Evangelical Is a Very Broad Title
The term Evangelical in theory means one who believes the NT evangel, or good news, and especially the message of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. However, in current usage it actually is a very elastic term that says very little about what a person believes.
The term Evangelical has come to mean someone who claims to have a personal relationship with Jesus and to love and serve Him. Thus people from practically every group, including Mormons and Catholics, call themselves Evangelicals, and are considered Evangelicals by most Protestant Evangelicals.
Some Evangelicals believe it is possible to lose eternal life. Other say you can’t lose it, but you can prove you never had it in the first place. Most Evangelicals believe that saving faith includes committing one’s life to Christ. Very few Evangelicals believe the Free Grace message of eternal life to all who simply believe in Jesus for it.
Are You Eager to Witness to Evangelicals?
Be on the lookout for people who love Jesus and talk about Him and believe that He died for their sins and rose again, yet who also believe that it takes more than faith in Jesus to make it to heaven. These can be wonderful people to witness to.
Even among Free Grace people, many rarely evangelize people they know are committed Evangelicals. Many wouldn’t think of witnessing to a Bible College professor, a missionary, or a pastor (or even member) of a Bible church, for example.
But why not? Paul started his evangelistic efforts in the synagogues, to Jews and God-fearing Gentiles who knew the OT Scriptures. He did not assume that they were born again. He saw in them fruit that was ready to be picked.
We should be eager to evangelize Evangelicals. While we shouldn’t shrink back from witnessing to atheists or Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus or anyone for that matter, we should be especially enthusiastic to witness to people who already believe much of what the Bible says.
Rejoice in Common Ground
When Paul witnessed to Jews and God-fearing Gentiles in the synagogue, he was able to show from the OT Scriptures “that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead” (Acts 17:3b). Paul had common ground with these people. They already had heard and believed that the Christ was coming. They already believed that the Hebrew Scriptures were inspired. Thus if Paul could show them from the Scriptures that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead, he would be able to persuade them that “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ” (Acts 17:3c).
We have a similar sort of relationship with unbelieving Evangelicals today. They already know and believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sins and rose bodily from the dead on the third day. They know that Jesus is the Second member of the Trinity. Most Evangelicals believe that the Bible is inspired and authoritative.
Having all this common ground is helpful. We don’t need to convince most Evangelicals of the basic fundamentals of the faith. What they need to be convinced of is that Jesus guarantees eternal life to all who simply believe in Him.
Well over 90% of Evangelicals believe in some form of works salvation, whether it is some form of Arminianism Lordship Salvation (lose-it theology) or some form of Reformed Lordship Salvation (prove-it theology).
Emphasize the Eternality of the Life Jesus Gives
The Lord Jesus did this repeatedly. He spoke of living water which would forever quench one’s thirst (John 4:10-14; 6:35); of the bread of life which would forever eliminate spiritual hunger once received (John 6:35); and of life that never ends (John 11:26). In each case He made it clear that the sole condition for this eternal life is faith in Him (illustrated as drinking living water or eating the bread of life).
The chairman of the GES Board, Frank Tyler, is an evangelist in a local church. He shares his faith many times each day, and in a very natural manner. He often starts by saying, “Tell me, are you are believer in the Lord Jesus Christ?”
Most people, even in Southern California where Frank lives, will smile and say, “Yes, I’m a believer in Jesus Christ.” Frank will then follow up saying, “That’s fantastic. Tell me, would it be okay with you if you could be sure that you had eternal life that could never be lost? I mean, Is that something that you’d want to know if it were possible?” Again, most answer that affirmatively.
Then Frank takes out a Living Water booklet and gives it to the person and invites him to read it. Frank says, “You will see as you read the Gospel of John that Jesus guarantees that all who believe in Him have everlasting life that can never be lost. You indicated you are such a person, that you believe in Jesus. Well the Lord Jesus says that believers can’t lose eternal life. Wouldn’t you say that is good news?”
Frank doesn’t push for the person to say he believes that. He just gives them the Gospel of John and leaves the results up to God. But he makes the issue clear.
