November 4, 1990
How do you communicate the good news of the Gospel with those around you? With Jesus as our great example, Alistair Begg offers six helpful guidelines for sharing our faith with others. As we talk with coworkers or meet people in our community, our approach needs to be flexible and adaptable, with us seeking to connect with them as we share the hope we have in Christ.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Our gracious God and Father, we thank you that of all the things that we might be doing in this hour, you have seen fit to bring us together now, that we might praise the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, your Son and our Savior; that we might be quickened by the Holy Spirit concerning what it means to love and follow after him; and that we might be reminded of the wonder of your fatherly care in our lives, so that here on this first evening of a new week, with the days of opportunity opening before us, we might cry out to you, the living God, for grace and mercy, for courage, for renewal, for power and authority and joy, recognizing that with the Lord Jesus you freely give us all things. Quicken our minds, we pray, that as we think about what it means to tell the good news to another, we might fasten on principles that are helpful, that they might be rememberable, and that they might be transferrable. Hear our prayers as we offer them in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Please be seated.
You may care to turn in your Bibles to John chapter 4, which is the portion of Scripture that we read together when we were here last Sunday evening. We concluded last Sunday by exploding some myths concerning the whole business of personal evangelism. Myth number one was that it takes a certain kind of person, and either that person is me because I’m really good, or that person isn’t me because I’m no good. And we discovered that it doesn’t actually take a certain kind of person. Secondly, that you need to be a walking Bible dictionary before you can even start. Or thirdly, that we’re personally responsible to speak to everyone in the universe. All of those are myths which inhibit effectiveness in personal evangelism.
We were then about to go on to deal with some important guidelines, which will not be news to us, but I share them this evening by means of reaffirmation, which, of course, has largely been the case throughout our studies so far. Since you have a blank outline, let me give them to you. I also have them on the overhead sheet here, but since it doesn’t go up, that’s of no help. There are six, and we’ll fill them in as we go along.
Guideline number one, in seeking to arrive at the opportunity of providing a clear and concise statement of our faith in Jesus Christ—guideline number one: be natural. Be natural.
Now, we are all made differently, and as we said last time, some of us are more introverted than others, and some of us are certainly more extrovert than others. God is not taken by surprise by our human personality; indeed, he designed it. And for some of us, to become very effervescent is to become very unnatural. For some of us, to endeavor to be rather quiet characters is also unnatural. Therefore, we must beware of pressing one another into a mode of operation which is perhaps very familiar and easy for us but may not be the natural process for someone else, so much so that when we seek to move conversation from what we might refer to as ordinary talk to spiritual matters, it should never involve any dramatic change in our tone of voice nor in our terminology. In other words, we mustn’t get into the mindset of allowing a bell to go off in our heads which triggers for us some kind of pious, monotone speech or else immediately flips, as it were, the fonts of speech—in much the same way that fonts are changed in a computer, I believe, although I know precious little about it—but immediately flips us into another whole vocabulary altogether.
Let me caricature it in this way. Our companion to whom we’ve been talking, whether a long-term or a short-term contact, has perhaps gleaned from us that we are religious or Christian or have an interest in the Bible or in Jesus or some other thing, and we may even have had the chance to explain just a little of our testimony, and the chap who is beside us at the bus stop or sitting with us across the desk from us at school asks a simple question like “Well, what brought this about in your life? I mean, how did you reach this position?” And we reply, “Oh, I tried the broken cisterns, but ah, the waters failed.” So the fellow said, “Yeah, that’s uh… Yeah, that’s uh… very good. Yeah. How would you explain the change that has taken place in your life?” he may go on to ask, trying another tack, hoping for something better. And we find ourselves responding, “Well, you see, I was dead in my trespasses and in my sins. I was bereft. I was in need of justification, sanctification, glorification, propitiation. But now, blessed assurance, I am redeemed! I am declared righteous. I am raised to the heavenly places.” Watch carefully out the corner of your eye as your friend sidles off over the horizon, ’cause he feels dead sure that whatever has happened to you, he does not want that to happen to him or to her.
