Evangelizing Your Neighbor
God gave gifts to men (Eph 4:8). In His providence, He has given me three spiritual gifts, which I love to employ: preaching, teaching, and evangelism; but the greatest of these, for me, is evangelism. There is nothing I would rather do. Evangelism is winning souls (Prv 11:30).
Numerous are the books on employing every type of spiritual gift. Every spiritual gift can and should be developed because Christians are being brought into conformity with Christ Jesus (Rom 8:29). Still, we are blessed when someone specializes in their exercise of a spiritual gift (Rom 12; 1 Cor 12; Eph 4). When this happens, a helpful division of labor results in the body of Christ. In this way, more people are gainfully employed in the ministry they love, in building up the local church. Spiritual gifts are also employed in the community where one finds himself.
Paul encouraged pastor Timothy to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim 4:5). The evangel is the good news of Jesus Christ. It is a message to be shared with all people. It is the message of truth about God and about man. Therefore, an evangelist is a person who evangelizes people with the evangel.
To evangelize someone means one person has received the good news about Jesus, and he is passing it along to others, who have not received the good news. Evangelism cannot take place between people unless the evangel is understood in truth. This means there can be false gospels (evangels). By definition, false gospels are not really good news because they are false. Like weeds in a field, one must look closely at the field to discern between the grass and the weeds.
When a new Christian receives the evangel, we say, “She has received Christ (Jn 1:12–13).” We understand the evangel to be the Word of truth and the Spirit of truth. One cannot receive the Word of truth unless it is accompanied by the Spirit of truth and vice versa. Jesus Christ is the Gospel. He is the good news of what God has done to save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21).
Jesus Christ is a person (Jn 1:14), and a person who has done many good works. The evangel is the story of His identity and His good works. If I had a good friend who won a Nobel Prize or whose team won the World Cup, then I would tell of our friendship. This is the work of an evangelist. He has a friend in Jesus, who has created the heavens and the earth (Ps 115:15; Is 44:24). He owns everything (Ps 24:1). He is Lord of all (Acts 10:36). He reigns over all (Ps 146:10), and He is coming again to judge the living and the dead (Acts 10:42; 2 Tim 4:1; 1 Pet 4:5). His kingdom will have no end (Is 9:7; Dan 2:44; 6:26; Lk 1:33). There is so much more the evangelist can tell you about Jesus. O what a friend!
One would think more Christians would be evangelists. Here is where the measure of faith comes in (Rom 12:3). If a Christian has a small faith in Christ, he will be less inclined to bring the topic of conversation around to Jesus. He may have the desire to do so, but if he is lacking in faith, he will not do it. He might argue, “I am a good neighbor. I pay my bills. I keep my yard clean and neat. I volunteer one day a week at the charity shop. I have a cross in front of my house.” These are all good things, but our God has spoken, and faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17). Evangelists are not ashamed of the Gospel (2 Tim 1:8, 12; 2:15). We believe; therefore, we speak (2 Cor 4:13).
Because God has spoken through the prophets, and in these latter days, has spoken to us through His Son (Heb 1:1–2), we are to bear witness in the same way God’s people have always given witness…with words. Today, we speak the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; 10:42, 44).
Noah is called, “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5). One might say he spoke through the work of his hands, but he had to tell his neighbor what his hands were building. “What are you doing, Noah?” His reply would surely have begun, “Well, God spoke to me.” This is evangelism. Our message: God has made the way of salvation for His people. In Noah’s case, the only people who believed him during his one hundred years of preaching and evangelism were his family members. If we were to judge Noah’s ministry by today’s mega-standards, he would have been a failed pastor.
It is important for all Christians to understand God’s salvation, so we can communicate it accurately to the people we evangelize. Otherwise, we may grow discouraged by our lack of numerical success. The world loves statistics. Ask any baseball fan. Politicians and their pundits love polls. Salespeople will present statistics to support their argument for your buying their product. Four out of five dentists surveyed would tell you this is true.
In evangelizing your neighbor, the very first thing a Christian must understand is this: your neighbor is dead. That is right…dead. It would be as if you lived next to a graveyard, and you desired to raise somebody from the grave by speaking to them. That is a picture of evangelism.
Evangelism is speaking good news to spiritually dead people. They are dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1). The people we evangelize are not dead in the body, but they have no spiritual life in their souls. By definition, only a person who has the life of God in their soul is spiritually alive (1 Cor 2:15). In fact, we evangelize because we know people are spiritually dead.
