Inviting Others to Join
Course: Life is a Journey
Lecture: Inviting Others To Join
Jesus calls people to "Follow Me." He calls people to "Walk with Me." You and I are followers; we are disciples of Jesus Christ. To the first disciples, He said, "Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men." Part of fishing for people is to invite them to fish for more people; all disciples are to fish; all disciples are to encourage others to walk with them.
A. Make more disciples
In the final words of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives what is called His "Great Commission," a commission that is true for all disciples. In Matthew 28:18, He says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." The command, the invitation, for all disciples is that we make more disciples; we are to be involved in evangelizing and baptizing them. We also are to be involved in people becoming fully devoted disciples of Jesus Christ by teaching them to observe absolutely everything that Jesus has taught. Paul uses different metaphors, he talks about the fact that we are ambassadors for Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:19, he tells the church in Corinth, "... in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, but entrusting to us the message of reconciliation." God has entrusted to us the amazing Gospel that there is the way to be friends with God. "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us." So Paul makes that appeal. "We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake God made Him Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him," in Jesus, "we might become the righteousness of God." All disciples are invited to invite others to walk with them, to walk with Jesus. All disciples are to be self-replicating—or to say it differently, Christians are in the business of cloning.
This should be the most natural thing in our lives. What I want to do this morning is to walk through this process with you, to show that this isn't frightening; we don't have to have an MDiv or some other degree. This is simply for disciples and it's an absolutely natural process because that process began at conversion. In conversion, God changed us, that's the doctrine of regeneration, and changed people live changed lives. We've talked about the fact that things can't continue as they were before; you and I have been given a new birth; you and I have been given a new life; we have been made into new creatures; we are part of a new creation. Our lives must be different; changed people simply live in a changed way. As you and I start to live out our changed lives, people are going to start to notice.
1. People Will Notice
In Philippians 2:14, Paul says, "Do all things without grumbling or questioning, in order that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life..." We do truly live in a crooked, twisted, and perverse generation. Yet as you and I live out our lives, we are going to live it out as lights of the world, holding fast to the word of life, and people are going to start to notice that there's something different about us. Jesus uses other metaphors to make the point that you and I are the lights of the world. In Matthew 5:14, Jesus says, "You are the light of the world." Then He builds a couple of images to help us understand. "A city set on a hill cannot be hidden." You can take a city, and when you turn its lights on and stick it up on top of a hill, you're going to see it. "Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house." What's the point of lighting a light and then hiding it? We're not going to light a light and then stick it under something; the whole point of lighting a light is so that it will illuminate the room.
Then in Verse 16, Jesus drives the point home: "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good words and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." You and I are the city on the hill; we are the light that has been lit in order to illuminate the room; as we live out this kind of life, we're different, and people will see it and notice that there's something different. In the preceding verse, Matthew 5:13, Jesus uses a different metaphor, which is that of salt. He says, "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet." Now, we know that salt technically cannot lose its taste, but what Jesus is actually talking about is salt being defiled; that means that we can dilute salt with other substances so it loses its ability to preserve.
The point that Jesus is making is that Christians don't live in isolation from the world. He has just finished the beatitudes, and they're so strong that there might be this temptation to think, "Well, I need to live separate from the world." Jesus says, "No, Christians don't live in isolation from the world." Just as salt was used to preserve meat, so also Jesus (quoting one commentator) "calls His disciples to arrest corruption and prevent moral decay in their world"; that's our function of our being salt of the earth. Just as salt can become mixed with various impure substances, therefore becoming worthless as a preservative, so also Christians can mix themselves with the things of the world and become worthless as agents of change and redemption. You and I are the salt of the earth; we are agents of change and redemption, and we are here to arrest corruption and to prevent moral decay, just as salt keeps meat from going bad.
As you and I live as salt to the earth and lights of the world, people will notice that we're different; this is the kind of changed lives that changed people live. I really like the King James translation of Titus 2:14; it uses an English word in a way we don't any longer. Jesus says that He, "...gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." Now, 400 or 500 years ago in English, the word peculiar meant special. What Jesus was doing was purifying for Himself a people who were special to Him—those who are His people. I often think of us as a rather odd lot of people. You and I, to the eyes of world, are just a little peculiar and that's okay, that in fact, is the way it must be. We're living changed lives and people are supposed to notice that our lives are different.
