I would like to begin a new series of studies on a very important theme: Witnessing.
We are deliberately scheduling this right after our ABC's of the Christian Faith course, with the hope that many of you who took that course will also move right out into the joy of Christian witnessing. I'm sure anyone here who has ever had the experience of being an instrument of God to lead another person to Christ will agree it is one of the most exciting things to see another person's whole life transformed by a witness you have brought. I've seen men in business, men in government who are accustomed to dealing with people and handling power, literally stop and quiver, tremble with excitement over the realization that God had used them to reach someone for Christ. This brings such excitement to the Christian's life.
I'm going to feel my way along in this, because together with some other longstanding concepts of the Christian life, I've had to do some revising of my thinking about witnessing. I have observed this on the Christian scene for quite a number of years and have compared what I see with what the scriptures teach, to correct what I have done and seen others do, by the scriptures. This is the first attempt I have made since rather thoroughly overhauling my concepts of witnessing to state my views, so you will excuse me as I feel my way along.
Much of what is taught about witnessing today has bothered me for a very long time, and I've tried to put my finger on what is wrong with much of this. I feel I can approach this, as I have recently learned to do, much better from the positive than from the negative, not just denouncing what is wrong. I would like to begin with what I feel is the most essential ingredient, the first lesson you must learn if you intend to be a successful witness for Christ.
There is a sense in which every Christian, whether or not he talks about Christ, is a witness. Jesus said to his disciples in Acts 1:8, "You shall be witnesses unto me." He didn't say you may want to be. He said "When the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you shall be witnesses unto me." It is literally true that if we have been born again by the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ we are witnesses. Everything we do, the attitudes we take, the opinions we express, the reactions we have to situations, the actions we take toward other people, all are telling people what kind of Christian we are, or whether or not we are really Christians. The question is not shall we be witnesses. The question really is what kind of witness are we? Are we good or poor witnesses, because whatever we do we are witnesses.
That being inevitably true, there is also an additional aspect of witnessing which I want to primarily focus on in this study together, which is how do you talk to someone about Christ? This is what bothers us, isn't it? Many of us are by nature shy, and reluctant to bring up subjects that may be highly controversial. We sometimes feel that this matter of "religion", as the world calls it, or faith in Christ is such a highly personal nature that we feel very timorous about raising the subject. We feel, perhaps properly so, that people are indifferent and sensitive in this area, and that they would be highly incensed if we tried to probe. Most of us have had some experience with people who have utterly thrown aside courtesy and tactfulness and have left a very bad taste with many people, and we don't want to be guilty of that. So many Christians almost condition themselves not to witness.
I think we therefore need to begin with this basic and vital factor. It was a great help in my own experience when I saw clearly and experientially the truth of what I am going to mention. I want to begin by pointing out who is the soul winner, because in all the world's history there has only been one soul winner, and it is not us. It is the Holy Spirit. He is the only one who has any possible capability of winning souls. We can never over-emphasize this. We are not salesmen for God, with a mandate to talk people into buying something. No matter how much that analogy may be used in trying to encourage Christians to witness, it is basically not right because it is not the same relationship. No salesman is dependent upon a person working with him to do the job properly. Yet that is who we are as witnesses for Christ. We are not the one who does the soul winning, ever.
There are a lot of implications of that. It means first of all that we do not have the power to convince people to become Christians, nor do we have the ability to reason or argue, nor is a person won to Christ by trying to argue with them. This means we can relax about an approach, and if the Holy Spirit has not already prepared a heart and made them ready and willing to listen, there is nothing we can do to make them so, other than to pray for them. Let me pause for a moment and show you why this is true, why this is solely the work of the Holy Spirit.
Remember what the scripture says is the condition of man without Christ? What is it?
