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Every christian is called to bear witness to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The very fact that we are known as Christians is in itself an act of testimony. Jesus’ followers had originally been called “disciples” or people of “the Way,” but they were given the label “Christian” in Antioch (Acts 11:26). The word means “belonging to Christ,” and although it was originally intended as a slur, it stuck and has become the most common way of identifying those who profess faith in Jesus all over the world. The question then becomes, Do we live up to our name?
Every believer is an evangelist. To be known as a Christian points people away from what we are in ourselves by nature to what we have become in Christ by grace, but it also involves explaining the hope of salvation to others.
This begins with what we are. Our lives should so shine like lights in this dark world that people will be struck by them. Jesus makes this clear in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:14–16). Our behavior and how we relate to other people—even our enemies—should stand out in the best possible way. It should make people wonder what makes us different. J.I. Packer said that the basic definition of evangelism is “Christians being Christians in the world.” Of course, if our lives are making this kind of impact on those around us, sooner or later they will want to know what makes us tick. When that happens, we need to know how to respond.
The Apostle Peter explains that this means “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). That is, we are to be in a state of readiness. We never know when an opportunity may arise to share the gospel. So, when it does, we should know in advance the core elements of what it is and why people need to take it seriously.
The starting point is simple: there is something desperately wrong, not just with the world, but, at the deepest level, with each one of us. Recognizing the problem provides the opportunity to discuss what it actually is and then explore the answers. There is nothing to fear from letting whoever we are talking to put forward their own ideas on both these fronts. This lays those ideas open to examination to see how well they stand up to questioning, but it also leads naturally into considering the Bible’s answers.
Those answers begin with Genesis and the way things were meant to be when God created the world. There is in every human being what one author has called “echoes of Eden”—a deep sense that things were not always as they are today. But paradise gave way to perdition. The sin of Adam changed everything and everyone. Yet even then, there was hope. In promising that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15), God was pointing to the Savior He would send. This promise set the plotline for the entire message of the Bible and would ultimately lead to the coming of God’s own Son to bring deliverance and restoration through His perfect life, vicarious atonement, resurrection, and enthronement.
How we express these answers is also important. We see this in the way Jesus explained the same gospel to two very different individuals in John’s gospel. His approach to Nicodemus in chapter 3 stands in contrast to the way he engaged the Samaritan woman in the next chapter.
Jesus was blunt with the self-righteous Pharisee who knew but did not truly understand his Hebrew Bible. His approach to the Samaritan woman was very different. It began with a simple request for a drink of water that led into His telling her of “living water” that will become “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). The spirit in which He conducted those conversations was bound up with their content.
Peter echoes this when he goes on to state that, as we offer the reason for our faith, we should do so “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:15–16). Gospel conversations (and debates) are meant not to prove something about us but to display something of our Savior. Something of His gentleness, humility, and love for the lost should suffuse our interactions with those who need salvation.
It is not without significance that it was Peter who wrote these words, because, as we have already noted, it takes a certain kind of courage to speak of Christ to others. Peter had been quick to declare his loyalty to Christ in the upper room, but his apparent bravery was nothing more than bravado. When challenged about his relationship with Jesus while His trial was taking place, Peter lost his nerve and denied his Savior three times. Yet, on the day of Pentecost, this same Peter—now restored and reinstated—risked his life by standing up and proclaiming Christ to the crowd in Jerusalem.
How? Because he, the stumbling sinner, had witnessed the wonder of redemption in all its fullness. He had come to experience the love of Christ, displayed on the cross for the sake of sinners, and now that same love constrained him to preach the good news to the lost. So, for us, if we are Christians, nothing greater will stir in us the courage to speak openly of Jesus than knowing His love in all its fullness.
Thomas Boston wrote a book about evangelism titled The Art of Man-Fishing. Sharing the gospel with others is not a program to be implemented; it is indeed an art to be cultivated, and the only way to do this is through practice.