We Don’t Easily Get It
We study the Gospel of John digging out the useful bits of evangelistic information and then refer to it as the Gospel of “Belief” rather than the Gospel of “Evangelism.” We fall short of the right conclusion and then fail to follow through on any meaningful application.
And we do this because we are more content just studying the Bible than we are doing what it says. We scour John’s Gospel locating all the powerful evangelistic verses, making other pertinent observations as well and then, instead of evangelizing, we study it some more.
That is one reason I think Bible study has become an insidious and pervasive evil. It is now the cover up for inaction and ineffectiveness. All over the world, in churches everywhere, spiritual action has been constipated by the idea that once you have studied your Bible you have done your due.
Don’t misunderstand. I love the Bible and I love to study it but I am opposed to making Bible study the mecca of all Christian activity.
Evangelism is a good case in point. The object of evangelism is moving people to the point of belief in Jesus but that is only the end point. Much activity must precede it and we call this activity evangelism. If “Belief” is a destination evangelism is the vehicle. One doesn’t happen without the other.
That, of course, means that “Belief” is not an isolated topic of discussion for study. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Whenever we discover individuals expressing new found belief in God, which occurs quite often in John’s Gospel, we know that evangelism has occurred. Hence we should change the tag from the Gospel of belief to the Gospel of evangelism.
To make my case, consider the following:
- In one form or another the word “believe” is found in 257 verses throughout the whole Bible.
- Of those 257 occurrences 85 (33%) are found in the Gospel of John.
- Of those 85 occurrences 8 (almost 10%) are found in John chapter 11.
A third of all references to “believing” are found in only one out of a total number of 66 books. Anyone who thinks John’s primary topic was something different to evangelism is missing the point.
And almost 10% of the references in John are found in chapter 11, a very unusual context for emphasizing evangelism. In this chapter Lazarus dies and Jesus intentionally allows it. He could have prevented his death but instead allowed it and raised him from the dead afterward.
What that means is this, not only was John’s Gospel emphasizing and Jesus modeling evangelism, the intent was to show that it can occur in the most unlikely situations. A lot of believing took place when Lazarus walked out of the tomb wrapped in grave clothes but alive.
By the way, there is another spiritual life lesson in this as well. God makes no promises to eradicate our sick and failing moments. He even allows us to experience death, what He referred to as sleep, and plans to raise us from “sleep” later. But don’t let this truth mask the primary message: life, with all its negative bits, happens and should catalyze evangelism.
Not only do many people come to belief in this passage but Jesus, as He does throughout the entire Gospel, puts a new spin on evangelistic methodology. This is a strange context in which to emphasize evangelism and Jesus does extraordinary things to make the point.
The prominence of “belief” in this Gospel should spur us to evangelistic action not spiritual contemplation.
John even states this clearly as he concludes the book.
And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: 31 But these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name.
From John’s perspective the single most important activity in the Christian life is evangelism and quite honestly, it is the most exciting thing we can do.
But let me take this a step further. The point of the Gospel of John is not “Evangelism.” The point is “Intentional Evangelism.”
Evangelism doesn’t happen by accident. It happens when we act intentionally and on purpose. Evangelism is to be understood as a responsibility not a virtue. We need virtue to evangelize well but we mustn’t get the two concepts mixed up.
Let me illustrate. We teach that Christians should display the nine fruits (virtues) of the Spirit which are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).
None of these virtues, however, happen outside of circumstance and all of them have motive. If your motive is to become a better person you are fooling yourself but if your motive is evangelism you’re on the right track. God’s manifestation of these virtues clearly shows evangelistic intent:
- He loves people in spite of their being unlikable, Romans 5:8.
- He was joyful in the face of trouble knowing that enduring the trouble made salvation possible, Hebrews 12:2.
- His kindness and patience leads us to repentance – precursor to salvation, Romans 2:4.
- He is good to everyone whether they deserve it or not, Matthew 5:45.
Virtues don’t happen in a vacuum. “Patience” is only expressed when you are agitated, “peace” is a choice made in the face of turmoil, “joy” is based on the long term goal in spite of present trouble and making an effort to evangelize others is likely to produce all of these situations.
Given the old nature can never get better nor the new nature get worse, achieving these virtues will never change your “state of being.” But, allowing these virtues to come to the surface – changing your state of action – will make you a more effective evangelist.
I say that evangelism must be intentional because no one is a natural evangelist. We are more likely to commit adultery than we are to evangelize effectively, although reactions to these two things is very different.
We say nothing when people fail to evangelize their neighbors. We go ballistic if anyone even entertains the idea of adultery, a thought which occurs at least in passing to a very large percentage of individuals, even Christians. Maybe thinking about evangelism is one way to counteract thoughts of adultery.
And I would add one more dimension to this issue.
Not only must we be intentionally evangelistic we must be so in an individualistic way. There are endless numbers of books written on how to evangelize others. Each one makes a valid point but only for those who can fit within that mold. Every evangelist and prospect is different. Those differences must be taken into consideration.
Jesus used many different methods in many different circumstances effectively. Therefore, we should be prayerfully thoughtful (strategic) before employing any method.
Let’s put evangelism in perspective. Being Christian should be thought of as synonymous with being evangelistic. Christ is to be shared not hoarded.
We are not all commissioned to teach the laws of nutrition, leadership, exercise and money management …
But, the Gospel of John makes the point that all of us without exception are commissioned to evangelize in every situation and every person is the target.
What do you THINK!AboutIt?