Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Earning The Right?

This post has been submitted by my friend and StreetFishing contributor, Rob-Roy Nelson. Please read on for his wise insights and loving rebuke of the "Friendship" or "Relationship" evangelism methods taught so commonly today - Even by well known and respected teachers.

This quote from USA Today was brought to my attention by a friend. It is a common view of sharing the Gospel that many sincere people have and they voice it publicly.

“If we were able to rewrite the script for the reputation of Christianity, I
think we would put the emphasis on developing relationships with non-believers,
serving them, loving them, and making them feel accepted,” he wrote, "Only then
would we earn the right to share the gospel.” -Andy Stanley
I am sharing this for a few reasons. The first is because it is a very common teaching, and though this is a teacher I respect, my focus is on the teaching itself. The second is because it is not true and in love I ask that you would consider if there is indeed a biblical limitation on the Gospel being shared ONLY after “earning the right” to do so.
Please know that God commands us to love, serve and have relationships that glorify him with lost people but we are not to make that a condition for sharing the Gospel. To make it one violates scripture and delivers us another “tradition” of man that has no power except to restrict the sharing of the Gospel under a man made rule that sounds good. Having to earn the right to share the Gospel puts God in a box of worldly wisdom that He did not intend to be put in.
If the Apostle Paul were to rewrite the “script” and put the “emphasis” on not sharing the Gospel until after earning the right it could make 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 look like this (my additions in blue)

1 Corinthians 15:1-4

1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you only after weeks of relationship building, which you received only after I had earned the right to share it with you and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, provided you did not die before I earned the right to speak into your life and did not hear about it all and if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain or risked dying in your sins before our relationship could be built. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance, but of course I did not actually pass it on to you first, as if it were really of first importance, but waited until after I developed a relationship with you when you were lost. Not until I served you first which really served my flesh and put it to ease while you remained under condemnation. Not until I loved you first which really was self love wanting the praises of man while being ashamed of Christ’s words. Not until I made you feel accepted by “me” and only after “I” earned the right (through my works as judged by you in your lost state and not Christ or His word), then and then only, and not a moment before worldly wisdom would allow it, did I share the message of first importance which is that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

Harsh? Yes. I am attempting to use hyperbole to exaggerate the risks involved. We should all ask ourselves if that is how our good deeds will look on judgment day, if they get in the way of the Gospel, when tested in the fire? Maybe this would not be harsh enough in comparison? Mark Cahill, author of One Thing You Can’t Do in Heaven, made the following assessment of Andy Stanley’s “earning the right” quotation.

“Where in the Bible, does it tell us that we must earn the right to share our
faith? Once you are a Christian, you have the right. We are compelled to share
the gospel with the lost. We know hell is real…
You may not have time
to do nice things for people just so you can try and earn the right to share the
gospel with them. You have already been commanded to witness to people (Mark
16:15,16 and Matthew 28:18–20). And by the way, how can you keep the most
important thing in your life away from someone that you know? That would be the
definition of selfish. Please be selfless in the coming days as you reach the
lost, and not selfish.
When Jesus witnessed to the woman at the well, did He
get her water first before He earned the right to share the gospel with her?
…And what nice things was Stephen going to do for the people that were stoning
him, because he was telling them about seeing Jesus standing at the right hand
of the Father? Should he have asked them if he could wash off their rocks first,
before they threw them at him?
Paul states in Ephesians 6:18,19: “Praying
always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto
with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; and for me, that
utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known
the mystery of the gospel,” Paul is not praying for boldness to go and do nice
things for someone today. He is praying that he will have the boldness to tell
someone the truth about the whole counsel of God, eternity, sin, heaven, hell,
repentance, and the judgment of God.”