2. People Will Wonder
As people start to notice that you and I are a tad peculiar, they're going to start asking the question, "What is it that makes these people different?" There's a quotation that some people say Martin Luther said and some people say St. Francis of Assisi said; I don't know, but it's a great quote: "Preach at all times. If necessary, use words." Our lives preach louder and our deeds proclaim truer than any words could ever say. People will see our changed lives and they will start to wonder, "What's different about them?" One of the more powerful examples of this in Scripture is Peter's instruction to wives, specifically to wives who are married to non-Christians. In 1 Peter 3:1 he says, "Likewise, wives, be submissive to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word," if they don't respond to the spoken Gospel message, "they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, the putting on of clothing, but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit." Peter tells these wives that the way to win husbands to the Lord is not to preach at them or not put all emphasis on the externals of beauty, but rather to focus on the internal beauty of women of God. Wives are to be those who are gentle—the very way in which they live their lives will speak volumes.
3. People Will Respond
As people start to notice how you and I live out our changed Christian lives, they will start to wonder, "What's so different about them?" Eventually, what's going to happen is that they will respond to the witness of our lives one of two ways. This is a great verse, 2 Corinthians 2:14, where Paul uses a powerful image of smell to make his point that there are two ways that people are going to respond to the witness of your life. Paul writes, "But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere." There is your changed life. "For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing..." In other words, we smell differently to different people; to one, a fragrance from death to death; to the other, a fragrance from life to life. As you and I live out our changed lives, to some people we are going to be the aroma of life; this is again what Jesus was talking about back in Matthew 5:16, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." To some, we will be the aroma of life; but to others, we will be the stench of death, their death. In 1 Peter 4:3-5, he writes, "For the time that is past," the time before your conversion, "suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this, they," your past non-Christian friends, "are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery and they malign You; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead." To some, we will be the aroma of life; and to others, we will be the stench of death. Our non-Christian friends will see our changed lives and they will not understand and they will malign us.
4. People Will Ask Why
The key in this whole living-out-our-lives-as-followers-of-Jesus natural process is that if we smell like the aroma of life, then they will ask us why. People will come to us and they will say, "Why do you smell so good?" They probably won't use that metaphor, but that's what they're asking. "Why do you smell so good?" Paul tells the Colossian Church in 4:5-6, "Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." Paul is saying that as we live out our different lives, our speech will be gracious, not cutting, condemning, judgmental, or critical. Our speech is going to be gracious, and they're going to want to know, "Why are you so gracious?" We need to know how we ought to answer each of these people, and the question simply is: "Are you and I ready to tell them why we smell so good?"
C. How Do I respond?
1. Share personal Testimony
Again in 1 Peter 3:15-16, he says,"...always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." People look at us and they should see that we have a hope that they don't have, "yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience." What we're talking about here is the whole issue of, what in the church has historically been called, "having a personal testimony"; being able to share our stories. I'm not talking about how we would share our faith with someone who doesn't know us, that we might run into on a bus or something, although that's important. What I'm talking about is our having a testimony that we can share with the people whom we know. When they see that our lives are different, that we have a gracious speech, and that we have a hope that they don't have, how are we going be able to tell them why we have this hope and why our speech is so gracious. This is the issue of friendship evangelism.
There are some powerful images and stories in the Bible about personal testimonies, and they can be phenomenally powerful. I think one of the most powerful is in the story of John 9, where Jesus heals the man who had been born blind (the whole chapter is about this story). The religious leaders are all bent out of shape, and they're not willing to say that Jesus was the one who gave him sight, so they go through this foolish repetitive set of questions. They get his parents in and ask them. Then finally, in verse 24, "So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, 'Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.'" What they mean is that Jesus doesn't follow all of their religious rituals, so He is a sinner; He cannot have possibly healed him. So then in Verse 25, the blind man answered, "Whether He is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." Powerful personal testimony is really hard to argue against, such as "Once I was blind." or "Once I was dead in my sin, unable to see God or what was right; unable to see what righteousness was." or "I was dead and had no hope, but now I can see." We would just simply have to write the person off as a complete cuckoo case. The religious leaders kicked the blind man out of the Temple and had nothing to do with him; they thought there was something seriously wrong with him.
