If you want clarity on what our and God’s role are in evangelism, I hope this excerpt from “Discipleship Defined” provides some answers for you. I pray we will build conviction from God’s truth and then do the hardest part: Actually go out and initiate with others for God’s Glory.
John 6:44 says it like this, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Not only does God have to draw the person, but also every person that is drawn to God must experience a spiritual rebirth. Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” The term “born again” has three important nuances attached to it.
First, it implies to be reborn, to rehappen. The reason why we have to be reborn is because the first birth accompanied spiritual death (Ephesians 2:1-3). Every person is born spiritually dead and separated from God. Because of sin, a rebirth must occur. The second implication is that the birth is from above. The word which is translated “again,” literally means from above. Therefore, not only must a person be reborn, but also the source of this rebirth can only be God. The final nuance is that this birth must come from the same one who gave you birth the first time—God. Jesus wants to make it as clear as possible that to be a child of God comes from God.
In 1 Corinthians 3:5-9, Paul holds man responsible for two acts in evangelism: planting and watering. In 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, he says, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” Paul implies that, as God’s people, we have an opportunity to assist our great king in kingdom work, but it is clear that we only play a supporting role. Just as in harvesting a crop, a person’s role in evangelism is as follows:
We start with a seed, which is the gospel. Paul says that we are then given the opportunity to plant this seed in the hearts of men. Planting happens whenever we share the Gospel. Watering is the next step. The scriptures do not speak specifically about what watering appears to be. However, we can conclude that Paul is implying that any work motivated by the love of God that is used to benefit the Gospel, is, in all practical purposes, “watering.” After watering, man’s role is finished and it is only up to God to give someone life.
The Joy of Participating
Paul affirms the importance of our role in God’s agenda to bring people to Him. But the responsibility to produce spiritual life belongs only to God. It is impossible for any person to make someone a follower of Christ. No one can be talked into salvation. We can’t pray hard enough, love radically enough, give generously enough, and persuade convincingly enough to make someone give his or her life to Christ. There is nothing we can do to produce spiritual life in ourselves or another person. Only Jesus possesses that ability and authority.
Having the knowledge that God has to supernaturally stir within someone the desire to worship Christ takes the pressure off of us. This reality also implies a definition of success that is unlike natural man. Man determines success by productivity. God determines success by faithfulness. Although we cannot produce faith, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be obedient. God doesn’t ask us to save anyone or talk anyone into worshipping Him. He only asks that we experience the joy of proclaiming the good news (Acts 20:24ff). Therefore, an appropriate definition for evangelism, which I have humbly paraphrased from the great leader Bill Bright, is this: Go into the world, empowered by the Spirit and motivated by Christ’s love, to share the gospel with all people and trust God with the results.
Results Driven Evangelism
There is great danger in evangelizing for results rather than out of obedience and honor for God. First, results-driven evangelism implies that we actually play a part in spiritual rebirth. This is harmful thinking that gives people and their actions credit when all glory should go to God.Second, it puts undue pressure on God’s people. When we focus on results, we gauge our evangelism experience as good or bad based on the response of those being evangelized. If we go out and share our faith with a results-driven mentality and people don’t come to Christ, we’ll feel inadequate. This belief could diminish our desire to evangelize, which is destructive to our spiritual growth and stewardship.
Another danger is the tendency to change the message. When I was a student at Miami University, I wanted people to come to Christ so much that when I shared the Gospel, I wouldn’t even bring up repentance. I would forget to tell people that they would have to change their lives if they accepted Christ because it might scare them off. Looking back, I didn’t intentionally or maliciously leave repentance out; it was a subconscious reaction to my desire to yield results. Sadly, my aspiration to be successful in the eyes of man drove me to preach false doctrine. I wasn’t focusing on faithfulness, but productivity.
If we are driven by results, then how well we do is no longer based on God’s word, but on how the hearer responds to the message. 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 says that, “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life…” Paul gives us the realistic picture of what life in Christ looks like. He says that those who are believers are like an aroma to the world. To those who want to love God, we are a beautiful, desirous fragrance. To those who do not believe, we smell like death. If we are not convinced that the Gospel is inherently offensive, we will try to do whatever it takes to allow the hearer to be most comfortable. Some might ask, “Do we then have no responsibility?” Yes we do! Remember, we are to plant and water. Our responsibility is to share the gospel in love (1 Corinthians 2:1).