: Evangelism

Why Every Christian Can Evangelize, part 2

You can read the first part of this article here.

In part one I asserted that if a person has understood the Gospel of Jesus Christ well enough to believe it savingly, then he or she should be able to communicate the Gospel to others. Obviously they can’t be expected to share the Gospel beyond their age, maturity, intellectual, or theological level. But if they have believed the Gospel, they should be able to express what they have believed.

A person who is unable to share the Gospel that they claim to believe casts serious doubts on the nature of their faith and the authenticity of their salvation.

Then why can’t many genuine believers express the Gospel?

So maybe many who wrongly think themselves to be Christians cannot communicate the Gospel because they’ve never really encountered a clear presentation of the Gospel, or they did not understand it, or they have never experienced the saving power of the Gospel. But what about those who give much evidence of being a born-again believer in Jesus and likewise seem unable to faithfully share the message of salvation they say they’ve believed?

I’m convinced many true Christians doubt their ability to verbalize the gospel because after their conversion they were never asked, in the words of 1 Pet. 3:15, to “give an account of the hope that is in” them. From the very beginning of their own relationship with Him they’ve never had to talk to anyone—not even their pastor or another Christian—about knowing Christ. As a result, with the passing of time they’ve come to believe they can’t share the Gospel (because they never have shared it before).

My own experience

In my own case, when I presented myself to make a public profession of faith in Christ and to become a candidate for baptism, all that was required of me was to nod my head at the right time to certain questions. No one ever asked me why I had presented myself or what I believed. Everyone assumed that I adequately understood the gospel and had responded with true repentance and faith.

In the years that followed, when I would move to a different city and present myself for membership in another church, the people there assumed I had been sufficiently examined in my previous church. While admitting me to membership in their church, they did not verify that I knew the basic message of the church. In other words, no one asked, “How did you become a Christian?,” listening for my understanding of the Gospel in my testimony.

I’m convinced that this pattern has been repeated in the lives of countless Christians who eventually believe they cannot express the Gospel clearly because they’ve never done so before.

Is the problem a lack of training?

Some would contend that most Christians cannot adequately share the Gospel without formal training in evangelism. I’m for evangelism training. I’ve participated in it, led it, recommend it, and think churches should have it. But training is not necessary before you can tell someone about Jesus and your own testimony.

In John 9 we read of a man born blind who, within an hour after his conversion, is witnessing to Ph.D.’s in religion (the Pharisees). Obviously he’d had no evangelism training, but he was able to talk about Jesus and his own conversion. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to say, after being saved and after hearing countless presentations of the Gospel in sermons, if Christians still believe they need massive amounts of specialized training before they can evangelize, then either they have heard very poor preaching or they have been very poor listeners.

Here’s help

But it does boost one’s confidence in sharing the gospel to know a general outline of what to say and to have some appropriate verses of Scripture committed to memory. Several years ago I developed an outline to hang my thoughts on, along with at least two key verses for each point. I don’t follow it woodenly in every situation, for each evangelistic encounter is unique. And sometimes I condense it a bit. But having a full presentation of the gospel ready on my lips does give me a sense of direction and a feeling of preparedness.

You’re welcome to adapt the outline for use in your own personal evangelism, and you can find it by clicking here. And if you aren’t sure of the Gospel yourself, you are warmly invited to read the outline as well.

Have you believed the Gospel, the message about what God has done through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus? If so, you can evangelize. Just tell people the message that brought about your own relationship with God. Then invite them to turn from trusting in what they have done to be acceptable to God and to believe that what Jesus has done will bring them into a relationship with God.

You can read the first part of this article here.

Why Every Christian Can Evangelize

Suppose an earthquake seriously damaged a high-rise building your were in. But a friend from that building who’d made it out safely called to check on you, and guided you to a stairwell in a particular corner of the building from which he had escaped.

After emerging into the light and open air, you become concerned for another friend in the building. You call him and he’s made his way to the same place you were when you received the message of escape. Having heard, believed, and followed the message that led to your deliverance, don’t you think you’d be able to convey that same message to your still-trapped friend?

