When we consider the Bible in terms of its relationship to evangelism, we have to begin by defining its functions. The Bible is God’s Word and serves many important purposes in the Christian life. But despite the many things that Scripture is, there are also many things that it is not.
First, the Bible doesn’t necessarily save people. Reading a verse or two or even a whole book doesn’t guarantee or facilitate a saving encounter with Jesus Christ. We could choose to read the Bible as literature. Or, we could read it as a historical text. Or, we could read the Bible and refuse to acknowledge its truth value all together.
Second, the Bible doesn’t act as the third member of the Holy Trinity. The phrase isn’t, “God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Bible.” Even in salvation, it is the Holy Spirit who works to quicken the heart and draw men and women to Christ.
So, if these misunderstandings of the Bible’s function have affected its application to evangelistic work, what is the true purpose of the Bible in evangelism? Let me share just a few thoughts.
CONSIDER THEIR QUESTIONS
First and foremost, the Word of God tells us the story of salvation—a tale of his love and pursuit of broken people living in a fallen world. Thus, it is natural and appropriate that we might point people to the Scriptures when we seek to share the good news of the gospel with them.
But many times, the Scriptures are used in formulaic ways that, while not necessarily problematic, sometimes don’t allow us to fully grasp the truth of the gospel. For example, the Romans Road is an effective framework—I’ve used it many times to share the gospel. However, in and of itself, the Romans Road doesn’t capture what it means to trust and follow Christ.
When we look at the Bible, we should learn to ask ourselves the questions that our culture is asking—questions about life, the afterlife, truth, relativism and the promise of salvation and forgiveness of sins offered to us in Jesus.
The Bible should be used for these purposes intentionally and regularly in evangelism. Quite honestly, I can think of very few times when I’ve shared the gospel with someone without referencing some form of Scripture quotation. The starting point of sharing that message with each individual will often depend on the specific questions that person has.
For example, in a culture that is hyperaware of sin and what it means to be “saved,” it seems easy to start the conversation by walking through the Romans Road. As it says in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” If the listener knows what sin is and knows who God is, then they can understand that they are in a fallen condition.
Paul later fleshes these ideas out, explaining, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life” (Rom. 6:23). Herein is one that is more broadly received and can point to people’s understanding of the spiritual deadness that results from our fallen nature—that we are indeed sinners by nature and by choice.
COMMIT VERSES TO MEMORY
Our next task is to delve into what other passages say. When Paul says, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13), there’s a lot to unpack there. What does it really mean to “call upon the name of the Lord”?
We would likely want to tie that in to John 1:12: “To as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God.” And we can’t forget the kingdom focus of Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of heaven and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.”
The truth is that Paul’s statement is probably drawing from all these things and more, but it is important to find a series of passages like this that we commit to memory. Then, when entering into conversations with unbelievers about Jesus, believers can feel fully prepared and equipped to explain the ways that the gospel is in fact pertinent to them.
USING THE WORD YOU’VE BEEN GIVEN
Finally, we must consider the place of the Bible in evangelistic work, and doing so requires some careful reading and thoughtful historical analysis. Everyone in the New Testament who became a Christian did so without the Bible we have today. Those first believers in Jerusalem and Antioch did not have the Romans Road, since Paul had not yet written the book we call Romans.
The New Testament was being written in that era (and they already had the Hebrew scriptures), but they still managed to share the gospel without the Bible or any other tool.
You see—and this is important—men and women at the very beginning of the church heard the good news about Jesus through verbal testimony and believed. The Holy Spirit worked in and through them, producing a faith that ultimately brought about their salvation.
Because of this, we can be confident that we can share without a Bible handy or verses memorized. But—and don’t miss this—we don’t have to. Today, we have the verbal testimony of believers, the work of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures that are “living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
So, outside of the anomalous experience of the earliest church, believers have good reason to share their testimony, in the power of the Spirit, using God’s Word to explain the truth of the gospel.