Thursday, March 15, 2012



It was in graduate seminary that I had the privilege of working out so many Biblical issues. It wasn't in the classroom, but in the coffee shop that the real gems emerged. There was a group of 5 or 6 men who gathered nearly every day at the IHOP about two blocks away from school. Sometimes our discussions became so heated and interesting that we skipped chapel to continue "changing the world."
One of the early and frequent topics was to compare and contrast evangelism and discipleship. We viewed evangelism as the open door of converting a person and discipleship was the follow-up work after a person was converted. From time to time we swerved into the sub-topics of social evangelism versus friendship or aggressive evangelism. Social evangelism was basically doing good works for people-meeting their social needs, yet not expressly bringing Jesus into the interaction. We all were pretty much opposed to social evangelism. What we settled on was either aggressive evangelism-initiating a straight up conversation about salvation-or friendship evangelism, which meant building a relationship with the person first and then sharing the Gospel with him.

I spent much of my spiritual life grappling with the issue of evangelism. For quite some time, I was filled with guilt over not sharing the Gospel enough or not having many results to my evangelistic efforts.

It was not until many years later that I discovered that Jesus never commanded His disciples to evangelize anyone. The two primary commands of Jesus that are relevant here are "make disciples of all nations" and "bear witness of me" or "you shall be witnesses of me" in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and to the remotest part of the world.

Because we have misunderstood this, we have come to embrace evangelism as a prominent teaching and practice that is expected of all followers of Jesus. And, the misunderstanding of evangelism goes further into wrong thinking.

Evangelism has come to mean to proselytize, which means to convert a person to another faith or religion. Jesus taught none of this! We are not to proselytize or attempt to convert anyone away from their culture or religious persuasion and into our culture or religious persuasion. Not only did Jesus NOT teach this; there is no way any one of us has the ability and power to truly convert a person's heart to follow after God.

When Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples (Jesus followers) of all nations, He meant exactly what He said-nothing less, nothing more. When Jesus commanded His disciples to "bear witness of Him" to the world (John 15) and to "be witnesses of Him", starting with Jerusalem and proceed to do this throughout the entire world (Acts 1), He was not urging any kind of conversion tactics. Instead, Jesus was urging them to introduce and encourage people from all nations to become followers of Jesus. You see, when a person is introduced to Jesus, then that person has the opportunity to be converted in his heart by the Spirit of Jesus-the only one in the conversion business!

So, if Jesus is not pushing for us to evangelize or proselytize, but only to make disciples or make followers of Jesus in all nations, how does this get done? Within the teachings of Jesus there are four specific ways He shares for all of His followers to do. We'll check out three of them today and then the fourth one we'll examine in our next session together.

The first is to be found in Jesus' early teaching in Matthew 5:13-16. He says: "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."

Here Jesus says by embracing the lifestyle of Jesus-talking, walking, thinking and loving like Jesus, you will naturally attract the attention of the watching world and turn them toward a positive response to God. Your Jesus lifestyle will show up in a big and effective way!

The second way Jesus teaches that you can show Jesus off is found in John 13:34-35, where Jesus says, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Here Jesus is saying that your love for one another will make it crystal clear that you know and are being energized by Jesus.

The third way Jesus teaches that you can show Jesus off is found in Matthew 25:31-46. He says, "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'"

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did to me.'"

Jesus makes it clear here that when you meet the needs of people around you, you are actually ministering and connecting with Jesus personally! Now that is powerful!

Jesus wants you to be a disciple-a follower of Him. More than anything else Jesus wants you to embrace His lifestyle for yourself, love others who are following Him and pay special attention to where the heart of Jesus is-the needy and the disenfranchised. By the way, this amounts to practicing the 3 habits we talk about so much: Walk with Jesus. Walk with others. Wait on Jesus to lead out with orders and opportunities. That's not evangelism; that's discipleship the Jesus way!