If you understand it, you can express it

Anyone—regardless of age, church experience, or Bible knowledge—who has understood the Gospel well enough to believe it should be able to communicate the Gospel to others.

To put it another way, if a person cannot communicate the Gospel—at least its most basic elements, in a way commensurate with their age and mental ability—how can we be assured they have understood it well enough to believe it themselves?

Let me say it yet another way. To be saved, a person must believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To believe the Gospel a person must have at least a minimal understanding of it, whether it comes to them by ear or eye. In normal situations, one indication whether a person has understood the message of God’s salvation through Christ is whether they can express what they’ve understood.

Does this apply to children too?

“But what about children?,” someone may ask. “Can a child believe the Gospel and be saved?”

Yes, of course, but even a child should be able to express in childlike ways what they are believing. This is more than merely nodding one’s head at an assertion of the Gospel by someone else or affirming that you believe what another has explained. These are not wrong at the appropriate time. But such responses fall short of the believer expressing the content of what he or she believes.

If a person cannot say (or write) to someone else what they believe, how can we be assured they have believed the Gospel that saves?

Having gone through the experience of hearing the Gospel, comprehending some degree of its implications, and responding to it in repentance and faith, they should be able to describe that message and their response (on their own age and theological level, of course) to someone else.

Ever changed a tire?

For example, if someone explains to me “the message” of changing a tire, and I personally go through the experience of changing a tire, I should be able to relate the essence of that message to you when you have a flat. Even if I don’t know some the specific terms of the message like “jack,” “wheel cover,” and “lug nut,” I can still relate the basic message, albeit with synonyms or descriptions of some of the terms I can’t remember precisely. Conversely, if I am unable to tell you the basics of changing a tire, you have a right to question whether I’ve really been through the experience.

That’s why it raises doubts about the authenticity of the experience of any professing Christian who maintains that he does not know enough to speak to someone about the salvation of their soul.

The second part of this article will be in the next post.

 

The fields ARE white for harvest, even when you see few conversions

When you see few, if any, conversions in your place of ministry, it can be hard to believe that what Jesus said in John 4:35 is true.

In that verse He said to His disciples, “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”

It’s important to realize that He said this in Samaria—a place where Jews (like Jesus and His disciples) weren’t welcome and where Jesus had seen only one convert, and that one just a few minutes earlier

In other words, the twelve apostles did not consider Samaria a place where there had been, or likely ever would be, many conversions.

And yet Jesus said it was—and by extension the places where we serve Him now are—fields white for harvest.

But most of us know too well the grim reality that you can labor faithfully for a long time and see few, if any conversions. Hosea prophesied God’s Word for seventy years. Isaiah preached faithfully for fifty. But both of them had reason to pray the prayer of Isaiah, “Who has believed what they heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1).

J.I. Packer, in his great book, A Quest for Godliness, writes of one early Puritan preacher who knew what it was like to preach God’s Word for years and see little evident fruit.

Richard Greenham was [pastor] at Dry Drayton, seven miles from Cambridge, from 1570 to 1590. He worked extremely hard. He rose daily at four and each Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday preached a sermon at daybreak, to catch his flock before they dispersed into the fields; then on Sunday he preached twice, and in addition catechized the children of the parish each Sunday evening and Thursday morning. Mornings he studied, afternoons he visited the sick or walked out into the fields “to confer with his Neighbors as they were at Plough”. In his preaching, Henry Holland, his biographer tells us, “he was so earnest, and took such extraordinary pains, that his shirt would usually be as wet with sweating, as if it had been drenched with water, so that he was forced, as soon as he came out of the Pulpit to [change clothes].” . . . He was a pastoral counselor of uncommon skill. . . . His friends hoped he would write a book on the art of counseling, but he never did. . . . In a letter to his bishop he described his ministry as ‘preaching Christ crucified unto my selfe and Country people”. . . . Yet for all his godliness, insight, evangelical message and hard work, his ministry was virtually fruitless. Others outside his parish were blessed through him, but not his own people. “Greenham had pastures green, but flocks full lean” was a little rhyme that went round among the godly. “I perceive no good wrought by my ministry on any but one family” was what, . . . he said to his successor. In rural England in Greenham’s day, there was much fallow ground to be broken up; it was a time for sowing, but the reaping time was still in the future.[1]

Of course, he never saw the results during his lifetime, but it’s hard to say that Greenham’s ministry was unfruitful when we’re still talking about it more than 425 years later.

