October 14, 1990
Many Christians consider evangelism an optional task for a select few. Alistair Begg reminds us that telling others about Jesus Christ should be a natural activity in the spontaneous overflow of our Christian experience. We are to practice a “holy worldliness” by being vitally involved with the world yet remaining radically different.
Sermon Transcript: Print
We should start in John 17. And as you turn to it, we’re going to pray together and ask for God’s help. John 17, and primarily the eighth verse, is where we take our leave this evening in launching into this study.
Lord Jesus, you are the one who said to your disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the [gospel].” And you haven’t ever rescinded your clarion call. And so tonight we are on the receiving end of your Word, a word of command, so that we might know what to do, and a word of promise that you’ll be with us always, so that we need not be fearful of doing what you command. We pray tonight, as we spend these moments thinking concerning the nature and necessity and task of evangelism, that you will guide our thinking, teach us what we need to learn, and give us grace to do what we learn. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
You will notice on the outline that you were provided with in coming in—and if you don’t have one, if you just raise your hand, one of the ushers would bring it to you—that we put at the very top of it the word of Jesus in John 17:18: “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” And we’ve combined that with the twentieth chapter, and halfway or partway through that, in verse 21, Jesus says to his disciples, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Or if you have the King James Version, “As [the] Father [has] sent me … so send I you.” And that, of course, has given rise to that great missionary hymn “So Send I You,” with those tremendously challenging words.
Now, I have also provided a quote here from Archbishop William Temple that I want to read, and I’ve given it to you because I think it’s so good. Obviously, it relates primarily to the country of England. You should not feel left out any more than I should feel left out, because, of course, England is not Scotland, and the concern of the Anglican Church at this point was for the nation of England, and rightly so. And what a godly man was Archbishop William Temple, and how right was he in his emphasis, as we see, as he explains in a church commission of the day:
The evangelism of England … is a work that cannot be done by the clergy alone; it can only be done to a very small extent by the clergy at all. There can be no widespread evangelization of England unless the work is undertaken by the lay people of the Church. …
The ministry of evangelism is a charge laid upon the whole Church by its Lord. It is the very essence of the Christian calling.
Now, we lay this down as foundational. Evangelism is the normal life of the church and can never be an optional extra. And we’ll just fill in a second one while we’re at it, to keep us moving along. In John 17:18, which we’ve just read, and 20:21, Jesus is not simply stating a fact, but he is establishing a pattern. Not simply stating a fact but establishing a pattern.
Now, let’s just examine this for a moment or two this evening. If evangelism is the normal life of the church and can never be regarded as an optional extra, then that is true for us both personally and also congregationally. And yet, even allowing that to sit before us and for our eyes to fasten on it and our minds to think about it for a moment or two, we have to be honest enough, I believe, to recognize that in many times and in many cases and in churches of which we have been a part, and perhaps also this church, too, evangelism has largely been thought of as the task of a selected few; that in all the various opportunities that are presented to the disciples of Jesus Christ and are urged upon them by those in leadership in the church, evangelism has been seen on the kind of smorgasbord of possibilities—along with prayer (regarded as an option) and worship (not so much so, but perhaps in some instances) and evangelism and so on—and so the people of God have come along and said, “Well, I think I should choose maybe one or two out of the various hors d’oeuvres that are on the table,” and evangelism has been chosen by some and it has been neglected by others.
But in actuality, what we discover when we read our Bibles carefully is that the task of evangelism—simply of telling others the good news, of introducing others to Jesus Christ—is to be as natural for us in Christ as it was for Andrew, as John records it in John chapter 1, where in the calling of the first disciples, you’ll notice in verse 40 that Andrew was “Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and … had followed Jesus.” So John the Baptist points to Jesus Christ. Andrew is one of two who begins to follow Jesus Christ, and verse 41 reads, “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ).” In other words, the first activity in which Andrew engaged once he had become a follower of Jesus Christ was the activity of evangelism—that he immediately went out to find the one who was nearest and dearest to him and to tell him about Jesus, and furthermore, in verse 42, to bring him to Jesus.
And the task of evangelism, which falls upon us as individuals and then as a group, is to tell others about Jesus and to bring others to Jesus. And despite the fact that that seems so straightforward and we’ve heard it said so many times, our effectiveness in evangelism is diminished so long as we continue to regard it as a special activity in which we engage at certain times rather than that it is a spontaneous and constant outflow of our Christian experience.