"Dead"! Now how far do you think you would get if you took a Dale Carnegie course and went to graveyards to sell Fuller brushes to corpses? This is not the technique that is called for in the matter of witnessing. When scripture says that men and women are "dead in trespasses and sins", it isn't just using language lightly. That is exactly the relationship they are in; therefore, every attempt to try to argue or reason a person into
salvation apart from the Holy Spirit is futile. It is like arguing with a corpse. A corpse has only one great need, and that is life. You may get the most eloquent and erudite books in the library and read to it at great length all the philosophical elements for life, but it will not give him life. You may shake a stick over him and demand he obey the law, but that won't help. He needs life. This is the reason only the great Life-giver can do the work of soul winning. You don't have to beg him to do it. He is far more willing to do it than you are, but he does it with the ones of his choice, not your choice.
That is the next principle. What did Jesus say to Nicodemus about the Holy Spirit when he came to him by night? The wind, he said, blows where it desires. You hear the sound of it but you cannot tell where it goes or where it comes from. By that he means that the Spirit of God is sovereign. You never know where he is going to work. You never know what kind of person he is going to choose and bring to life. But apart from that quickening work of the Spirit it is useless to try to win someone to Christ. It is only as the Spirit of God touches and blows upon them that they are prepared to receive the word of life. Now I grant you that the elect, or the heirs of salvation (or whatever term you may want to use) do not go around with a red spot in the middle of their forehead or a yellow stripe down their back or any visible sign that identifies who they are. That being so, we must always sow our seed "by every water" as the scripture says, and there is no harm in making a probing attempt in any circumstance to talk with someone about Christ.
But learn to recognize that if there is no response, if it's rebuffed for the moment, you don't need to press the matter. In other words, witnessing is not grabbing someone by the coat lapel, backing them into a corner and arguing them into the faith. That kind of tactic has driven many away.
Let me give you this little method which may help you as it has helped me. Witnessing is primarily the right person in the right place saying the right thing at the right time, to prepared hearts, hearts already prepared and made hungry by the awakening touch of the Holy Spirit in that person's life. This will be, therefore, relaxed, joyful, unhurried, non-pressured approach, because you will know you are the right person in the right place, saying the right thing at the right time.
Think of some of the experiences of witnessing recorded in the New Testament, to see if this is true. Take our Lord's own witnessing to Nicodemus. Wasn't that a case of the right man in the right place saying the right thing at the right time? Here was a man who came already prepared. Of course when someone comes to you with a religious question, you can be almost certain they are a prepared person.
Take a casual encounter, the one of the woman at the well. As you think through that story, wasn't that the case of the right person, in the right place at the right time? Here was a woman completely prepared. I'm not sure Jesus knew when he first saw her that she was a prepared person, but so responsive was he to the promptings of the Holy Spirit within him that he immediately recognized from the way she responded that here was one who was ready.
The case of Philip and the Eunuch was clearly another case of the right man in the right place at the right time. Here is a man riding in his chariot reading the gospel and the obvious question to ask was "do you understand what you are reading?" It's a clear indication of the leading of the Holy Spirit that his answer was he was reading Isaiah 53.
Who had put it in his heart to do that? Obviously the right person at the right time.
This is what witnessing is. The Holy Spirit prepares the heart and then speaks through you to say the right thing, which is the gospel, to a prepared person under the timely circumstances. That is basically what witnessing will always be. If you start on that basis you will by-pass so much grief and unhappiness, so much false effort and failure. Unfortunately we are deluged with false principles of witnessing. You can get courses from various Christian sources that will treat witnessing as though it is just another method of salesmanship wherein the gospel is just a commodity and you are to go out door-to-door, contacting everyone no matter who they are and no matter their response, trying to talk them into becoming a Christian. But this is a basic ignoring of the basic facts about the lost. They are dead, and they need the quickening touch of the Spirit. He is more eager to bring you in touch with the person He is working with than you are. All you need to do is keep an alert ear and eye and keep little feelers going out until you get a response.
I've brought along some papers to illustrate what I feel is a very false concept of witnessing. This very earnest, and I'm sure utterly sincere, Christian teacher has launched an enterprise all centered around witnessing, and in everything he publishes he uses the title "made easy": "soul-winning made easy", "visitation made easy", "salvation made easy" death made easy--everything made easy. This is the summary in his opening article: "Maybe it has come about unconsciously, but we have allowed a horrible tradition to rise. We have come to the place where we think it's all right to have unsaved people in the Sunday School. If you don't think that's criminal, the tradition has engulfed you too. There is no excuse for a single unsaved person in the Sunday School and I mean that with all the vigor I possess. Think about it."
