Pastors are well aware that there are certain subjects that congregations do not like to hear sermons on. One of those topics is that of hell. The entire concept of hell is extremely unpleasant and few people want to hear about it. That does not mean it should not be preached on, just that many people do not like to hear it. Another topic that is not very popular is that of money. As soon as the topic of money comes up, people are waiting for the pastor to encourage them to dig deeper and put more in the offering plate. No one wants to hear this, except maybe the treasurer! But there is another topic that may be even more uncomfortable than these. When we hear about hell we can put it in a nice theological box and place it with our other doctrines. When it comes to money, we can assure ourselves that we are at least giving something even if the church leadership would appreciate some more. But evangelism is different. Evangelism is not about getting you to believe in a doctrine and evangelism is not about getting you to do more of what you are already doing. When pastors preach evangelism, we are often asking you to do something you are not doing and that you do not want to do. I say that not as a pastor but as someone who remembers what it feels like to sit in a pew and hear that message. If I was given the choice of either putting some more money in the plate or sharing the Gospel with a non-Christian, I would rather give the money. And yet the message of sharing the Good News is found throughout the Scriptures and Paul gives a very strong challenge for this in Romans 10. Let us look at what Paul says and see what we can learn from him.
Why do we need to preach the Gospel? Does it really matter? In context, Paul is talking specifically about the people of Israel. Think about all that Israel had. It was to Israel that God had revealed himself, it was to them that he sent the Law and the prophets. It was from the Jewish people that God’s Son would be born. The Jews had a tremendous advantage in many ways. And yet they still need Jesus. Paul has made it clear that we are all sinners, Jews and Gentiles. Because we are sinners and we are unable to overcome this sin on our own, we need what Jesus did through his death and resurrection. So what Paul is saying is, despite the long history the Jews have with God, the Jews are lost without Jesus. This is his motivation to preach the Gospel. If God’s chosen people desperately need to hear about Jesus, how about our friends and family? We need to get things into perspective. It is not about trying to make bad people good. This is one of the things people find offensive about evangelism. It makes it sound like we are saying non-Christians are bad people and that we want them to become good people like us. Paul definitely thought that the Jews were good people and that they were sincerely going about their traditions. However, he knew there was something missing and that was a right standing with God. Religious traditions by themselves cannot make right with God, only accepting God’s free gift of Jesus can we be made right. So when you look at your friends and family and see them as good people, do not think that gets you off the hook for sharing your faith. Many non-Christians will be nice and good people, perhaps more generous and kind than many Christians. That is not the issue here. The issue is about who is in right relationship with God. If we are Christians, that does not make us better people, but it does give us the added responsibility to share what we have experienced.
So we are supposed to share the Gospel with those who have not been made right with God. But what exactly are we sharing? This is where people stumble. Is the message that Christianity can make you a better person? This is probably one of the most popular forms of the message. People may not be thinking of spiritual issues, but they likely want to be a better spouse, parent, employee or just a person in general. So we come along and tell our story of how Christianity has made a difference in our life. We used to be nasty and now we are nice, we used be a rascal and now we are respectable. I have mixed feelings about this message. On one hand I am sympathetic because it is often true. When one experiences Jesus, there should be a real change in our life. We should become a better spouse, parent, employee and so on. But that is a byproduct of the Gospel, it is not the content of the Gospel. Why is that? Because a religion or a philosophy does not have to be true to make you a better person, it just needs to provide some motivation. This is why people are attracted to religions like Buddhism or Mormonism, not because of their truth claims, but because their system provides motivation to be a good person. The difference that Christianity makes in our life may be something that attracts people to Christianity, but it is not the content of the Gospel. Somewhat related to this is the idea that Christians are nice people. You encourage people to become Christians so that they can be around nice people like us. We are compassionate, kind, generous and generally good people to be around. Again, I hope all of this is true but that is not the Gospel. Here is the problem. We are human beings. If our message is that Christians are nice, what happens when we lose our temper, get frustrated, pass on some gossip, become judgmental and so on? That will happen because we are human. And there goes our message. We cannot have our message be based on how good we are, even though we strive to be all of these good things. For others, the message is that church is fun. There is a strong current in church ministry to make church really fun. You should come out to church because we have rock music, our pastor is covered in body piercings and tattoos, we keep things lively and so on. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying that church should be as boring as possible or that we should never change. I like lively music and I enjoy having fun. But what happens when that is the content of our message? That is a shallow message and people will move on to the next thrill in no time. So what is our message? Paul makes it very clear that the message is “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,‘ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9) That is the message. What is this saying? The message is that people must confess Jesus is Lord, that is an act of allegiance. In those days, everyone was expected to take an oath that Caesar was Lord, that was how the Romans maintained loyalty. If a person refused to take that oath, the Romans knew what side that person was on. The message we have to share is not that Christianity is great or church is fun but that people must acknowledge Jesus is Lord. This is something very serious, it is making it clear that we are bringing ourselves under the authority of Jesus. The second part is that we must believe that Jesus was raised. Notice that it is not that Jesus was crucified. Why? Because thousands of people were crucified. What is unique about Jesus is that he was resurrected. There are many people who appreciate that Jesus died and see that death as an inspiring example of self-sacrificial love. That is not enough. When one accepts that Jesus was resurrected, that sheds new light on every part of Jesus‘ life and death. There are many doctrines that we can argue over and debate about but the resurrection of Jesus is non-negotiable. Paul says elsewhere that if Jesus did not really rise from the dead, Christians are fools to be pitied. Our message is not just that we know a Jesus who was an inspiring religious leader but that we know a Jesus who conquered death.
So there are people that need to hear our message and our message is that Jesus is the risen Lord. So what do want me to do about it? Shouldn’t we leave this up to the professionals? There are people out there who love to talk about their faith, they are natural communicators and they seem to know no fear. Let them do it! Except Paul does not seem to seem to give that option. People can be saved only if they call on the name of Jesus. If they are to call on Jesus, they need to believe. If they are to believe, they need to hear. If they are to hear, someone must preach. If someone is to preach, they must be sent. Who must be sent? Is Paul speaking of himself? Paul here is speaking specifically of the need for Jews to believe and yet Paul was the apostle the the Gentiles. And yet Paul still saw a role for himself in bringing Jews to Jesus, not because he was an apostle or an evangelist but because he was a Christian. The role of sharing falls upon all those who belong to Jesus. I know this sounds intimidating. In some ways, the word ‘preach‘ is an unfortunate translation. We think of preaching as coming up with a twenty minute sermon with three points, a cute illustration, and based on hours of biblical study. That is not what Paul is speaking about here. The original word would be better translated ‘proclaim.‘ Proclaiming is simply passing on the message. Proclaiming is something we do all the time. Do you think your grandchildren are the best kids in the world? You proclaim it. Have you found a vitamin supplement that works great for your health? You proclaim it. That is what we do. We have accepted Jesus as Lord and we know in our hearts he was raised from the dead. What should we do? Proclaim it! This is not about shoving religion down people’s throats or forcing an unwelcome message on people who are hostile. Just begin to share what you believe and watch what happens. If people reject it, respect their decision and do not force it. If they are interested, see where they are willing to go. In Acts 17, Paul preached Jesus and the resurrection in Athens. The results were some rejected the message, some were interested in more information and some accepted the message. That is what we hope for. Proclaim the message in the way that is natural for you, according to your personality and in the context of the person you are talking to. But proclaim the message!
Paul was passionate about proclaiming the Gospel. He looked at his own ethnic group, the Jews, and it broke his heart that they did not know Jesus. He knew the message had to go out. The message still needs to go out. The people all around us need to hear the message as much as the people in Paul’s day. What is the message? The message is that Jesus is Lord and that Jesus is alive. You do not have to know everything, but you have to know this and believe it. Who is to share this message? All of us have to share this message. This will happen in our own way and in our own context. But we must proclaim the truth of Christ.