Now, having said that—and I’m going to overstate it on one side tonight; I want to make you aware of that in coming into this—having said that, we recognize that there is a place for special seasons of evangelism and for unique opportunities in evangelism, especially at a congregational level. But that’s not the drift of where we’re going this evening. I want us to think largely in terms of it as the overflow of our lives rather than thinking, “It’s Wednesday night. It’s evangelism.”
Growing up in the UK, there was a program that came on on Friday evenings on TV; it was called Crackerjack. And it always began the same way: “It’s Friday, it’s five to five, and it’s Crackerjack!” And then the applause signs went up, and all the children clapped wildly as Crackerjack began, and they gave away Crackerjack pencils and all kinds of wonderful equipment, if you were fortunate enough to go on. And so, as I thought about Fridays, and sometimes as I look at my watch, I swear, as I’m driving in my car, I look at my watch, it’s about five to five, and spontaneously I say, “It’s Friday, it’s five to five, and it’s Crackerjack!” Okay?
Now, some churches, that’s the way they’re put together: “It’s Sunday, it’s five to six, and it’s evangelism!” We will go fish around for a while, and old Brother So-and-So will evangelize. We don’t evangelize. He evangelizes. We don’t evangelize. We have a team for that. We don’t evangelize. That’s a special orientation for just a few.
Now, part of the problem in relation to that is that we see our sent-ness into the world in two dimensions, when in point of fact, Jesus sees it in one dimension.
Having quoted already an archbishop this evening, I’m now going to quote a bishop. I’m feeling kind of Anglican this weekend. Bishop Michael Baughen, for those of you who always go to Britain and say, “The church is dead,” and “No, there couldn’t be believers there,” just hold your fire a little. There are some godly men in some of the strangest places. And Michael Baughen, writing on this subject—actually, on the very verse that we’re referring to here—says of Jesus’ statement “As you sent me, so I have sent you,” he says,
Jesus became incarnate, [bodily present] with us …. He was involved [with] us, sharing our life and its experiences, meeting with agnostics, atheists, hypocrites and enemies; as well as with enquirers, believers and disciples. He [was a good mixer, taking] time with people, even one to one. He could share poverty or [He could] sit at a rich man’s table [with equal ease]. He was not confined to any one form or method of evangelism. He adapted His approach … to [His] circumstances. He was strategic in action and timing. And in all this He was constantly aware of His “sentness.”
Then he says this:
“Sentness” for us is thus not confined to missions or evangelistic efforts (although it includes those), but widens out to embrace the whole purpose of our [lives]. We are sent into the world—in the insurance office, the sports club, the [assembly] line, the street. All we do is as God’s people, and wherever we go and whatever we do, it is as those [who are] sent by the Lord. There [should be] no … separation between our business life and our Christian life; no place for living a double life. Our membership [in] the Body of Christ is to pervade our whole life. … Let us thank God for Christians who are unashamed to be known as Christians and pray for those who keep it hidden. Let us pray that Christian lives may influence by their caring, their integrity and their joy, showing the reality of Christian living in the rough and tumble of everyday life.
Evangelism “in the rough and tumble of everyday life.” That’s what we’re thinking about this evening, and acknowledging the fact that Jesus provides not simply a fact but a pattern. And here we notice that, for example, in John 1:14, Jesus came into the world, we’re told: “The Word [became] flesh, and dwelt among us.” If you turn onto the back of your outline this evening, you’ll find this strange-looking diagrammatic form—at least I hope you do. And what I’d like to do is give you the bones of it as I seek to fill it in. It’s very straightforward when you see it, but I’ll just do it piece at a time in the hope that it helps to make sense for us.
John [1:]14 tells us that the Word became incarnate—that Jesus Christ came. He did not shout from heaven, he did not send the message by some other means, but he came himself. And he came as one who was “full of grace and truth.” And he came in order that the invisible God might become visible and in order that that invisible God might become apparent to the world. It’s fairly straightforward stuff. God decides he’s going to reach his world. He sends his Son, who doesn’t remain at a distance to shout, but he comes, he touches, he stays, and he lives. And in doing so, he is reviled by the religious establishment of his day.
He touched the life of the woman at the well in John chapter 4 by the simple beginning “Could I have a drink of water, please?” He touched the life of Zacchaeus, who climbed up a tree, hoping for a glimpse of Jesus, and ended up having his life changed by Jesus. He touched the leper whom others wouldn’t touch. He touched children when the disciples thought it would be a good idea to get rid of them. He came. He stayed. He touched. And then he said, “As I was sent, so I am sending you”—the implication being that evangelism takes place when we come to where people are, when we stay where people are, when we touch where people hurt. And that is simply the other side of the process: that Christ has given the church, made us part of it; that church, he said, is to be “holy and blameless”; by means of his church, the invisible God becomes visible, and the world encounters Jesus.
