by Laurie Nichols
(Editor’s note: This is the 4th in an 8-part series on The Beatitudes & Evangelism [reference: Matthew 5:3-10].)
Recently, I was talking with a friend about evangelism. He commented to me that “many people will talk to people and have conversations about Jesus, but they don’t actually ask people if they want to trust in Jesus.” Visualizing this, my mind jumped to charades and I thought of how silly it would be to go through all the motions to explain what you are supposed to be only to say, “Sorry, gotta get a Coke!” right before the big reveal. As you exit the room, you would likely be followed by gasps of exasperation and more than one menacing stare.
So can be our gospel witness. We may do everything in our controlled, contained, and safe space to “tell” people about Jesus but not really tell people about Jesus. Sure, there are many reasons (both real and imagined) that we stop in our gospel presentation when we do. Personally, the reason I most frequently cite is that I simply don’t like telling people that they are sinners, sinning, in sin, or any of the derivatives!
So here is what happens. Laurie is talking to Jane and they are getting to know each other. Inevitably, as they are learning more about each other, Laurie starts sharing about what God has done in her life. Laurie inserts the phrase “But God” numerous times as she shares about past “problems” and “struggles” (read: not sin) and then says something like, “God has done a lot in my life and I am so thankful!”
You may say that’s great. Unless I told you that it stops there.
There is something incredibly special and amazing about Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” As long as you read “righteousness” in the proper context, that is. It is the righteousness of God—the understanding and belief that God bestows to all of us, without preference, the great gift of His character, His holiness, His faithfulness, His consistency. We seek after righteousness = we seek after God Himself.
We seek after holiness and purity and all that is right and good. And we plead with God, “Please make me right, make me whole again!” Our eyes are lifted from ourselves, in all of our perceived beauty or brokenness, and are turned to Jesus Christ and God Himself.
Romans 3:22-23 says, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
Then, v. 27a goes on to say, “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded.”
Do you see it? All of us need righteousness. All have “sinned,” “fallen short,” whatever we call it. But…all are made RIGHT by His grace. By His grace through Jesus.
Full evangelism demands the inclusion of righteousness. This doesn’t mean starting a conversation with, “Hey buddy, do you know you are a sinner?” Far from it. What it does demand is that we call things as they are: my life stunk, I kinda still stink because I continually fall short, and yet I believe there’s this good God who says it’s okay because He sees me through Another’s eyes.”
And that’s righteousness in its most beautiful form. Why? Because it recognizes that there is “no difference” and that “all” fall short of the glory of God. But that there is hope.
Romans 1:16-17 is a battle cry for many Christ-followers: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous shall live by faith.” So whether or not you use the term “sin” (or any of its derivatives) in your next conversation with someone who hasn’t yet trusted in God is not the point. The point is proclaiming the power of God to make every single one of us right and pure and whole and good.
Laurie Fortunak Nichols is editor of the EvangelVision blog. She is also director of communications at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College and managing editor for Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ).