It is almost a fact that most Christians now believe that the “right” to share the gospel must be earned. Therefore most Christians think of evangelism as starting friendships where the aim is to cultivate trust to the point where a conversation about the gospel would be natural and comfortbale. Is this a Biblical way to think about evangelism? Yes and no.
This belief, I think, comes from J.I. Packer’s very good book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (1961). This book is a foundational document on evangelism, divine sovereignty, and human responsibility. On page 90 Packer says the following:
The right to talk intimately with another person about the Lord Jesus Christ has to be earned, and you earn it by convincing him that you are his friend, and that you really care about him…we must be justified in choosing to talk to them about Christ and in speaking to them about their own spiritual needs…
I know that many who may read this will instantly think that I’m the one who is wrong to say Packer is wrong, but hear me out. This line of thinking that we must ‘earn’ the right to share the gospel, and be ‘justified’ in bringing up the gospel with people makes one error. It makes the error of being more cultural then Biblical. Do you see Jesus or any of the apostles earning the right to share the gospel in the Bible? Did Philip earn the right to intrude on the Egyptian eunuchs reading time to ask him “What are you reading?” (Acts 8) Did Stephen earn the right to share with the people before they stoned him? (Acts 7) Did Paul earn the right to preach to those cities?
The answer to this question, from the Bible, is always no. Everyone who shared the gospel was more concerned with getting the message of Jesus out than the person’s feelings about being offended by the gospel. If Jesus or the apostles were concerned with ‘earning’ the right to share the gospel before they shared, I think the growth of the Church would have been drastically stunted. This is where I think Packer, and the many who agree with him on this issue, have uncritically accepted a cultural rule of polite-ness over the Biblical call to boldly witness.
Do not hear what I am not saying please.
I am not saying that friendships are not a great way to share the gospel, they are and should be used and sought after diligently. That was how I became a Christian. I am not saying that we ought to just go out banging people in the head with our Bibles, screaming at them to repent. I am not saying that evangelism should be done without love, it ought to, or else I fear we may become more evil in the sight of this world than the aroma of life to the lost.
I am saying that I think Packer is wrong to say that sharing the gospel with someone has to be earned. It does not. Would it be loving to let a blind man keep walking toward to edge of a cliff? No, it wouldn’t. No one in their right mind would ever think upon seeing this, “I cannot go up and tell him he’s going in the wrong direction, I don’t want to intrude on his choices, and besides, we don’t even know each other, how could I tell him to change the path he has chosen to walk on?” That is absurd to the highest degree, and just like that, today too many Christians view evangelism in the same manner. It’s understandable why we think like this, but we must give this up.
We must see that Jesus never earned the right to share Himself with others, and the apostles never earned the right to share the gospel. Christians must take up the gospel, as it is, and share it with those around them, in love. We know their end is hell if they do not repent, and that should move us to share with them and plead with them in love to turn to Jesus while there is still time. No messenger of a king bearing the king’s message ever waited to earn his right to share the word from his king. He shared it, because that was his life’s calling and duty. So too, all Christians are ambassadors for Christ, and it is our joy to share the gospel with as many as we can. If Christ has given us approval to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, we need not earn another’s approval to share the gospel, the message of our king.
We are children of our time, but this is one place where I think Packer has uncritically accepted part of our own culture as Biblical. Have you done the same?