Evangelism vs. Witness (Part Two)

Part One of this paper started with the following statement.  “The purpose of this paper is two-fold; First, to assert that evangelism and witness are distinctly different and Secondly, to make the case that all believers are to be a witness for Jesus, but evangelism is not required of every believer.”  I pray that people will be released from the self-condemnation that results from frequently hearing that the “great commission” is a personal mandate for every believer.  Read “Part One” of this paper for thoughts that challenge that idea.  Evangelism is presenting the Gospel and challenging people to receive Jesus and the salvation He offers.  A witness is a person whose words or actions reflect the meaning, which Christ gives to his or her life.

Let’s begin with the last words of Jesus before He ascended into heaven.  “…When the Holy Spirit comes upon you; you will BE my witnesses…”(Acts 1:8)The Greek word for “Witness” in this passage is “Martus” (mar-toos).  It’s definition is; “one who by word or deed tells what he as seen or heard;” Webster’s Dictionary defines witness as; “Public affirmation by word or example of personal faith” or “one that gives evidence”  “You will BE my witness’s” was spoken by Jesus to those who were there on the day of Pentecost, but it applies to every believer because, at the moment of salvation, we too are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  So now, let’s examine the practical implications of what being a witness means.

The following hypothetical story describes the role of a witness.  Imagine with me a situation that develops right in front of you and ends with an automobile accident.  Let’s say you see a car stopped in the fast lane waiting to make a left turn.  A green car approaching in the same fast lane sees the light is turning yellow.  Trying to beat the red light, it speeds up and changes to the slow lane to pass the stopped car.  However, this was a last minute decision and causes a rather serious accident with another car traveling in the slow lane.  Being a good citizen, you stop to offer help and let the drivers and the police know that you saw the accident.  A few months later, you get a call from a lawyer and are subpoenaed to be a witness for the trial.  An attorney has worked for months gathering evidence and several other witnesses to support his charges.  He develops a strategy to present this evidence in such a way as to cause a judge or jury to discover the truth.  If you being one of the witnesses enter the courtroom, immediately point to a person, and began to shout, “He’s the one who caused the accident,” you can understand that even though you might be right, it would be detrimental to the case.  The attorney would quickly ask you to sit down and withhold your information until he asks you to take the witness stand.  He has several others who witnessed the accident, and you are the fifth person he will call.  He plans to call each witness in a specific order and will call on you when your information is most useful to the case.  When he does call on you, he wants you to say that you saw a green car changing lanes quickly and it hit the car in the slow lane.  He doesn’t want you to say more because he has others who will speak about the light turning red, etc.  Then the defense attorney will cross-examine you by asking you questions that are intended to prove that your statements are not true.  He may try to confuse you by asking questions you can’t answer, but not to worry, you can simply restate what you saw, experienced, and know to be true.  After the plaintiff’s attorney has called all his witnesses, he will make his closing statement, and a decision will be reached.  As a witness, you have no responsibility for the outcome of the case.  Your duty is simply to tell your personal experience as honestly and clearly as possible, but it’s important that you do this only when the attorney calls you to take the witness stand.

The attorney for this case will have presented the evidence in a very precise manner, and in fact similar to the methods of a bridge builder.  Bridge construction techniques for a particular type of a bridge can help us understand how God builds a bridge between Himself and an individual.  Many bridges start by pulling a very small nylon rope across the river or canyon.  Then a slightly larger rope is pulled across, then a small cable, then a stronger cable, after that, multiple cables.  This process continues until the cables are strong enough to support early work on the superstructure.  They are very methodical with the pace of construction because each phase must be done correctly and in the right order. Eventually, the bridge can help people safely cross from one side to the other.

God seems to work in the same way and understanding this helped me understand His activity in the first 26 years of my life.  It also led me to see how the Holy Spirit wants to use me as a witness for Jesus in the lives of others.  My experience is that the Holy Spirit has normally been active in people’s lives, long before he calls me to be a witness.  A good example; God was already at work in the life of Cornelius long before He asked Peter to speak to him.  (Acts 10)  Like Peter, I may be the first to witness to a person about Jesus, or there may have been several hundred before me.

