In the opening chapter of Acts we are told that Jesus gathered with His disciples on the hill of Galilee and He said to them,“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” [Acts 1:8 RSV] And this is His program for accomplishing all that is to be done. All that is outlined in the prophetic Scriptures, which will happen and must happen before the Lord returns again. It is all there in one verse,“You shall be my witnesses...”
It is our talking about Him and relating to others what He is and what He’s done that is the whole program of reaching a lost world, of transforming the ones within in it who are called of God – called of His grace, of arresting the darkness of the age – arresting the moral corruption around and about us. All of this is going to be done by this one simple process of witnessing –being witnesses of His grace.
He said be my spokesmen. Remember Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says that the word of reconciliation has been committed unto us. And we pray you in Christ’s stead, that is, as though we are taking the place of Christ and in the eyes of the world we are. Now, of course a secret about it. We know that it really isn’t in Christ’s stead, that He is right there. He is in us. And He’s doing it and that is what saves us from fear and from uncertainty and from mistakes in the work of witnessing. We have seen this already. We learned that the first-grade principle of witnessing is that the Holy Spirit is the soul-winner. He will do the work of converting. None of us has any power to convert an individual.
Our reasoned logic, our arguments, and so on are of no effect whatsoever in this, except as they be the expression of the Holy Spirit within us. He will do his work; all we need to be is ready to respond to the situation depending on Him to do His work.
I think this relieves one of the greatest fears that keep people from witnessing. It has helped me tremendously to realize that I do not have to pump up my courage and tackle a situation in which I hardly know what I am coming into at all. I may be talking to somebody that is a stranger to me. I do not know what his background is, what his ability is, what his mental acumen is, his intelligence quotient, or anything of the sort. I do not need to know. All I need to know about or do is just carry on a normal conversation about ordinary things. If I can but look to the Lord to find an opening to insert just a word that will sort of switch the conversation over toward the things of Christ, or insert a mention about world affairs or something that will lead in as led of the Holy Spirit. If this is a prepared heart, that person will respond. If it is not a prepared heart, one that the Holy Spirit has prepared, then I will find that he doesn’t respond. Therefore, the work of witnessing is impossible until the Holy Spirit has made him ready.
Now, you do not practice this work of witnessing without realizing that sometimes the initial response is quite different that what you would expect. Oftentimes you discover that the person is often belligerent at first, but has a hungry heart underneath. You learn to be quick at perceiving that and paying no attention to what he says, but instead speaking to what he is displaying in his inner hunger. But any kind of response is a good response as long as it is an open door by which you could pursue the subject further, and this is what witnessing is.
Now the Holy Spirit is the One who is preparing these people, and He is doing his work. That is the second aspect of this that I want to emphasize. We do not need to pray the Holy Spirit to prepare hearts. He is preparing them. He has them prepared all around us.
“Lift up your eyes and look on the fields;”the Lord Jesus says, “for they are white already to harvest.” [John 4:35b]
These prepared, hungry hearts, hearts yearning for answers, are all around us. Our job is simply to be so available to the Lord, that as we make contact from day to day, we can be used of Him to find who they are and carry this witness forward.
Now I want to pick up here where we left off last week and answer another objection that is often made about the matter of witnessing; it is the fear that you will run into so many different kinds of people that you will not know how to handle them. What if you meet a professor at Stanford? How would you talk with him? What if you meet a coal-miner or a garbage collector and you’re a businessman – you talk only to businessmen. How are you going to talk to him? This keeps a lot of people from witnessing, because they feel that they can only witness in their own social strata.
I want to show you a verse that has been to me a tremendous help in this subject of witnessing which indicates there are only three kinds of people that you will ever run into and what the Holy Spirit will lead you to say to them about Christ because all witnessing must be about Christ. We saw this last week. Witnessing is never about yourself except as it is saying what Christ did for you. It is not how religious you have been, or how many pins you won in Sunday school, or how many attendance contests you’ve won, or how religious your ancestors were or how many came over on the Mayflower. Witnessing is talking about Christ and what he has done for you.
There are only three kinds of people and you’ll find this set forth inJohn 16 in our Lord’s great discourse on the Holy Spirit.