Now, let’s cut through this, and let’s think in terms of your private world and my private world. Let’s put office there instead of world. Or let’s put sports team instead of world. Let’s put senior high instead of world. Let’s put junior high instead of world. How is God planning to reach that world? Through you! That’s evangelism—ultimately, not a program; ultimately, not a special deal; ultimately, the spontaneous overflow of a life that’s in touch with Jesus.
Now, on the one hand, this is extremely exciting, because it makes it accessible to everybody. On the other hand, it’s extremely unnerving, because as long as we leave it a program into which some people sign, then we, of course, don’t need to join the program, and we don’t need to sign. And Jesus says, “I’m sorry, but you don’t have that option.”
That brings us, then, to note quite straightforwardly this truth: that there can be no significant impact without meaningful contact. It’s a while since they made the film The Gospel Blimp. Some of you are too young to have ever seen it. But it was a great story where some church decided in the South that they were going to evangelize their neighborhood. And a couple were really encouraged, as I remember the story, because they were having such difficulty witnessing to their friends, and the church decided that it would take a blimp up—actually, a dirigible—up above the community and would drop leaflets about Jesus down on the community. And you have the ultimate irony of the man putting his money in so that the blimp can go up and the material can fall, and on the Saturday afternoon, his next-door neighbor’s out cutting his grass, and he leans over the hedge, and he says to the man, he says, “What in the world is all this stuff that’s landing in my garden?” And the guy still can’t find it in himself to explain the nature of the gospel.
So we would rather, many times, send up one of these blimps and drop little gizmos from the heavens and sign a check for it and ease our responsibilities rather than crawl across the hedge or walk up the driveway and make impact as a result of contact. It’s very straightforward stuff, is it not? But there needs to be infiltration of our communities, identification with our communities, rather than isolation from our communities. And sadly, the church as a whole and individual Christians in particular have experienced great failure in this regard—made pretty dreadful impact because we’ve made so little contact, adopting the posture of Austria at the time of the outbreak of war, where it decided that it would neither link with Germany nor with Britain or anybody else and would maintain the notion of splendid isolation. And so, by and large, the church, embracing a kind of warped notion of what it means not to be “of the world,” has isolated, has withdrawn, and has become a withdrawn community. And Christians have grown aloof from their friends rather than have got alongside their friends. And consequently, we have lost, if we ever had it, the ability to relate to our non-Christian friends and our neighbors.
So here is the great challenge and here is the issue in John 17. Jesus says to his Father, “I’m not going to pray that you take them out of the world. That would be easy. I’m going to ask that you put them in the world, that you leave them in the world”—contact to make impact. “But Father, I don’t want them to be contaminated by the world, so I ask that you protect them from the Evil One.” And herein lies, for most of us, the great challenge. How do we identify with our worlds without becoming totally absorbed by our worlds?
And this is where you’ll find the little seesaw diagram, which is also in your outline there this evening. This is… I stole from Joe Aldrich, whom I stole from Mike Stokke, and I’m pretty sure, ’cause I’ve seen it elsewhere, that Joe Aldrich stole it from somebody else, so I don’t feel too bad. But the seesaws here—or the teeter-totters, sorry—here is the balance that we’re called upon to attempt. That is that we are to be not of the world, in the sense that we’re like Jesus, not that we’re like the Pharisees. We’re to be not of the world in that we are, like Jesus, holy, not, like the Pharisees, stuffy; that we were like Jesus in the discovery of freedom, not like the Pharisees in the introduction of legalism; that we were like Jesus in the expression of reality, not like the Pharisees in the expression of dull routine. So there is a radically different dimension to our lives, insofar as we are not of that world, we’re different from it; but we are in that world, insofar as we are involved in it.
I want to ask you tonight: Do you really have non-Christian friends since you’ve been saved? Or are we involved in a kind of rabbit-hole approach to Christianity, where we run out of the rabbit hole of our Christian homes into the rabbit hole of offices that we’ve tried to make largely Christian, into the rabbit hole of our Christian recreation, into the rabbit hole of our Christian education, into the rabbit hole of our Christian fellowship, and back into the rabbit hole of our houses? No contact, no impact.
