favorite NFL team, politics, or how great your church is, talk about salvation through Jesus and how He has given you a new life.
Does this mean that we are harsh and unloving when presenting the gospel? Certainly not because the very reason we witness to people should be from a loving heart and compassion. We should present the gospel in a bold direct manner and from a broken heart for the lost. Peter tells us how to engage people when we witness:
1 Peter 3:15-16 But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
Friends, you can’t paint enough inner city fences, spread enough mulch for neighbors, or talk about your church’s great programs for the whole family enough to get one person to come to saving faith in Jesus. That makes the church just another social service, albeit with a cross on the door. Yes, we should be involved with these things and excel in areas of compassionate works. The world has plenty of social services, but what people really need is to hear about Jesus. Good deeds are great and biblical because as we know, faith without works is dead. But neighborhood renewal, fence painting, or mulch spreading isn’t evangelism.
Don’t have small talk about how great your small group is and call it witnessing because it’s not. One of the marks of a Christian is bearing fruit. Part of that certainly includes giving of our time, resources, and compassion consistently. They will know Christians by our love for each other and our love for Jesus will be evident because we are helping the least of these. Some of these people may get curious and ask us why we do what we do and that will be an opportunity to share the gospel, but we never have to earn the right through friendship and good works.
When you find yourself having a conversation over coffee or having a few minutes to speak with a store clerk or anyone else during your day, love them enough to share the truth. Ask them if they know where they will spend eternity. Ask them what they think about Jesus and heaven. You will have turned the conversation from small talk into something that will matter over one hundred years from now. Refuse to sell them the gospel like the peddlers because some people will respond to the truth and repent.
2 Corinthians 7:10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
If Jesus, Paul, James, John, and the faithful 1st-century church didn’t preempt the gospel message with hours of small talk, why should we? If faithful men and women through the centuries boldly proclaimed the gospel, why don’t we? If the Bible tells us to go and make disciples, shouldn’t we go? If the message of faithful men of years past like Tozer, Ravenhill, and Keith Green was to preach repentance and salvation through Christ alone, then I would boldly stand on the same two-thousand-year-old message. Refuse to reduce the gospel down to the ridiculous by believing we have to earn the right to share the gospel. We are just the messengers but it is the Holy Spirit who does the work in a person’s heart. At the end of the day, the gospel isn’t about us, it’s about Jesus. When Peter preached the first message to the crowds, he didn’t build bridges of grace, develop deep friendships, or earn the right to preach the Gospel first, he simply preached Christ crucified.
Acts 2:37-39 When they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
If we simply go along the path of trying to earn the right to share the gospel through friendship and acts of kindness, will people ever know their desperate need to repent and be saved? No, because tragically many of them will just assimilate into the church as attendees who feel like they are now good people, but never come to saving faith. They feel good because they were made to feel good about themselves, not made to understand that they are wretched and need a Savior. Godly men such as Dave Hunt, David Wilkerson, Paul Washer and other have warned about going down the broad road of the seeker sensitive church. Tozer and Spurgeon sum up the eternal reality of churches romancing the world instead of preaching the gospel:
“Today’s evangelical church is full of activities that court the acceptance of the world but don’t prepare anyone for Jesus’ return.” -A.W. Tozer
“People must be slain by the law before they can be made alive by the Gospel!” -Charles Spurgeon
Reject the salesman tactics that are inundating the church today. Purpose Driven movements, Catalyst Conferences, and seeker-sensitive messages may fill churches, but they have nothing to do with the gospel preached in the 1st century. Do you want to be a real friend to someone in the world? Share the gospel with them and do it lovingly in the boldness of the Holy Spirit. If they reject you, know it’s Jesus they are rejecting. The years of collective carnal efforts of men will not produce what one second of Holy Spirit-wrought conviction will. True disciples who make other disciples is the result of boldly spreading the gospel, not romancing the world.
All for Him,
Many of you will remember the Christian singer Keith Green who is now with the Lord.
Here is an excellent message he gave concerning the modern attempts to change the gospel message.
Click here for the video: What’s Wrong With The Gospel