And then he goes on to list why there is no excuse, and the reason, he says, is that it indicates a teacher is not being faithful in presenting Christ. His argument is that if a teacher presents Christ everyone will decide. Then answering an anticipated argument he quotes someone as saying, "Brother, do you realize what you are saying?" "Indeed I do. It's shocking to say that there should be no unsaved in the Sunday School. It's risky for me to put it in print. Usually I have the advantage of being before a crowd where I can demonstrate the technique of working with the Holy Spirit to present Christ alive.Once they see a demonstration of the plan of soul-winning made easy, no teacher in the crowd ever bothers to disagree, because the truth is crystal-clear. Every teacher can master this very simple process and then when he presents it to his class, even to first-time visitors, there is no reason why every one of them will not become a Christian. This is why I can say there is no excuse for a single unsaved person in the Sunday School. When I was a pastor it was unheard of for people to come to our church and go away without facing Christ in a person-to-person situation."
It is all a build-up to taking his course so that you can win every soul by this easy process. This as I have already suggested is based upon a very false concept. In response to this challenge of whether it is right or wrong to have unsaved in the Sunday School, I would just like to ask him what he would say to the Lord about the presence of Judas among the disciples. He was with them for three and a half years, yet he was not saved. Would this man flunk the Lord Jesus in his course on soul-winning?
You see it isn't our job to convict people. Once we get that in our heads we do not need to take all the high-powered arguments by which we pressure and convince people, answer all their rebuffs and resistance, that makes us find witnessing hard to do. We feel inadequate, and of course we are. But we are not inadequate to talk about what Christ has done for us. Witnessing is simply sharing with someone who has already been awakened by the Spirit to listen and already has a heart hunger to hear more. Even though the façade may seem at first to be indifference, you get beneath that and you will discover a hungry heart who wants to hear what happened to you. That is what witnessing is.
We want to learn a lot more, but I want to stress this one point for now--that the Holy Spirit is the one who does the work. I want to share a few highlights from a fine article in Eternity magazine this month called "Witnessing is Not Brain-washing". The entire article is very valuable, but I want to share this one section on the matter of salesmanship:
"Another problem underlining our passion for results is that we belong to a salesman culture. The real representative of the twentieth century is not the scientist or the missile man but the salesman. He is the man who really keeps the wheels turning, and the success of the salesman is measured by the number of things he can sell. If he sells things, he is "in". Many salesmen have secret doubts about the quality of the product they are selling. They must repress these doubts, however, and use the technique they have been schooled in. Indeed big companies have their own techniques for keeping the salesman's morale in high pitch. The salesman must dress well and drive a nice car. This creates an aura of success, and success breeds success. He must be interested in his customers, and his interest must be genuine. Yet can any interest be genuine when the ultimate motive is a sale? The salesman must demonstrate not only the virtue of his product, but his product is just what the client needs. The Fuller Brush man is trying genuinely to help Mrs. Smith solve her housekeeping problems, but she must solve them now. Why wait? An unparalleled offer is being made to her of something she needs now. She will actually be saving money by buying brushes.
"Living in a world of door-to-door salesmen and their more sophisticated cousins in radio and television commercials, of magazine ads and a thousand and one publicity stunts, it is only natural that we should think of the gospel as one more thing to sell. Indeed many teachers openly state that evangelism is a matter of salesmanship. The comparisons are obvious. We do have something the whole world needs. We are responsible to get the knowledge of this something or someone to every creature. Time is important. Men and women should be deciding for our product (excuse the loathsome word), but there are dangers in the comparison. Mrs. Smith may under the salesman's technique buy brushes, and later realize that it was not what she wanted to do at all. She has been in a mild way, brain-washed. It will be annoying for her, but no great tragedy.