Someone may object, “Doesn’t the Bible say, ‘Thou shalt not judge’?” Indeed, it does. It says even more than that! People judge people everywhere, all day long, regarding everything under heaven. For instance, if I write something, you decide you do not like it, so then you decide to stop talking to me. Right or wrong, this is judgment.
You have judged me by what I have written, but only Jesus’ judgment is perfectly just, so we are careful by what standard we judge others (Mt 7:2). The person who rips Matthew 7:1 out of context has judged her interpretation of this clause to be correct, but anyone who knows the context of Matthew 7:1 must judge her interpretation to be wrong. Yes, we must judge, and we certainly must judge who is a Christian and who is not. How does one do this?
Judging whether a person is a Christian, or not, is part of evangelism. One way to begin an evangelistic conversation is with a simple question, “Are you a Christian?” You may have your judgment very soon, after posing such a question. So, we learn that evangelism can begin when you understand the Gospel, and when you understand the person you are speaking with is not a Christian. In this case, you must do the work of an evangelist!
Dead neighbors do not bear witness of Jesus Christ. This is another clue for who you should approach with the evangel. Asking a random person, “So who is Jesus to you?” is another great way to get people talking about Jesus. The random person will either demonstrate knowledge of the Word of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit, or she will not.
To begin evangelizing, you simply need to knock on the door of the person’s heart, and if Jesus answers, you will know. The reason is obvious. Either the Holy Spirit has come to indwell the person’s soul (heart +mind), or the Holy Spirit is not there. What is in a man’s heart will come forth from his mouth (Mt 12:34).
If a person you begin to evangelize answers your inquiry with a litany of praise to Jesus, then you can turn your evangelizing intent into one of edification toward your brother or sister in Christ. God forbid that any Christian would ever object to another Christian’s attempt to evangelize him. Interestingly, I have received far more criticism from Christians for my evangelizing than from unbelievers. In my own experience, four of five objectors to my evangelism efforts are nominal Christians. Most unbelievers are actually quite engaging in conversations about Jesus.
If the person you begin to evangelize answers your inquiry with wrong answer after wrong answer, be encouraged, they have just given you the platform on which you can stand. I find questions to be the best approach to evangelism. People will answer them with their own opinions, which allows the evangelist to reply to their reply, “Well, I hear what you are saying, but the Bible says…” By all means listen graciously and attentively to what is in the heart and mind of the person you are evangelizing. Then speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15).
If a person you begin to evangelize answers your inquiry with hostility, you can privately pray for him or her. This is just as important for her benefit as is your evangelism. Again, we are not interested in statistical success because evangelists do not raise people from the dead. If a person has a spiritual resurrection from spiritual death through our evangelistic endeavor, then it was the Spirit of Christ who raised her from the dead. In our evangelistic efforts, we must always boast in the Lord, not in ourselves.
Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men (Mt 4:19).” Fishermen must bait a hook or cast a net. Evangelists must initiate the communication. After the resurrection, the disciples went to Galilee (Jn 21). Peter said, “I am going fishing.” Others went with him and they fished all night, but they caught nothing. When Jesus appeared on the seashore, He told them to cast the net on the other side of the boat with the promise they would catch something. Sure enough, they had 153 fish in their net when they dragged it into the boat. The point is that Jesus is the catalyst for our evangelism.
God gives the spiritual gift of evangelism. The Holy Spirit inspires and empowers evangelism. Our faith makes us expectant. The fish are ordered into the net by Jesus, and all glory in evangelism goes to God. Why do we evangelize?
The single most important reason is to bring glory to God. Bearing witness of Jesus Christ, whether it is toward believers or unbelievers, is a work of the Holy Spirit in the soul of the evangelist. The reason a fisherman goes fishing is the expectation of a catch. The reason an evangelist goes evangelizing is the expectation of a conversion. Evangelists love to see people caught by Christ.
What makes a good fisherman? First, he is equipped with the necessary tools. Second, he actually goes to do the work. Third, he trusts his fish-finder device to direct him to the right fishing hole. Fourth, he casts his hook or his net. Fifth, he waits for God to give the increase.
God the Father chose a select group people to be saved from the foundation of the world. Jesus Christ died for this chosen group found within every nation, tribe, and tongue. The Holy Spirit moves the evangelist to the very place He would have him to work. The field is ripe. The lake is stocked. The evangelist baits his hook with a question or two, and the man-fishing begins. Jesus is building His church. That is why I have a sign on my door, “Gone fishing.”
Spokane Valley, Washington
April 19, 2021