It is God who orchestrates events and the witness of many people to accomplish His purpose in each person’s life.  He has a master plan for each life, and He executes it precisely.  When He invites me to participate with Him, He expects me to get on the witness stand, and only say what He prompts me to say.  In the same way as the overly zealous witness of the automobile accident, I can get ahead of God’s timing and hinder or even set back what He is doing in a person’s life.  Our role is simply to speak or act as He prompts us, and He adds our witness to those before us.  His earliest witness plants a thought, and each successive event or witness builds the case stronger.  When we live like this, it is impossible to fail as a witness.  When we respond to what He asks us to say or do, we have fully discharged our responsibility, and the results are up to the Holy Spirit.  Occasionally, our role is to be the last person in a chain of circumstances, and we see a person receive Jesus.  It brings us great joy, but it was not our input alone that caused a person to become a child of God.  It was a multitude of others, and God ordained events that caused that person to surrender their life to Jesus.  In addition, here is an important point, if someone earlier had not played their specific role, this person would not have been at the point I found him or her.  In fact, one of those who God used earlier in their life might have been an evangelist who presented the gospel to that person.

 

General thoughts about being a witness.

Many people think they lack knowledge and sufficient verbal skills to be a witness.  In fact, God seems to do nothing that he can delegate to people.  He allows us to do slowly and often poorly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye.  It must bring Him joy, and it certainly produces growth in us when He allows us to be His witness.  He used a woman of low morals to win a whole town.  (Lk 4)  He once used a donkey, (Num. 22:21-39) and said He could even use rocks if He has to.  (Lk. 19:40)  God uses anyone who will make themselves available.  Being a witness for Jesus simply requires a heart that is responsive to His leading.

If you are “In Christ” you are a witness for Jesus, but its expression depends on many factors.  Our witness is shaped by, one’s age, personality type, spiritual maturity, spiritual gifting, the situation, etc.  We know that the witness of a 12-year-old believer will be very different from a 40-year-old spiritually mature individual.  Personality plays a huge role as well, but if God has given you an introverted personality, you can still be the kind of witness that He designed you to be.  If on the other hand, you are a committed disciple of Jesus and have a strong extroverted personality, your tendency could be to act in the “flesh” rather than wait on the Holy Spirit.  In either case, it’s important that you understand how to “walk in the Spirit.”  If you do not, then that should be priority one so you can live your life in sync with God.

Our words and actions will be part of either erecting a bridge or a barrier.  Bridges assist people to move from one side to the other but barriers, even small ones, stop, or at least inhibit movement.  Small barriers can cause people to stumble, and large barriers will stop them immediately.  Let’s think about what relational barriers might look like.  Most of us have difficulty understanding doctors if they use scientific medical language or in a similar way, a Rotarian at a Lyons convention or a Protestant at a Roman Catholic Church.  Therefore, if we use traditional church vocabulary or what is often called “Christianeze,” it is likely to confuse, or at best keep a person from engaging in comfortable dialogue.  We must be careful because we can make it really difficult for people to understand our witness.  Around the church, we often use terms like; “THE WORD…THE CAUSE OF CHRIST…  THE SAVIOR”…I’VE HAD A BURDEN for so and so…THE LORD TOLD ME or SPOKE TO ME!  I am sure you can think of more words and phrases that we should avoid.  This kind of language makes us sound super-spiritual, so it’s better if we talk about our faith using everyday words.

Scripture calls us to; “…Be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.(1 Pet. 3:15)  One of the greatest tragedies in the Church today is that not many people are asked for the hope that they have.  Read that verse again; it doesn’t say, be ready to give an answer to questions people have about God.  That was really freeing to me, and I hope it is for you as well.  We should simply be able to tell in our own words what gives us hope in a world that doesn’t make sense to most people.  We don’t have to know why bad things happen to good people or explain the Predestination of God and the free will of man.  It doesn’t need to be a coherent, comprehensive presentation.  (even Jesus didn’t do that)  As in a courtroom, we’re simply asked to say what we have seen and experienced.  (1st Jn. 1:3)  That’s an authentic, effective witness.

 

My personal journey of learning to be a witness for Jesus.

To be this kind of a witness, I had to learn how to walk in the spirit.  (Gal. 5:16)  Only the Holy Spirit knows when I should get ON the witness stand and when I should get OFF.  (Read my article on Following Jesus)  Since I had such a great love for Jesus and knew the Bible fairly well, my biggest challenge was learning when I needed to get off the witness stand.  Over time, the Lord taught me that too much content that is not in harmony with what He is doing in a person’s life will hinder His plan.  I now wait until I feel prompted by the Holy Spirit before I witness verbally.

