How should you evangelize?
Readers of this blog know that we promote Jesus’ method of doing evangelism. In stark contrast to much of what happens in the name of evangelism today, Jesus simply told people that whoever believes in Him has everlasting life (John 3:15-18; 5:24; 6:47; 10:28-29; 11:25-26). It’s that simple.
The Lord stated that as a fact. He did not make an emotional appeal to the unbeliever, and He did not try to manipulate the unbeliever into a crisis decision, as so often happens today (not that faith is a decision). Neither did Jesus invite people to raise their hand, walk an aisle, sign a commitment card, say a sinner’s prayer, or commit to following Him. The Lord did not even press people to believe! He simply stated the truth of the matter—i.e., if you believe in Him, you have everlasting life—and people either believed Him or not.
However, people have told me that Jesus’ evangelism is now obsolete because He did not present the cross and resurrection while evangelizing. They say that a dispensational change has since occurred, which has also resulted in a dispensational change to the saving message. Before the cross and resurrection, you could be saved by believing a message such as John 3:16, but the promise of life is no longer sufficient to be saved after the resurrection.
Is that right? Has there been a dispensational change in the saving message? Was Jesus’ evangelism only effective during His ministry?
Here are three reasons why Jesus’ evangelism is normative for the church age:
- Jesus is the head of the church, and we are His body. In other words, unless there is an explicit statement otherwise, Jesus is the church’s standard for everything we do, including evangelism. The church age cannot improve upon the head of the church.
- The promise of everlasting life is for the world. Jesus emphasized that God’s love for the world meant that anyone (“whosoever”) could believe in Him for everlasting life (John 3:16). Jesus did not say, “Whoever believes for the next three years, after which My offer expires.”
- John wrote his Gospel for unbelievers in the church age. John wrote long after Jesus died and rose again. In fact, he wrote the only Biblical book that explicitly says it is to unbelievers so they can have life (John 20:31). John evidently expected his book to be effective, not obsolete.
We can be sure the promise of eternal life is for the church age. John certainly thought so. Otherwise, he would not have written his Gospel. (Incidentally, Paul preached eternal life, too [see Zane Hodges, “Did Paul Preach Eternal Life?,” Section II, here].)
But let me ask a clarifying question. What, then, is the relationship between the cross and the promise of eternal life? I think our critics are confused on this point, and I think John’s Gospel answers that question, too. Here is what John wrote:
but these [signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name (cf. John 20:31).
According to John, what is the relationship between the signs and believing in Jesus?
Notice that, contrary to our critics, for John, believing in the signs does not result in having life. Believing them is not enough to be saved. You can believe the signs and still not believe in Jesus for salvation. So what are the signs for? The signs are evidence to persuade the reader to believe that Jesus is the Christ, i.e., the giver of eternal life to the believer (cf. John 11:25-27). In other words, the signs are not ends in themselves. They are the means to bring someone to faith in Christ for everlasting life.
We should evangelize the same way today. Instead of imitating your favorite popular evangelist, imitate Jesus. Evangelize the way the Lord evangelized. That is, present His promise of eternal life. And if an unbeliever needs reasons to believe, then present the relevant evidence. Tell the unbeliever about the signs, especially that Jesus died on the cross for sin and that He rose again from the dead.
But don’t confuse the signs with the saving message.