by Matt Erickson
Does evangelism begin with knowledge of the right method? Does helping people understand they are sinners in need of a Savior launch them onto the road to Christ? Or does evangelism really get going when we use fewer words and more action to witness to the good news in Jesus Christ? This is the question: Where does evangelism really start?
While all of these potential answers are valid, the starting point for evangelism, humanly speaking, is found somewhere else. Return with me to the very beginnings of creation in Genesis. There, we read God’s introductory declaration about human life:
“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27-28)
The starting point for evangelism erupts from the beginnings of human history as God creates us in His image. There is something intrinsically valuable and dignified about human life representing God and His ways on earth. As we know, however, this glorious story of humanity rushes headlong into ruin through the influence of sin and evil. Adam and Eve’s lies, distrust, and blaming, when placed alongside of Cain’s murder of his own brother, Abel, typify the tendency of sinful humanity to devalue and destroy God’s image as seen in one another.
But this is where evangelism begins. Evangelism – if really true to its meaning of sharing the message of good news in Jesus Christ – must begin by returning to the image of God.
This happens when we regain our high view of the image of God. We were created by God to rule as a reflection of Him and His ways within the world He created. Sin and evil marred both our image and our capacity for this task. Yet, in Jesus Christ, we clearly see the way we were intended to ‘look’, for “the Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15).
Likewise, we see in Jesus our dignity and capacity restored, as Paul writes, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). The good news in Jesus Christ is, at least in part, the redemption of human life from the marred image to the restored image of God. This is vital for our understanding of evangelism.
Moving from here, evangelism begins when we practically see people in light of this restored image of God. Not too long ago, I was talking with a friend who pointed out to me the startling way in which Jesus sees people. While so many in His time – and even our time – choose to ignore those apparently with little to no dignity or value, Jesus intentionally notices them: lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, blue collar workers, rich men, the physically disabled, and more.
Jesus sees people with God’s eyes, and we must too. In fact, this is where evangelism begins in utter practicality. If we fail to truly notice people, we shut the door that leads to authentic evangelistic opportunity. On the other hand, if we see people as marred yet originally made with value and dignity in God’s image, we take the first steps through that door that brings good news into the lives of people who need God.