Nevertheless, occasionally, if not often, most ministers feel about their ministries as Greenham did about his—virtually fruitless.

Another who ministered quite a bit later in Cambridge was Charles Simeon. He faced something of what Greenham experienced. For twelve years he was so opposed that those who rented the pews (which was the custom of the day for providing financial support for the church) would not only stay away from worship, they kept their empty pews locked so no one else could sit in them. Those who wanted to hear Simeon had to stand in the back of the church or in the aisles for the entire worship service, and this went on for twelve years. Despite such opposition, he persevered as pastor and eventually enjoyed a fruitful ministry for half-a-century.

Speaking on this same statement of Jesus in John 4:35, Simeon said regarding those who don’t see a harvest, “The Lord of the harvest will not suffer any one of his labourers to work for nought. In the very work itself he shall find a rich reward.”[2]

The Apostle Paul was inspired of God to put it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” [emphasis added].

One of the reasons Richard Greenham kept preaching and ministering so faithfully, even though there was absolutely no response was because he believed that the fields are white for harvest. Even when like Greenham we see few conversions, and when like him we are in a ground-breaking, foundation-laying, reformational ministry, we must see with spiritual eyes that the fields are white for harvest.

And yet, while it is true that faithful men can labor long without conversions, one of those familiar with Greenham’s life, Charles Spurgeon, said,

If I never won souls, I would sigh till I did. I would break my heart over them if I could not break their hearts. Though I can understand the possibility of an earnest sower never reaping, I cannot understand the possibility of an earnest sower being content not to reap. I cannot comprehend any one of you Christian people trying to win souls and not having results, and being satisfied without results.[3]

Let us “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” even when we see few conversions. But may we never be “content not to reap.”

Preach the Word. Remain faithful. Share the Gospel. Pray for the Spirit’s blessing. For “the fields are white for harvest.” And “in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

 

[1] J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990) 43.

[2] Charles Simeon, Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible: Luke 17-24, John 1-12, vol. 13, Outline 1621, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1956), 311.

[3] C. H. Spurgeon, “Tearful Sowing and Joyful Reaping,” in Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1869; reprint, Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1970), 237.

Three cultural trends which sometimes indicate “the fields are white for harvest”

John 4:35 Jesus said to His disciples, “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”

But Jesus’s disciples couldn’t see it.

The “fields” before them at the moment were a large group of Samaritans walking toward them. Jews and Samaritans were suspicious of each other. Besides, Samaritans had their own religion. Except for a woman who’d believed the Messiah’s message just a few minutes earlier, there were no followers of Jesus among the Samaritans. Surely, reasoned the disciples, the Samaritans would have no interest in the Christ of the Jews. No fields white for harvest here. Not now, anyway.

Jesus calls us to believe that “the fields are white for harvest” even when we see few conversions.

How could Jesus say that the fields were white for harvest when He’s had just one convert among the Samaritans?

How can we believe the fields are white for harvest when we’re seeing so few converted in our place of ministry?

Let’s look at some of the trends in our culture.

Look at the current interest in practices like meditation and yoga. Almost everyone has heard of Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, or the Dalai Lama and others famous for promoting some form of non-Christian meditation. But meditation is so mainstream to the culture now that one need not be a devotee of a New Age leader or an eastern religion to advocate it. Attempting to argue for a purely secular form of the practice, ABC news anchor Dan Harris wrote an award-winning book claiming that such meditation can make us 10% happier. Yoga has so grown in popularity that about one in ten Americans has tried it.

Look at the interest in near-death experiences. Books about what Tim Challies called “heaven tourism” have, according to the Washington Post, “conquered the publishing world.” Despite their conflicts with biblical teaching, more than twenty million copies of such books have been sold, and at least one has been turned into a major motion picture. Most people want to know what’s beyond the veil of death.

