Big Idea: Evangelism is hard, but it’s worth it because of what the gospel is.
I have a question for you today, and I want you to be honest in your response. When it comes to evangelism, how are you doing? When it comes to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ — his life, death, burial, resurrection, and all that it means — how would you evaluate your effectiveness?
I know that a question like this can be difficult to answer. There are really three ways to answer:
- Some of you are here today, but you are not a follower of Jesus Christ. You may be skeptical or curious. In this case, you may have mixed feelings about evangelism. A study in England asked nonbelievers what it felt like to have a Christian speak to them about their faith. 19% said that it made them want to know more, but 59% said the opposite. Almost a third of people said it left them feeling more negative. Some of you don’t like evangelism, because you don’t want to be evangelized. Nobody likes to be someone’s project.
- Some of you don’t mind the question, because you’re dong fine when it comes to evangelism.
- Most of us, if we’re honest, feel a little guilty, because we’d like to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others, but we’re not. We want to share our faith, and what Jesus has done for us, but we feel nervous, or under pressure. It’s not a natural part of our lives. When I ask you how you are doing with evangelism, you may even feel guilty.
Today, I want to do a couple of things. The first is to let you off the hook by just acknowledging a basic reality about evangelism. Then I want to look at a man who knew this reality, but couldn’t not evangelize. I want to look at him, because he gives three reasons why evangelism is worth it.
So let’s look at this: one basic reality about evangelism, and then why evangelism is worth it, even though it's hard.
Evangelism is Hard
Here’s the one basic reality that I hope will help you breath a sigh of relief: Evangelism is hard. I was encouraged to read a great book on evangelism by a good evangelist recently, and read this as the first paragraph of the book:
I find evangelism hard. The problem with being an evangelist is that people assume that you find evangelism effortless; but I don’t find it easy, and never have. For me, telling people about Jesus has often been nerve wracking. But at the same time, it has been joyful.
He talks about a painline when it comes to sharing the gospel:
So if you are going to talk to people about Jesus, you are going to get hurt. It is going to sever some relationships. It is going to provoke people. Not every time, and depending on our circumstances, friendship groups, workplaces and so on, our experiences will vary; but we will face rejection enough of the time to give us second thoughts, because I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like getting hurt. We’re wired to assume that if we’re getting hit, something’s gone wrong. And so whenever I tell someone the gospel message, and get hit (metaphorically speaking), there’s a temptation either to stop saying anything, or to change what I’m saying. I know there’s a painline that needs to be crossed if I tell someone the gospel; but I want to stay the comfortable side of the painline. Of course I do!
I think that’s the main reason why we don’t do evangelism. (Rico Tice, Honest Evangelism)
I like that the first line of his book says, “I find evangelism hard.” Later on, he says, “If you’re like me, you’ll never find evangelism easy. You’ll always find it hard to take the risk, and get over the painline.” It’s worth it, but it’s hard.
It’s not just us either. You find this implication in the text we’re looking at this morning. In verse 16, Paul says:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)
Some have said that what Paul means is, “I am proud of the gospel.” But what he actually says is, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” This indicates that it seems that Paul, like us, faced the temptation to be ashamed of the gospel. James Stewart of Edinburgh, in a sermon on this text, once made the perceptive comment that “there’s no sense in declaring that you’re not ashamed of something unless you’ve been tempted to feel ashamed of it.” Without doubt, Paul knew this temptation.
It’s a little surprising to hear the apostle Paul say that he’s not ashamed of the gospel. Why would anyone — never mind the apostle Paul — be ashamed of the gospel? The truth is that all of us have been ashamed of the gospel at one time or another.
The gospel has always been a source of ridicule. Archeologists in Rome have found a caricature from the Christian era, around 200 A.D. It depicts a slave bowing down before a cross. On the cross is a donkey-headed figure. Underneath the drawing it says, “Alexamenos worships his god.” It shows the attitude that Romans had toward Christianity. It was foolishness.
Around the year 178, the Greek writer Celsus wrote a bitter attack on Christianity. He said that Christianity is not for the instructed or wise, but for “ignorant, or unintelligent, or uninstructed, or foolish persons…the silly, and the mean, and the stupid, with women and children.” He compared them to a swarm of bats, ants creeping out of their nests, to frogs holding a symposium around a swamp, and to worms cowering in the muck. Tell us what you really think, Celsus!
