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Personal Evangelism: Every Christian Should be a Missionary

Carl A. Ahlfeldt

In the early spring of last year a young lady who is a member of our church came to a prayer group fairly bubbling over with joy. At different times she had been telling a friend in high school about Christ and the way of salvation. That week her friend had come to her with the words, "Well, I've done it." "You've done what?" said the other. "I've received Christ as my Savior," she replied. And indeed she had. She has since then, made her confession of faith and been baptized, and is one of the most faithful members in our church. She was the fruit of what we may term Personal Evangelism, that is, the presentation of Christ and His salvation by one individual to another.

This is a work in which every Christian ought to engage. See how quickly Andrew brought his brother Simon to the Lord (John 1:41). Little is recorded of Andrew's ministry in later years, but Peter, whom he led to Christ, was used to win 3,000 at Pentecost. Surely you have ties to some individual which enable you, better than anyone else, to reach that soul for Christ.

Personal witnessing is not an easy work. Those who have engaged in it faithfully for years still find it difficult. It seems easy to talk about anything else under the sun, but to press home the claims of Christ is hard. For one thing, it is done so little. People do not expect it from us. For another, it may involve reproach for Christ's sake. Then again, we are fearful of offending. But one of the greatest reasons why it is so difficult is that the average Christian is not equipped to do it.

Spurgeon, in his splendid book, The Soul-Winner, mentions a number of very important qualifications needed. We may well note a few of them.

There must be a knowledge of the Word of God. We must be thoroughly familiar with the Bible, and should have Scripture passages concerning God, sin and salvation memorized. Otherwise we shall be helpless in dealing with souls. We need holiness of character. The thrice-holy God does not use dirty instruments (I Pet. 1:15-16) . We need a strong spiritual life (John 7:38). Begin the day with God if you would be a soul-winner. We must have humility. Pride is a curse to personal evangelism (I Cor. 1:29). We must have earnestness in the matter of winning souls. Too often we fail because it does not matter much to us whether we succeed or not. We must have a sincere love, and must manifest sympathy for the person with whom we are dealing.

Methods of Personal Evangelism

How shall we go about this important work? In his very helpful book, Taking Men Alive, Charles Trumbull makes some very good suggestions. He points out that the first important thing is to get started. It is the start which is the most difficult. He stresses that we should make the most of every circumstance to give out witness, "redeeming the time" (Eph. 5:16). We may find opportunities to witness on streetcars, on trains, to guests in our homes, on various occasions in our churches, and in many other places. The earnest soul-winner, praying for opportunities, will certainly have them. They abound on every side. Too often we are simply blind to them.

When an opportunity presents itself, we should seek to know something about the person to whom we witness. A good fisherman knows his fish. We should use the other man's interest as bait. We must pass over from our interest to his. Christ enabled the disciples to catch fish after their long, tiring, disappointing night. Then they were more ready for His dealing with them (Lk. 5:4-11).

Mr. Trumbull goes on to stress that we must be good listeners, The "I can help you" attitude is usually fatal. (The present writer has found that, with some people, if you are too good a listener, you will get no word spoken for your Lord! )

Having made the approach, we should seek to present the Gospel. No two cases are alike, but it is the writer's conviction that in general we should observe certain things. Proceed on the basis that your listener admits the validity of the Word of God. Make it plain that it is not your theory or wisdom which you are presenting, but God's Word. Stress three things.

1. Set forth the fact of sin in our lives (Isa. 53:6; Rom. 3:10, 23). Define sin. "Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the Law of God" (James 4:17; I John 3:4). Show God's hatred of sin and wrath upon it. (Ezek. 18:4, 20; Rom. 6:23a). Try to describe the awful meaning of death as separation from God, the fountain-head of all blessing (James 1:17).

2. Present God's remedy for sin through the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:21). Show how He and He alone has kept God's law perfectly and that for His people. Show how He suffered the penalty of the law for His own when He died upon the cross.

3. Make it plain how this remedy is to be received-through faith (Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 3:9). Stress that our works have no part as a foundation for our salvation. Make it clear that this faith is produced by the gracious operation of God (Col. 2:12). No sinner should ever be encouraged to think that he can of his own power believe at any time he has a notion to do so. He should be encouraged to depend on God for the very grace to trust Christ. It should be made plain to the sinner that a true saving faith is inseparable from a true repentance for sin (Acts 2:38). Too many in these days claim to trust Christ, but have side-stepped repentance. If there is evidence that the soul is ready, urge the individual to call upon the Lord in prayer for salvation (Rom. 10:13). It is helpful if he can afterward thank God for saving him.

If possible, give some immediate instruction about confessing Christ (Rom. 10:9), and about the use of the means of grace. It is well to warn against dependence upon emotions and feelings for assurance of one's salvation.

The Use of Tracts in Personal Evangelism

By this time the reader has no doubt thought to himself, "But there are many occasions when a witness must be very brief. There is no opportunity to deal so completely with the soul." How very true! At such times the use of good Gospel tracts is a great aid. Tracts will enlarge the extent of our witnessing greatly. A sailor worshipped with us some time ago, who had been converted while reading a tract out at sea.

Good tracts are a great help also in aiding the person with whom we have been dealing at length. Those of the evangelistic type will enable him to remember the great basic truths which he has heard, and to recall the Scripture references. Those of the doctrinal type are invaluable to enlarge his knowledge and to establish him in the faith. These should especially be used when you have no way of following up the individual, and when he is not in a position to receive instruction in a sound church.

If at all possible, choose tracts which are suited to the particular needs of the person with whom you are dealing. There are tracts for those of Roman Catholic background, tracts for Jews, tracts for those engrossed in pleasure or ambition, tracts for the cultured, tracts for those in the depths of degradation.

It cannot be stressed too much that we must use tracts which are true to the Word of God. God has promised to use His Word to the salvation of souls (I Peter 1:23; Rom. 10:7). Doubtless many tracts containing error have been used to the salvation of souls–not because of the error, but because of the truth and in spite of the error. Yet surely God will honor that tract the most which is the most true to His Word. The most common error in the average tract is Arminianism. A good practice is to use tracts published or recommended by our Committee on Christian Education (of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church). The writer has found the "Home Evangel" a great help in personal work also.

May God lay this vital work of personal evangelism upon our hearts. Never be ashamed of your Lord or of His Gospel. Be daily in prayer that God will use you to His glory in the salvation of lost souls. The blessing in your own life will be beyond description, and one day you will hear your Lord's "Well done, thou good and faithful servant... enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."

The Rev. Carl A. Ahlfeldt served many churches in the OPC until he was called home to glory in 1971. You can learn more about him in Today in OPC History.

Reprinted from the Presbyterian Guardian, Volume 17, No 3, February, 1948. The OPC Committee for the Historian has made the archives of the Presbyterian Guardian available online!

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