Look at the interest in spirituality. A 2012 survey by the Pew Religion and Public Life Project indicated that 37% of Americans considered themselves “spiritual but not religious.” The group has become such a large demographic group that it now has its own acronym—SBNR. Everyone is “spiritual” today. Just try to find someone who will say, “I’m just not very spiritual.”

“Sure,” you might say, “all that interest is out there, but none of it is the right kind of interest. What does this have to do with the fields being white for harvest?”

Spurgeon compared this kind of interest in meditation, near-death experiences, and spirituality to spiritual thorns, but then said:

If I were going to take a farm, I would sooner take one that was overgrown with thistles than one which grew nothing at all, and it is better to lay hold of a man who really does think about something than of one who thinks about nothing at all.[i]

Am I saying that if someone has one of these interests then he or she is on the verge of becoming a follower of Jesus? No, for only God can know that.

What I am saying is that, like Jesus, let’s look for such interest in those around us and use that interest as a bridge to the good news about Jesus.

 

[i] C. H. Spurgeon, “Fields White for Harvest,” Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1867; reprint, Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1980), 462.

 

The unloved, the unlikely, and the unprepared

In John 4, Jesus Christ met a woman from the city of Samaria who had come for water to the well where He was resting. When Jesus’s disciples returned to Him with food from the city, “they marveled that he was talking” with her (v. 27).

Why? Because it seemed evident that there was no common ground between the two. Nothing about her would have caused the disciples to think of her as a potential follower of Jesus. Surely Jesus could see this, too, so they couldn’t understand why He would spend time talking with her when He could be resting, or praying, or doing something more profitable with His time.

Let’s notice what Jesus did here and learn from His example.

Jesus looked upon the unloved. No one loved this woman. The many men in her life apparently hadn’t loved her; they had only used her. The other women didn’t love her, that’s why she was drawing water by herself in the heat of the day instead of going to the well in the evening with other women from the town.

Who in the regular routines of your life is unloved? You’ve never thought of him or her or them as being ready for the good news about Jesus, any more than the disciples thought of this woman (or she thought of herself) as being on the verge of conversion. But now you will.

Jesus looked upon the unlikely. No one was more unlikely than this woman and these Samaritans. For starters she was a woman. Rabbis in those days wouldn’t be seen talking with a woman in public, sometimes even their own wives or daughters, lest it be misconstrued by those who might see them talking. Supposedly there was a group known as the “Bruised Pharisees” who wouldn’t even look at a woman in public, but would close their eyes or turn their head. As a result they were always running into buildings, the corners of houses, and other stationery items.

Worse than that, this was an immoral woman. On top of that, she was a Samaritan woman. And all the people coming out of the city to Jesus were Samaritans. They were all unlikely prospects.

As you lift up your eyes, who in your fields would be considered too far from Jesus to be interested in hearing the message about Him? Who is someone unlikely to hear from many Christians because of their politics, or their views on abortion or homosexuality?

Jesus looked upon the unprepared. Who would’ve thought these Samaritans were prepared to hear from this Jewish rabbi?

The predecessor of Martyn Lloyd-Jones at London’s Westminster Chapel, G. Campbell Morgan, said on this text,

If those disciples had been appointed a commission of enquiry as to the possibilities of a Christian enterprise in Samaria I know exactly the resolution they would have passed. The resolution would have been: Samaria unquestionably needs our Master’s message, but it is not ready for it. There must first be plowing, then sowing, and then waiting. It is needy, but it is not ready.[1]

By contrast, Jesus says, “Lift up your eyes and look on the fields.” Look on the unlikely and think, “Right now, these people don’t look like it, but God may have prepared some here to be ready to come to Christ right now.”

Who do you know in one of these three categories? Who do you know who is unloved, or unlikely, or unprepared, but could—like this woman—by the power of God, come to Christ right now?

