Trials are an opportunity to be tested and found faithful. Nothing is more trying right now than the rapid spread of COVID-19. If you are anything like me, you are tempted to respond in worldly ways, neglecting the gospel and the hope it provides. Thus we seek after our own comfort, while grumbling against God as the Israelites did in the desert (1 Corinthians 10:10). In one of his pastoral thoughts on COVID-19, Conrad Mbewe reminds us that we ought to be ashamed if grumbling is all that comes out of our lips as believers. He says, “Our chief concern should be how we can glorify God in this frowning providence.” One of the ways we can glorify God now is to consider the Great Commission. For God’s “frowning providence” presents opportunities to keep sharing the gospel.
The Great Commission Hasn’t Changed
Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19 is an imperative, not a suggestion. Let’s not allow the current pandemic to make us timid and settle for the easy path of “simply living out the gospel.” By merely ‘living out the gospel’ I mean: practicing kindness, loyalty, and generosity; being a good sport and an even better neighbour. These sound like great ways to display the gospel, right? Sure, if conversion resulted from observation. Alas, it does not.
When the Philippian jailer was converted it was not because Paul and Silas were decent enough to stay put after the great earthquake loosened their bonds. His conversion came about through explicit instruction to “believe in the Lord Jesus” (Acts 16:31). People are only brought into the kingdom of heaven through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Paul spoke well when he said, “how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).
Yes, we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. But there is no need to despair, for this just God is patient and wants all to reach repentance
We need to open our mouths and tell people about Jesus. It feels even more important to keep sharing the gospel now, given the alarming COVID-19 mortality rate. So, let’s have a look at how we speak Jesus through evangelism; the content of the gospel; and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit.
Don’t Shy Away from Talking about Sin and Repentance
The Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM) defines evangelism as the act of communicating the gospel. This includes warning people about sin and its consequences; explaining God’s remedy for sin; and calling people to repent and believe in the gospel. To start, we’ll consider the requirement to warn people about sin and its consequences. Sin, in a nutshell, is disobeying God. Disobedience begins with a thought, wish, or desire that is contrary to God, and ends up as full-blown sin (James 1:14-15). Sin has its grim reward: death (Romans 6:23). Moreover, the wrath of God remains on the one who does not obey the Son (John 3:36). If we are to save people by snatching them out of the fire (Jude 1:23), we need to explain what that fire is.
If we are to save people by snatching them out of the fire, we need to explain what that fire is
We also need to tell them how to respond, which naturally leads to another requirement of evangelism: the call to repentance. Evangelism is nothing without this call (Luke 5:32). To repent well requires a turning away from sin, in addition to a turning toward Jesus Christ in faith. Yes, we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). But there is no need to despair, for this just God is patient and wants all to reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
Present Boldly God’s Remedy for Sin
Wedged between the warning about sin and the call to repentance is the explanation of God’s remedy for sin. This is the meat of the evangelism sandwich, if you’ll pardon the food metaphor. The gospel is divine therapy for man’s condition, and it originates with an all-wise Creator who, in his great love, made creation to share his love with. Being three in one – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – and eternally existing, God did not do this because he needed to, but because he wanted to. However, we fell into sin which separates us from God.
I’m deeply encouraged by the fact that the gospel is not just for lost people, but also for Christians
Sin is not of God. It is profoundly anti-God, opposed to Him. So, Jesus, being fully man and fully God, walked on this earth and lived a life without sin. Jesus lived the life that we were called to live, that we should have lived. In our place, he died the death that we deserved on account of sin. Three days later, he rose again, after dying on the cross. We have hope because judgment for sin has been dealt with fully and completely by God.
I don’t know about you, but I needed to hear this good news (again) while putting this article together. I’m deeply encouraged by the fact that the gospel is not just for lost people, but also for Christians, as Paul Washer famously put it. The gospel is Christianity 101. It is central and fundamental. Yet, as Sean DeMars said, it is something we never graduate from.
Manage your Expectations of Evangelism
So now evangelism is clear. We warn people about sin, we share the gospel with them, and we call them to repent and believe in the gospel. But how do we manage the expectations of our evangelistic endeavours? Especially in light of how fearful this pandemic makes us as we think of our unbelieving families, friends, and neighbours. It is natural to have high hopes, and to want to see people – before our very eyes – converted on the spot. But that way lies much unnecessary self-flagellation. If people are not converted in front of us, we needn’t worry because only God does the real work of conversion. Our work is simply to be obedient in proclaiming the gospel. Sure, that’s not easy but it is straightforward.
If people are not converted in front of us, we needn’t worry because only God does the real work of conversion. Our work is simply to be obedient in proclaiming the gospel
Michelle Lesley, a prolific Christian blogger, sums it up like this “If you base your success or encouragement in evangelism on whether or not someone immediately trusts Christ, you’ll spend a lot of time discouraged and thinking you’re a failure at sharing the gospel.” Perish the thought! We are not failures as long as we are obedient (1 Samuel 15:22). Know this, and know it well: one plants, another waters, but it is ultimately God who causes the seed to grow (1 Corinthians 3:6). We’d also do well to remember that salvation is through faith, a blessed gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9).
We Should Still “Go”
Boldness and endurance are just some of the character traits we need to persevere in Christ’s command to “go.” But we needn’t look far for these traits. For we have everything we need in Christ. He is so much more than just a good teacher showing us how to live good moral lives. He is our Lord and Saviour. His Holy Spirit reminds us of everything Christ taught us, including the gospel (John 14:26). Let us then pray to the Lord of the harvest that we ourselves would be those workers eager to be sent out into his harvest (Matthew 9:38).