Another good testimony is in Acts 4, where the young church had been witnessing to the risen Jesus and the religious leaders were unhappy (what a shock). In Chapter 4, they bring Peter and James in to defend themselves; starting at Verse 19, "But Peter and John answered them, 'Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge,' in other words, I really don't care what you think, "'for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.'" This shows the power of personal testimony. You and I both need to be prepared to have a personal testimony.
Let me just give some practical tips along this line. The first practical tip is the well-known acronym of KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. Personal testimonies don't have to be complicated; they don't' have to be this long, drawn-out, well-crafted, logical treatise because that's not what saved us and it's not what's going to save anyone else—keep it simple. Share with them what your life was like before you became a follower of Jesus; if you do this, my encouragement is to keep it minimal. I've heard some personal testimonies that were 90% of what a rotten jerk they were; it's like they are glorying in past sin. Tell people what your life was like before Christ, but don't glory in it; keep it to a minimum. Tell them why you decided to become disciples of Jesus Christ. Perhaps you may even want to relay the details of your conversion experience, then share with them the difference it has made in your life. "I once was blind but now I see!" Keep it simple. Our personal testimonies are something that we can prepare and practice beforehand; I would encourage all of you to practice them. Find ways to communicate the truths of our lives to people within 3 to 5 minutes, but again keep it simple.
2. Invite them to walk with you
Please understand that our personal testimonies are only the first step. If somebody comes up to us and says, "You smell so good. You have the smell of life about you. Your speech is seasoned; it is gracious." If we were to simply tell them why our lives have changed and then stop, we haven't finished, have we? We must go to the next step of inviting them to walk with us because you and I are all fishermen. You must be prepared and I must be prepared; having told our testimonies, and perhaps woven into our testimonies the very plan of salvation, we can then share with them how they too can be followers of Jesus Christ.
There are many methods out there for sharing salvation. I tend to use the ABCs a lot; I'm sure you've noticed. What does it mean to be a Christian? Being a Christian means to: A. Admit that you're a sinner and you're separated from God; acknowledge that His evaluation of you is right.
B. Believe in your heart that Jesus is God, He is Savior, and He is Lord—He is who He says he is. Believe that He did what He said He was going to do—die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sin. Then, C. Commit your life to Him. He's not only our Savior, but He is also our Lord. There...I did it in about 50 seconds!
b. John 3:16
Perhaps we want to get used to using John 3:16 as I did in the first talk of this series. Find a way to say, "God loved the world. He created the world but it was separated from Him by sin and yet He still loved it. He loved it so much that He gave His only Son. Jesus is the only sacrifice for sin. Jesus is the only way that this alienated world can ever be reconciled to its Creator again. Whoever believes in Him—it's not simply enough to have intellectual assent, but you must commit your life and belief to Him. Then you will not perish, but you will live forever. You will live a new kind of life, an eternal kind of life, that doesn't start when you die, but it starts right now. John says that we have already passed from death into life.
Perhaps we might want to use John 3:16 as a way to share. Perhaps we would want to use those three famous verses in Romans. Actually, a lot of people like to carry a small Bible with them and have these three verses underlined; they've memorized them so they can turn to them and actually have the other person read the verses. Read Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Every one of us has missed the mark. Every one of us has failed to do what our Creator has called us to do." Turn to Romans 6:23 and read, "For the wages of sin is death," which is the penalty for living separated from a holy God, "but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." The only way to get to heaven and the only way to have our sin forgiven is through the work of Jesus Christ and it's a free gift. There's nothing that you can do; no religion or no amount of good activity can earn your way to heaven; it is the free gift of God. Romans 10:9, "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord., if you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead then you shall be saved." Your assurance is that God has committed that if we confess Jesus is who He says He is and He has done what He has said He would do, then you shall be saved. Again, these three are probably the most famous verses in the entire book of Romans that contain the whole plan of salvation with which we can share with someone in two minutes.
