June/July 2013 - Vol. 68
discussion with university student
The Reluctant Evangelist
[also in Spanish > Español
A passage that explains why many don’t respond to the good news
by Steve Clark

Many years ago I went through a time when I felt a strong inner resistance to evangelizing others. As I would head out of the house, something inside of me would object with a groan, “Not another time of evangelism.” This feeling arose because I thought people wouldn’t respond. Maybe I needed to learn a new evangelistic technique; maybe I was not fit to evangelize; or maybe I hadn’t prayed enough beforehand. 

In fact, most people did not respond to my evangelistic endeavors – at least not in any measurable way. 

Then I read a passage in Second Corinthians that revealed to me that I could not guarantee success every time I tried to evangelize someone, no matter what I did. Something more was going on, something spiritual. Here is the passage: 

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. We have renounced disgraceful, under handed ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled; it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:1-6).
This passage explains what is really happening when we do evangelism. Paul is presenting truths that clarify the spiritual problem we face in bringing the gospel to others. Let’s examine some of them. 

God himself is at work revealing the truth about Christ. We don’t have to rely solely on our own efforts. In the New English Bible translation, verse 6 reads, ‘For the same God who said, ‘Out of darkness let light shine’ has caused his light to shine within us to give the light of revelation – the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ 

God reveals himself when the gospel is proclaimed, but he wants us to do the proclaiming. 

God brought light out of nothingness. With that same infinite power, God is causing the light of his revelation to shine in this world. People see the truth in the gospel because God gives light and revelation. He is revealing his glory through Christ. God’s “glory,’ his greatness or power, is manifested through the character, works, and words of Jesus. 

How do those without faith see the glory of God in Christ? Verse 4 describes “the light that comes from the good news about the glory of Christ.’ It continues, ‘We have seen that the glory of Christ is the glory of God in him.’ In other words, the good news itself gives off light. It shines in people’s minds and spirits. It impresses the truth on them all by itself. 

This doesn’t mean we are not needed. God reveals himself when the gospel is proclaimed, but he wants us to do the proclaiming. Once it is proclaimed, people will automatically see it as the truth, unless they are somehow blinded. Our task as Christian evangelists is to put people into contact with the gospel and to allow God to reveal himself. 

Spritual blindness
Why, then, doesn’t God’s effective revelation happen more often than it seems to? Paul gives this answer: Satan is at work veiling the gospel and blinding people to spiritual realities.

This came as a great relief to me. Spiritual blindness, not simply my own inadequacies, prevents many of those I evangelize from accepting Christ. This truth touches on an important limitation we have in thinking about evangelism: we do not think about it in a spiritual enough way. It is not only a matter between two human beings. Spiritual beings are involved as well – the Lord God himself and Satan, the father of lies. We need to take all of this spiritual work into account. 

Some people are so blinded by Satan that they will not respond; others will be cured of their blindness as we speak the truth of the gospel to them. It is a great privilege to be the instrument to bring someone to our Lord Jesus Christ, to see that person’s life freed from bondage to sin and Satan. Keep speaking the gospel until you come across someone who is ready to let God’s light into himself. 

In a certain way, it is a matter of percentages: if we want more people to know the Lord, then we have to proclaim the gospel to more people. 

Successful evangelizers
Verses 2 and 4 present another important point about being successful evangelizers: we need to tell the truth about the glory of God in Christ. Verse 2 says that we refuse to do anything underhanded but “by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” 

St. Paul is warning us against the wrong sort of success orientation. We can want so much to succeed at evangelism that we will try anything that works – like dressing up a story to make things sound better than they are, or relying on dazzling evangelistic presentations to bring people to conversion. This verse does not rule out a concern for the methods we use to present the gospel, but it does make us consider how we are stating the truth. 

Servants for Jesus' sake
Even more crucial is verse 4: “What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” 

We are not winning people to ourselves. We are not trying to convince them to accept us as their lord. We have something people need. They would want it if they realized what it would do for them. We are like waiters bringing food to hungry people or nurses administering medicine to patients who are in danger of death. 

How are we to be “servants for Jesus’ sake”? In the western United States, deserts of brown, dry terrain stretch for miles. Every so often, however, stretches of irrigated land appear where everything is lush and green. The question: “What makes the desert bloom?” can be answered a couple of ways. One is “the irrigation system,” but the basic answer is water. 

Without water, irrigation systems are useless; the desert will remain brown and dry. On the other hand, the irrigation system is necessary to bring water to the desert soil. 

The Lord is calling us to be something like an irrigation ditch. Our job is to get the water to the field. Once the water is there, it will do its job. The irrigation ditch is the servant of the field, providing water for it. Our role as servants, as irrigation ditches in the work of evangelism, is to make a connection between people in need and the living water that our Lord Jesus Christ gives. We do not have to make them believe. We have to make an effective connection between them and the Lord so he can bring them to faith. 

We cannot think ourselves capable without God

We do not have to be capable of doing the mission on which he is sending us. In fact, it is obvious from the passage in Second Corinthians that we cannot think ourselves capable without God. He is looking for servants who can make a contact for him and who will allow him to reveal Jesus Christ as Lord – something he alone is capable of doing. We do not need to be that effective as evangelists in our own persons, as long as the transcendent power of the gospel is in us, and we are willing to be a channel of it to the world. 

Let’s keep these fundamental spiritual truths clear in our minds. They are liberating to us. They give us a greater freedom to do that which God is sending us to do – to make the power and glory of God more available to others. 

[Steve Clark is a founder and former president of the Sword of the Spirit, a noted author of numerous books and articles, and a frequent speaker. This article first appeared in New Covenant Magazine August 1989, copyright © Stephen B. Clark. Used with permission.]

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