Most Christians have heard the supposed quote of Saint Francis, “Preach the Gospel everywhere, and if necessary use words.” Unfortunately, many Christians both think that he said this and that it is an acceptable model for evangelism. This model of evangelism, known as “Lifestyle Evangelism”, is when you seek to share the Gospel merely through living a pious life. But this is a problem and an inaccurate view of evangelism. Any time a Christian views evangelism as only how you act, they will miss the purpose and the joy of evangelizing. All too often, I find myself in the same situation as many other believers. I want to simply be a good person, a good friend, a good employee, a good manager, and for that to lead to the spread of the Gospel. However, the Bible gives a clear command that we are to use words:
Romans 10:14: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
The other extreme also misses the point: to only preach with words and not demonstrate with action the faith that you claim. James 2 explains that if we ignore the physical need of a person we lose the ability to effectively share with words alone. In the same vein, if you are attempting to share the great news of the Gospel with a person who realizes that your actions don’t reflect your words, why would you expect them to listen to you?
If you are a great next-door-neighbor that is always helping out others in your neighborhood, you are going to end up with the opportunity to share with words about your faith – be ready to do it! If you are a great employee that always shows up to work early and with a smile, people are going to notice – use that as an opening to share with words about your salvation and faith!
One of my best friends unexpectedly passed away last summer. He knew that I was a Christian, and we had talked about the Bible and Christian topics over the years. I had shared with him why and how I knew I was saved, but I never took the opportunity to be explicit and uncomfortable with our conversations to the point that I have certainty one way or the other of his standing before God. As a Christian friend of his, I was always there to help him whether he was moving, sick, or had a baby. Being a good friend doesn’t save anyone. My first thought when he passed away was that I don’t know how he would have answered the question of the jailer in Acts 16.
Acts 16:30b-31a ‘“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”’
The context of Acts 16 sums up how to evangelize perfectly – the way that Paul and Silas acted lined up with a verbal proclamation of Jesus Christ as Savior, resulting in the salvation of an entire family.
Here is an example of how this looks in day to day life. As a physical therapist, I get to spend a lot of time one-on-one with my patients and their families. Through being on time, joyful, and engaging in meaningful ways with my patients, I am typically able to earn the ability to share from my personal life. One of the most common ways this happens is when discussing my family, specifically the adoption of my son, Brandon, from the state foster care system. When I’m asked why we chose to adopt, in my weaker moments it is easiest to explain that there are a lot of kids that need homes in our city, so my wife and I decided to help take care of one. In the moments God gives me the strength to speak the truth, here is how it sounds:
“The Bible tells Christians that pure religion that is undefiled before the Lord is to care for orphans and widows in their affliction. As a Christian, I have been adopted by God through my relationship with Jesus, and so the command to care for orphans is very personal. Because of that, my wife and I felt specifically called by God to help take care of children in our city, and it ended up being God’s plan for us to adopt our son.”
By focusing on developing relationships that are backed by Christian actions and behaviors, I rarely, if ever, end up with a person that is upset when I share the words behind my faith.
Jesus gives us as his second greatest commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. As you look at your neighbors, everyone in your life that you interact with, make sure you know the answer to these three questions:
- Would my neighbor think that I’m a Christian by my actions?
- Would my neighbor know that I’m a Christian because I’ve told them with my words?
- How would my neighbor answer the question, “What must I do to be saved?”
Preach the gospel everywhere. Use words. It’s necessary.