Friday, July 26, 2013

Rethinking Evangelism: Demonstration is the Key - Part VIII

Why is it important to rethink what it means to "born again" in relation to how we do evangelism? Because it is important to reframe our evangelistic efforts through a process that produces life change that leads people into fullness of life Jesus promised (John 10:10), and not just "decisions" to "accept Jesus into my heart." That requires intentional discipleship and living a different story.

With the exception of a very small percentage, most people understand that they have need of  salvation. That is why approximately 84% of the world population belong to a world religion. That percentage holds true for Americans as well. Our message about getting "saved" isn't resonating today, however, since in our post-modern pluralistic culture believes there are many equally good paths to "get saved," maybe as many as 206.

What they don't grasp, really can't grasp, is our human need to be "born again" - a complete whole life make-over, converted to the life Jesus designed for us, to affect every area of our lives and the purpose we live for. But the problem is that's not the story we're telling. As Scot McKnight puts it:
“What must be emphasized in all of this is the difference between trusting Christ, the real person Jesus, with all that that naturally involves, versus trusting some arrangement for sin-remission set up through him — trusting only his role as guilt remover.”
When we communicate the Gospel in a way that is focused on getting decisions, on "accepting Jesus into our heart" for "guilt removal," we miss the whole Gospel story. Trusting Christ, "the real person of Jesus," with "all that naturally involves" is being "born-again." As we looked at in Part VII, we should redefine being "born again" as being brought over to the Jesus way of life. Knowing how our understanding of the whole Gospel interconnects with a robust definition of being "born again" is vital to the process of growing up into Christ,and living with the actions and attitudes of Jesus.

The evidence is that the majority of people are not converted by their "decision"  to the Jesus way of life. That is not to say they are not personally "saved" but salvation is only the beginning and not end of what it means to be "born again." When we do not demonstrate the action and attitudes of Jesus to a lost and dying world, we make it difficult for others to "see the Kingdom of God" has arrived. They rightly think we are hypocrites for not living the values we say we believe. Our "decision" may convince us we have "saving faith," but the question really should be do we have living faith? Do we have the faith to live the life we're called to? (Matthew 16:24).Without being brought over to the Jesus way of life, being "born again," we won't and in fact we can't live the Christ-like life (John 15:5).

It is easy to find problems with the Church, to diagnosis the issues as the Barna study does - we are after all, all a bunch of sinners. The challenge is in the change. How do we rethink evangelism to activate our lives and live of others to live with the actions and attitudes of Jesus? We need to go back to the original plan asking that overused question - "What would Jesus do?" We need to understand the whole story Jesus was telling and not simply isolate a few verses for convenience sake and think we're communicating the Gospel. That's where I want to go next as we continue in the Gospel of John.

In John chapter 4 we read that Jesus and his disciples were "gaining and baptizing more disciples than John." Perhaps because of the success he was having the Lord decides it was time to move his operation from Judea and head back to Galilee. We aren't told why Jesus made this trip but only that the Pharisees knew of the successful disciple-making ministry of Jesus. He had certainly upset them when he cleared the temple, made a mess out of the money-changing tables and they thought he would destroy the place (John 2:13-35).

"Now he had to go through Samaria." That is where we find Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well. "When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, 'Will you give me a drink?' (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)" or they may have stopped or at least hindered this divine encounter. They probably would have questioned, "what would other people think?" It was counter-cultural for a Jew to speak to a Samaritan (John 4:9). But Jesus was not bound by such ethnic divisions, nor would he allow such ancient prejudices to keep him from his purposes. 

Next Jesus probed for spiritual understanding saying,“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” With intentionality of knowing where he wanted to take the conversation, Jesus makes a spiritually infused statement to solicit a response. While the woman apparently doesn't understand the reference, based on her response, Jesus is referencing part of the Fall and Redemption story that was at least culturally familiar to the Samaritans. 

Jesus reference to living water first looks back to when the prophet Jeremiah speaks of the judgment upon the nation of Israel: My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." (Jeremaih 2:13).

Jeremiah 17:13 also speaks of the spiritual condition of Israel:  "Lord, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water." 

Jesus reference to "living water" also looks ahead, as the Prophet Zechariah looks forward to a day when: " water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter. The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name" (Zechariah 14:8-9). This speak to the Redemption of Israel as well as the Restoration of the Kingdom of God the Messiah would usher in.

Continuing this spiritual conversation, Jesus say, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life'" (John 4:13-14). Jesus introduces the solution to the woman's real need and brings up the eschatalogical concept of "eternal life," something all religious and many non-religious people have an interest in. 

Was Jesus talking about salvation when he speaks of "a spring of water welling up to eternal life?"  Today, we may understand "eternal life" as synonymous with salvation, or the benefit or rewards of salvation. But could there be another idea Jesus is speaking about that can help us to rethink evangelism, an idea that is central to understanding the whole story?

Clearly the woman didn't understand Jesus response as talking about salvation, for she responds, "Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water."  The woman would have no reason to spiritualize what Jesus was saying beyond what she understood. Like the Jews, the Samaritans would have understood "eternal life" in the context of the age to come, when the Messiah would restore the nation of Israel, in a messianic era of peace and prosperity (John 4:25). That is the story that the woman at the well would have understood. 

Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration is the story of God and it is that story we must begin to tell because it is the story Jesus told. It is the story we must live in. Next time we'll look more at this "eternal life" idea so that we can understand the fullness of the story Jesus wants us to know. We are "born-again" to participate in the "eternal life" Jesus came to re-establish. We'll look at this more in the next post, for living sent today.

Tis not the dying for a faith that's so hard... 'Tis the living up to it that's difficult. - See more at:

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