Recently, we posted a link to an article by Trevin Wax titled “The Great Commission Means Sharing Christ’s Story, Not Yours.” In it, he cautions us against the popular tendency to emphasize what Christ has done in our lives at the expense of sharing what Christ has done in history, namely, his death and resurrection. This notion that evangelism cannot be equated with sharing your personal testimony received some pushback. However, it seems to us that Wax’s article is appropriate and timely. Here’s why:
- The gospel we are to preach is not essentially the good news of how you have been changed. Rather, it is the good news of how God saves. If we are to proclaim the gospel throughout the world (which we are), then we ought to be clear on what the gospel is … and it is not ultimately about you. Jesus is the object of our faith, and thus, the focal point of the gospel. As the article pointed out, the apostles’ witness primarily dealt with who they saw Christ was and what they saw Christ do. That’s why when Paul wrote about delivering what was “of first importance,” he centered on Jesus’ death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15: 3-5), not his Damascus Road experience.
- Only the gospel call confronts someone with their need to repent and trust in Jesus for salvation. Good stories may make people feel good. Accounts of personal change can inspire others to be more moral. Sharing how Jesus has saved you may even show someone a good example of repentance and faith. But we must also call people to it. J.I. Packer says that “evangelism is the issuing of a call to turn, as well as to trust; it is the delivering, not merely of a divine invitation to receive a Savior, but of a divine command to repent of sin. And there is no evangelism where this specific application is not made” (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, 43-44).
If we are clear on what evangelism is (and isn’t), it is easy to see that Wax was dead on when he said sharing your story must not be confused with sharing Christ’s. Don’t mistake this for an academic exercise in semantics, though. This article needed to be written. It shows many of us that we may not have had as good an understanding of evangelism as we may have thought, or else hits at the heart of our own sinful tendencies to shy away from proclaiming the whole gospel.
Isn’t it easy, when it comes down to it, to share your story as a mere alternative to someone else’s? “Thanks for sharing your experience and resulting worldview; now let me share mine” … the Great Commission is not a call swap ideas. It isn’t fun to confront people with a message that says: “You’re wrong and headed to eternal punishment because of it. You need so stop what you’re doing and start trusting in Jesus.” But at the end of the day, ignorant non-swimmers headed to the deep end of the pool won’t care care if you embarrass or offend them when you stop them from diving to their death … and for that matter neither will you. Yet in evangelism, it’s all too easy, whether through a story or some other approach, to fall short of warning people of the danger they’re in because it would be uncomfortable to do so.
You may use your story to give some handles to what repentance and faith looks like. You may use your story to segue into Christ’s. But your story in and of itself is definitively not evangelism. So to close, here are some good summary statements of what evangelism is:
“Evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.” J. Mack Stiles, Evangelism, 26
“According to the New Testament, evangelism is just preaching the gospel, the evangel. It is a work of communication in which Christians make themselves mouthpieces for God’s message of mercy to sinners.” J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, 45
“Evangelism is telling people the wonderful truth about God, the great news about Jesus Christ.” Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, 82
To sum it all up…
“The content of our message is Christ and God, not our journey to faith. Our personal testimony may be included, but witnessing is more than reciting our spiritual autobiography. Specific truths about a specific person are the subject of our proclamation. A message has been committed to us–a word of reconciliation to the world (2 Cor 5:19).” Will Metzger, Tell the Truth, 55