And it becomes very obvious, just to establish these principles, that the tremendous opportunity for you folks is far greater than it ever can be for me—I wonder, do you understand that?—or for any of us that in the world’s eyes have got “clergy” somewhere in our CV. Because they expect us to do religious kind of things. They expect us to try and cajole them into some kind of Christian understanding. But you can sneak up on them unawares! You can infiltrate the mechanism! ’Cause you’re just like them, in the sense that you sit at one of those computer terminals, and so do they. You sit at that laboratory thing, and so do they. You have a Bunsen burner, and so do they. And they don’t expect you to be radically involved with Jesus Christ. The great impact of the Chapel is not on a Sunday; it’s Monday through Saturday, living where you are, radically different, radically involved. That’s the balance of John 17.
However, it’s so easy to get it out of kilter, just like this: where radical involvement leads to, when we get so involved and take on their lifestyle and take on their patterns and laugh at their jokes and identify ourselves to the point that we’re no different in the sports club, then what we discover is that our message becomes diluted, and the difference about us is diminished, and our involvement is exalted, and our message is hindered. Of course, the reverse is also true: that where we make such a deal of being different and diminish the place of involvement, then we have, in the words of Billy Graham’s brother-in-law (yeah, Leighton Ford; thank you), in this case, we have a message but no one to say it to, ’cause we’re not involved enough; and in this case, we have an audience but nothing to say, because we’re too involved. And so we end up wrestling with the balance of being radically different and radically identified.
Now, that brings me to my third little diagram, which simply is another graphic way of expressing this same dilemma. Okay? Identification is not to be confused with assimilation. If you have your sheet, which I think you do, that’s the next two things to fill in, okay? It says,
“However, something is not to be confused with something.” And the answer is “However, identification is not to be confused with assimilation.” That is, we identify with the world in its need and in the recognition of the trueness of our humanity, but we’re not assimilated by the world and its sin.
So, here we’re going to school. Here we’re in university. Here we are in the sports team. We’re going on the bus, and on the bus they… Let’s make it a rugby team in Britain. And on the bus they sing these fiendish songs—I don’t know if they do it here in America, but the dirtiest songs you’ve ever heard in your life. And there you go. You went to church Sunday, you went to the Bible study Tuesday, the Christian group, and Saturday, man, are you on that bus! And you’re with your buddies, and the songs start up. Well, what do you do then? Do you sing the dirty songs to prove you’re one of the guys? No, you don’t. That would be to be assimilated, not identified with. That would be to confuse our Christian friends.
Somebody was telling me about a boy on a sports team, on a Triple-A baseball team, during the summer—or some kind of A baseball team. Again, I don’t know all about these As. But he was on a baseball team that was a wee bit better than just a college team—a Christian, away from home by three thousand miles, living in digs, playing ball, sitting in the dugout every night.
And in the course of the conversation, a fellow sitting on his left started to chide him about being religious. And he said to him, “Mark, you’re a religious guy, aren’t you? What’s the matter with you? Why are you so religious? Why don’t you get involved with us after the game when we go do this with this and this and this?” And before Mark had an opportunity to answer, the boy on his right leaned around in front of him and said to the other fellow, he said, “No,” he said, “Mark’s not religious.” He said, “Mark has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Isn’t that right, Mark?” And this guy wasn’t a Christian either! One got the message; the other didn’t. But Mark was not assimilated. He was involved, but not at five; maybe at level two. So he was not drawn up here. Nor was he so different that he was isolated. And here is the great challenge: to find the balance.
And this is as true for us in rearing our children and in deciding the things they can attend and can’t attend and must attend and shouldn’t attend and all these other things. It’s not an easy one! The identification of Jesus with the world should not be confused with assimilation.
Now, let me draw this to a close by mentioning one or two final things.
Having quoted an archbishop and a bishop, I will now finally quote a canon. Okay? Speaking, myself, as a peashooter. Canon Vidler in his day said that what the children of God needed was a “holy worldliness.” It’s a great phrase. It’s a great phrase. A “holy worldliness,” in that the Christians were street-smart where it was okay to be street-smart. They weren’t like, “Ugh.” They weren’t a bunch of weird wimps. They were normal individuals. They were men. They were girls. They were in the world and obviously so. They knew what time it was. They knew what day it was. They weren’t walking around in some kind of dwam. (Translation follows.) But despite their identification with, they were holy. In other words, they were supernatural, but they were supernatural in a very natural kind of way. And ultimately, the evidence for the credibility of the gospel in the eyes of our friends will be in the quality of our lives, not in the quantity of our words. Indeed, unless there is quality in our lives, there is no reason for there to be any words at all.
