The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Duty to Warn’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 1/6/2019, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click
Evangelism: Week One
The State of Evangelism
I recently attended a meeting for pastors in Manhattan. The keynote speaker was a very well-known pastor with a large church, who is incredibly well-respected, both in pastors’ circles and secular media.
His subject matter was unrelated to evangelism and outreach; but at a certain point in his conversation, evangelism came up. He recalled having a youth leader who was a natural evangelist: the type of person who would take a trip on a plane, and by the end of the flight would have everyone in Coach giving their lives to Jesus.
He remembers that same youth leader encouraging him to take steps out in faith and boldly share the Gospel. His response? “I didn’t feel gifted in that area.” He went on to say he didn’t think the poking and prodding to share the Gospel was fair, because some people are gifted in that area, and others are not. From that day forward, he always wished he were more gifted as a natural evangelist, but never took steps to more actively share his faith with people he didn’t know.
This, to me, is where most of the church currently is when it comes to evangelism. We have an understanding that we are called to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15), but we have different ideas as to what that “looks like.” We’re vaguely aware of an abstract need to share our faith in certain situations; but we’re 1) terrified at the concept of ruining existing relationships by introducing the Gospel, and 2) completely turned off by the idea of engaging a total stranger to talk about Jesus Christ
I left that pastors’ meeting discouraged. Was it really justifiable to say we’re not “gifted” in evangelism, and keep living our lives the same way? Is it justifiable to agree that the church is the greatest vehicle for local evangelism, but restrict our efforts to reach new people to having service on Sunday? I agree church service is – and should be – powerful; but at some point, don’t we have to get outside the walls of the church and start reaching people who haven’t ever even been to church? At some point don’t we have to let the Gospel spill over into our everyday life if we want to reach the people who have really never heard the Good News?
When it comes to evangelism, I do not believe the concession that “I’m not gifted in that area” is good enough. Do you know why?
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! – Matt 7:7-11
Sharing the Gospel is a good thing (v 11). So why wouldn’t God make us better and more effective at it when we ask Him?
Why We Need to Share the Gospel
Scripture teaches that Heaven and Hell are real. We do not live for this life on earth; we live for an eternity that is coming when we leave this life. If we are serious about taking God at His word, the consequence is that there is a Heaven to gain, and a Hell to shun!
The Bible addresses Heaven and Hell in many places, but the Book of Revelation contains one of the most stark contrasts between each place:
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. – Rev 21:1-7
There is a Heaven to gain by believing in Jesus! And oh how awesome it appears. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes! There will be no more death! Sorrow and crying will be things of the past: things that we remember from our time on earth, but no longer feel. Pain will be no more, because the old things have passed away. Jesus has made all things new: and when we get to Heaven, we will enjoy the fruit of that newness!
But there is an alternative for people who do not receive Jesus as Lord over their lives:
But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” – Rev 21:8
Do you really believe Hell is real? If you do, there will be a new sense of urgency in your work. There will be a healthy desire to let people know that they have a choice to make in this life that will echo for all eternity!
I remember sitting at a pastors’ lunch recently in the East Village, close to our church. One of the men there – whom I consider a mentor – looked up and said, “If we really believed the Gospel, we probably wouldn’t be sitting here right now.” We asked him what he meant, and were floored by his response. “If we really believed in Heaven and Hell, there would be such an urgency to let people know that we wouldn’t be able to sit here.”
Do you really believe what the Bible teaches? I do! And if we do, shouldn’t that change the way we live our lives?
Scripture tells us how to get into Heaven, and thereby avoid Hell:
…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” – Rom 10:9-13
Believe in Jesus! Declare that He is Lord over your life! Believe it in your heart, and make a confession with your mouth (v 9). Call on Him; and whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (v 13)!
It’s so easy, isn’t it? We are righteous by faith, not by works (Eph 2:8-9). But here is the truth: many people you know in your life – family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances – won’t get into Heaven.
Let that truth settle in. It hurts; but if we believe Scripture, it is true. Jesus took time to explain this to His disciples:
And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?”
And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.” – Lk 13:22-30
Much of the world will not get into Heaven because they never give spiritual concerns a second thought. They will live their lives, unconcerned with God, and simply roll the dice as to their eternal dwelling place.
But even more terrifying is the reality that some people who think they are getting into Heaven, won’t! You and I both know people whose response to the Gospel is something like this: “I don’t know about Jesus and church, but I’m just going to live my life and be a good person, and hope that God will see it in the end.”
Here’s the problem with that line of thinking. When you die and God evaluates your life, He is not going to compare you to an axe murderer or a serial rapist. You are going to be compared to Jesus Christ, the spotless Lamb of God. If you have any sin in you, you will be completely sinful. The only way you can stack up to Jesus is if you are hidden in Him: completely covered by His blood!
Salvation Is A Blessing!
Salvation is a blessing! We were far from God, but now we have been reconciled to Him. We were lost, but now we are found. We were condemned; but now we have been set free to live lives of purpose, and to spend eternity with God in Heaven!
Recently as we were sitting at dinner, my 4-year-old son found out that the streets in Heaven are made of gold. His jaw dropped to the table and he almost fell out of his chair. “Gold?!” He couldn’t believe it; and he had a smile plastered on his face for the next two hours as we talked about the reality of Heaven and what it means to be saved.
