Woe to Me if I Don't Evangelize
Editor’s Note: “There is a difference between having a rational judgement that honey is sweet and having a sense of its sweetness,” Jonathan Edwards wrote. “A man may have the former that knows not how honey tastes.” The Bible often describes our knowledge of God and his gospel with experiential language, using “sense” language like “taste and see” or the “eyes of the heart.” The term Christians have used to identify this emotive knowing is spirituality. Expressions of spirituality have taken many different forms, from Catholic mysticism to Pentecostalism. Evangelicals rejoice in the objective work of Christ in the gospel, yet an important aspect of our knowledge of the goodness of God and his saving work is through, what Edwards calls, “the sense of the heart.” That’s hard to define and often harder to bring about. So, over the next several articles, writers for The Gospel Coalition will consider issues related to evangelical spirituality.
Also in this series:
- Collin Hansen, You Must Be Heavenly Minded to Be Any Earthly Good
- Matthew Lee Anderson, Whitewashed Tombs and Gucci-Dressed Sinners
- John Starke, Why Holiness Must Be Personal
- Owen Strachan, You Can Anger God But Not Lose Him
The subtle pride of fear cuts deep. I frequently battle with the fear that my faults and weakness will undermine my gospel witness. Must I be perfect before I evangelize in obedience to Christ’s command (Matt. 28:19-20), in genuine love for the lost (John 17:26) and in passion for the glory of the Father (Col. 1:25-27)?
This quandary knots my soul and mutes my witness.
What great help I found in discovering one of Paul’s deep motives for preaching the gospel: He would rather die than deny God’s work within him. He evangelized from a keen desire to be himself, a new creation in Christ, and thus experience more of God.
To the Corinthians he made every effort to remove all hindrances from the gospel. Certainly he would not exercise his right to receive compensation as a preacher. His motive was not money but an inner compulsion that came from the gospel itself. “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16). He would rather die than give up his right to preach the gospel freely (v.15, see Phil. 1:21ff).
I remember when these words of Paul first had their first real effect on me. My fears were caught up short. Is Paul engaging in hyperbole? Do I pronounce woe upon myself if I do not proclaim the gospel? Is my life devoid of meaning if I do not witness? There are some profound discoveries in Paul’s words for the Christian life and witness.
What was this necessity so weighing upon him? What was it about Paul’s experience of the gospel that he would rather die than keep to himself? I suggest it is the necessity of being himself in Christ. There is something gloriously self-authenticating about the gospel in a person’s life. It silences the lie that there is such a thing as merely private faith. The gospel begets a desire to express itself in our lives.
Delight to Praise
C. S. Lewis saw this keenly in his beloved book Reflections on the Psalms. His famous quote on worship applies to evangelism as well: “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.”
Lewis had discovered while reading the Psalms, that “it is in the process of being worshiped that God communicates his presence to men.” The root of evangelism and worship, though different activities, is the same desire to express outwardly this gospel joy that has transformed one’s soul inwardly. In both vertical worship and horizontal evangelism, God communicates his presence to us.
This view of evangelism began to leap off the pages of Scripture where I had not seen it before. For instance in closing his sermon, the writer of the Hebrews motivates us to gospel-advancing hardship by holding out intimacy with Christ in the sharing:
So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured (Heb. 13:12-13).
The key word is therefore. Because Jesus suffered outside the gate to purify his people, therefore we must go to him (he is still outside the gate!) and endure the sure reproach that awaits faithful witness, boldly telling of Christ to others communicates God’s presence to us. In doing so we will confirm that we are truly a sanctified people. In witness we live out our true identity in Christ.
We saw this in the life of Paul, but we can also see it in the life of the Gadarene demoniac. After Christ’s exorcism of the demonic Legion, the man sat “clothed in his right mind” (Mark 5:15). The man, who before bloodied himself with stones, howled at the moon and broke iron chains like straw, was now sitting quietly, in respectable attire, lucid and calm. His very presence bore witness to the saving power of Christ. This was no contrived act of evangelism. The power of his witness was in simply being himself.
This is what I mean by finding ourselves in Christ as we witness. We enjoy the goodness of God’s presence and in speaking of him, upward and outward, we discover our very purpose for existence.
Gospel Identity Makes Us Witnesses
The motivations for evangelism are numerous—not the least being the eternal concerns of the lost. But it is a deep, internal gospel-identity that makes witnesses. Indeed, it’s those who taste and see that the Lord is good who go on to proclaim his excellencies (1 Pe. 2:3,9).
Since I am crucified with Christ, and Christ now lives in me, therefore it is my great desire that my life be consumed in making him known. Furthermore, in making him known, he makes himself known to me. I am fully myself caught up in him.
So there’s a tasting of Christ that I only smell until I witness. Witness flows from a yearning to taste again what once was enjoyed. Without open statement of Christ, I’m always driving by the bakery at baking time and never feasting on the bread.
Now as I seek to witness to my faith in Jesus Christ, my focus is on God and what he will communicate to me of his presence as I seek to communicate his presence to others. I am no less the hypocrite, but witnessing helps win the battle of faith instead of compound it. The spoils of battle accrue to the other aspects of my spiritual life: prayer becomes more earnest, study more diligent, worship more passionate, loving others more free. I’m beginning to feel the glad weight of necessity upon me to preach Christ. And in doing so, I am never more myself, and never more enthralled in God.