We can believe that anyone—regardless of preparation or background—might be ready to come to Christ right now. That’s because it’s the power of God that opens people’s eyes. It is the power of God that gives people a readiness, even a sudden readiness, to hear the Gospel and believe. In one moment He can remove a heart of stone and give someone a heart for the Gospel that they have never had nor ever evidenced before that moment.

Because of the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel, we need to have the “right now” view about expecting anyone to come to Christ.

 

[1] As quoted in Leon Morris, Expository Reflections on the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990), 149.

The “Not Now” View vs. the “Right Now” View, part 2

Read the previous post here.

In John 4:35 Jesus said to His disciples, “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”

The disciples weren’t expecting a harvest there in Samaria, at least not now. “There are yet four months, and then comes harvest” was a proverbial statement that Jesus said reflected their view of the spiritual possibilities presently in Samaria. But Jesus says such a “not now” view is the wrong view about what God can do in an apparently unlikely setting.

God wants us to have the “right now” view about expecting to see people converted to faith in Christ.

The “right now” view requires you to “lift up your eyes.” Notice that Jesus said, “the fields are [present tense; right now] white for harvest.”

Jesus wanted His disciples to look at things from the spiritual perspective. He isn’t talking about crops when He says “the fields are white for harvest,” but rather about the Samaritans coming out of the city toward them.

So to “lift up your eyes, see that the fields are white for harvest” means to look at all fields, including your fields—the fields in which you live and work for Christ now—from the spiritual perspective. Jesus is saying that we should look on every field—every person and every place—as a field where God may be ready to convert someone right now.

Of course, you may discover after giving the Gospel to some that they are not willing to receive more. To continue to give them the Gospel when they don’t want to hear it would be, in the words of Jesus elsewhere (Matthew 7:6), casting your pearls before swine, that is, giving the valuable pearls of the Gospel to those who can’t appreciate their value. But until they prove otherwise, assume that they are ready, right now. Because our tendency too often is to wrongly assume that they aren’t ready—not now.

We need the “right now” view about what God can do through the Gospel.

The late R. F. Gates said two words in a sermon that I’ve never forgotten: “Think evangelism.” He continued, “Wherever you go, whatever you are doing, think evangelism. If you are going to the store for a box of corn flakes, think evangelism. If you are going to the gas station, think evangelism. Whenever you meet anyone, think evangelism.”

That’s what Jesus was saying to the disciples. “Lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest”—think evangelism.

Too often, like the disciples, we think only on the material plane.

I was guilty of this one memorable time during the annual Southern Baptist Convention. After only four hours’ sleep, I had to leave Atlanta very early that morning and fly to Dallas to conduct an emotionally draining funeral. Immediately after the funeral I rushed back to the DFW airport, only to learn that my 6:30 flight was delayed. It was delayed over and over, and at 11:00 I’m still sitting in Dallas. All I could pray was, “Lord, I’m so tired; please let me get back to Atlanta so I can just go to bed.” I never thought about whether God had any purpose in it all.

When we eventually boarded the plane, I leaned against the window thinking, “Lord, I just want to sleep on this flight; and if I can’t sleep I need to read.” At last the Lord broke through my spiritual fog and I realized that He might have me on this plane and in this seat at this time for His purpose.

A woman took the seat next to me. “Okay, Lord,” I dutifully prayed, “if You’ll give me a clear opening, I’ll witness to her.” As she got settled, she put a book on her lap and I saw that the words on the cover were in Hebrew. I quickly tried to mentally review my Hebrew alphabet to see if I could piece together enough to recognize any of the words. Finally I pointed to the book and said, “Does that say that the author’s name is Amos something?

“Yes,” she said, as she looked at me in amazement. “How do you know Hebrew?”

“Well, I studied it for a year once. Maybe you could help me review a few things.”

I learned that Penninah was an architect from San Diego who had her own successful firm. For the entire flight to Atlanta I got to talk with her about Jesus Christ, the Cross, the Resurrection, repentance and faith, and what she thought Christianity taught.

It all happened when I began to lift up my eyes and to look at the field next to me from a spiritual perspective, to think evangelism.