Only God knows where people are and only He can design the correct spiritual timeline for each person.  Only the Holy Spirit can match where a person is on their spiritual journey with the correct witness at just the right moment.  This pattern matches the Scripture that says; Some prepare the ground, some plant, some water, some cultivate, some wait, some harvest.

There have been many instances when I was prepared to give a witness, and He didn’t call on me, but I have learned to trust the wisdom of God.  At other times, I’ve felt an internal prompting to cooperate with Him by “getting on the witness stand.”  He may want me to say a sentence or two, or He may open the door for an in-depth dialogue.  The most common experience, however, is that He wants me to say something very simple and move on.  That’s what the blind man did in John 9:25.  The Pharisee’s tried to draw him into a religious debate, but his response was; “One thing I know for sure, once I was blind, but now I can see.”  (Jn. 9:25)  To tell what Jesus CAN DO is evangelizing but to tell what He HAS DONE FOR ME is witnessing.

When God does lead me to speak to someone, I don’t confront their beliefs, lifestyle, or relationships, because that puts them on the defensive, and can easily lead to a heated debate.  That isn’t profitable, so I will usually just share a personal experience that involves my life with Jesus.  It isn’t hard to remember one that fits the current conversation because I have had so many in my life.

One Example:  Over a ten-year period, I developed a friendship with the Director of the “Ministry of State Security for the Peoples Republic of China.”  (Their CIA).  On one occasion, we were in Shanghai and were sharing a bit about our personal lives, and he asked about my family.  As I began to tell him about my family, I felt the prompt that I have become accustomed to, so I began to tell him about my marriage.  At that time, I had been married approximately fifty years, but as of this date, it will soon be sixty-five years.  He seemed amazed that I had been married that long so I said, “I can’t take credit for having one wife for all these years because, after nine years and two children, I asked her for a divorce.  But I am so fortunate that five weeks later, I surrendered my life to Jesus, and He gave me a new heart.”  That led to a forty-five-minute discussion about how Jesus had changed my life.  My witness did not result in his conversion, but I felt certain that God had prompted me to say what I did, and I was equally certain that He will use my witness as He wills.

There have been other times when the Holy Spirit leads me to speak the name of Jesus, and it leads to a wonderful conversion.  One day my next-door neighbor called and asked if he could come over for a chat.  We had become friends, so I welcomed him to come over for a cup of coffee.  He brought with him a folder of papers and the issue he wanted to talk about was his financial condition.  He was facing foreclosure and knew that I had spent many years in the real estate business.  After going over his situation in some detail, I commented; “I hope you know how to pray because only Jesus has the wisdom to guide you through this.”  It wasn’t a conscious attempt to speak about Jesus, but rather my natural response to the mess he was in.  He didn’t verbally respond to my comment, but it was obvious that it struck a nerve.  He didn’t say much after that, and the conversation shifted to his kids and a family update.

About two hours after leaving he called and said, he wanted to come back and continue our conversation.  When he arrived, he wasted no time in telling me that he didn’t know how to pray and wanted to talk about that.  After a wide-ranging discussion about spiritual things, he said, “I want to surrender my life to Jesus like you have.”  I told him that was a good thing but receiving Jesus would not automatically make his financial problems disappear.  However, Jesus would give him the wisdom and strength to handle whatever the future holds.  He understood that, still wanted to have Jesus in his heart, and asked if I would tell his wife about Jesus.  Doug and Kathy are now walking in fellowship with Jesus and miracle of miracles they were able to keep their house.  They continued to be our neighbors for years and became members of our church.

Since I learned to be obedient to the check and prompt of the Holy Spirit, more people have come to know Christ than when I was looking for every opportunity to present the gospel.  In fact, many people think of me as an evangelist because, over the years, many people I’ve met with have become followers of Jesus.  Nevertheless, I am confident that I am not an evangelist.  I think of myself as a person with a strong extroverted personality who knows a bit about the Scriptures and has learned how to respond to the “Prompt and Check” of the Holy Spirit.

Please take special notice that I have not given any methods or formulas about how to be a witness.  If age, personality, spiritual maturity, spiritual gifting, etc., is taken into account, it means that every incident of witness is different, personalized, and specific to the situation.  If God has ordained the witness, it will be unique and customized by His Spirit.  Our goal is to be open and responsive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  That’s all you need to know about being a witness for Jesus.