The conversation had been going really well.
“Hey, did you see what happened to the Browns?”
“Well, what do you think about Saddam Hussein?”
“Well, I don’t really know.”
“What do you think about Israel?”
And then all of a sudden, it moves into the spiritual dimension, and the Christian freaks out—a whole change of voice, a whole change of vocabulary. And it is a caricature, but it happens more often than we’re prepared to admit. Oh, it may never happen to you. It always happens to the person next door. But believe me, it happens. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been embarrassed by myself, first of all, as I catch myself immediately springing into conservative evangelical jargon.
Guideline number one: if we’re going to ever get to grips with sharing our faith, we need to be natural. And saying Bible words is not necessarily synonymous with communicating Bible truth.
Second guideline: we should not only be natural, but we should be listening. Be listening. Again, this is hard for some of us, harder than for others. But we need to be listening. It’s, you see, when we listen that we find out what worries our friends and our neighbors. It’s when we listen we find out what interests them, what convictions they have, what beliefs they share, what standards they live by, what kind of background they’re from, what they believe is important in bringing up their children. And as simple and obvious as it may seem, one of the reasons that many of us falter in our zeal to communicate our faith is not simply as a result of being unnatural, but it is as a result of being unwilling to listen.
So, be natural. Be listening. Thirdly, be vulnerable. Be vulnerable. The first way in which I mean to use the word vulnerable tonight is, be vulnerable enough to get out of your Christian clique—or your Christian “click” as you call it here—but to get out of the gang, at least for a wee while. At school as well, as youngsters, if you always eat lunch with your Christian friends, ride on the bus with your Christian friends, play sports with your Christian friends, go to evening recreation with your Christian friends, I want to ask you, where in the world do you expect this conversation to emerge whereby you’re going to have the opportunity to share your faith? Sure, it’s comfortable, and it’s good, and it’s necessary, and it’s important to enjoy fellowship in all of those aspects, and I wouldn’t want to stand in the way of any of it. But it cannot be exclusively our lifestyle to live just in the environment, as it were, of Christendom.
Vulnerability creates opportunity with unexpected parties. And there is a sense in which, I think, in John 4, you see such vulnerability even in the experience of Jesus in his preparedness to sit by the well at Sychar, as it’s described for us in verse 5 and 6, and lets his buddies go off into the town to get some food. I’m sure one of them probably said, “Do you want me to stay with you, Jesus? Do you want somebody to talk to?” I’m sure it might have been nice, although he was probably tired of answering all their questions, so he said, “No, just go get the food, would you? That’s fine. I’ll be fine here on my own.” And it was because he was there just on his own, vulnerable, in one dimension, that the opportunity for conversation emerged with a lady who came to draw water at an interesting time of day because she had an interesting kind of life.
So he made himself vulnerable, and he made himself available. Have you ever thought how many of your non-Christian friends may be itching for an opportunity to ask you a question, but they can’t get near to you because you always sit with the same group, around the same table, in the university refectory? And they point over and they say, “There’s the holy gang.” They sit in the refectory and they go, “Uh-oh, here comes the God squad.” And in they all come, all the little guys. Now, is it wrong to hang out together? No. But let me ask you this: When does the salt help the mashed potatoes? When it’s in the salt cellar or when it’s on the potatoes? On the potatoes—unless, of course, the potatoes are too salty, in which case it would be silly to add more. Which is a good reminder to be careful in the way you use analogies, especially off the top of your head. But you’ve got the picture.
You see, if our non-Christian friends in the office or whatever it is, you know, if the way we believe we’re going to witness to them is to go in a corner on the building site with the biggest Bible we can find and stand up and quote it out into the air from the forty-third story or something, that’s fine; maybe God has ordained that that would be true for you. But it’s highly unlikely that that’s the pattern that he wants to develop in your experience.