I remember one summer during Vacation Bible School when I was pastoring. I lifted up my eyes and realized that for five mornings our building was full of children—not to mention helpers from the youth group—who needed much more than for me to simply fulfill my obligatory pastoral responsibilities in the daily opening assembly. They needed to know Jesus. So in addition to preaching to the large group at the start of each morning, I tried to pull some of them aside individually every day and talk with them about their soul.

“What use are sermons, sacraments, schools,” asked Horatius Bonar in his Words to Winners of Souls, “if souls are left to perish.”[1]

What fields do you need to look upon with the “right now” view?

 

[1] Horatius Bonar, Words to Winners of Souls (American Tract Society, 1950; reprint ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979) 33.

The “Not Now” View vs. the “Right Now” View

I thrill to read of the 3000 saved when the Apostle Peter preached in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. I glory in reading of people coming in great numbers to Christ when George Whitefield, or Jonathan Edwards, or Charles Spurgeon preached. I believe such spiritual harvests actually happened as reported.

And I pray for and sincerely believe that there will come another day of spiritual harvests like these. But too often my difficulty is believing that such a response to the Gospel like that can happen right now.

This is exactly the problem Jesus addressed in John 4:35 when He said to His disciples, “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”

Many Christians have the “not now” view about expecting to see people converted to faith in Christ.

The disciples’ mistaken attitude, as portrayed by Jesus, is revealed in their viewpoint, “There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest?”

• The “not now” view believes God has saved many in the past and will again in the future, but “not now.”

The disciples had seen God work through Jesus to touch lives in the past, and at this point in John 4 they had an incredibly optimistic view about what God was going to do in the future. But they didn’t expect Him to do anything at the moment. They were in Samaria. The enmity between Jews and Samaritans was little different then than between Jews and Palestinians today.

The disciples didn’t consider these Samaritans likely to be interested in their message about a Jewish Messiah. So the disciples weren’t thinking of a harvest here. They were between Judah in the south, where Christ had done great things in the past, and Galilee in the north, where Jesus would certainly do great things in the future. But they didn’t expect anything to happen in Samaria, at least not now.

I’m prone to the same kind of unbelief. My preacher-hero, Charles Spurgeon, described my lack of faith almost a century before I was born:

Many unbelieving Christians have a very large stock of reasons for not expecting to see many conversions. They suppose that any present manifestation of divine power in connection with the truth is not to be expected. They read the history of past ages and they wonder, and sometimes, when their eye is sufficiently clear, they look forward with some sort of hope to the repetition of these scenes in future years, that is to say, when they themselves are dead and buried, and a new age shall have come upon the world. But as to God working any wonders in the world now, as to the conversion of thousands now, they do not expect it; and if it were to happen they would be surprised, and beyond all measure astonished. They are for ever dwelling in the past, or seeking to roost in the future; but as for now, now seeing God’s arm made bare, now setting to work for the conversion of men, now expecting that God will win hearts unto Himself, they are not brought up to this mark yet. Their common reason for expecting nothing now is this; that there are yet four months, and then cometh harvest. They say, “This is not the time; we must have patience; we must wait; this is not the man; this is not the hour; this is not the place; we must wait till, under other circumstances, other men being given, we look for grander results; but we must not expect them now; there are yet four months, and then cometh harvest.”[1]

We can believe God blessed better men and better preaching in the past, and we can long for the purity of doctrine and practice that was theirs. We can pray for a future day of reformation and revival such as our heroes of the past saw. But as for our own day, our own denomination, our own town, our own church, our own preaching, it’s so easy to unbelievingly think, “not now.”

• The “not now” view believes God sends only special harvest times, not a constant one.

Some think that Jesus wasn’t saying in John 4:35 that there will always be a ready harvest, but rather that there will be only special times of harvest, such as the one about to be seen among the Samaritans, who were approaching at that moment.

And we know by history and experience that there is some truth to this. There are “harvest seasons” which are often preceded by periods, sometimes long periods, of sowing and watering.