When you believe in Jesus, you have an amazing eternal future ahead of you. But it doesn’t stop there! Because you are saved, you get to experience the goodness of God here and now, in the land of the living (Ps 27:3). You don’t have to wait to get to Heaven to experience the blessings of God! He will cause His goodness and mercy to follow you: here and now, in this life (Ps 23:6)!
You see: salvation has benefits. Scripture reminds us to never forget them:
Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. – Ps 103:1-5
When we give our lives to Jesus, there is healing. There is complete forgiveness of all sin. There is redemption from the warpath of destruction we were on before we met God. There is mercy to cover our past mistakes, and grace to pave the way for our future! God will satisfy us – inside and out – and keep us young and alive!
But not everyone knows it. Most of the world is not even aware that Jesus died for their sin! And that means we have a responsibility to tell them.
Being A Good Neighbor
First, let’s tackle this from a logical standpoint. If your neighbor’s house were on fire, would you tell him? If your neighbor were fast asleep with his family upstairs, but flames completely engulfed his living room, wouldn’t you do everything you could to keep them from dying? Wouldn’t you run to your phone and dial 9-1-1 so they could be rescued? Wouldn’t you yell for everyone to wake up? Wouldn’t you call them, and scream and shout, until they got the message so they could run to safety?
The answer is obvious: of course. You would do everything you possibly could to make sure they got the message. You wouldn’t care what your other neighbors thought! But here is the issue: if you would drop everything and potentially even risk your life to save someone from physical death, how much more should you urgently and persistently try and help save the people around you from spiritual death? After all, physical death only ends a lifetime; but spiritual death lasts for eternity! In the end, isn’t one more important than the other?
How selfish would it be if we – as saved, Heaven-bound believers – just sat here with this amazing and blessed gift God has given us called salvation, and didn’t let anybody know? How crazy would it be if we knew salvation was free and available to everyone (!!) but we didn’t tell anyone?
Duty to Warn
Now, let’s look at this from a Scriptural standpoint. Scripturally speaking, when God gives you a message to deliver, you have a responsibility to get it done:
Now it came to pass at the end of seven days that the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul. “Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul.” – Ezek 3:16-21
I don’t know about you, but that passage scares me silly. This means we have a duty to warn people that spiritual death is coming if they don’t receive Jesus. This means that if God tells us to give them the message about Jesus, but we deliberately ignore His voice, we will share in the responsibility of their being cast into Hell for all eternity.
How are you going to respond to that? I don’t know about you, but even thinking about the weight of that makes me want to jump out of my skin! Even grappling with the enormity of that responsibility makes me want to go and preach on the subway, and tell everyone I can that Jesus is Lord, and Heaven and Hell are real!
Now here is where we – the church – typically go crazy. We read the passage above, and we assume it is our mandate to tell everyone – right away. But look at God’s instructions to Ezekiel. He didn’t have to tell everyone. God made him the “watchman for the house of Israel” (v 17). In other words, there was a specific group of people (or “people group”) God was asking Ezekiel to reach with the message God had given him.
Your job is not to save the world. Jesus already did that! Your job is, however, to share the Gospel – the message God has given you to share – with the people He tells you to reach. That means God will give you 1) a specific audience, and 2) a specific strategy to engage that audience in ways that are both tasteful and effective. And we’ll talk about all of that – finding out whom your audience is, and formulating strategies to talk to them – in the coming chapters.
Wrestling With It
I understand I’ve built up a lot of pressure here. Maybe I just took you from 0 to 100 miles per hour in one chapter. Maybe I just messed you up: here you were living your comfortable Christian life and enjoying the blessings of God, and now I’m telling you to get off your butt and go and tell the people around you about Jesus!
Remember what we’ve already covered. God is pleased with you. Because you believe in Jesus, God is pleased with you! You are getting in to Heaven by faith: whether you share the Gospel with zero people, or one million people!
But that doesn’t excuse you from the duty to warn. Can we get comfortable with that balance as the church? Yes, Jesus loves us infinitely! But yes, He also asks us to tell the rest of the world His infinite love is available to them too.
There are people in your life who won’t know about the love of God unless you tell them. I get it: your natural inclination is to keep it to yourself! I’ve been there too! God will ask me to speak with someone on the subway, but in an effort to avoid rocking the boat I stuff that responsibility deep down and decide – against my better judgment – to say nothing. Somebody else will do it.
But let’s be bold. Let’s make a decision to refuse to resist our calling to open our mouths and share the Gospel any longer.
God’s will is that none should perish:
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.– 2 Peter 3:9
And you were born to keep them alive. God wants to save people through you. Are you willing to go out and tell them?
© Michael D. White, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
 Matt 25:46, Psalm 9:17, 2 Thess 1:9, Matt 13:50, Acts 2:27, Mark 9:43, Jude 1:7, Prov 15:24, Prov 23:14, Matt 13:42, Matt 25:41, Rev 19:20, Prov 15:11, Matt 16:19, 2 Pet 2:4, Rev 20:13-14, Matt 10:28, Ezek 18:20
 “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.” – Rev 20:12
 “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” – James 2:10
 “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” – Col 3:3-4
 “And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” – Rev 21:21
 Mercy means we don’t get the bad things we do deserve from our past. Grace means we do get good things we don’t deserve in our future.