Clarify Areas of Confusion like the Cross, Repentance, and Commitment
If you’ve talked to Evangelicals, you know that most think that the repentance and commitment are conditions of eternal life. But have you ever considered why they think this way? It is because of faulty teaching they have received.
Most Evangelicals have been led to believe that saving faith is not like regular faith and that it includes repentance and commitment. But underneath that misconception is the idea that God couldn’t and wouldn’t give eternal life to people unless they turned from their wicked ways and committed their ways to God. Anything less, they think, would be cheap grace. And underneath this view is the idea that the blood of Christ on the cross would be wasted if unrepentant and uncommitted people would have eternal life simply by believing in Jesus.
Sadly the vast majority of Evangelicals do not believe that Jesus took care of the sin problem at the cross. Here is how most Evangelicals explain the cross: “You are a sinner and your sins separate you from God (Rom 3:23). But Jesus died on the cross for your sins. If you turn from your sins, put your trust in Him and in what He did for you on the cross, and commit your life to Him, then He will take away your sins and give you eternal life.”
Most Evangelicals believe that the lost are barred from heaven because of their sins. That is why most Evangelicals indicate that the sinner must somehow deal with his own sin problem via repentance, commitment, and perseverance in good works.
The reality is that Jesus has already dealt with the sin problem (John 1:29, 35; 3:14-16; 19:30; 1 John 2:2). He didn’t show us how to handle our sin problem. He took away the sins of the world when He died on the cross for the sins of everyone. Not a single person will be condemned because of his sins (see Rev 20:11-15). The cross takes car of the sin problem even for the atheist or people of other religions.
As Lewis Sperry Chafer used to say, “Because of Calvary, unbelievers don’t have a sin problem, they have a Son problem.”
Of course, unbelievers are still spiritually dead and on their way to the hell if they do not believe in Jesus. But what keeps them from eternal life is their unbelief, not their sins. The most sinful person who believes in Jesus has eternal life. The most wonderful Evangelical who does not believe in Jesus in the Biblical sense doesn’t have eternal life.
Since most Evangelicals believe in the cross, but not in its true significance, we can help clarify issues like repentance, commitment, and perseverance by explaining what it means when the Bible says that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who [took] away the sin of the world.” The cross can be a means for us to tell the unbeliever that all who simply believe in Jesus have eternal life, apart from repentance, commitment, and perseverance.
Good intentions won’t get anyone into the kingdom. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus spoke about the Great White Throne Judgment. Many who will call Him “Lord, Lord” will not enter the kingdom even though they will protest, pointing to the many good works they did (Matt 7:21-23). But therein is the problem most Evangelicals have: they look to their works for assurance of their eternal destiny, not to Jesus and His promise of eternal life to the believer.
Most people who call themselves Christians need to be evangelized! The vast majority of people even within Christendom believe that eternal life is gained and or maintained by faith plus works. But some of these people are open to the Word. If you show open Evangelicals the truth, they will come to faith in Jesus sooner or later (Heb 11:6). Faith-plus-works thinking won’t get anyone eternal life. But faith in Jesus will.
I must confess something. Though I am eager to witness to Evangelicals, I am not eager to keep beating my head against a wall. If I talk to an Evangelical and he becomes incensed over my “cheap grace,” I am happy to let the conversation die. If the person knows the Free Grace view and rejects it, then I will only pursue the conversation if he shows some openness. But many do not have a clear understanding of the truth, and it is delightful to be able to share it with them.
Remember, most Evangelicals need evangelizing. Don’t bypass Evangelicals. Go out of your way to reach them.
1 Of course, as Zane Hodges, Lon Gregg, myself, and others have shown in recent GIF articles, the object of faith is Jesus and His promise of eternal life to the believer, not the means by which He is able to fulfill that promise (His sinless life, His deity, His incarnation, His virgin birth, His death on the cross, His bodily resurrection, etc.). Sadly, even some who call themselves Free Grace have indicated that believing in Jesus for eternal life will not save anyone unless they also believe a number of other doctrines about the Person and work of Christ. Thus some “Free Gracers” deny the truth of John 3:16!