By the way, did you ever notice that the Holy Spirit obeys what Jesus said about Him,When he is come, he will not speak of himself, but he will take the things of mine, Jesus says, and show them unto you. You will never learn about the Holy Spirit from the Holy Spirit. You learn about the Holy Spirit from the Lord Jesus. He’s the one that teaches us that and this whole passage onJohn 13- 17 is a great discourse on the personal work of the Holy Spirit taught by the Lord himself. And in this He says in verse 16:7, “Nevertheless,” he says,“I tell you the truth (speaking to his disciples) it is to your advantage that I go away...” They didn’t believe that and it is hard for us to believe it. How many times have I heard Christians say, “Oh, if I had just lived in the days of the Lord’s flesh – I could have been with Him in the flesh. What a wonderful time this would have been.” But I do not hesitate to say you would have been a far worse Christian then than you are now because the disciples who were with Him, knew Him a thousand times better after the day of Pentecost than they ever did when they were with Him in the flesh. So these words of Jesus are literally true. “It is to your advantage that I go away.” The hunger of their hearts was that they might know Him and have Him and possess Him and be with Him. But they actually knew Him and understood Him and possessed Him and were with Him more after the day of Pentecost than they were before when they were living and sleeping and drinking and eating with Him. They didn’t understand Him then. He was always bewildering them. They were always puzzled by Him. They didn’t know what He meant. But afterwards they did because the Spirit came. For He said,“If I do not go away the Counselor will not come to you.” And you‘re limited to only what you can learn in the faulty communication of man with man.“But if I go away, I will send Him to you and when He comes...”When He comes his first ministry will not be with you, but with the world.“He will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and ofjudgment. Of sin because they do not believe in Me, of righteousness because I go to the Father and you will see Me no more, of judgment because the ruler of this world is judged.”
We have already established that all work of effective witnessing must be in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. He alone can do this work, therefore what we say to people must be the kind of a thing that the Holy Spirit can bless, can use in their lives. And here is set forth three avenues of approach to mankind that are guaranteed to be honored by the Holy Spirit and you’ll notice they all concern Christ, don’t they?When He comes He will convince the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment.Of sin, Jesus said, because they do not believe inMe.Of righteousness becauseI go to the Father, andof judgment because the prince of this world is judged – and the implication, of course, is thatHe is the One that does the judging – the devil is judged by Jesus.
This not only shows you the message to give to men what you want to talk about Christ, but also it indicates, by clear implication here, the kinds of people that these three messages are suited for and since the Savior has come to be the Savior of all kinds of men everywhere, obviously there are only three kinds of people. It doesn’t make any difference what kind of clothing they wear or what their titles may be, when you get down below the superficial things. We, as Christians, have no business looking at those anyway. Paul writing to the Corinthians said, “Henceforth, we do not know any man after the flesh.” We do not judge him by how many cars he owns; how large his house is, how much his salary is, what his position or title is. That makes no difference to us at all.
But as we look at them, we see that there are just three kinds of people underneath all the superficiality. Now here are the three kinds.
First of all,the indifferent, and how many of us know this kind? Those who seemingly show no sign of interest at all in the Gospel. Those who either say or imply that they could care less whether Christ lived or died – the atheists, the agnostics, the infidels, the skeptics of every stripe and flavor –the indifferent. But Jesus said,If I be lifted up from theearth (meaning the cross) I will draw all men unto me [John 12:32] – all kinds of men. And we make a great mistake when we think that the indifferent can ever be won. Now it is true that they will never be won in their indifferent condition, but the Holy Spirit is able to draw an indifferent man. Let’s put that down in our book right now.
We do not need to give up because somebody appears indifferent. If that were true, and I think many of us think this is true that the Holy Spirit can do nothing with an indifferent person. If that were true, then there would be vast sections of humanity that would never be reached. There would be people from every tribe and nation that would never be won. But God is sovereign, remember the spirit blows where it wants to and it doesn’t ask for permission from anybody. And God, the Spirit, can blow on the indifferent as well as the interested. It makes no difference. Whoever He chooses.
Now what do you talk about to the indifferent? We are not looking now at thematter of approach, I’m looking at thematter of content right now. We’ll talk about approach a little bit later.
Suppose the subject has come up, and it often comes up even with the indifferent, the matter of religious claims, God’s claim, God’s position and so on. What do you talk to the indifferent about? Well, Jesus says that “When the Holy Spirit comes he will convince the world of sin because they do not believe in me.” And in talking to the indifferent, our task then is to lift up Christ as the One in whom it is folly not to believe, simply because, He is inescapable.
This is the way you lay hold of an indifferent person’s heart. You do not start talking about a cross or the love of God. He shrugs his shoulder at this. You say to him in one way or another, “Look, whether you believe it or not, the whole evidence of the revelation of Scripture and of God and of history is that some day sooner or later you will meet Jesus Christ face to face. He is the inevitable Person.” And remember now the Holy Spirit has already gone on record that He will honor this word. If you would try to convince them in your own efforts it will always fail. But the Lord Jesus has said that when the Holy Spirit comes He will do this. He will convince the world of sin because they do not believe on Him. So start talking about that, the fact that He’s the God of history. He’s the One we cannot escape. He’s the One who holds our lives, our being in His hand.