It's always helpful for non-propositional people to have illustrations; I'm a propositional person, so I don't think in terms of metaphors. Some of you are helping me to learn to think metaphorically! The most common illustration for salvation is that there is this great chasm, the Grand Canyon, and we and our sin are over here, and God and His forgiveness is over there. The chasm is so great that there's nothing we can do to get over to where God is. So the cross comes down and it fills the chasm through the work of the only Son of God, who then invites us across to live in the full presence of God the Father forever. Illustrations are good and they're powerful, and we can mix and match these things. We must be prepared as we share our personal testimonies to move beyond our testimonies and to become fishers of men, saying, "You too can have this hope that I have; here's how you can do it"; it's as simple as ABC.
D. Practical Advice
1. Focus on Jesus
I have some practical advice: Be sure to keep your focus on Jesus because it's so easy to become distracted. The issue isn't our being religious; the issue isn't our good deeds; the issue isn't our being able to answer their intellectual questions. (Very few people actually have intellectual questions. Most people's problem with God is moral not intellectual.) Your story isn't really the issue either, the issue is Jesus. We must stay focused on who Jesus is—He is God; He is Savior; He is Lord. We must stay focused on what Jesus has done—He has died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. As we develop our personal testimonies and learn to share the Gospel, make sure the focus isn't on us, but make sure the focus stays where it belongs—on Jesus.
2. Don't Accept Too Much Responsibility
As we try to put this whole issue of personal testimony into action, please don't accept too much responsibility. One of the reasons I think people get frightened is that we tend to assume too much responsibility in this whole process. Do we know why some people think we smell so good? Do we know why we are the aroma of life to some of our friends who are watching our actions? Look at our friends and think, "These people don't like me; these people are drawn to me. What's the difference? Why are these people drawn to me?" Are they drawn to us because we have powerful stories or compelling arguments? No, that's not what's going on at all. Jesus says in John 6:44 that "no one can come to the Father unless He draws them." The point is that God is at work in the lives of these people, and He is drawing people to Himself. So when someone looks at us and says, "You smell good," it's not because of us, it's because God is at work in their lives—He's drawing people to Himself. There is balance in all of this. I'm not saying that we should totally be passive. I don't think that there's normally a time where we've shared our stories and then we should just leave it and wonder if they're going to ask us how to be saved. There certainly is a time when we have to take the initiative. We can say, "Would you like to have the same hope that I have? Would you like to have the same power at work in you that is at work in me?" You don't want to push this, there is a balance to all this, but certainly there's a time in which we can ask them the question. There also will be times in which it is obvious that they want to know themselves.
3. Don't become the Holy Spirit
Don't become the Holy Spirit; it's His job to convict people of their sin (John 16:8), not ours. As we are sharing our lives with people, if they're turned off, there is nothing we can do about it because they're dead in their trespasses and sin and only God can quicken, or enliven, their spirits. Do not accept responsibility that is only God's. Paul Little writes, "It is the Holy Spirit, not we, who converts an individual. We, the privileged ambassadors of Jesus Christ, can communicate a verbal message. We can demonstrate through our personality and life what the grace of Jesus Christ can accomplish, but let us never naively think that we have converted a soul and brought him to Jesus Christ. No one calls Jesus 'Lord' except by the Holy Spirit." If you and I share, then we have never failed; we only fail when we don't share. When we share, we've done our part and it's not our job to convict people of their sin; it's not our job to save them; it is not our job to convert them. If they reject us, what does Jesus say? They are not rejecting us, they are rejecting Jesus. If they reject Jesus, then they are rejecting the One who sent Jesus. So when they are rejecting us, they are not rejecting us; in fact, Jesus says very clearly that when they reject us, we are blessed. Right after the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:11-12 says, "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." You never fail and I never fail if we share; the rest is really up to God, isn't it. The fact of the matter is Christians are the great cloners of all time, bar none. We were changed in conversion and changed people live changed lives. To some we stink, that's fine, but to some we smell wonderfully and we are to be prepared to tell them why. As soon as we tell them why, we must ask the most fundamental question, "Would you like to join this journey of real life with me? Would you like to be a follower of Jesus Christ, a child of God? Let me tell you how." Then let God be God and do what only God can do, and that is give life to the dead—this is most natural thing in the world for a Christian.