Be natural. Be listening. Be vulnerable. Fourthly, be brave. Be brave. Paul had to remind Timothy, as a young man, of the resources that were his—you get this in 2 Timothy 1:7–8—which would enable him to overcome his natural timidity. Which of us tonight isn’t actually a bit scared to launch into the whole matter? I’m scared. I’m always scared when I speak in public. I’m scared especially if I have to speak in the open air, and I’m scared to get started. And I need to stir myself up. I need to be brave. I need to talk to myself as the opportunity comes, and then it almost goes, and then it seems like it’s coming back again, and you play that mind game in your head, and inside you’re saying, “Go on, Begg, say something. Don’t be a coward. The door’s wide open.”
Indeed, Paul also, when he writes to the Philippians, he tells the Philippians of those who have been “encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly”—Philippians 1:14, when he’s talking about what has happened to him in being imprisoned in Rome. And he says, “As a result of my imprisonment, others have been encouraged to speak the word of God more boldly and more fearlessly.” Which, of course, presupposes the fact that there was a time when they weren’t prepared to be that bold and that fearless. And that’s true of us as well.
Let me tell you something that I believe to be true. You can consider it for yourselves; you’re sensible people. The toughest of our non-Christian friends are more scared of Christians than vice versa. The toughest of our non-Christian friends are more scared of us than we ever are of them. And the scornful reaction, which often is our lot if we seek to witness to Jesus Christ, is more often than not simply a quickly erected barrier behind which they run to take refuge. Now, you may, of course, have come from a week when that doesn’t seem to be the case at all, and it may not appear that helpful. But if you think about it, often when you’re with a bunch of fellows, for example, the big tough guys are always real tough when the crowd’s around, and they will put you down, and they will malign you. But when you get them on their own—if you sit with them on the coach going to the rugby game or whatever it is, and you’ve got them one-on-one—they can be two hundred pounds and six foot four, but you ain’t never seen nobody squirm quite like one of these guys when you start to name the name of Jesus and to speak concerning faith in him.
We need to be brave enough to initiate the conversation even when we don’t know where it’s going to go. So often people say to me, “I’m frightened to start a conversation, ’cause I don’t know where it’s going to go.” Well, tell me any conversation you know where it’s going to go before you start it. You can always stop it. You can always say, “I don’t know what to say next.” Or you can always say, “Can we have this conversation later? I need to go to buy a dog” or something. I mean, just, you don’t have to think that you’re going to go through the whole of your Thompson Chain-Reference Bible or something just because the conversation started. But you need to be brave.
It’s a bit like going off the diving board. I mean, of course, those of you who are brave enough to go off diving boards without giving it a thought won’t understand this analogy, but my daughters can go off high diving boards, and the tragedy is that I can’t, really. It takes everything in me to do what they do—which is, of course, horribly embarrassing, first for me, but most of all for them, to have a father like this who would find it hard. And I can run up to the end of that thing ten times and still not go. “Whoop!” Stop. “Whoop!” Stop. And eventually, you’ve just got to go. I mean, there’s no other way for it. I mean, you either go, or you have the ignominy of going back down the stairs for the fourteenth time. I mean, there’s a limit to how many times you can forget things, you know.
When Jesus initiated the conversation, as well, being natural, being prepared to listen, being vulnerable, being brave—you say, “Well, wait a minute. You’re not going to say Jesus was brave?” Yeah, Jesus was brave. Why was he brave? He was brave enough to talk to a lady when it wasn’t normal to talk to ladies. He was brave enough to talk to a lady who didn’t come from the same religious background as he when people from his religious background never spoke to those kind of people. And he was brave enough to begin by making himself vulnerable, laying himself open to the possibility that she would say, “No, get out of here,” when he said, “Excuse me, do you think I could have a drink of water, please?” No big deal. Very straightforward. And so the conversation went.
