We overcome our fear of evangelism, not by trying harder, but by cultivating a deeper love for Christ.
A short while ago I was talking with a student about the fact that so few people in North America actually engage in sharing the gospel with others. I asked her why she thought this might be so.
There was no hidden agenda behind my question; I was genuinely curious. What is it that keeps believers from telling non-believers that they are loved by God and that their sins are forgiven in Christ?
This student replied, “I think we are afraid of what people might think of us.” In that moment a light went on for me.
I do believe we should be concerned of what people think of us to the degree that we will avoid being obnoxious while sharing the gospel. We should do the work the Holy Spirit prompts us to do, and do it with all the fruits of the Spirit on full display: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
But when this student said she thought we are afraid of what people might think of us, it dawned on me that if I am more concerned of what people think of me than what God, who loves me, thinks of me, then I’m struggling with some form of idolatry.
The Love of God As a Counter to Idolatry
The Scriptures say that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). I suppose a corollary could be drawn from this that “imperfect love breeds anxiety.” If I am looking to anyone other than God as a primary source of love, then I am setting myself up to be afraid and insecure, especially when it comes to sharing the gospel.
Human love is great as far as it goes, but if we consider the weakness of our own love towards others, it becomes easy to imagine that human love, as good as it is, cannot do for us what only God’s love can.
C. S. Lewis once wrote an essay called “First and Second Things” and rightly he suggested that if we put first things first, we get second things thrown in, but if we put second things first, we will lose out on both first and second things.
Confidence in evangelism begins in the love of God.
Perhaps one of the reasons we are so hesitant to tell others about Jesus is that we’ve forgotten how deeply and unconditionally he loves us. Jesus said that if we abide in him, we will bear much fruit. He also said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
The prerequisite to evangelizing is abiding in God’s love. Being more concerned about what others think of us than what Jesus thinks of us—that is, forgetting that he loves us—will freeze us in our tracks.
Rekindling Our First Love
We need to rekindle within us a sense of his love for us. In doing this, my guess is that sharing the gospel with others will become easier and more natural, as time goes by.
Everyone can affirm and talk freely about what we love. Nobody is put off when a grandmother breaks out the pictures of her grandkids. Everybody who has ever enjoyed a home team understands the enthusiasm of a sports fan all decked out in his or her team’s colors, wearing his or her favorite player’s jersey and going on and on about the big win the night before. A person fascinated by a particular hobby like fishing or golf or quilt-making has no problem speaking to others about this love of theirs. And music lovers know exactly what I’m talking about.
Perhaps what’s missing most in our evangelism is a passion for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, those who love to play a particular sport likely did not exhibit skill in the game after a first attempt to play. If they had a love of the sport, and if that love began to grow, the more they would be willing to invest further time and energy in the hopes of acquiring proficiency. Budding athletes keep at it until they hone their skills.
So too, an interest in Jesus, and a desire to tell others about him, develops in direct proportion to one’s growing love for him.
Where Do We Go When Our Love for God Has Grown Cold?
We mustn’t beat ourselves up if we have lost interest in sharing the gospel. Guilt will get us nowhere. But we shouldn’t be content to let things stay as they are, either.
Assess the situation. Perhaps we need the same kind of restoration the Apostle Peter was given after the Resurrection of Christ. Peter, you’ll remember, denied Jesus three times. Jesus’ love for Peter was undiminished. When he rose from the grave, the angels told the women who came to the grave to go tell the disciples, and Peter, that Jesus was risen! They made it a point to make sure Peter knew he was included.
Furthermore, when the resurrected Christ saw Peter by the Sea of Galilee, he asked him, “Peter, do you love me?” Peter answered, “Lord, I like you a lot” (he didn’t use Jesus word for love; instead, he used the word for friendship). It is significant to note that Jesus didn’t tell Peter to take off and work on his love for Christ so he could then resume his role as an apostle.
No. Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep!” Jesus commissioned him into ministry, not based on the number of books he wrote, the number of degrees he acquired, or the number of noteworthy accomplishments he had in his résumé. No. Jesus commissioned him to service based on his love for Christ—and it wasn’t perfect love, just good-enough love.
Still, it was love of Jesus that was at the foundation of the ministry to which Christ was calling Peter.
If we find we are not sharing Christ with others, perhaps it’s time to consider that maybe, just maybe, the missing element is that we’ve lost our first love. If this is the case, it is easy enough to fix.
The moon has no natural light of its own; nevertheless, it keeps on shining by staying in the beam of the suns light on it. Similarly, we reflect to others, naturally and easily, the love we are receiving from the Son’s light shining on us.
Break free of that form of idolatry that worries more about what others think about you than what Jesus thinks about you. And remember: God loves you.
With this in mind, go tell others he loves them just as he loves you.
Want to get started? The Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, in partnership with Lausanne North America, just launched the Our Gospel Story Movement. We are seeking to create a movement of people who are committed to evangelism as a lifestyle. Check it out, and join us! You will find a lot of resources, including the Our Gospel Story curriculum, which we created as a 6-week study for you to take a deeper dive into gospel conversations!
Jerry Root is professor of evangelism at Wheaton College and director of the Evangelism Initiative at the Billy Graham Center. This article originally appeared on The Exchange.