When churches and church leaders begin studying methods and techniques of our culture rather than what God has laid out in His Word, even the best intentioned leaders will find themselves straying from God’s will–even when the numbers and results say otherwise.
I grew up on the tail end of a revivalism era where many evangelists would come into a church to conduct “revival services” asking those to “admit they were sinners” and to “come to Jesus” so you will “go to heaven.” Laced with tear-jerking stories and sparse exposition of Scriptures (which the Bible says in Hebrews 4:12 is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword), many would be emotionally moved. Revival services were considered great successes when great numbers would come.
I wonder how many who subscribe to this would look at Jesus’ evangelism techniques and say, “Wow, Jesus really missed it this time.” I am thinking of the story of the Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19:16-30. Notice a number of things:
1. Jesus had a willing seeker. “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Matthew 20:16). If that’s not a willing seeker, I don’t know what is! He clearly had a concern about his spiritual status before God. Jesus had someone ready.
2. Jesus had an influential seeker. This was a rich ruler, meaning he was part of the Sanhedrin, a.k.a. the Jewish Supreme Court. For many in our day, to have such an influential inquirer would be considered a great blessing. To those with questionable motives, this man needs to get into a church and learn the importance of giving to the Lord’s work!
3. Having such a convert would help make some in-roads into the Scribes and Pharisees world. No doubt that this would cause a stir.
But notice what Jesus does:
1. While many would be ready to bring them into the Kingdom right away, Jesus puts up roadblocks! “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 20:17 ).
Two things to notice here. First, he puts the inquirer on his heels by questioning his notion of ‘goodness.’ Only God is good, and only God can save. In essence, Jesus is saying, “Are you approaching me because I am good or say good things? Are you attributing to me the trait of being able to give life? Are you saying I am the Son of God — because only God and His Son can do this?”
Secondly, he puts up the barrier of the commandments. “Keep the commandments,” Jesus tells him. If you want life, obey God to the fullest extent! Yet, the ruler questioned which commandments he should obey! Jesus lists off the Second Tablet commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honor your father and mother, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
What are the significance of these? These are relational commandments — how one deals with another human being. The Scribes and Pharisees struggled with this. They loved obeying the minutiae of the law, but felt themselves morally superior to the common folk of the day. These were serious issues, given how they were God’s covenant priests who represented Him.
The rich young ruler felt himself capable of entering the Kingdom due to his adequate keeping of the commandments. In other words, he did not see himself as “falling short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). He did not see himself as a sinner in need of a Savior. He saw himself as a good man in need of vindication of his good works.
3. Jesus dug deep to the true obstacle of his heart. “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 20:21). Whereas many preachers and evangelists call for an easy-believism, Jesus rejected this notion and told the young man to come face-to-face with the core problem/sin that is the obstacle for eternal life. His possessions were his god — if he is not willing to give up his god, he cannot receive eternal life. If he wants the treasure of eternal life in heaven, yet will not give up the treasure here on earth, he cannot be a part of the Kingdom.
Many in our churches would never say that Jesus’ evangelism techniques were poor, but given how so few model him in showing how inquirers should count the cost of denying themselves and taking up their cross, we wonder why so few who say they are Christians really look very much like everyone else.
Right before dcTalk’s great song from 1995 called “What If I Stumble?”, a preacher (I believe it was Brennan Manning) spoke this: “The greatest single cause of atheism today is Christians, who mouth Jesus with their lips but deny him by their lifestyle. That’s what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” Maybe its because many Christians have not learned the lesson of denying self and taking up the cross of Christ daily.
May that not be said of us!