The Bible repeatedly emphasizes our duty to witness to others about the salvation which is ours in Christ Jesus. The heart of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 is “Go and teach.” The command in Acts 1:8 is, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me.” One of the great duties and privileges we have in the Christian life is to share our faith with others. We want to look at a few factors related to the duty of witnessing for Christ.
1. The Inadequacy of Instant Evangelism
There are right kinds of witnessing, and there are wrong kinds of witnessing. One wrong approach to soul-winning is to think of it as a door-to-door salesmanship in which people are introduced to a cheap kind of Christianity—and are told that if they believe in Jesus Christ, and if they offer a brief prayer of contrition—they are saved. The soul-winner follows an easy little formula that can lead people to think that they are Christians without following the hard road of discipleship and obedience.
Instead of using a streamlined, instant kind of evangelism as a shortcut approach to get people saved, we must remember the Bible’s emphasis on repentance (Acts 17:30-31), restitution (Luke 19:8), and the terms of discipleship. We must not pressure people into making a quick profession of faith in Christ without helping them to “count the cost” (Luke 14:25-30).
The Bible speaks about sowing and then watering that seed—and then sometime later reaping the harvest. The Apostle Paul says, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6). There is a need for laying a solid foundation upon which the decision for Christ can be made.
There is of course a tremendous need for trying to get other people to taste and see that the Lord is good. And one right approach to witnessing is simply to do the normal things in a Christlike way. When others about you are nervous and anxious and excited—and seem to have many worries—you can live without anxiety right in the middle of life’s duties and frustrations. And people are going to take notice. They will say, “I wonder how he can be so calm in the midst of such trying circumstances?” Your attitudes—the way you conduct yourself in general—this in itself is a witness to the world.
But evangelism (witnessing) is not merely the testimony of a good, consistent life. Being friendly, helpful, and neighborly is a good preparation for evangelism, but it is not the sum total of evangelism. Being neighborly is not a substitute for evangelism. The Gospel must be expressed in words! People need to be told that all have sinned before God; that no human being can save himself; that Jesus Christ died on the Cross to put away sin; that we must receive Him through faith in order to have eternal life; and that the Lord expects a life of obedience and discipleship. Somebody has to tell that story!
Good living does not actually convey the content of the Gospel, and therefore soul-winning involves more than living a good life. It involves proclaiming a message—telling it with the lips.
On the other hand, soul-winning (telling the story in words) is often a talent, and not everybody has it. I know some sincere Christian people who, try as they may, nearly always say the wrong thing when they try and witness with words. Every Christian can live for Christ, but not all can effectively speak for Him.
David Livingstone was a talented man. He was a noted missionary to a number of tribes in the heart of Africa. There were a number of converts as a result of his ministry. When David Livingstone died, the big African native that dragged his body out of the jungle was only a step removed from being a savage. He did not have many talents; he could not read or write; he could hardly tell others the story of salvation. But his life had been changed by the power of Jesus Christ—and he had a big strong body which he used for the glory of God. He carried the dead body of David Livingstone for miles out of the jungle, so that Livingstone could be buried back in his home country of England. The African native gave every indication of being saved, but he likely never won another soul to Christ.
But in spite of the foregoing illustration, most of us can witness for Christ with words. We are not as primitive as the man in the example just given. The trouble with many of us is that we are too busy, too self-centered, or too cowardly. Most of us are like a noted writer who has traveled to many countries and written several books. He says, “I’m not afraid of thunder and lightning, but when it comes to talking to someone about his need for personal salvation, a broad yellow streak runs all the way from the nape of my neck to the base of my spine.”
We listen to preachers; we attend church services; we serve on committees—but when it comes to communicating the essence of our faith, we tend to be cowards. I sometimes struggle with the same feeling. Some people are born salesmen; they stand out in a crowd; they have a knack for starting a conversation—but it is not so for me. I have an inborn reluctance; I don’t care to transgress on the privacy of other people. I doubt if I could ever be a hermit, but I much prefer being alone than being with crowds of people. And so personal witnessing isn’t really easy for me. I am sure some readers feel the same way—clumsy and awkward when you try to witness to others. The purpose of this article in Bible Helps is to give a few ideas about how to witness more effectively for Christ, even though we may tend to be cowardly.
2. Requirements For an Effective Witness
There are some necessary conditions for making an effective witness for Christ.
a) The need for separation from the world.
Those who would witness for Christ must not be conformed to the spirit of the age. The soul-winner must live a separated and a consecrated life. If we want to lift another to a higher plane, we must ourselves be on that higher plane. Our constant prayer should be, “Lord, show me how to be a better person today than I was yesterday.” God will not carry the pure water of life to a needy people in dirty vessels.
If you go to the same places of amusement that the world does, and dress in the same shameful way that the world does, and use almost the same kind of language that unsaved people use—you are not going to make much of an impression on the person who doesn’t know Christ. One who leads a clean, happy life will be noticed by others. Your associates will say, “How come I never hear you swear?” Or, “How is it that you seem so happy most of the time?” These are golden opportunities to proclaim to others your faith in Jesus Christ.
b) The need for prayer and guidance.
I have never seen any visions, and I have not heard voices from outer space—but I do believe in divine guidance. Philip was guided by an angel and strengthened by the Holy Spirit when he witnessed to the Ethiopian eunuch, and just so, our testimony should be bathed in prayer, seeking for the Lord’s guidance.
When we awaken in the morning, we should ask God to send across our path those whom we can help, and those who can help us. We can say, “Lord, you know how weak and timid I am; You know how easy it is for me to keep quiet, but if you will open the door, I’m going to try and witness for my Savior today.” And then ask God for the ability to say the right words in the right way at the right time.
c) The need for a sense of compassion.
Every true worker for Christ must have a real tenderness for the lost. It is easy to sing “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, snatch them in pity from sin and the grave”—while at the same time our attitudes are like a flashing neon sign which says, “I couldn’t care less.”
The Apostle Paul had such a great passion for the spiritual welfare of people that he said, “I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart; for I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:2-3). The Psalmist says, “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:6).
d) The need for a knowledge of the Word of God.
To be successful in influencing men and women for Christ, one must have a working knowledge of the Bible. The Bible is “the sword of the Spirit”; it is the instrument which God uses to convict of sin and to reveal Christ to the unsaved.
Philip the evangelist knew his Bible. He was perfectly at home in the book of Isaiah when he found the eunuch reading from Isaiah 53. The account is recorded in Acts 8. Philip would have lost a tremendous opportunity for witnessing to the Ethiopian man if he had not been able to find the place in the Scriptures where the eunuch was reading. To be an expert in the Word of God inspires confidence in the person with whom we are dealing. We will get farther with the unsaved if they sense that we know the Bible.
e) The need for tactfulness.
Tactfulness is another requirement for effective witnessing. “Tact” is the ability to say the right thing at the right time, so as not to unjustly offend.
We must always be courteous and thoughtful, and sensitive to people’s feelings. If we rush into an unsaved person’s presence and say, “Friend, if you don’t believe in Christ and turn from you sins, you are going to go to Hell”—and then quote a chapter and verse from the Bible—we will likely drive that person farther from faith in Christ rather than closer to Him. I’ve seen Christians carrying a Bible the size of an old Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog, and plunk it down in front of a prospect and start off on him. One man says, “When you witness to a sinner, put the Bible on him, and watch him cringe.” We must never approach people as one who is trying to conquer them, but as fellow-travelers along life’s pathway.
One preacher tells of a barber who was enthusiastic about witnessing for Christ. He had lots of zeal, but he wasn’t always very tactful. One time the barber had a customer in the chair, and he was strapping his razor (sharpening the razor on a kind of leather belt), getting ready to shave the man—when all of a sudden he blurted out in all sincerity, “Say, fellow, are you ready to die?” The customer was so startled at the remark that he bolted out of his chair, ran out of the barber shop, and never did come back!
By way of contrast, I once read about a preacher who was a very tactful man. The preacher was riding a train, and a drunken man got on the train—and chose a seat right alongside the preacher. The drunken man was spewing out profanity and filth, and then he offered the preacher a swallow from his liquor bottle. The preacher could have blasted the man for his sins, and his filthy condition—but instead, he politely declined the drink, and said to the drunken man, “No thanks, I don’t care for any—but, you know, I can see that you are a very generous person.” The man’s eyes lit up with surprise (despite his drunken stupor), and it was that remark which began a conversation that eventually brought the man to the Savior.