Fifthly, be imaginative. Be imaginative. In both leading into a conversation concerning Christ and going through a presentation of the gospel, we need to be alert to the immediate circumstances that present themselves. So we need to constantly be imaginative in the way we’re looking for opportunities to speak—not that we’re constantly waiting for the slightest crack in the door to open, and then, bam, in we come with our latest potted version of the gospel, but that we’re seizing the opportunities to bring to bear, subtly and helpfully and honestly and with integrity, the view of Christianity of our world today.
So, for example, if the issue is the question of war, which it may well be this week on a number of occasions, it at least provides us with a possibility that in beginning that conversation, we may get the chance to speak concerning the nature of real peace. If the question is about sport, it at least makes it possible that we will be able to talk about having a goal in life. If someone volunteers the fact that they are stressed out or that they are anxious or that they can’t cope, we may well be opening the door of opportunity to speak concerning security and lasting peace found in Jesus Christ. It would be unimaginative for us to use the same lead-in every time.
For example, as much as we may use John 4 as an excellent pattern—which, of course, it is in the experience of Jesus—none of us, I’m sure, would think that Jesus began all of his gospel presentations by asking the question, “Could I have a drink of water, please?” But it doesn’t take very long before some enterprising Christian will come up and will say to you, “Do you know the Jesus method of witnessing? The water method?” They’ll turn a descriptive passage into the only way of going at it, you know. So, you go up to a guy, an Arab in the desert, and you say, “Could I have a drink of water, please?” You go in to the guy at the gas station, and you say, “Could I have a drink of water, please?” And half the time the people don’t know what in the world your problem is. And, of course, it may not be “Could I have a drink of water?” but you may have a start that you think is a real surefire winner, and it’s a crackpot approach.
Now, Jesus, when he addressed the lady, established common ground. The well was there, the water was there, it was a hot day; therefore, it was natural to say, “Any chance of a drink of water?” And he didn’t go very long before he introduced her to the matter of eternal life and the issues which stood in the way of its enjoyment. So, all I’m just saying is, be imaginative.
And sixthly, be direct. Be direct. There’s no doubt that not every conversation will yield the opportunity for a clear and concise presentation of the gospel. However, when it does, we need to be ready to seize it. And in order that we’re ready to seize it, it’s important that we have some methodology. Some methodology. Remember that “no method” is a method. Some people are just reactionary to methodology. It’s just their way. “Oh, I don’t have a methodology.” “Oh, I see. So your method is ‘no method.’” “Oh, yeah, I guess I never thought about it that way.” All right?
So, I mean, if your approach is a kind of a shotgun approach—haphazard, fire off truths all over the place and hope that some of them stick—that’s okay if that’s how you feel by virtue of your personality. And knowing some of you, that’s probably just the best way for you to go, you know. I mean, just go at it, higgledy-piggledy all over the place. It’s not unusual for me to approach things in that way, and so I certainly wouldn’t want to chastise anybody else for it.
But over the years, my personal approach has moved many different directions. And if I could just share a word of testimony in relation to this, it may prove helpful to some. As I told you last Sunday evening, I was brought up on the Four Spiritual Laws—or if I didn’t admit to that, confess that, I’m confessing it now. And so I learned them off by heart, the whole book.
“Do you have a couple of minutes?”
“Yeah, depends. What’s on your mind?”
“Well, have you ever heard of the Four Spiritual Laws?”
“Well, let me tell you about them.”
“I’m going to tell you about them. Would you be quiet, please? Did you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life? Look at this booklet here. See: ‘God so loved the world, … he gave his only begotten Son.’ Did you ever think about that? Huh?” And so on, all the way through: “Law number two: man is sinful, and he’s separated from God. Therefore, he cannot know God’s wonderful plan for his life. Law number three: Jesus Christ is God’s provision for the sinful state of man so that he can discover God’s wonderful plan for his life. Law number four: we must individually receive Jesus Christ as our personal Savior; otherwise, we will remain strangers to this wonderful plan.” Bam!