“Oh,” says somebody, “then he was saying that words don’t matter.” We’re gonna come to that another night, but that’s not tonight. Yes, it’s going to be very important to be able to open our Bibles and verbalize the gospel. It’s essential that it takes place. Romans 10:9 tells us that. However, some of us are Quick Draw McGraw with the words; we can’t get the guns out of our holster when it comes to quality of living.
Again, borrowing from Joe Aldrich, he said our friends—well, that’s just paraphrasing, actually—our friends will pick up the melody of the gospel faster than they’ll learn the words. Pick up the tune quicker, you see?
Floyd McClung, whose name will ring a bell for some… Floyd McClung… Sorry. (Who was not an archbishop!) Floyd McClung said, “People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.” They don’t care if you did a course in personal evangelism for forty-seven weeks and graduated with a high A. They don’t give a rip! They don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. And we have no right to go and tell them how much we know until God creates in our hearts a genuine care and concern for them. We’re not spiritual sharpshooters.
And finally, although our ministry is spiritual, we must be natural. You like that? I like it. Do you know the language your friends speak? Do you speak their language? The more I listen to people share their faith, the more the hair stands up on the back of my neck: cliché-ridden jargon from start to finish, phraseology that is the language of Zion, angelic in its tones but useless in its impact. We have no right to expect our buddies at school to learn our language so that they may meet our Jesus. We must learn their language—not dirty language—the parlance that touches, so that we may introduce them to our Christ.
So yes, it is a spiritual responsibility, but it is natural. And if you want to know what key to play in, play in the key of “Be natural.” “Be natural.” Not “Be flat.” Not “Be sharp.” “Be natural.” For that’s where integrity lies for you. Don’t go out and try and do it the way I would do it or way the person next to you would do it. You can’t do it! You shouldn’t even try! But God gifted and graced you to be able to do and speak and live in and where and when you should, so that you might become a bridge over which Christ may walk into the hearts of those who are our friends and neighbors.
Our approach, then, is to be stereophonic evangelism: the written Word, the Bible; the lived Word, our lives. And we’ll probably have to have the channel of the lived Word sounding a little louder at the beginning so that we may then bring up the left-hand speaker of the written Word as people, having heard the melody and liked the tune, began to inquire about the words.
We need to get close enough to people to make shouting completely unnecessary. Are you brave enough? Am I brave enough to get that close? If the answer is yes, then the possibilities are great. If the answer is no, then at best we’ll be left with the hollow cries reverberating in the hallways and corridors of the places of our daily appointing.
Let’s bow together in prayer.
As we conclude our time tonight, let’s just ask God to bring to our minds faces and places where we can have an impact. Let’s allow God to confront us with the spirit of isolation that has removed us from the place of usefulness. Let’s allow the Lord to show us where we’ve been assimilated into the thought forms and patterns of our peers to the point where our message is rendered obsolete. Let’s commit ourselves to wrestle individually and as a congregation with what it means to be radically different and yet vitally involved.
Gracious Father, give us people with whom we may live in such proximity that we don’t need to shout. Take us out into the days of this week, in the power of the Spirit, in the freedom of the Spirit, in obedience to your Word, in glad service. May we lay down our lives so as to become bridges over which you, Lord Jesus, may walk into the experience of our non-Christian friends.
Thank you for this day. Thank you for each other. Thank you for your Word. We commit one another lovingly to your care. Take us to our homes safely. Be with us there, until you bring us together again in your purposes. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Mark 16:15 (NIV 1984). See also Matthew 28:19.
 See Matthew 28:20.
 Attributed to William Temple in Towards the Conversion of England: A Plan Dedicated to the Memory of Archbishop William Temple (London: Press and Publications Board of the Church Assembly, 1945), 36, 40.
 Michael Baughen, Breaking the Prayer Barrier: Getting Through to God (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1992), 138–39.
 John 1:14 (KJV).
 John 4:7 (paraphrased).
 See Luke 19:1–10.
 See Mark 1:40–45; Matthew 8:1–4; Luke 5:12–14.
 See Mark 10:13–16; Matthew 19:13–15; Luke 18:15–17.
 Ephesians 1:4 (NIV 1984).
 John 17:15 (paraphrased).
 Alec R. Vidler, “Holy Worldliness,” in Essays in Liberality (London: SCM, 1957), 95–112.
 Floyd McClung, attributed in Joseph C. Aldrich, Life-Style Evangelism: Crossing Traditional Boundaries to Reach the Unbelieving World (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1981), 35.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.