What Does God Require of Us?
I have heard that there is a discussion afoot where some people are advocating the idea that it is not the responsibility of each individual Christian to live as an evangelist or missionary in their neighborhood. This is a strange idea to me, and as I have been reading my Bible, the notion has appeared even more bizarre. I would acknowledge that there are believers who have special gifts for evangelism, and should be set-aside for this purpose. Furthermore, I don’t believe that every Christian must be involved in some kind of “formal” evangelistic process. But even as I attempt to articulate just what I think the scripture does and does not teach I realize how silly this is. “What is required is… What I don’t mean is…” Trying to get technical about just how much evangelism is specifically required seems to miss the point and pander to the kind of complaint we might expect from cheeky teenagers, “Aw mom! Do I have to!?” Today, in reading from the Gospel of Mark I was struck with the fact that telling the good news is the spontaneous result of the experience of God’s grace and power in our lives.
Face to Face with Incarnate Glory
In a number of places we find people in the ministry of Jesus who are so amazed by his glory that they erupt in “evangelistic” activity. The Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42) comes to the close of her first conversation with the Son of God, and she is amazed that even thought he knows all about her sin, this Jewish man still speaks to her and offers her living water. Immediately she goes into town to tell her friends about the messiah. The disciples (who at this point are still pretty dense about this matter) come back from town with a bunch of sandwiches, while she returns with a bunch of sinners. The juxtaposition is amazing! Jesus adds his blessing to her efforts by providing commentary about the approaching group of Samaritans: “Lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” (John 4:35) The spontaneous proclamation of the good news of Jesus by the woman becomes the first successful evangelistic effort in Samaria. And she didn’t have any special training, unique example, or even a command from the Lord Jesus. The word of the woman is a key step in the salvation of her friends: “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’” (4:39)
In Mark 5:1-20 we read the account of the demoniac of the Gadarenes. He is radically changed from being a screaming, naked, self-mutilating, hanging-out-with dead bodies, and uncontrollable, superhuman public enemy number one into a man who is “clothed” and “in his right mind” (5:15). How does this man respond to being the recipient of such amazing grace and power? He begs to be with Jesus! But Christ tells him that he cannot come, and instead says, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you” (v. 19). The great commission for this infant believer was to spread far and wide the story of the messiah in his life. And as an extraordinary sinner, his testimony would have impressive potential to display the power of God. What is the result? First, the man obeys, “And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled” (v.20). If you trace out the events in the book of Mark you find that in chapter 7:31-37 we find that Jesus returns to the Decapolis after the region has been softened up by the message of this new believer. Jesus heals a deaf mute in the presence of a gathered multitude (v.33), and they respond with astonishment and exclaim, “he has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak” (v. 37). It would appear that not only is the spontaneous “evangelizing” of the glory of Christ the result of his miraculous work in the life of this man; it is also quite effective means in the hands of the Holy Spirit in helping sinners to become worshipers.
Not a New Testament Phenomenon
But this idea, that I am calling “spontaneous evangelism” from an experience of God’s grace, is not only a New Testament phenomenon. It is not something reserved for people who were demoniacs, or for people who experienced miracles, or for people who had face-to-face encounters with Christ. In Psalms 32 and 51, important psalms of penitence and forgiveness, we find that receiving the mercy of forgiveness turns a sinner into an evangelist. After coming through a time of deep agony and conviction, David receives forgiveness. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity…” (Psalm 32:1-2) After coming through the experience of sin, conviction, repentance and forgiveness David says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye” (v.8). David warns against being stubborn in resisting God and the conviction of sin. He explains the mercies he has received. In Psalm 51 he recounts the events surrounding his sin with Bathsheba, the repentance that follows, and his hope for God’s mercy. He writes for these words for our example, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You” (vv.12-13). It would seem that it is impossible to encounter deep sorrow and conviction of sin, come to God in hope of mercy, receive the remission of your sins, and not open your mouth to teach others about how they can be forgiven. Perhaps if we do not tell others the good news, we do not have a full appreciation of what our sins deserve, or what it cost to pardon them.
The Impossible Command
The passage that got me to thinking about all this is Mark 1:40-45. This passage records how Jesus miraculously healed a man suffering from a disease that was both terminal, and socially disgraceful. Jesus heals the leper and then says, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them” (1:44). Try to imagine this: you have been miraculously healed of leprosy by the long awaited messiah, and you are not supposed to tell anyone. When your friends and family who have been shunning you ask you how you were cured what are you supposed to say? He should have obeyed the command, but I think that we can have a little sympathy for him. Jesus was commanding him to do what was against nature!
There are at least 8 times in the New Testament when Jesus gives instructions not to speak about his identity or actions. (Matt 8:3-5; 16:20; 7:35-37, Mark 8:29-30; Luke 5:13-15; 8: 55-56; 9:20-22) Most often this seems connected with Jesus preventing a premature growth in popularity in connection with the father’s divine timetable.
When Jesus tells people not to say anything about his miracles or identity, they often fail at this simple command. They cannot keep their mouths shut because they are so overwhelmed with wonder and gratitude. They have to tell someone!
Under the present circumstances, none of us have a command to restrain what comes naturally. In fact, we have every encouragement in the world to share the good news of the work of God in our lives and to bring others to share the same grace that we have come to understand. In some ways, asking whether Christians have to be evangelists might miss the point the same way that asking whether Christians have to worship. In both cases, everyone who has really encountered the grace of God will do it quite naturally.