Sharing the Gospel

September 18, 2016
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor

Ephesians 2

Today we are going to talk about sharing the gospel. Actually, we are just going to talk about one question about sharing the gospel that I think will really help with our fear. And the question is this: Who does what when we share the gospel?

  1. God’s part in converting people to Christianity
  2. Our part is to tell the story:
    • Tell them what Jesus did
    • Tell them what Jesus did for you
    • Invite them to church

I want to start our talk this morning by telling you about Bill and Jenny. Bill and Jenny were our next-door neighbors in the suburb of Wichita, Kansas where Kelley and I used to live several years ago. Kelley and I basically knew three things about Bill and Jenny. First, we knew that Bill was the Police Chief of our suburb, and that he seemed to be great at his job. Second, we knew Bill liked boxers – not the underwear – the dog breed! They had three boxers: Midas, Bubba, and Buster – and they were a riot! And then third, we knew that Bill liked to make wine in his basement. Not great wine, as it turns out – I don’t know how they made it because there are no vineyards in Kansas- but we didn’t know much about wine at the time that we tried it, but we knew enough – it was not great. They were actually really great, generous people! Oh, and we knew one more thing about them: We were pretty sure they needed Jesus! Or at least more of Jesus. They were members at the local Catholic Church, but they seemed very confused about what they believed, and how to have a relationship with God. So Bill needed Jesus.

I figured I was probably the guy to tell him. I was a Pastor. Bill needed the gospel. So I thought of a plan: I was going to look for a quiet moment to talk to Bill – and then turn the conversation to Spiritual things – and then I was going to share with Bill – in some form or other – the gospel. I was going to make sure he knew how to have a relationship with Jesus.

It was a good plan. I waited for the right moment – and I have to say, everything went great – except for one thing: I didn’t do it. I never had that part of the conversation with Bill. I did manage to talk a little bit about spiritual things. I think I prayed for him. But I don’t know whether I thought it would damage the relationship – or if I just never found the right moment – but I never got around to sharing the gospel with him.

In the end, we were friends. We moved away. We still think about them once in a while And I have wondered from time to time whether I should have pushed the conversation harder and spoken to Bill about the gospel.

Now I tell that story, not so much to get us feeling guilty or say that I should definitely have pushed harder. But I tell it to raise one simple question: Why don’t we share our faith?

We all know that we are supposed to share our faith. We all know the Great Commission is for each of us. But let me just ask – how many of us from time are hesitant to share our faith? Why? Why is it so hard to share the gospel with others?

Today we are going to talk about sharing the gospel. Actually, we are just going to talk about one question about sharing the gospel that I think will really help with our fear. And the question is this: Who does what when we share the gospel?

When it comes to sharing my faith – evangelizing – whatever you want to call it – who does what? What is God’s part in that? What is my part? We’re going to talk about that today – and as we do – we’re just going to have two simple points:

  1. God’s part in converting people to Christianity
  2. Our part is to tell the story

As we look at this topic of sharing our faith, I want to:

  • Make this less scary for you. I want you to see it more as an opportunity and less as an obligation.
  • Move you toward action – maybe not the action you think. We are going to talk about three things that you might actually do. I want to move each of you toward taking action to engage people with Christ.

Let’s talk about sharing the Gospel. We know what the Gospel is – Creation, Fall, Redemption, Response. We know that each of us has the job of sharing the Gospel. Now let’s talk about who does what when we share the Gospel. The first thing I want to talk about is God’s part in the Gospel.

God’s Part is to Convert People

The reason I want to talk about this is that I think that when it comes to sharing the gospel many of us are kind of scared. Maybe many of us would say “Yeah, I think I could explain Creation – Fall – Redemption – Response – or some version of the gospel to you right here today, but to take someone from unbelief to belief – I’m not so sure! I’m not sure I could:

  • Answer all the questions they might ask!
  • Break through all their objections
  • Make Christianity seem reasonable to them
  • Actually convert them to Christianity.

Maybe you’re here thinking that today.

If you are, let me give you some good news – you are absolutely right. You are 100% correct. You can’t do that! In fact if the thought of you trying to do that scares you just a little bit, I would say you probably aren’t nearly scared enough! There is no way:

  •  That you can answer all their questions
  • You can push through their objections
  • You can make Christianity seem reasonable to them
  • You, or I or Billy Graham can convert someone to Christianity

That’s because conversion – taking someone from unbelief to belief – making them a Christian – is a huge deal. A much, much bigger deal than we think!

Let me show you what I mean: Think with me for a minute about the passage from Ephesians 2:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God –  not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Ephesians 2

Isn’t that a beautiful passage? Well, that passage was written to a Church of Gentile converts to Christianity. They were Gentiles – not Jews. They were not part of God’s chosen people. That passage was written to describe for them everything that God did for them when he converted or saved them. Think with me for a minute about the things that chapter says God did:

  • They went from being Dead in trespasses and sin – to being alive in Christ.
  • From being Children of Wrath – to being Children of the Father
  • From walking in sin following Satan – to walking in good works
  • From being separated from Christ – to being in Christ
  • From being not part of God’s people – to being made one with God’s people
  • rom no hope of heaven – to being seated in heavenly places
  • From being far away – to having access
  • From having a dividing wall of hostility between themselves and the nation of Israel – to the wall being completely broken down through Christ’s death
  • From being strangers and Aliens – to being fellow citizens, members of God’s household

Those are all major status changes. Each one of those is a game-changer. They are given identity – and a future – and a people- and eternal life. Here’s the thing: That didn’t just happen to them. Each one of those things also happened to you when you became a Christian. You may not have realized it, but they all happened to you!

Becoming a Christian is a much bigger deal than we ever realized. Think of all the metaphors that the Bible uses to describe what happens to a person when they are converted! The Bible compares it to:

  • Being born again
  • Being resurrected from the dead
  • To Adoption
  • Healing
  • Slvation
  • To being freed from enslavement
  • To receiving pardon from a death sentence
  • To reconciliation from being an enemy of God.

The point of all this is that this thing of conversion is huge! It’s bigger than most of us ever realized. It’s a much bigger thing than any of us are capable of doing for someone. So we can’t actually convert people.

In fact, the Bible tells us that there’s no way that we are going to be able to convince people of the truth of the gospel on our own. No way! Did you know that the Bible says that? In 1 Corinthians Paul says that “the gospel is foolishness to those who don’t believe.” It is absolutely contrary to human wisdom. Think about it: The idea that I could find my life by losing it. The idea that I should put more hope in things I can’t see than in things I can. The idea that all my sin and guilt is somehow taken care of because some Jewish carpenter died on a cross 2,000 years ago. These things don’t make sense to people who live by the world’s standards. You can see why! There is no way that you – or I – or anyone – can convert people.

There’s good news: Not only are we not able to do it, but we’re not supposed to do it! God never gave us the job of converting people! That’s His job.

So we can relax! That job belongs to God. It reminds me of a card I got the other day from Obbie Clemmons. It said “This is God – I will be handling all your problems today. I will not need your help. So have a good day” It’s kind of like that! This is God’s job!

Think about Ephesians 2. Do you see anything in there about us doing any of this for people? Are we the ones who bring them from death to life? Are we the ones who prepare the good works for them to walk in? Are we the ones who break down the dividing wall of hostility? No!

In fact, listen to what versus 8-9 say: This is one of the first verses I memorized as a child in Sunday School “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of your doing. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast”

New Testament scholars have studied those verses for ages – and they wrestle with the question: Is it the grace that’s not our doing, or is it the faith that’s not our doing? Let me answer that: None of it is our doing! None of it! Not the grace – not the faith – not the preparation of the good works we walk in – not the adoption – not breaking down the wall of hostility – none of it is “of ourselves”! It is God that converts.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him – John 6:44

It’s God that has to convince people. He’s the one that has to open their eyes to the logic of the gospel – and break down the resistance – and bring them to faith. He’s the only one that can convert people.