Please love someone that God has put in your path today by praying for the opportunity to share the Gospel in words. We should be ready to do many acts of kindness but remember the Gospel is THE act of kindness. Saints through the centuries were not killed because they fed the poor or for any of the many good works we can be assured they did. They did not die due to their loving service and sacrifice to gain acceptance in order to then earn the right to share the Gospel. Instead it was the sharing of the Gospel verbally and bravely that “earned the right” for them to be murdered at the hands of those who did not accept them.
See the issue is not whether or not a Christian will accept someone because we should accept them if we love them and are broken for them. The issue is what does “accept” mean? What does that look like on judgment day? When a Christian shares the Gospel they are saying to a lost person that they can be accepted into Heaven and that they want them to be saved, accepted with them in heaven based on God’s mercy and nothing else.
It is when we do not desire to share the Gospel, or place a restriction that does not exist, that we are not accepting of someone no matter how many good deeds we do for them. Because those deeds we do will not keep someone from dying in their sins. Those deeds we do to “earn the right” apparently can keep us from sharing the only message that can save them. Only the saving message of the Gospel will last and that is why it is a everlasting love and we should let nothing get in the way of our desire to selflessly proclaim the good news of Jesus first and also live it out in our lives as a natural overflow of what He has done. Then it becomes not a matter of whether we accept the lost but whether the lost reject the message we bring from the Savior and the therefore the Savior himself.
Love, Rob-roy


Andrea Sipe said...

This is interesting! While I agree that we do not have to earn the right, I also have to say that people listen a lot better when they know we honestly care about them . . . I know that sharing the gospel in fact PROVES that we care, but they may not see it that way . . . I point to the fact that Jesus was holistic in His ministry, and I believe we should be too. He spent as much (if not more) time healing people physically and emotional and taking care of them as He did preaching to them. Not that there were not times when He dove right in, but He also already knew each and every person and knew exactly what they needed to hear, and what they needed to have. I know there are LOTS of examples in the NT of the apostles and others simply standing up and sharing the gospel, so it is NOT my desire to say that is not a relevant and useful ministry. God is OBVIOUSLY blessing your ministry . . . however, I think God likes to use more than one "method" so to speak (after-all, He doesn't want all hands, or all feet, etc.) I belive that God can AND WILL use anyone and anything that truly has a heart and a desire to bring Him glory. If that means building relationships - great! There are some that just won't listen any other way. If it means handing out tracts - fantastic! There are those that need just that. God just wants to use us to share His gospel, spread His love (after-all, we should love regardless of the person's faith and whether they will EVER believe in God), and give Him glory. I'm not convinced He's all that concerned about the methods. :)

Thanks for sharing, as always, Robert!! God bless you and your ministry!

Anonymous said...

Andrea - Thanks for your comments. You are correct in that we should not let earning the right prevent sharing the gospel. That is the primary point. I would add it is not about methods as there are many. But we know that not all methods are biblical. Some are and some are not. Earning the right before ever sharing the gospel is not a biblical method. Any method that changes or restricts the Gospel message is not biblical. At the end of the day it comes down to whether a person knows the gospel message. Jesus primary agenda was to proclaim the gospel because without salvation no one can ever be "holistic" in healing. No one. And if someone is saved and given a new heart, born again from above, they will be holistic in the healing of their eternal soul through the forgiveness of sins. All of his healing pointed toward the forgiveness of sin, the gospel. If we do those things without pointing to the gospel, the need for forgiveness, then we are not walking in his steps. Their can be no holistic care without the gospel. In short that is what makes the earn the right method so dangerous. It encourages healing that is not holistic because if we fail to earn the right we falsely shut the door to the gospel to a person who may be open to hearing about it without having to earn the right.

Use whatever biblical method you can find to share the gospel. Some people may not listen until we build a relationship. That may be true. But becareful not to judge them. Let them decide if they are open. They will tell you if they are not ready to listen. Don't assume they need time and will not listen. Give them a chance. A lot of people are actually open without buidling a long relationship. I am not saying do not build relationships. I am saying don't use it as an excuse not to share the gospel or use it as an excuse to assume someone is not ready yet. Let them say so. If they say they are not open to spiritual things that is fine. But at least you did not make the decision for them as to whether they were open. Keep the relationship going and pray because they may be open later. But don't cause an unnecessary delay thinking they are not open to the gospel or spiritual conversation when they may be. We don't know their hearts so give them a chance to respond or reject spiritual topics of conversation.

I love what you wrote when you said "after-all, we should love regardless of the person's faith and whether they will EVER believe in God." We should want to build unconditional relationships regardless of the person being open to the gospel and we should also be ready to share the gospel with people who are open regardless of whether we end up building a relationship with them.

I would say that God is concerned with methods that are not according to his word though. That rob his glory and are the wisdom of men and not the power of God. Paul wrote about this danger many times explaining the ways he did not share the gospel. So we know that there are ways to avoid which means God does care. It is not anything goes when it comes to methods. Be sure to keep going to his word to discern and trust in him for guidance in not only the message of the gospel but also the methods.

