Someone told me a few weeks ago that he was witnessing to a colleague at work. He said, “You know, Colin, this guy lives like the devil, but he is good at heart.” I said, “Well now, wait a minute. How can he be good at heart if he lives like the devil? Surely if he lives like the devil, there must be something wrong with his heart!” After all, Jesus said,
Out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality… greed, malice… envy… arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’ (Mk. 7:21-23).
What you believe about sin will shape your convictions about missions and evangelism. How we engage in this work, and what we think needs to be done, will in large measure be shaped by what we believe the human problem really is. Sin is a secret power, mysteriously at work in the soul of an unbeliever.
Three Ways to Use the Truth About Sin
Use it to mature beyond naïve optimism.
Years ago, back in England, Karen and I were enjoying an evening with some good friends who served alongside us in the church. We were playing a game where one person secretly answers a question, and then the rest of the group has to try and guess their answer.
The question was, “By nature, are people good at heart, bad at heart, or somewhere in between?” The answer our friend chose was, “By nature, people are good at heart.” We had some good conversation about it, but I still remember how distressed I was driving home.
I’d been preaching the Bible in this church for 10 years and one of our closest friends, who loves Christ, attends church every week, is deeply engaged in ministry, and reads the Bible, believes that by nature people are good at heart. How is this possible?
Many Christians are utterly unrealistic about what we are up against when it comes to missions and evangelism. That may be one reason why we are often weak on prayer.
Use it to shape your convictions about missions and evangelism.
People who have an optimistic view of human nature tend to have an unrealistic view of missions and evangelism. There’s the informational view: “All we need to do is tell them.” There’s the friendship view: “All we need to do is love them.” There’s the environmental view: “All we need to do is connect them.” If Johnny has good friends, Johnny will be a good boy. All these things are necessary, but none of them are sufficient.
The fruits of sin are such that the salvation of your son or daughter, your colleague or neighbor, can only be accomplished by a miracle of grace. The breath of Christ, the splendor of Christ is the only thing that’s going to overwhelm this spirit that’s at work in him or her.
And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming (2 Thess. 2:8).
This is why missions and evangelism must have at its center proclaiming Christ’s splendor and praying for Christ’s breath. This is why the Apostles said that whatever else goes on in the church, we must give ourselves to the ministry of the Word and to prayer (Acts 6:4).
Proclaiming Christ’s splendor! Praying for His breath! That has to be the priority for every pastor, every missionary, every evangelist, and every Christian who wants to see sinners won to Jesus Christ. I do not say that it is the only thing; it is the central thing.
This is what I have to do in my preaching, and it’s what you have to do in your witnessing: Try to explain why Jesus Christ is compelling to you. Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself” (Jn. 12:32), so lift Him up!
Don’t attack another person’s lifestyle. That’s not the way to do it. Lift up Jesus. Exalt Him. Commend Him. Tell people what you have found in Him. The way to overcome the mystery of sin is to proclaim the mystery of Christ.
God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. (Col. 1:27-28).
As you proclaim Him, pray for His breath. Pray that Christ will give life to this person, that He will breathe the breath of His life into them.
Proclaiming Christ’s splendor, praying for Christ’s breath—that’s the heart of New Testament missions and evangelism. Anything less would be like treating cancer with an aspirin.
Use it to deepen your gratitude for the miracle of your salvation.
Do you see yourself as a person in whom a miracle of grace has taken place? If you truly love Christ today, that is true of you.
Your story may be very simple. Mine is. I asked Christ to be my Savior at the age of six. I began to love Him and trust Him then, and with all my faults and failings, I love and trust Him today. That is a miracle of grace.
Where would the secret power of sin have taken me if it were not for His grace? Where would you be today? With all the contradictions that are in you still, why do you still love the truth and why do you believe the truth?
Answer: Christ has breathed His life into you. Christ opened your eyes to see His splendor. That is why you follow Him. This is a miracle of grace, and it has happened in you! Never underestimate it.
If you are reading this and thinking, “That hasn’t happened to me”, then you need a miracle of grace. You need a new heart. You need a work of the Holy Spirit in your soul that will change what you love and open your eyes to see the glory of Christ.
Having Christian friends won’t do this for you. Reading and learning about Christianity won’t do that for you. You need Christ to breathe His life into your soul and to open your eyes to the glory of His splendor. You need Him to bring you to the place where, like the first disciples, you can say, “The best thing I can do with my life is to follow Him.”
Come to Christ today. Don’t push Him away.
Tell Him, “I need you, Jesus, to do for me what I now know I cannot do for myself.”
Ask Him, “Lord, will You breathe Your life into me? Will You open my eyes to Your glory? Will you change this heart that loves sin and resists you? Do this miracle of grace in me!”
And I give you this promise from Jesus Himself. He said,
Whoever comes to me, I will never drive away (Jn. 6:37).
1. “Partial Solar Eclipse Clouded Over in UK,” BBC News, January 4, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12109329
2. A solar eclipse (the moon passes between the sun and the earth so that all or part of the sun is hidden from our view) is different from a lunar eclipse (when the earth passes between the sun and the moon, blocking the sun’s light from reaching the moon). http://www.mreclipse.com/Special/LEprimer.html.
3. “Solar Eclipse Warning,” London Times, January 3, 2011.
This article is an adaptation of Pastor Colin’s sermon, “The Lord Jesus Christ: Coming in Glory”, from his series, Staying the Course (When You’re Tired of the Battle.