And here’s the thing: He does it. He draws people to himself. He opens people’s hearts. He changes their thinking. He breaks down walls of resistance and opens people up to the gospel.

Let me show you what I mean:

One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. – Acts 16:14

Paul and his companions are travelling. They come to Philippi. When they first get there, they stop by a river to pray. They meet some women who had gathered there. Lydia was a Gentile, who had come to believe in the God of the Bible through the Synagogue. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. “The Lord opened her heart” is a simple phrase, but it’s important. God is the one who opened her heart, not Paul.

This time Paul and his companions are in Antioch. They share the story of Jesus with a large group. Luke tells us:

And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. – Acts 13:48

Now I’m not trying to get into the technicalities of predestination here, but the point is that God opened their hearts. He was working in their hearts before they heard the gospel and while they heard the gospel to convert them.

God is the one that converts people. It’s not because of our cleverness – or because we had a slick four point gospel presentation – or because we were able to answer all their difficult questions that they come to faith in Christ. Somebody does have to speak the gospel to them. Remember, it’s an announcement! But they’re not converted because we knew exactly what we were doing.

Some of you have heard the story of Kelley’s conversion: how the breakover point for her getting clarity about her faith was when she was in the library reading books to try and choose a religion. A book fell out of her hands. When it landed, it opened to a page on Christianity. She read it, and she knew that God was calling her. Well, listen: I think God did that. Somebody had to write the book, but God was the one who called her. If God can make a book fall open to the right page at just the right moment to open Kelley’s heart, he can open the hearts of our friends.

Conversion is God’s job – not ours. We don’t need to be fearful that we’re going to make a mistake when we share the gospel, because we’re not the ones who have to make it happen. What we do need to do is pray – that when we share, we won’t be doing it out of our own strength or cleverness – but that we will speak the words that God wants us to speak as we share.

So God’s part in evangelism or sharing our faith is the conversion part. Now let’s talk about our part of the equation…

Our Part is to Tell the Story

That’s the way I would summarize it. It’s really just about that simple! It’s God’s job to open hearts and call people to himself, and convert them. Our job is just to tell the Gospel story. Really to be a vessel – to love others and share with them the truth that God has given us.

Marc Mailand – one of the guys on our team – really kind of experienced that the other night for the first time. He was counseling someone who was in great need and was very confused about the gospel. And he said “I just kind of had this new feeling – where I was just the vessel – and I didn’t have to have all the answers – I just had to share with my friend the truth from Scripture and from my walk with Christ – that God has shared with me. He said it was really kind of cool! That’s what I’m talking about – just tell the story.

Let me give you three simple ways to do that. These are easy. They are simple. They are all portrayed in Scripture. Each of these is something that every one of us can do. You can do them in any order – whatever you think the situation calls for. They are really simple steps to sharing the gospel:

  • Tell them what Jesus did
  • Tell them what Jesus did for you
  • Invite them to church

Tell them what Jesus did

Share with them some part of the gospel story. You don’t have to share the whole thing with them. You don’t have to go for the whole enchilada! You don’t have to have the answers to all their questions. You don’t even have to have the answer to all of your questions! But share some piece of God’s gospel story with them.

Kelley and I have been amazed as we’ve read through the book of Acts, how simple the Apostles saw their job as being. If you would have asked me – “How would you define the job of an apostle?” – I would have said something like “Oh, well, they need to structure an organization that has robust local expressions – they need to plan for world-wide expansion – they need to ensure qualified leadership – they need a clear mission and vision…”

Those things all eventually happened, but when you read the book of Acts the Apostles have one main job: To be witnesses to the story of Jesus: His death, burial and resurrection. That’s it. When you read Acts, that’s exactly what they do. When you read the sermons, they really aren’t that fancy. They just go around telling the story of Jesus – and leaving the conversion up to God! They tell it a little differently each time – but they always tell the story of Jesus.

