Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Rethinking Evangelism: Demonstration is the Key - Part X

In the last post, we saw that worship defines our entire life, one way or another. Our worship then also determines our "eternal" life, which is why the Father seeks true worshipers. True worship is the reason for which we live, and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Our worship is our response to God's revelation of Himself, one we except by faith to live fully or deny, diminish or decline from. Worship is instructive as to where we are in relation to living the Jesus way of life. Our lives are to be devoted to worship, in spirit and in truth, as an demonstration of the life we are being "born again" into in Christ.

True worship is an expression of wonder, awe, and gratitude for the greatness and the goodness of God. True worship is the appropriate response to God's person, His provision, His power, and His promises. True worship springs forth from our testimony of what God has done for us. True worship compels us to go and tell. That is exactly what the Samaritan woman did as we read, "Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony." (John 4:39). This woman became an effective evangelist not because of what she knew but because of who she knew. She was demonstrating the work of God in her life. 

How different is this story from what we typically think of as evangelism? Our typical evangelism methodology presents a series of propositions to lead people to a decision about salvation. What this woman presents is an encounter with Jesus by which she has been changed.  No set of select verses, no road to travel, no reference to heaven or hell - just a testimony of what Jesus had done for her. The result is that many come to faith, Jesus teaches them and "because of his words many more became believers." (v 41). It is the Word of God, the logos, the living Christ we must convey in rethinking evangelism.

This story also tells us a few things about how demonstration is the key to effective evangelism. First, it informs us that no special training is needed to share Jesus with others but rather a demonstration of a heart change, an awakening to a transformed life. Second, it tells us that new believers are often the most effective evangelist because they demonstrate a new passion for Jesus that is infectious. Third, new believers know others who have not yet heard the message and these people witness a demonstration of a changed life that at least attracts their curiosity. Fourth, follow up is vital, as we see in Jesus example of investing two days with these new believers (v. 40).

We read in verse 42, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world” (v 42).  

The word translated Savior here is the Greek word "Soter" from which we get the theological term 'soteriology,' which refers to the doctrine of salvation. Our decision oriented practice has led to an understanding of salvation on a personal basis, providing our ticket to heaven, as we accept prescribed propositions about salvation. This has to led to reading past what Scripture repeatedly tells us about "this man (who) really is the Savior of the world" (edits mine) and what this God-man came to do. The Greek word "Soter" also can be translated as 'messiah' and 'deliverer'.

As "Savior of the world," the awaited anointed one, Jesus came to deliver the whole world from captivity to darkness, the effects of sin, and to establish his present Kingdom through those who have been "born again" to worship in spirit and in truth. This is accomplished not through force of military or political might but by force of conviction (Matthew 11:12), by those who are willing to commit their lives to God's purpose, in the authority and abiding presence of Christ (Matthew 28:18,20). The whole Gospel advances by a people who live with the transformative actions and attitudes of Jesus. Personal salvation is only part of what Jesus came to do as "Savior or the world."

A reductionist Gospel, conveyed as a message of personal salvation, results in a diminished understanding of all that Jesus came to deliver us from. By it we end up with a focus on the individual rather than on the whole world (Greek kosmos), of which we as individuals are but a part. While every person is uniquely important to God, made in his imago Dei, God's plan of redemption is so grand that it encompasses every sphere in which we live - the political, economic, social, environmental - not just the spiritual [the subject of Rethinking the Gospel where we'll go in the next series].

Evangelism requires rethinking through a whole Gospel that touches every sphere of our lives, not just saving people from hell, as urgent as that is. True worship embraces God's plan for "eternal life" (John 3:16) and all that means. If "eternal life" is simply a hope for an unseen future, as a result of a personal decision, the result has often produced passive pew-sitters. But what if there is something more to it than that? What if "eternal life" is participation with God in his plan of redemption, the privilege of serving his purpose, and the present joy of living in his amazing and unfolding story? 

What if we were to rethink evangelism not simply as a means to get decisions to accept Jesus for "eternal life" in the future but as an invitation to find our place in the grand and glorious story of the ages in which God has given us all a part to play. What if we were to rethink "eternal life" in this way...
"Eternal life is participation in the restoration of all things when God redeems and re-creates the earth and all that is in it, in full righteousness, justice, peace and prosperity. Eternal life is the undoing of Sin and Death’s every effect, and is further the consummation of God’s intent for his creation to experience the heights of joy ordained for our physical, bodily, sensory, emotional, relational, communal, and cultural existence on earth."
"This highlights how radical it is when Jesus tells his followers that they presently possess eternal life (Jn. 3:36; 5:24; 6:47). He is not simply telling them they will live a long time. Neither is he telling them they will certainly get into heaven. He is telling them that the “life of the age to come” has somehow burst forth in the midst of the present and is the shared possession of all those who believe in Him. The eschatological restoration has begun in, among and through those who have given their full allegiance to Jesus, the Lord of the new world." (Source:
Because we have focused our message on "decisions" with the goal of getting people "saved,"  we usually don't think of "eternal life" as the present experience Jesus said it was. It the next post we will do more rethinking about "eternal life" through what Jesus tells us in John chapter 5 and expand on the above to begin to grasp the "eternal now" of our salvation.

But here's really good news, Jesus came so that we could be "born again," brought over to his way of life, becoming "true worshippers" to "participate in the restoration of all things to see God redeem and recreate the earth and all that is in it." Let's take hold of our "eternal life" for living sent today.

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