Romans 10:14-21 (NLT)
But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”
But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. But I ask, have the people of Israel actually heard the message? Yes, they have:
“The message has gone throughout the earth,
and the words to all the world.”
But I ask, did the people of Israel really understand? Yes, they did, for even in the time of Moses, God said,
“I will rouse your jealousy through people who are not even a nation.
I will provoke your anger through the foolish Gentiles.”
And later Isaiah spoke boldly for God, saying,
“I was found by people who were not looking for me.
I showed myself to those who were not asking for me.”
But regarding Israel, God said,
“All day long I opened my arms to them,
but they were disobedient and rebellious.”
Christians have to tell the Good News to those who have not heard it. If you’ve been hearing this sermon series from Romans at least semi-regularly, you should by now have a good idea of what Paul means by the gospel, the Good News.
Jesus Christ, God in flesh among us, died for our sins. He went to the cross and bore the punishment for what we have done and will do to work against God’s will. His work on the cross is effective; his resurrection from the dead proves this is true.
Believe, and restoration is ours. Death is defeated! But again, those who believe have to tell those who have not yet believed. Otherwise, those nonbelievers may never have the chance to be restored to God.
The need to spread the Good News is not a complicated idea to understand. It apparently is a difficult idea for many American Christians to live out, however. I can cite a lot of evidence as I say that—rapidly declining church attendance across the nation is the biggest exhibit I might put before you. Along with that would be the shocking number of churches, United Methodist and otherwise, that go all year without a single profession of faith in their community.
And then there’s the anecdotal evidence I have. Too often in my career I have taken time to teach ways to spread the Good News, only to hear people say, “Well, pastor, that’s really not for us.”
Really? Jesus’ last instruction to us before ascending into heaven, what we call The Great Commission, isn’t for us?
All I know to do is to keep emphasizing our need to go tell others and to continue teaching ways to spread the Good News, hoping the idea will catch on with enough people who call themselves followers of Christ.
Let me try a different approach today. Let’s talk about what we might call “levels of engagement,” each a measure of how committed we are to telling the story.
Level 1: See What a Good Person I Am
I often hear people say, “My witness is in how I live my life before others.” Yes, that is a good starting point. Obviously, if you’re living a non-Christian life in front of others, you’re not helping.
Your behaviors and attitudes can change the environment around you. I discovered this in an odd and embarrassing way several years ago, while I was working in the corporate world.
I had finished a meeting in Washington, D.C., and had walked out into a blindingly sunny late afternoon. I was hungry, so I started looking for somewhere to eat.
As I walked down the street looking for a cab, I saw a sign in a window advertising a steak and potato for under $10. Quite a deal in D.C., even nearly 20 years ago! I entered what proved to be a dim and very empty establishment with a large bar in the center, and told the hostess as she seated me that I wanted the steak.
It took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust. I noticed there were stages in the corner; my first thought was, “Hmmm, they must have bands on the weekends.” And then I noticed something else. There were brass poles on each of the stages.
Uh-oh, I realized. I had walked into a a business serving more than steak and potatoes. When the hostess came back to the table, I also noticed her high skirt and low blouse appropriate for the venue. All I could think was, I really need to get out of here.
“Ummm, I’m sorry,” I told her, “but I didn’t realize what I was entering. I just saw the steak special. I’m going to leave,” I told her. Almost as if on cue, a pulsing, thumping music began. Obviously, the show was about to begin. I was surprised to see she looked as horrified as me.
“Oh. Oh!” she replied. “No, it’s okay. Please don’t leave! We’ve already started your meal. It’s okay, really!”
As she turned around, she did something almost reflexively that I’ll never forget. She somehow adjusted the dress on the spot, stretching the top up and the skirt down for more coverage, in what I presume was an act of embarrassment. She quickly ran to the back. The music stopped.
I should add that the steak was quite good.
Certainly, we have some impact on the world by trying to live publicly as a moral person. People may change their behavior to some degree by what they see in us. I’m going to once again be frank here, though —
It’s not enough. The people watching you have no context. The hostess had no way to know from our encounter why I wanted to leave, other than I had made a mistake that embarrassed both of us. She was reminded that there was a world different from her workplace, but no real witness regarding Christ occurred.
Level 2: Let Me Tell You About My Church
This next step is an improvement—well, sort of. At least we’re moving in the right direction. Maybe.
A lot of times when we talk about “evangelism” in a church committee, what we really mean is a church growth strategy. How do we get people in the doors? How do we get them to stay? Let’s go ahead and say it: How do we get them to give money? Staff and air conditioning are expensive!
Before too long, someone might even use the word “marketing” as part of this strategic conversation. We’ve got to let people know what we offer! This can get quite creative.
There are the church coffee bars and bookstores, of course, designed to create that commercial “Starbucks” feel we’ve all learned to love. I once heard of a church that went to the trouble of installing a giant slide from its upstairs children’s program down to the main level. When it was time to go home, the kids would dive down the slide to meet their parents. I’ll bet the children were packing that place, at least for awhile!
The danger in all of this is a church can spend a lot of money and energy to create what is essentially a social club for adults or a giant playpen for children. Certainly, nice facilities can be a huge help as we try to do the work of the kingdom, particularly in a community lacking such spaces. They have to exist for the right reason, however. As we discussed last week, everything needs to be “on mission.”
Level 3: Let Me Offer You a Relationship
Now we’re getting somewhere. We’re also getting personal, making Level 3 a little scary. Additionally, Level 3 almost certainly will happen outside church.
I once spent some time doing what I now call “sushi evangelism.” The young man who made my rolls at a local sushi bar one day noticed the Methodist cross embroidered on my shirt. He asked me if I was a minister.
I did not have to steer the conversation much after that. (Sharing the Good News often is simply a matter of answering questions in an established friendship.) He had fallen away from church as a child and was full of questions, some so complicated they strained my theological thinking.
For a couple of months, I spent a lot of my lunch money on sushi to keep that relationship going. It continued until he moved to another state for a job, where I pray new relationships help him continue to grow in his understanding of Jesus Christ as Lord.
Measure Your Efforts
Christians, I’m going to give you a way to measure how you’re doing in all of this. Here’s a two-question test you can give yourself any time.
Question 1: Who was the last person I helped draw into a relationship with Christ? I’m not saying you had to be the one who was there when the person dropped down and accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. But you know when you’ve helped a nonbeliever make progress—who was it, and how long ago was it?
Question 2: Who am I sharing the Good News with right now? There must be someone around you who needs the love of Jesus Christ. There must be someone needing hope and restoration.
If you cannot think of someone, you really need to broaden your circles. Stop hanging around other Christians so much!
Living out Level 3 is not easy. It takes a loving, Holy Spirit-filled heart to commit to a nonbeliever in a way that is genuine. You have to commit to friendship with the person you want to reach regardless of whether the person ever becomes a Christian.
Know this, however. You do not have to figure out how to spread the Good News on your own. In a healthy church, we support one another and train together as we witness to a hurting world.
Let’s do it. For the sake of the lost around us, let’s share the Good News about Jesus Christ!
The featured image is “St. Francis Preaches the Faith,” Jan Michiel Coxie, 17th Century.