God bless, Rob-roy

Anonymous said...

The problem with her response is that it is almost entirely conjecture.

She, like so many others, puts more emphasis on how we share the gospel than the gospel itself. It is the gospel that is the power that saves, not the manner in which we share it that saves. Her response, whether intended or not, indicates that the gospel somehow needs our help.

Her comment also reveals an Arminian perspective about salvation. I.e. people come to faith in Christ by a decision of their will. Therefore, we can somehow either induce or prevent them making a decision for Christ by the way we share the gospel with them. But if God is sovereign in the salvation of men (and He is) then there is nothing we can do to prevent a person from coming to faith in Christ or subvert God's will to draw the person to Himself.

Just a few thoughts. :-)

Anonymous said...


Also consider that people who have died and are in hell right now absolutely believe in personally sharing the gospel. In Luke 16:19-31 there is a man in hell who is pleading for someone to tell his family and warn them. His desire was not for someone to go and earn the right to warn them. His desire was not for someone to show them how God can give them purpose, focus and better living. He doesn’t plead for someone to go tell them that God has a wonderful plan for their lives. After all he had already had a wonderful life but that had ended in agony now.

His desire was that his loved ones would be warned about the judgment and unending torment he was rightly receiving. He begged that someone would go tell them because he wanted them to repent. His hope is that they would listen.

The next person you have a chance to talk with, consider they may have a family member who has passed away and if they are in hell they screaming for someone to talk to their loved one. That someone is you. Without the desire to share the gospel (warning and salvation) there is no love for it is the ultimate message of love. People in hell get that. They know what evangelism is about and plead for someone to step up and share the truth. And if they have that kind of passion for the gospel then should our passion be any less as saved followers of Jesus? Will it take being on the other side of eternity to understand what is at stake? Don’t wait until then. God has given us his word so that we can understand the seriousness of eternity from this side of it before living forever on the other side of it. It is time to live like lives are at stake. Because they are.

Love, Rob-roy

Jennifer said...

Andrea, you seem like a really nice person but let's cut to the chase here...your comments are full of excuses. We are ALL called to GO and preach the gospel to every person! This is a duty that we ALL have, along with whatever specific gifts God gives you. This means you. Using the Law, the way Jesus did is not a method, but a principle that is a commen thread throughout the Bible. Put your feelings on the sidelines. Put their feelings on the sidelines. If anyone could have shown the 'love of Jesus' it would have been Christ Himself! Why didn't he just go from town to town having Lamb BBQ's and shouting "I love you!" to the world? Because Christ, in His omniscience, knew something that He was trying to show us...people need to be confronted with their destination and their need for a Savior.

You used the "hand and feet" illustration from 1 Cor 12 to speak to 'methods of evangelism' but this is mis-used. This is speaking directly to our gifts. Everyone has them and they are to be used for His glory-but this does not alleviate our CALLING and COMMAND to preach the gospel to the world.

While I am not advocating that we 'shove' the gospel down someone's throat, I am advocating that we quit thinking about what someone's reaction 'might be' and do what we are told to do.

Andrea Sipe said...

HAHA!! Seems Robert was right - I did start a fire . . . feels more like a firing squad. What's funny is that many of you, in trying to go against me actually said what I was TRYING to say. :) I mean to make no excuses, and I am NOT saying that building relationships is the ONLY way to go. I am saying that that is what some people need, and we see examples of it ALL OVER THE PLACE in the NT. As a matter of fact, the letter to the Corinthians (and all the epistles, really) are written to those people because the writter had BUILT A RELATIONSHIP with them. Now, whether that relationship came before or after the sharing of the gospel isn't really known, and very well could have been after the gospel was shared and accepted. Funny thing - I am calvinist in my salvation beliefs (hard not to be after reading Romans 9), but I guess I don't go to the EXTREME Calvinist, as Romans 10 then goes quite into depth as to the fact that we need to accept the gospel (it's not just God's choosing, it is also our accepting . . .) Now, admittedly, I DO get very nervous just sharing the gospel cold, so I definitely look at what Robert (and others) do and get a little scared. However, please notice that I DID NOT say that it is a WRONG way to evangelize!

