Man-Centered Evangelism with a Focus on a Personal Relationship with Jesus

Decades ago, I was in Manhattan on 5th Avenue. I was with a friend from college. He loved expensive clothes, even though we were both quite poor at the time. Looking at sweaters in the Valentino store, my buddy came up to me and whispered in my ear, “Arnold Schwarzenegger is standing right next to you.” I paused, then patiently turned to look. Sure enough…body builder, movie star, and future governor of California, himself, was standing right beside me. Nothing was said between us, but one of us told the tale of that encounter for a long, long time afterward (even up to this day!).

Christians often try to explain Christianity as, “a personal relationship with Jesus.” Invariably, our shortcut attempts at, “preaching Christ and Him crucified,” fall far short. We are trying to shrink the Gospel into a short form that communicates the whole message. In the desire to say something about Jesus Christ, we resort to platitudes. These often turn the spotlight onto us.

I was recently asked by a brother in Christ, who I have nave never met in person (like I did Schwarzenegger!), what I thought was the bare minimum expression of the Gospel. After writing to him about my inability to do such a thing, I began to wonder about how I had expressed the Gospel in short form before…both spoken and written.

First, I do not believe that every time we bear witness of Jesus Christ that the “whole Gospel” can possibly be communicated. The best opportunity for Christians to present a whole, uninterrupted message is from a pulpit in a church building.

Second, it is my observation that the recipients of the Gospel receive it piecemeal over time. Here is the clear advantage, for the child raised in a Christian family, who attend worship services, regularly. In other words, the Good News trickles in over elongated periods. Obviously, the more the means of grace are employed in the family, the more knowledge is communicated.

Third, for an unbeliever, the amount of exposure to the Gospel will likely be sporadic. Small, brief glimpses of light are normal. We must not forget the doctrine of God’s irresistible grace, which assures us that the elect will ultimately come, when called by Christ, the Good Shepherd (Mt 11:28; Jn 6:44; 10:1–30).

Christians do not and cannot control the time, nor the place of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. This is the travesty of the sinner’s prayer gimmick, “If you just pray this prayer, you will be saved.”

In the sheepfold of the local church, there are Christ’s sheep, both newborn and mature. Some are healthy, while some are sick. Some are growing, while some are stunted. There are also goats, who try to fit into the fold, and of course, there is the ominous presence of wolves in sheep’s clothing. The Holy Spirit knows how to deal with every stage of maturation and every kind that belong or do not belong.

Our trust is always in the fact that God is sovereign (Ps 115:3; 135:6). His will must be done for both elect and reprobate (Rom 9:22–23; Eph 1:11). The Holy Spirit is gathering the lost sheep, who belong to Christ (1 Cor 3:23). He is baptizing each one into the church (Acts 2:38; 10:47), at God’s appointed time, and according to the course laid out for each chosen person to come.

The testimony of the Christian — a personal relationship with Jesus — must serve alongside the actual witness of each ambassador for Christ (2 Cor 5:20). As the Apostle Paul said, “We proclaim Him (Col 1:28).” Thus, the warning might be that a testimony, to the exclusion of witness, is self-focused idolatry.

The Spirit-filled believer will not rely on personal testimony, except to declare, “I was a totally depraved wretch…blind as could be, and then Jesus came for me and opened my eyes. Now, let me tell you who He is and what He has done for His beloved.”

Just about everything can be distorted into some form of idolatry, like my short form encounter with Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Holy Spirit, using the Word of God, will bring correction where it is necessary (2 Tim 3:16). At that point, it is right to confess the sin of our man-centered evangelism. We must ever remind ourselves that it is not about us, but it is always about Jesus.

The faithful witness, himself, is a faithful steward of the Gospel mystery, now revealed to him. The riches of God’s glorious grace are to be shared with others. The dross of one’s self-focus must be burned off, by the heat and light of Gospel preaching.

Finally, it is always reasonable to pray and ask our heavenly Father to purify our Gospel presentation, not necessarily shorten it. In due time, we rely on the Holy Spirit, to bring to remembrance the Scripture, which is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16–17). This is far better than the tale of your personal relationship with Jesus.

David Norczyk

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

November 29, 2020

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David Norczyk

Some random theologian out West somewhere, Christian writer, preacher