Now notice a Scriptural example of this. Remember when Paul went to Athens? He came into the heart of the city, and here was the intellectual center of the world – the Stanford University of the ancient world. What was his approach? Well, he began his message by saying:As I walked about the city I could see that you people here are “very religious”. You have altars erected everywhere and I even found one erected to “the unknown god.” I want to talk to you about that God. [Acts 17:22-23] He said it makes perfect sense that if God be God, He doesn’t need man to build temples for Him. If He made everything, if He’s the one that put the whole universe into action, and further, if He is the One whom your poets, your own intellectual writers say “He is the God in Whom we live and move and have our being.” – then you do not need to build temples to Him.
You see he is starting right out on this basis. He’s saying, you can’t escape Jesus Christ – you can’t escape God. The mysteries of your own life are not explainable unless you explain them in terms of God. And the Holy Spirit honored that message and at the end of it you read,“And some believed...” Even among this intellectual crowd. Because he was doing what the Lord Jesus has said, that when you’re among themorally indifferent, the ones who apparently are skeptical, you simply lift up Jesus Christ as the ultimate end of history – as the inescapable One, the One behind all the processes of life.
I am delighted that I’m beginning studies in the book of Hebrews on Sunday because of all messages, this is the message of the book of Hebrews,“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past unto the prophets (and you ignored it), hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son... See that ye refuse not him who speaketh… from heaven.” [Hebrews 1:1-2, 12:25 KJV] And this is a message that the Holy Spirit will burn into the heart ofthe indifferent.”
Now look at the next group, they are themorally troubled ones. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit has already committed Himself to convince certain ones of righteousness. Jesus said the reason and the basis upon which that argument will be based is “because I go to the Father and you will see Me no more.” Now what does this mean? This is referring to that class of people who, as they look out upon the conditions of the world around them, are deeply troubled. Who are constantly asking themselves, “Why? If there is a God, why does he permit a world like this?” It isn’t that they’re godless or god deniers. They’re not atheists, but they are those who are honestly puzzled by life. They say, “How can a righteous God permit this kind of activity?” And you meet them all over, don’t you – dressed in all kind of ways? To that kind of person Christ must be lifted up as the One who is the ultimate bringer in of righteousness.
The Book of Revelation is a wonderful book for this type of person. Showing Christ as the one who has the right to the title deed of earth. And all the tumult and all the darkness and all the terrible heartache and sorrow that is depicted in that dark and bloody book is going to bring about the birth of a new age where righteousness shall fill the earth and it’s because Christ now sits at the right hand of God the Father, waiting till his enemies be made His footstool. He will come again to establish righteousness in the earth. This is part of the picture.
So this is the message for themorally troubled. Christ has gone into the heavens in order that this might come to pass, in order that his enemies may be made His footstool and what we are seeing now is the warfare involved and the conflict in it. You’ve met people like this haven’t you? I had a teenager come into my study last week and we sat down and talked about a few matters and about his own life. After a few minutes he blurted out, “What’s going on with the world anyway? What’s going to happen with all this nuclear warfare?” And as soon as he said it that way, I knew he was one of the morally troubled. One of those who when looking out at the world says, “How can this go on? What’s it leading to? Where’s it all going to end?”
And this is a wonderful approach to the lost. Thousands and thousands of people you’ll find are absolutely riveted with intense interest the minute you start on this kind of a theme. They want to know what Scripture has to say and why it is that God in His wisdom and greatness and moral justice can permit a world like this. Of course, the answer is Christ on the throne of the universe.
Now the third class are thedefeated of life. Those people who have either in sincerity and earnestness tried to be good people and have found themselves trapped by circumstances so that they end up constantly defeated, so they’ve given up. Or perhaps those who, in the vanity of youth have kicked over all the traces and went out and lived it up and burned themselves out and have come to the place where they feel it is hopeless. They’ve gone too far, they’ve done too much. It is no use. Now what do you say to people like that? You tell them that the ruler of this world has been judged. That the devil is already a defeated foe, that the one who is behind all their misery and darkness, who led them into all this and tripped them up and held them in bondage all their life has already been defeated at the cross of Christ. And there’s release, deliverance, a word of release for all of them.
Now that is the only three classes you’ll ever meet. Can you think of any others? And in each case, it is Christ that is the answer, but Christ in some one specific character which the Holy Spirit has sworn to honor and, therefore, to use in convicting power in wakening a person to his own heart’s need.
We could spend a lot of time thinking this through and it is good that you do, but you’ll find that this is the way that the Scriptures approach this. Every approach that is given as an example in the scriptures will fall into one of these classifications.
[Audience Question:] What books of the Bible are good to use with this third category of people?