Robert Haldane writes of Christianity:
By the pagans it was branded as atheism, and by the Jews it was abhorred as subverting the law and tending to licentiousness, while both Jews and Gentiles united in denouncing the Christians as disturbers of the public peace, who, in their pride and presumption, separated themselves from the rest of mankind. Besides, a crucified Savior was to the one a stumbling-block, and to the other foolishness.
As Paul prepared to go to Rome, he went, as tradition tells us, as “an ugly little guy with beetle brows, bandy legs, a bald pate, a hooked nose, bad eyesight and no great rhetorical gifts” (John Stott) with an unpopular message. And he went to the greatest city in the world, to a place renowned for its wisdom, law, art, and military power.
It’s no different today. As we think about sharing the gospel, we face the reality that we are sharing news that seems like foolishness. And we’re doing so in a city that’s certainly among the world’s best, a place of wisdom and power.
The British preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that if you have never been ashamed of the gospel, the probable reason is not that you are “an exceptionally good Christian,” but rather that “your understanding of the Christian message has never been clear.” Evangelism is hard, because there’s a painline in sharing the gospel. Paul got it, and so should we.
Evangelism is Worth It
As we think of evangelism, though, it’s not enough to admit that it’s hard. There are lots of things that are hard, but we do them anyway because they’re worth it.
This is important. We tend to like what and how questions: what should we do, and how should we do it? But before we get to the what and how questions, it’s important to answer the why question. We will not be compelled to share the gospel without answering the why question. Why should we share the gospel, even though it’s so hard?
In today’s passage, Paul gives us three reasons why evangelism is worth it, even though it’s hard. Paul found that these reasons made it impossible for him not to share the gospel with as many people as possible. What were they? Here they are.
Reason One: The gospel is a debt we owe.
Verses 14 and 15 say:
I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. (Romans 1:14-15)
I walked down the street in Liberty Village the other day. As I passed person after person, I thought, “I owe you.” I owe something to every person in Liberty Village. And so do you in your community.
That’s what Paul says in verse 14. He’s under an obligation to everyone — Greek or barbarian. Barbarians were non-Greek speaking Gentiles: Persians, Egyptians, Spaniards, Germans. He was prepared to share the gospel with anyone at any time, no matter what language, education level, or religion. Why? Because Paul owes them. He was a debtor. He owed them something, and he had to discharge his debt.
There are two ways that you can owe someone something. The first is if you borrow money from them. If I borrow $10,000 from someone, then I owe them that money. I’m a debtor to them.
But there’s another way that I can be in debt. If someone gives me $10,000 to give to someone else, then that money isn’t mine. I would be in debt to them until I saw the other person and handed over the money. That $10,000 in my pocket would be a debt that I owed to them until I had given them the money.
Paul says that this is the case with each of us. God has given us his gospel. He’s entrusted us with the unbelievable news of what Jesus has done. It’s a message that changes everything, and gives us exactly what we’re looking for: “acceptance, approval, forgiveness, newness, healing, worth, purpose, joy, hope, peace, and freedom” (Jonathan Dodson).
But Paul says that this is not a message that God’s entrusted to us for ourselves only. God has entrusted this gospel to us for the sake of others. We owe the debt to God, but the payment is to others as we share the gospel with them. We have no right to keep it to ourselves. The gospel is made for sharing.
Evangelism is hard, but Paul couldn’t help share the good news, because he owes it to God and to others.
Reason Two: The gospel is God’s power that saves everyone who believes.
Verse 16 says:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)
Paul saw the gospel as a debt, but he also saw the gospel as a power. He reminded himself that the message of the gospel, which some see as weakness, is the very power of God. It results in the salvation of every single person who receives and believes this message.
Have you ever tried to change someone else? I have, and it didn’t work. I have about a 0% success rate in changing others. That shouldn’t be too surprising, though, because I have a fairly low success rate at changing myself. It’s just not something I can do. But the gospel isn’t like that. It has a 100% success rate at changing people who receive this message. In 1 Corinthians 6, the apostle Paul describes some of the people it’s changed:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
What changes people, all kinds of people struggling with all kinds of issues? The gospel. The word that Paul uses for power is one of six Greek words for power. It has the sense that there’s something that belongs to the object described that’s inherently powerful, residing in its state by virtue of its own nature. That’s the gospel. By its very nature, it is powerful. It can change lives. It can change people. It can change societies. When Paul saw the gospel’s power, he found it impossible not to share it.