Samuel Stoddard, for example, the grandfather of Jonathan Edwards and the man Edwards came to assist in Northampton before assuming the pastorate there, spoke of periods of harvest. In Iain Murray’s biography of Edwards, he writes of Edwards describing his grandfather’s ministry saying, “[Stoddard] referred to five periods of special spiritual awakening–‘five harvests’, was his grandfather’s phrase–which saw ‘the conversion of many souls’.”[2] William Carey and Adoniram Judson certainly experienced this on the pioneer mission field.

But Jesus doesn’t seem to be teaching about taking advantage of a unique opportunity. To be willing to give the Gospel when people are standing in line for it is obvious. He’s teaching us that the “not now” view is not right. He wants us to come with the attitude that the fields—all fields, for “fields” is plural—are always white for harvest.

Certainly there will be times when we will see more of a harvest than at other times. But His point is that usually the problem is not with the harvest, the problem is with our view of the harvest. Too often our view is that a field–a person, a family, an area–is not ready for the Gospel. The problem is not with the harvest, the problem is with our eyes.

Instead of the “not now” view of the harvest, we need the “right now” view. I’ll write about that in the next post, God willing.

 

[1] C.H. Spurgeon, “Fields White for Harvest,” Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 13 (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1867; reprint, Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1980), 457.

[2] Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), 88.

How to Measure Basic Gospel Literacy

 

Do not try the following when you are discouraged by the lack of spiritual progress among those in your ministry setting. In other words, if you have been experiencing disappointment with the spiritual condition of those in your discipleship group, Bible class, or church, wait awhile before you attempt the experiment I suggest. For if you aren’t discouraged before you try this little quiz, you almost certainly will be afterward.

Distribute pens and paper to all who are present. Then ask, “How many times do you think you have heard the gospel?” Some listeners, especially those who have been Christians for many years or who have attended Bible-preaching churches since childhood, may roll their eyes and say, “Thousands of times.” Others will nod, affirming their repeated exposure to the Gospel.

“Good!” you reply. “And since most of you profess to be Christians, you certainly had to not only hear the Gospel, but understand it well enough to believe it and be saved, right?”

Again, you’ll see relaxed, confident affirmations all around.

“Great! Since you’re all so familiar with the Gospel, I’m sure you won’t have any problems with this simple exercise. Please take that sheet of paper and write down the Gospel. In a paragraph or so, write the message people must hear, understand, and believe in order to be right with God and go to Heaven.”

Watch people freeze.

“Please, go ahead now and write a paragraph declaring the Gospel which you say you have heard perhaps thousands of times and which you understood and believed when you were saved.”

Now, in an increasingly uncomfortable silence, people will begin shifting in their seats, shuffling their feet, and staring at the sheet of paper. Many will not know what to write. The only thing more discouraging than these empty sheets will be some of the things people actually do write.

What will likely become depressingly apparent in this pop quiz is that an alarming number of those in your group are unclear on the most basic and important message of the Bible. Despite the fact that by their own admission they have read or heard countless presentations of the Gospel and claim to have experienced new life in Christ through its power, they are unable to convey even the ABCs of the message of salvation.

What are the implications of this inability to articulate the Gospel? For some, it surely reveals the reality that they aren’t Christians at all. If you maintain—as I hope you do—that no one is saved apart from believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is rather hard to argue that a person has savingly believed the Gospel if they cannot convey—in their own words and at their own level of understanding—the message they claim to have believed.

For those who are genuine Christians, but for whatever reason are unable to articulate the Gospel there’s another implication: their efforts at personal evangelism are likely to be seldom and shallow. If someone cannot communicate the Gospel in the loving environment of a gathering of Christians, how can they possibly do so with unbelievers out in the world? No amount of pulpit encouragement or shame about evangelism will motivate them to speak words under pressure that they cannot express in the best of circumstances.

Still another implication for true Christians who are unclear on the Gospel is that a weak grasp of the Gospel is a hindrance to holiness. Or to put it positively, those who know the Gospel best are those most likely to become closest to Christ and most like Christ.

Do you have a simple practical way to measure basic Gospel literacy you would share? If so, please leave a message in the box below.