So, here it is - I'm gonna spill my heart and step on some toes . . . I have to admit that I'm really getting tired of watching the body of Christ tear itself apart. Now, are we called to point out where others are going wrong - yes. But I believe that it should be personal, not a general thing. I cannot POSSIBLY tell you what God has told you to do or not to do, just as you cannot tell me! (As long as it doesn't go against Scripture - I get that) Are there things that I believe that are wrong - I'm quite SURE there are, and I am quick to take correction, if you can give me SOLID Biblical proof. But guess what, I bet there are things that you believe that are wrong too . . . I just wish we could start working together, and loving each other in the body . . . I know that you all are gonna come back to me and say that there are heretical teachings, and blah, blah, blah (I'm sorry, but that's what I hear - I'm really getting your blood boiling now, huh?? I'm sorry - I really don't mean to be, because if we sat down and were able to talk face-to-face, I bet we would discover that we actually AGREE on a WHOLE LOT, and we DEFINITNELY agree on core beliefs) Hmmm . . . here's the thing. I read the BIble and I use the Holy Spirit's guidance to direct my interpretation, but I am also willing to step back and look at someone else's interpretation and ask God "are they right and I am wrong?" It's just hard for me. I wish we could unite and truly become the body . . . it makes me think of the birth of Jesus - the very herolding of the coming of the God to earth, and who does God invite?? Not a bunch of righteous people. People who have "all the answers." No! He invited a group of heathen star-watchers!! A bunch of men whose very core beliefs did not follow "in-line" with everything that God taught in the OT. And what did God do?? Did He speak to them in His usual way - prophets and such (well, I guess He did, in the sense that He sent Danial to them so many years ago . . .) Once again, God spoke to them through His creation, in a way that they would understand - the stars. What do you think the religious, the righteous would have thought about that?!?! What would WE think about that!?!?! We would IMMEDIATELY call them heretical, and deny the fact that God communicated with them. But you know what??? HE'S GOD!!!!! He can do whatever the heck He wants. He can communicate however He wants. He can call whomever He wants. Now, I'm not saying we go out and follow a bunch of different gods, please don't hear that. Jesus is the ONLY way, the ONLY truth, and ONLY life . . . but could it be that God is still creative?? And He is still reaching out to people however they would be willing to hear Him?? Funny thing . . . I shared the gospel with my husband right after we met . . . he didn't accept right away. Wanna know what finally convinced him?? The moon . . .yep, the moon. We do need to cut out the tradition - I AGREE!! I'm tired of that tradition that we've allowed to eeck into our theology and poison us. And I admit that there is probably still a lot of that in my life - I'm doing my best to weed it all out the best I can. But can I ask - are you??? Because honestly, when I read what you're writing - I feel two things - 1. that you're attacking me - your SISTER IN CHRIST (and now I'm feeling convicted, will you forgive me??? Seems I'm attacking right back, huh?? sorry . . .) But 2. Many of you come off very self-righteous to me. I know you probably aren't, but I guess that is the danger in writing, rather than talking . . .

OK, I gotta go, before I do even more damage. Pretty sure I haven't done any good here. sorry . . . sorry for making you angry, and causing you to stumble. sorry . . . .

Alright, I may not come back, cuz I don't want to fight with you all . . . I REALLY DON'T. I honestly want everyone in the Body to finally discover what unity looks like . . . no wonder the world thinks we're jacked-up, when we're always "fighting" like this (I'm sure that's what it looks like to them, anyway . . .) *sigh* just digging myself deeper, aren't I.

OK, bye.

Anonymous said...

Andrea - I am not angry. Unity is about truth if it is true unity. This is not about being self righteous and looking down on people. God has made clear some very clear things that he has commanded we have unity in, not unity outside of. No one is against relationships. We agree on that. No one should be against sharing the gospel with everyone. No one should be against sharing it the way we see in scripture. It is not about someone having all the right answers. It is very easy for some Chrisitians to look at a brother obeying a command of Christ and assume they must be a pharisee of some sort. And that is very unloving and judgmental when it happens wrongly. In this post it comes down to sharing the message of grace (the gospel) with people who have not received it in every opportunity we can. There is nothing self righteous about that. It is the most loving thing I can think of and to fight for. Paul in Ephesians 6:19-20 asked for prayer to share the gospel and I ask for the same for all of us. All the time and with everybody. What could be more loving? I am not interested in a fight and do not believe this is one. Except for souls in which scripture is clear there is a battle and we need to be united. United in truth. United in having the answer to the question of life after death. It is clear we are. Now we need to pray we can share that answer with as many people as we can. Love, Rob-roy