" It is a far more tragic thing if a man's decision for Christ represents merely giving way to Christian salesmanship. In the first place, if the Holy Spirit has not been at work in his heart he is not born again, his faith is not saving faith. He has a false hope. If on the other hand he later reacts against his conversion which was false in the first place, his sales resistance will increase sharply against the gospel in the future. All over the world there are vast numbers of people who are doubly on their guard against the gospel because they have passed through a spurious conversion experience.
"What's more, the salesman concept is full of moral pitfalls. It goes against the very nature of witness. Dress well? Why? To impress. For testimony's sake? Does testimony consist of a public image? Worse still, are you one of those miserable Christians who is trying to put on a victorious front to attract people to Christ? This of course is the spiritual equivalent of a sharp suit. You smile, or you're supposed to, because a Christian is joyful. You try to be Christ-like, though you have no idea what Christ-likeness is. It's part of the technique. You must attract people to Christ, and if this means suppressing some of the real you and putting on a big act in public, well, that's part of the testimony. The real you pops out in the bedroom where there is nobody but God to see you, and he doesn't matter because he's not a customer. He's already on the right side.
"Has it never dawned on you that the essence of witness, a big part of evangelism, is just plain old honesty? You are salt, whether you feel like it or not. You're not told to act like salt, but to be what you are. You are light. God has done a work in your life. Don't try to shine. Let the light God put there shine out, that's all. Now to let your light shine demands no more than honesty. It demands honesty before unbelievers. In fact such honesty is in itself ninety percent of witnessing. Witnessing is not putting on a Christian front so as to convince prospective customers. Witnessing is being honest, that is being true to what God has made you in your speech and in your day-by-day behavior." (And I might add, not claiming to be further than you have come to in your Christian experience.)
"Such honesty will demand that you talk about Christian things with unbelievers with whom you converse. The fact that you have in the past had to create openings to talk about spiritual things proves that sub-consciously you have been avoiding openings that are continually being presented to you."
(You see, it's the Holy Spirit who gives you openings, and he is doing it all the time. Our job as witnesses, then, is not to make openings but to simply find the ones that are there. And they are always there.)
"We all hide our real selves behind a front to preserve the image we create, the man that we talk, laugh and behave in a certain way. Our talk is designed to create an impression on the people we talk to build up or preserve the image of ourselves we wish to sell. Now for many of us this means adding certain Christian features to this image. But in doing so, we are preaching ourselves, not Christ. Real witness, on the other hand, means abolishing the front behind which we hide, not modifying it. To live behind a front is to hide my light under a bushel. It is falseness, and falseness is opaque to divine light. Now if you are even partially honest (total honesty is rare and difficult) in a conversation with an unbeliever, you will find it extremely difficult to avoid talking about Christian things.
You say it is difficult to witness? I maintain that with a little honesty it is almost impossible not to witness."
Now does that give you a different slant on the business of witnessing? The only witness in the world is the Holy Spirit. He is the one who came into the world to bear witness of Christ, and he is doing his work. We don't have to ask him to do it, or plead with him. He is already doing it. It isn't our job to seize upon someone that we like and pray the Holy Spirit will witness to him. Our job is to recognize the one to whom the Holy Spirit is already witnessing, and open up to them. We could just stop right here, and if you get this principle you can start witnessing tomorrow. There are some other aspects we can look at, what to avoid and what not to avoid, and certain helpful passages, but if you once learn that great and central secret of witnessing, that you are simply an accomplice of an invisible silent witness who has already done the job of preparing the heart, you will discover witnessing is really easy. But you didn't make it so--the Lord did!
Our Father we thank you for the joy of witnessing, the fact that you have called us to be witnesses and in discovering that we are witnesses we can know its excitement, what a thrilling and joyful thing it is to witness, and what an easy thing it is once we learn you are able to do it all through us, in us, by us. We pray thou wilt lead us in these discussions together that we may understand these principles clearly and be right from the beginning the right person in the right place saying the right things to the right person. We ask in Christ's name. Amen.