Throughout my Christian life, I have struggled with evangelism. There are times when I know I should share the good news of Jesus with someone, and I simply don’t do it. This may not seem like a huge deal, but upon some further biblical examination, it becomes quite alarming.
First of all, Jesus commands it: “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18).
Secondly, the Apostles, those in the early church who model for us how we ought to live, nailed it: “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:42).
Finally, Paul, the great missionary, convicts us on it: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).
Knowing those three verses alone, coupled with the fact that I simply don’t do it enough, makes me feel kind of uneasy. For me, it’s evangelism, but that’s just one subject. For another
Christian, the guilt needle could spike on a multitude of topics: not praying enough, never reading the Bible, gossip, swearing, excessive drinking, fasting (wait, we’re supposed to do that?), lying, and not attending church enough just to name a few.
What are we to do with these struggles? We all have them, yet we either ignore them or formulate an excuse as to why our situation is different and therefore we are just fine.
Thoughts on my own gospel-sharing-shortcomings can keep me up at night. If I believe Christianity is true, then I believe that Jesus is the only way to become right with God (John 14:6). And if I believe that, then why am I not out on the street every second of every day telling others the gospel? Why do I own a house? Why do I own a dog? Why do I watch YouTube? Where is my sense of urgency about getting this message out?
In the midst of one of these recent crises, just before the train was about to remove itself from the rails in my mind, a thought struck me.
I am not as awesome a follower of Jesus as I think I am.
This nearly finished me. The longer I pondered, the truer it became. One hundred and twenty-pound mothers can lift cars to save their children; their desire overcomes their weakness. If I genuinely cared about helping more people know Jesus, I would find a way to trump my introverted nature and do it. It was almost impossible to think that I may not care for the lost as much as I tell myself I do. This led me to other, just as haunting conclusions.
- I don’t do that well at loving God some days.
- I don’t excel at loving others all the time.
- Often, I forget to deny myself. Even if I do that, I still forget to pick up my cross.
- The poor aren’t a huge deal to me.
- I don’t really help others all that often.
- I don’t get into the songs at church too much.
- Some days, the gospel doesn’t stir anything up inside me.
These conclusions kept coming like rainfall in a thunderstorm. Finally, I drew the profound, philosophical, and theological conclusion: I am kind of an awful person.
Unfortunately, this is biblically right on the money. David laments over humanity in the Psalms, saying, “God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away; together, they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalms 53:2-3). Paul echoes, “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together, they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one’” (Romans 3:10-12).
But what about the good things we do? Surely those deeds are pleasing in God’s eyes, right? Isaiah would disagree: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind, our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6).
These are indicting words aimed not at merely the murderer and the rapist, but the saint and parishioner. We are not pretty good people who don’t lie, cheat, steal, or murder. Even if we don’t do these things externally, our hearts cry out against us (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28). The sobering reality is that we are unclean sinners standing guilty before a perfectly holy God in a perfectly just courtroom.
All of this would drive me to a bottomless despair if it were not for two things: the apostle Paul, and the Greatest News in the World.
Religiously speaking, Paul was the man. In observance of Jewish law and religious obedience, there was not a speck of dirt on him. He had the first five books of the Bible completely memorized and knew exactly what to do when someone broke out the shirt made of both linen and wool (the horror! Leviticus 19:19). Paul truthfully declares, “if anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4-6). Paul didn’t memorize the study guide, he was the study guide.
Now, we know from Acts chapter nine that Jesus saved Paul out of his persecution of Christians to get him on track for his calling as an apostle and missionary. But Paul’s conversion did not stifle his zeal. When the scales fell off his eyes, and he came to faith, he took all that religious fire he had and shifted it toward proclaiming the gospel and growing the bride of Christ.
Surely if there is anyone who hasn’t struggled with falling short after becoming a believer, it’s this guy, right? Why can’t we all just buckle down and be more like Paul?
The truth is, we are all more like Paul than we realize. Not that we are better than we think, but that Paul was worse than we can comprehend. The truth is that many times, this man, whom God used so mightily to grow the Church, didn’t obey Jesus. Not sometimes didn’t, not fifty-fifty didn’t. Didn’t. Straight up did not do what he knew he should. This is made evident in what I believe to be the most comforting series of verses in the entire Word of God. It may have to be a slow read at first, but once it clicks in the mind, one feels the sweet release of blessed relief.
Romans 7:15,18-19,21-25, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing…So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”
Here’s why the above is so comforting: if Paul, the guy who wrote three-quarters of the New Testament, can say that he knows what he should do in obedience to Jesus, yet fails to do it because of his own sinful nature, why in the world would we think that we can somehow overcome our own sin by our own power? Notice how he ends it, too. There’s really no solution on his part. There’s no action-step. His “thanks be to God” is simply a throwing up of the hands and declaring “I can’t do it. I’m not good enough, so I am pushing all my chips in on Jesus, trusting that He was good enough for me when He went to the Cross and rose again”.
Paul’s words of lament in Romans chapter seven remind us of our humanity. If we are believers, we are fallen souls who should earnestly long to please God but simply do not have the capacity to do so. The final verse, however, serves as a guiding star that leads us into the peaceful waters of the Greatest News in the World.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are not good enough. We are not good enough Christians, men, women, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, employees, students, or mentors.
But there is One who is good enough.
He came perfectly, divine in flesh and spirit, into the most wretched world one could imagine, and, if you believe, saved you. The only one worthy of acquittal, he denied his innocence and took the horrifying punishment of a holy and just God due for your sin and mine upon himself. The blood-soaked garments and lash-stricken skin testify to a debt paid in full, and on the Cross, he proclaimed to the world that his obedience to the Father and his personal love for you overcomes the desire to let the cup of wrath pass.
Jesus died for your inability to be good enough. If he knew you could save yourself, there would be no need for him to suffocate in his own blood and be lifted from the grave three days hence.
Does this mean we shouldn’t strive to please God? Of course not. As Christians, we should absolutely work to obey Jesus by living out his commands, loving God, and loving others. However, we do not strive to obey, so we can be made right with God. We strive to obey out of gratitude for the truth that we already have been made right through Christ alone.
If you are a believer in Jesus as your savior, please let him be that for you: a savior.
If you are not a believer in Jesus, please, repent and put your belief in the one who brings what we never can: salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Or as I’ve been calling it, the Greatest News in the World.