Paul was going to the very power center of the civilized world at that time, a city where power was the keynote. But Paul held a conviction: the most powerful force in the world is not political or military power, wealth, status, or any power belonging to man or woman. The greatest power is the gospel. It is more powerful than the Roman empire in all its power, because it is the power of God that saves anyone who believes.
The preacher G. Campbell Morgan tells a story of a time that he was in Italy. He was in a graveyard saw that there was a huge marble slab over some man's grave. An acorn, though, had gotten into the grave hundreds of years ago. Out of that acorn came a shoot, and out of the shoot came a tree that had grown up so big and so tall it had split the marble slab in half.
Most people would look at an acorn, and a thousand-pound marble slab, and ask, “Which is going to win?” Hands own, it will always be an acorn. The acorn always wins, even though it looks much less powerful.
Here’s the gospel, and here’s the greatest power known to humanity. Which is going to win? The gospel, or the Roman empire? The gospel, or any human power? It’s always the gospel. The power of the gospel is a great reason to share the gospel.
There’s one more reason to share the gospel, even though it’s hard.
Reason Three: The gospel is a revelation of God’s righteousness that’s given to us.
Verse 17 says:
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)
There’s so much in this passage. We could look at it for hours. It’s one of the most important statements in all of Scripture. It gets to the heart of the gospel. This verse has played an important role in church history. It’s the passage that played an important role in the Protestant Reformation, after Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, came to understand it. And it’s a message that can change us today as well.
Here’s what it means. The gospel reveals the righteousness of God. What is this righteousness? It’s not a righteousness of our own. It’s a righteousness that’s given to us. God in his grace gives makes a righteousness available to us, and we must receive it passively with empty hands of faith. We don’t add to it or contribute to it. We simply receive it.
And how do we receive it? By faith. Faith means we receive it. Faith means that we rely on it.
Luther came to understand this, and hit changed his life, and it changed history. He called it a justitia alienum, an alien righteousness; a righteousness that belongs properly to somebody else. It’s a righteousness that is extra nos, outside of us. It’s the righteousness of Christ. As Anders Nygren says, it’s a righteousness “originating in God, prepared by God."
Luther said, “When I discovered that, I was born again of the Holy Ghost. And the doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through.”
This is why Paul couldn’t help but share the gospel, even though it’s hard.
- The gospel is a debt that we owe.
- It’s God’s power that saves everyone who believes.
- It’s the revelation of God’s righteousness that’s given to us, that we simply receive by faith with empty hands.
When you get these, Paul says, you can’t help but share the gospel. There are going to be other questions about how to share the gospel, what to say, and how to deal with objections, and so on. But this comes first. Before we get to the hows and what’s, we need to deal with the why.
If you hear nothing else today, hear this: Evangelism is hard, but it’s worth it because of what the gospel is.
At the beginning of the message, I asked you how you’re doing with evangelism. And I guessed that most of us are probably struggling. Today I want to tell you that a certain amount of struggle is probably just part of evangelism, because there’s a painline that’s always going to be there. But I also want to tell you that the best way to get past that painline and actually share the gospel is to look at that gospel yourself, to be transformed by it and amazed by it. The more we see the gospel as a debt, as a power, and as a radical message, and the more it changes us, just like it changed Martin Luther, the more we will find ourselves compelled to share it. In other words, it all begins with delighting more in Jesus and all that he’s done.
The more we see the gospel, and the more we marvel at the gospel, the more we’ll be compelled to share the gospel.
As Jonathan Dodson puts it:
We must see Jesus, over and over again, as the source and goal of God’s work, and we must look to him as the renewing power of new creation. Jesus is our motivation for evangelism, and the Father is calling us to count on Christ, more than anything else, and entrust our evangelistic record to him. Don’t count on methods, conversions, cultural savvy, or your church. Count on Christ, deeply, and you will communicate Christ freely.
Father, thank you for the gospel. Forgive us for being ashamed of the gospel.
Help us today to see the gospel for all that it is. It’s a message you’ve entrusted to us to share. It’s your power that saves everyone who believes. And it’s the revelation of your righteousness, an alien righteousness that’s outside of us, and that’s simply given by grace through faith.
May we see Jesus and his gospel over and over again as our motive for evangelism. May we count on him and his gospel rather than our methods and strategies. And, like Paul, may we be compelled to share the gospel as we grow in our marvel at the gospel. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.