Okay? I used to do it with the orange book all the time—orange books coming out of everywhere. I learned it in England, and I learned to do it in Dallas. Dallas, Texas. A wee skinny Scotsman with his hair hanging all down his neck, running around Dallas going, “Have you heard of the Four Spiritual Laws?” And I was there. I was there, and I’ll never forget it—all the thousands of us blitzing the place. We witnessed to statues. We witnessed to everything. The Four Spiritual Laws.
Then I grew away from the booklet. Actually, I ran out of booklets; that’s the truth. So, what do you do when you’ve got no booklets? You’re going to have to write it down. So then I became a napkin writer. And I would write on napkins. I’d write on British Rail napkins, mainly. And I would say, instead of going, “Have you heard of the Four Spiritual Laws?” I’d say—we’d start to talk about Christianity, I’d say, “You know, basically, I’ve narrowed it down to about four simple things that, you know, I could mention to you if you were interested. Why don’t I mention it to you right now? Did you know…?” And then I’d go into it from there.
Over the years I’ve gone different ways, and basically, now, I try and tailor-make any presentation to the individual, just being imaginative from where they begin. But no matter how I go at it, these three truths I want to convey if I get the chance to concisely get it across. And they’re not here. There’s nothing here. I’m going to tell you what they are, and then I’ll give you the four statements in just a moment, and we’ll have to move on.
I have fixed in my mind three fundamental truths that I want to convey: one, the bad news of man’s condition; two, the good news of God’s provision; and three, the necessity of a personal response. So however it gets packaged, I want to make sure that I get across to this individual, “We’ve got a problem here, we’ve got an answer to the problem, and I want you to introduce you, if I may, humbly, to the answer.”
Now, what I’ve done under one, two, three, and four is put down these four things—and we really need to wrap this up again tonight. I don’t know whether I’m just speaking too slowly or something, but I can’t get through this here. Let me hit them with you, and we will have to conclude, and we will come back to it.
I would like to do this as a role-play, but I’m not going to. I was going to have done it with one of the other guys on the pastoral team, but I thought that they might mess me around too much, and so I decided I would just go on my own. But I knew they would mess me around a great deal.
But anyway, suppose the conversation is going along, and we’re talking away with this individual, and the question of Christianity has been embraced. I might say something along these lines: “You know, one of the things I find such a pity is this: that so many people have rejected Christianity without ever having understood what it is.” Okay?
The person may respond, and often does, “Well, I suppose Christianity means different things to different people, and whatever it means to the individual is probably fine.”
“Well,” I say, “that, I suppose, is one way of looking at it. But there is a further question, and that is: What does Jesus Christ say about Christianity, irrespective of what I might think about it or what you might think about it? Have you ever really thought about what Jesus came to say and what he came to do?”
“Well, no, I never really have.”
And then I would go in, and I’d hit these four things.
Number one, the human condition. The human condition. Just start where people are. Talk about loneliness, fear, greed, hate, rebellion, disillusionment, fractured families, teenage suicide, childcare abuse, cruelty, and you’re only on page three of the morning newspaper. Right? I mean, you haven’t had to reach. You haven’t said one thing that’s alien to these people. These are facts of life in twentieth-century society. “Here is the condition of man.” Okay? We agree about it.
Contemporary explanations as to what man’s condition is and why his condition is this are rather hollow, and those who seek to find answers down those streets find them to be cul-de-sacs. So we can agree together, this individual and I, that whatever else is true, things are kind of messed up. That’s the human condition. They’re not all messed up. There’s some light at the end of the tunnel, which is a train coming in the other direction. There are some things to look forward to. But what is the explanation? Why is man like this? Is it due to microbes? Is it due to environment? Is it due to schooling? What is it? And, of course, our question is: What does the Bible have to say about it? Because we’ve already said that what we wanted to do was discover about what the Bible had to say about Jesus and what Jesus had to say about Jesus.
