Last week we thought about where we centre our evangelistic preaching. Too often we focus on the pig-sty (to use the example of Luke 15). We basically call rebellious youths to come to their senses, to wrench themselves away from the far country and to return to the father with a pre-prepared sorry speech. The evangelist will even feed the prodigals a ready-made, line-by-line repentance spiel – one with magic words guaranteed to effect a reconciliation. The whole encounter goes something like this:
“We all know who God is don’t we? He’s the Big Guy and you’ve been avoiding Him haven’t you? Allow me to latch onto some guilt feelings you’ve experienced. Let me call that ‘conviction of sin’. And now let me promise relief from those feelings if you’ll only return to the Big Guy and bring this speech with you. I guarantee it’ll work (because-there-was-this-thing-called-the-cross-which-you-don’t-need-to-know-about-now but-I-need-to-crow-bar-it-in-because-these-words-are-magic). Anyway, the ball is now in your court. It’s all down to you. If you’re up to the challenge, carefully repeat this prayer after me…”
The whole paradigm is one in which “God” is taken for granted, Jesus is a helpful mechanism to fix the guilt problem but the real Name above all names is Decision before Whom all must bow in self-willed surrender. Almighty Decision towers above you, are you equal to his call?
Let me suggest that the answer to all of this is (unsurprisingly) focusing on Christ. Evangelism is speaking of Jesus. It’s lifting Him up by the Spirit (which means Scripturally) so as to present Him to the world as good news. So we say ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’ We basically hold out the Bread of life saying “Tasty isn’t He??”
Now if we approach evangelism with Christ at the centre, there are many advantages:
1) Jesus simply is the most interesting and attractive Subject.
You might have some cracking gags, moving anecdotes, contemporary illustrations and memorable catch-phrases, but they’ve got nothing on the power and beauty of Christ.
2) Faith is immediately seen for what it is – receiving a Person.
Faith is not “banking the cheque” of forgiveness. What does that even mean? What do any of our illustrations of faith actually mean? Far better simply to hold out Christ and say “Do you see Him? You can have Him. Ask Him now into your life.”
3) Decision is dethroned.
We don’t so much tell the world to believe in Jesus. Far more than this, we tell the world about Jesus such that they do believe. This is because faith is a response. It’s not something we push out of ourselves by willpower. It’s something Christ pulls out of us by His promises. The spotlight should not fall on the listener and their willingness to summon up the necessary response. The spotlight is on Christ Himself.
4) You don’t have to worry about offering cheap grace.
You’re not offering ‘a blank cheque’ for free, you’re offering the Lord for free. To receive the it of grace/forgiveness/a ticket to heaven is entirely different from receiving Him – the LORD our Righteousness. In this way conversion and discipleship are held together. The one who simply receives Christ has unmistakably received a new Master.
5) You don’t sell Christianity on the back of some abstract fringe benefits.
It’s not about health and wealth prosperity, it’s not about feelings of purpose and spiritual fulfilment, it’s not about a “get out of hell free” card, it’s about having the Lord Jesus Himself in your life. Therefore the preacher says “The one thing you get for receiving Jesus, is Jesus. But if you’re seeing things clearly, the one thing you want is Jesus.”
6) The responses are de-emphasized.
George Whitefield and John Wesley knew where to put the emphasis in their preaching. They didn’t make claims for their “converts”, instead they spoke of people “awakened” to the things of God. Instead of trying to gain converts, most often they thought of “offering Christ.” The power is in the preached gospel itself and so we focus not on heavy-handed “response times.” We focus where God is at work – through His word as we lift up Jesus. Faith comes by hearing so let us not preach decisions, let’s preach Christ.