3. Some Tools For Good Personal Work
In order to influence men and women for Christ, we must first of all establish a point of contact.
Sometimes just being a friend is the point of contact. Just listening to another person’s troubles strikes up a friendship. Sometimes when meeting a stranger, we can just smile. Many times that is as far as the contact goes. But on occasion that smile does lead to a conversation, and usually the conversation begins on some general topic—perhaps a current issue. When Jesus asked the woman at the well for a drink (recorded in John 4), the door was open for further conversation.
Sometimes the title of a book you may be reading will become the springboard for a conversation. One time on an airplane, while reading a book entitled World Aflame—I was questioned by the man sitting next to me. About the same time, the pilot announced that we were approaching a series of storms, and that we were to fasten our seat belts. The plane rocked and shook, and the inquiring man sat and listened like a small child in Sunday School, as I explained God’s plan of salvation.
Sometimes a wisely chosen tract can be used as a useful point of contact. Hand the tract to a person about whom you have a concern, and say, “Here is something that helped me; I’m sure it will help you; I hope you will read it sometime.” (I don’t believe there is much value in shoving a tract into the hands of every person who just passes by, or slipping them under the windshield wipers of automobiles on parking lots. And it is illegal to sneak unsolicited tracts into mailboxes.)
The most effective witness that any of us can make will be made to those whom we contact day after day in our homes or at our places of work. This is why each of us should be an evangelist, and we should not merely depend upon a pastor or minister to do the witnessing. Most of us come into contact with scores of people every week (people we live with and work with)—who scarcely know the preacher, but who do know you. We work at the same place of employment, under the same boss, and with the same pressures day after day. There is not another person in all the world who is better equipped than we are, to say, “Christ is my Savior; He died for my sins; He gives me a motive for living; He gives me hope for the future.” If we are too timid to say it in words, hand the person a carefully chosen tract, and very tactfully say, “Here is something that helped me; I hope you will read it sometime.”
Sometimes an ordinary conversation gives good opportunities for witness. Folks often talk about how quickly time flies. That is a good time to remind them that this life is a preparation place for the life to come. When people discuss world conditions, we can say, “What do you think is wrong with the world anyway?” Then, after listening to a number of suggestions, quote Mark 7:21-23, which says, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” We can explain that all human beings have a deceitful heart and that Jesus Christ came to give us deliverance from the guilt and the power of sin.
If ordinary conversation does not lead to an opportunity for witness, we can make an opportunity. We can ask several questions. For example, “By the way, do you have any interest at all in spiritual things?” (Regardless of what response is given, go on with another question.) “Have you ever thought of becoming a Christian?” (If the person is a genuine Christian he will tell you real quickly.) You can ask further, “Suppose someone were to ask you, ‘What is a Christian?’ What would you say?” These are the kinds of questions that we can ask in order to get a conversation started about spiritual things, and about faith in Jesus Christ.
Witnessing is something we learn by doing. Each time we talk about the Christian life, we become a little more at ease. We learn by experience. We profit from past mistakes. We build upon strong points discovered in previous attempts.
Are you timid? Do you fluster easily? Are you afraid you won’t always know what to say? That’s how it is with me. Yet God has chosen to use ordinary people like you and me to share with others the message of eternal life.
Sophie, the scrub woman, used to say that she was called to do two things—to scrub floors, and to tell the message of salvation. And wherever she went, she tried to tell others about the Savior. Someone made fun of her one day; she was so zealous; they said that they saw her even talking about Christ to a wooden Indian down town, standing in front of the cigar store. When she heard the report, she said, “Maybe I did; my eyesight is not too good; but talking about Christ to a wooden Indian isn’t nearly as bad as being a wooden Christian who never talks to anybody about Him!”
Winning people to faith in Christ is one of the great duties assigned to God’s people. We need to show a clear concern for members of our family, for persons in our community, and for those with whom we work. The command in Acts 1:8 is, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me.” We are to be witnesses, not lawyers. A “lawyer” argues by debate and reasoning. A “witness” is one who tells what he has seen or knows by experience. We are simply to tell what God through Jesus Christ has done for us.
We are to tell the message of salvation—not necessarily because we want to, or because we choose to, or because we like to—but because we are told to tell the message to others—even to the whole world. May God help us to openly declare our faith in Jesus Christ.