So man’s condition is messed up. What’s the Bible’s diagnosis? Now, this is where it’s very, very important to have your Bible with you—again, not a big thundering Bible like this; just a wee Bible, maybe even a New Testament, just one that’ll fit in your pocket. And it’s far more successful—instead of just quoting your favorite verses at people, ’cause they don’t understand what in the world you’re on about—I’ve discovered, to take the New Testament, and open it up, and say to somebody, “Look at what this guy said. And before you look at what this guy said, do you remember that guy Saul of Tarsus?” And then the person may say, “Well, what was that, a rock band or something?” you know. They don’t know what to do with that. So you may have to back up—do a little bit of history of the early centuries and everything else, but hopefully not too much. And you tell them, “This was a guy who was kicking Christian tails all around the known universe, and all of a sudden, his life got turned around. And listen to what he said. In fact, look at what he said: ‘All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’—that as much as we don’t like the explanation or as much as the word may stick in our throats, what the Bible says is that the diagnosis for the human condition can ultimately be traced to a three-letter word with an I in the middle—and I might say it’s not insignificant that the I is in the middle.”
And then I might tell them about the correspondence in the Times of London some years ago, where they ran an editorial under the heading “What’s Wrong with the World Today?” And people wrote back all kinds of long answers. And then I tell them what Chesterton wrote: “Dear Sir: What’s wrong with the world today? I am. Yours sincerely, G. K. Chesterton.” And then I would talk to the individual about the nature of sin, about missing the mark, about blotting the page, about crossing the lines, about breaking the limits, and say, “You know, whether we accept it or not, the Bible’s explanation is right here: that the condition that we face tonight may be traced to a root cause which is a terminal disease—namely, sin.”
Well, the person may be really uncomfortable and want to stop the conversation at that point, in which case, it might be wise to do so. But they may go on to say, “Well, you know, I recognize that. I haven’t done everything, but, you know, I haven’t really done anybody any harm.” And John Blanchard at the laymen’s conference was mentioning this just last night. It struck me as so funny. He said, “You know, you speak to people, and they always say, ‘I haven’t done anybody any harm.’” He said, “I haven’t ever met anybody who’s done anybody any harm, so I want to know: Who in the world did the harm to everybody?”
The fact of the matter is, we have done things that are harmful to others, so that what we want to communicate to them is that sin is the problem, and sin has consequences. Since we started with old Saul of Tarsus, we’ll tell them, “Look at what else he said. Romans 6:23: ‘The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ Now,” we say to them, “that might seem like double Dutch to you, but here’s the bottom line: Sin has consequences. The consequences are all around us to see. The consequences are ultimately in our alienation from God.”
Now, it’s at that point we need to remember our study of a few weeks ago. What’s God’s part? What’s my part? Because now that we’ve started to talk about sin and now that our friends have begun to feel, perhaps, uncomfortable and are ready to blow us off, we may feel duty bound to convict them of sin. And that’s not our part. That’s God’s part. So we may sufficiently read the text or explain the text, answer questions about the text, and then hopefully be able to go on, as we will do next time, to address the question: If our condition is messed up and the diagnosis is clear, what is the remedy to the problem?
And hopefully next time I can be more concise and take a little more time and get through all of this. But in the meantime, I hope you’ll have a happy week and a good adventure in the realm of sharing your faith.
 See Romans 8:32.
 See Ephesians 2:1.
 Philippians 1:14 (paraphrased)
 John 4:7 (paraphrased).
 Bill Bright, Have You Heard of the Four Spiritual Laws (Campus Crusade for Christ of Canada, 1993).
 John 3:16 (KJV).
 Romans 3:23 (KJV).
 G. K. Chesterton, “What Is Wrong?,” letter to the editor, Daily News (London), August 16, 1905. Paraphrased.
 Romans 6:23 (KJV).
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.