The Gospel of John is tremendous. The woman at the well, the woman taken in adultery, the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda, the man born blind – they are the defeated of life, aren’t they? In every case, it is Christ that gives them release, who sets them on their feet.
[Audience Question:] Will it do any good to pray that the Lord will draw particular people?
It is always right to pray about those for whom you have concern because the concern is borne of the Holy Spirit. Whether it means that you will be the instrument by which they may be won or someone else will be or that it will be 20 years down the stream of life, is none of your concern. If the Holy Spirit lays on your heart a concern for someone, by all means, pray for them.
In Paul’s letter to Timothy he says “Pray for all men… …that they might be saved.” That is three or four verses apart, but that is the conclusion. [1 Timothy 2:1-4]
[Audience Question:] Should we pray for the indifferent people that they would get under conviction?
Yes, as I say, anyone you feel a concern laid on your heart about, it is perfectly proper to pray for them because prayer is the instrument of the Holy Spirit by which he intends to accomplish what he wants done with them. Remember too, (and this is another side to this that I don’t want to develop particularly strongly right now) God is interested not only in winning people by the Gospel, but in seeing that they are self-judged by the Gospel. That is the Gospel’s purpose in the world is not merely to save, but to condemn also. What God wants is that people be brought face-to-face with the issue. Paul said: Wherever I go, I am a Savior of life unto life or death unto death [2 Corinthians 2:14-16]. Nobody ever comes in contact with the Apostle Paul without making some kind of a decision, one way or the other.
I’m putting this now into a wider context than I originally did. In my original presentation, I talked about this only as it is used in the lives of those who are going to be saved. The same message that converts is also the same message that condemns. So you say the same things and God will use it one way or the other. That is up to him. It is not up to you.
[Someone asks a question about an indifferent relative and how to handle it.]
It is always right to pray. I do not want to minimize this in any way because it is very vital, but prayer by itself is not enough. It must be coupled with the Word that either converts or condemns. Prayer brings people to make a decision, a judgment to a crisis about a word that they’ve heard. Now if you know that this person has heard the Word or is hearing the Word maybe through your mouth or someone else’s, then your prayers can take hold of that and bring her to a crisis on it. So she either throws it overboard completely or receives it. One or the other. But if you’re just praying for somebody and they never hear anything, then you’re prayer won’t be good because prayer is a means of augmenting the Word. It is the Spirit laying hold of the Word to convict or convert.
[Audience Comment:] I read a sermon you preached on Romans where you said it is really God’s decision who is going to be saved and who’s not. So I think we can only pray for people and leave it in the hands of the Lord because we do not determine who’s going to be saved.
Yes, but we must never push that to the extreme where we are just unconcerned or indifferent or not witnessing because God doesn’t save apart from the work of prayer and witnessing and so on. It is true that, ultimately, it is the sovereign moving of the Spirit that saves. The Gospel was never intended to convert the whole world. Never was intended to do so and it won’t do so, and no amount of effort or study or training or Dale Carnegie courses will ever make it do so because it wasn’t intended to do so – the Holy Spirit alone can do that. But it is intended to convert many and you do not know who they are. So it is perfectly proper to always be ready. Our job is to be on the positive side of this, not the negative. We’re to be presenting the Gospel and looking for these because they are all around us, the prepared ones, the ones who the Spirit of God is reaching and touching and talking to.
[Audience Question:] Could you give us a word on this season that is approaching now that could help us with witnessing?
Yes. These occasions are a great opportunities for a witness. They make approaches very easy. It is always good to take advantage of Christmas, Easter, Lent, any kind of public ceremony or publicly recognized religious right can be used as an open door to change the subject to that and I would sure use it that way. But remember, that doesn’t give you license to jam something down someone’s throat. You’re just using this as a probe to see if there is a response. An interest developing maybe under the surface, but you sense there’s a response and you go on with it. But if you change the subject to something about Lent and you say a word about what the Lord has meant in your life or just a general expression of faith and the response is negative. If they just turn the subject off deliberately, well then drop it. You do not have to pursue it. You can easily learn some ways of opening doors like this with a few prepared statements. I know a man who, if anybody asks him directions anywhere, he gives the directions and then he says, I hope you’ll be as interested in finding your way to heaven as you are to this place. And that is his closing remark. Now either the person says, “Well thank you. I probably will,” or else they say, “What do you mean?”
[Audience Question:] How do you handle friends who say they are Christians, but their lives do not show any fruit?
Which of these three classifications do you think they fall into? Maybe themorally troubled? Most people who are what we call nominal Christians, you discover have very serious problems with the whole Christian message and one of them is right in this area. How can what’s going on in the world be squared with the message of a God of love?