That’s something we can all do! Just tell the gospel story – Creation, Fall, Redemption and Response. Just tell them whatever little piece they are ready for. Maybe it’s a piece of the gospel that we are talking about at church or in small group. Maybe it’s something that’s going on in the culture. As we go through this time of racial strife in our culture – man – the gospel speaks to that! Jesus has broken down the dividing wall of hostility through his death! That’s a part of what he did. We can let that change the way we view others, We can talk about that..

Maybe there will come a time when they are ready to hear the whole thing – from creation to response – and place their faith in Christ. But in the meantime, just share whatever piece of the gospel story God calls you to share.

So, tell them what Jesus did.

Tell them what Jesus did for you

This is the other thing that we see the Apostles do in the book of Acts. They tell what Jesus did for them. Three times in the book of Acts, Paul tells the story of his conversion- of how he went from unbelief – to belief in Jesus – he’s always telling his story.

We have to tell our stories. We have to share with our children – and with other Christians – and even with our non-Christian friends – what Jesus has done for us. You can do this! You say “I’m worried about sharing my faith because I’m not an expert in the Bible.” OK – but you are an expert on you! You are the world’s foremost authority on what God has done in your life! So tell your story! Please, tell it.

We have been taking turns in our leadership meetings telling the story of what Jesus has done in our lives. I’ll tell you something: It’s been tough – it’s required courage – it’s been raw. There have been tears just about every time. It’s extremely powerful – and precious. Just to hear the ways that God has entered into our stories – and whispered our name – and forgiven our sins – and called us to life.

It’s powerful! I don’t think any of us on the team would say we have a tremendous conversion story. But we do. Because it’s our story of how Jesus has stepped into our lives and done beautiful things. And that’s what it’s all about. Taking what Jesus has done for us and giving it to others.

So tell your story: Tell them how God has been active in your life – how he has given you a purpose – how he has changed your marriage – how he has answered prayers – how he’s gotten you through difficult times. You don’t have to have all the answers. Just tell them what Jesus has done for you.

Invite them to church

Just invite them to some gathering of believers! It might be a church service – or your small group – or a missions activity – or a Christmas service. But invite them to some gathering of believers just so they can find out what we’re really like!

We see this in Scripture with Phillip, one of the 12 Disciples. He was always bringing people to hear Jesus – always saying “come and see – come and see”! This can be huge for people! If they do have questions of one kind or another, chances are they will meet someone who can help them. They will get to see what we are really like!

Kelley and I have really seen this work in our ministry before. Some of you know our church story from Zimbabwe. The war vets took our first church building and then burned down our second. So we had to meet from farm house to farm house in the community. I’ll tell you what – it was the best thing God ever could have done for our church!

Because we had on multiple occasions, people who said “I will never darken the door of a church! But I believe it’s good for the community, so I will host your little church or whatever it is at my house and we’ll provide lunch.” And I gotta tell you – it was amazing!

The first time we were there, they wouldn’t come into the room but you could see them setting up for lunch, you knew they were listening and you knew they were going “this isn’t what I thought it would be like at all!” The second time, they would stand in the back of the room. The third time they were sitting with the congregation asking questions! Many of them came to faith in Christ!

I’ll tell you what: When a church is on fire like that – when God is opening hearts and we are responsive to the Holy Spirit – you know that you can invite your friends. They are going to be valued – and experience the love of Jesus – and that is a powerful thing!

That’s the church we want to be. We want to be the church where God is moving powerfully. A church that is submitted to God – and reaching out – and telling our friends what Jesus has done – telling our friends what he has done for us – inviting our friends to experience Christian fellowship at Perry Creek Church. We want God to send revival – first to us – and then to our friends – then to this neighborhood.

I would just ask you to think this week about those three people on your card – or maybe there are others. What is the next step for them? How can you tell them the story? Do they need to hear what Jesus did? Do they need to hear what he did for you? Do they need to meet some other Christians?

How can you invite them to life in Christ, giving God the opportunity to open their heart and convert them?