“How can you be so stupid???”
We were talking about doing evangelism, when David and Anna [names changed] explained to me how David came to faith in Jesus. They started dating while David was an unbeliever (don’t do that, folks, cf. 2 Cor 6:14). As the relationship progressed, Anna confronted David about his lack of faith.
“We walked around the WinCo parking lot for about three hours, arguing,” Anna explained. “We went through all the reasons why he should believe.”
“And then she finally yelled at me, ‘How can you be so stupid???’” David said. “That was the turning point for me.”
David came to believe in Jesus shortly after and the two were married.
Now, please understand, that’s not a typical evangelism technique. I don’t recommend it. Admittedly, it’s not without Biblical precedent. As David said,
“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Ps 14:1b).
So sometimes it is appropriate to confront people with the foolishness of rejecting belief in God. But I wouldn’t make that your first move. And don’t think it is required for evangelism!
Let me draw a very important distinction between two very different activities: doing evangelism and doing pre-evangelism.
Readers of this blog are well aware of what doing evangelism entails, i.e., telling people about Jesus’ promise of eternal life. It is making clear that there is only one condition to have eternal life—believing in Jesus for it.
But when you’re doing pre-evangelism, there may be many different things you need to tell a person, and many things they will need to believe and experience, before they will be ready to meet the one condition of eternal life. Jesus is drawing all men to Himself (John 12:32), and there are as many different ways of being drawn, as there are people.
In my case, I had to go through a long period of pre-evangelism.
I was raised post-secular. What I mean is, my grandparents were atheists (well, not all of them). By the time I came along, it’s not that I was raised to reject belief in God, it’s that the very idea of God never occurred to me. I had no idea. No one talked about it. I wasn’t taught about it. The idea there could be such a thing as a God never occurred to me. Moreover, I had no idea who Jesus was. And I certainly didn’t consider myself a sinner in need of a Savior. None of those concepts made sense to me at all. So when Jesus drew me to Him, there was a lot of ground to cover!
It started when my mother and grandmother became born-again Christians. Suddenly, they started praying for me, and preaching to me, and forcing me to go to church—first a Baptist Church (Lakeside Heights Baptist Church in Pointe-Claire, Quebec). Then to Westview Bible Church in Pierrefonds, Quebec). When that didn’t work, Nanny would pay me to read Charles Stanley’s In Touch magazine. (Actually, Nanny still sends me highlighted and annotated copies of that magazine to me—but no money!) Eventually I started reading the Bible for myself. I soon became convinced there was a God. Then I became convinced that the God of the Jews was the true God. Then I started reading the words of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, and I became deeply convicted of my sin. I realized that I was not good enough to be saved. And it came to the point where I was ripe fruit for the harvest. When someone told me that I can be justified before God through faith in Jesus, apart from works, it was the greatest news I ever heard! (Although I’m sure I had been told that many times, it never sunk in until I was ready to hear it.)
But here’s the thing—don’t confuse the many conditions that I had to meet during pre-evangelism, with the one condition of receiving eternal life.
For example, I (apparently) needed Nanny to pay me to read Charles Stanley before coming to faith. But “being paid by Shawn’s Nanny to read Charles Stanley” is not one of the conditions for having eternal life.
I also needed to be convicted of my sin before the message of justification by faith apart from works would make sense to me. That was part of my pre-evangelism, part of Jesus drawing me to Himself. Many of you probably had the same experience. But please understand this: while being convicted of your sin may be part of your pre-evangelism, it is not part of the condition of having eternal life. It’s entirely possible for someone to hear the promise of life, or to hear the message of justification, and believe it, just like that!
If someone believes in Jesus for eternal life, the Lord does not say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t save you until you are convicted of your sin.” That’s not how it works.
We all have different roads to travel to Jesus. But there’s only one condition we all have to meet to become born again and to have everlasting life that cannot be lost—believe in Jesus for it.
I think it is just as crucial to distinguish between pre-evangelism and evangelism as it is to distinguish between regeneration and sanctification. If you aren’t, stop being stupid!