Not too long ago, I stopped through the grocery store on the way home after a long day at the office to pick up a few things. I was so focused on getting in and getting out, I was nearly running to get what I needed. In the midst of scaling my list of necessities, I found my heart prodded to share the gospel with a complete stranger that stood near me in the middle of the frozen meat section. In public, I often wonder if the people that surround me know Christ personally. This particular wonder developed a desire within me to share Christ with this person. However, doubt enveloped me. What if I act on this pressing from the Holy Spirit to tell this person about what Christ has done on their behalf and it blows up in my face? After all, it’s likely that they’re going to be like, “Dude, I’m really just trying to buy some pork loin. Can you leave me alone?” I let this prevailing thought win. I didn’t act in obedience to what I was being called to do.
Have you ever felt the need to say something, but because of your pride you didn’t? Here’s mine: Sharing my faith isn’t easy.
It’s rather hard. I fail even when I know I’ve been qualified and empowered to do so. At times, I talk myself out of doing it. It’s uncomfortable. I don’t want to impose on them. Maybe you’ve experienced these same feelings. A study conducted by LifeWay Research a couple of years ago concluded that 80% of “church-going Protestants” believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith. Yet, only 39% of those surveyed had done so in the previous six months. If it was easy, surely more people would do it, right?
Think back with me to the last time you shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with someone. Was it last week? Last month? Last year? What drew you into that conversation?
When I share the gospel, it’s often a result of reminding myself what was done for me through the death and resurrection of Jesus. I remind myself who I was—dead in my own sin and transgression and unable to do anything within my own strength to bring about a change in myself. When I reflect on the fact that when I was utterly helpless, God stepped in and saved me though I deserved nothing but death, I am unable to be apathetic. God’s grace and mercy on my behalf overwhelms me and my thankfulness expresses itself through the desire to share the gospel with others.
The desire to share the gospel is love. Through the beautiful and gruesome display of affection on the cross to the triumphant conquering of the grave, God has has been lavishly bestowed love on us. 2 Corinthians 5:14 says, “The love of Christ controls us.” The love that we’ve experienced spurs us on that others may join in the hope that we’ve received. Pastor Robby Gallaty puts it this way: “The gospel came to you because it was on its way to someone else.” The intent of our receiving the gospel was not that we would hold onto it with clinched fists. When we truly love others, we set aside every comfort and pleasure for the sake of salvation.
The Apostle Paul understood this love well. He allowed this love to control his life. Because of the gospel, Paul loved and cared for unbelievers with such intensity, that it drew him to travel over 10,000 miles throughout his missionary journeys. However, was sharing the gospel the pinnacle of the abundance of his love for people?
DO WE LOVE ENOUGH TO SHARE OUR LIVES?
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul writes:
“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very own selves, because you has become very dear to us.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:8
When we share the gospel, God does the work of salvation.It often doesn’t require much from us. For our part, we see lost people excitedly come to new life in Christ then feel as though our job is to move on to the “next one.” That particular regenerate person is “finished.” This is a model of sharing the gospel that the Western Church has “perfected.” Paul is speaking here of a sharing that results in a greater depth than mere words. He writes that his affection for those in Thessalonica has drawn him to share his life with them.
This was not just any affection, mind you. When Paul writes that the Thessalonians had “become very dear,” he uses the Greek word agape. Agape love means sacrifice. Paul’s love was devoid of seeking personal comfort, because the grace of the gospel had taken hold of his heart.
What does that even require? How was Paul really sharing himself with these people? He expounds in verses 10-12:
“You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”
Paul, along with Silas and Timothy, offered themselves up to be examples in which the Thessalonians could follow. Essentially, here’s what they were saying:
“You’ve been brought from being dead to being disciples. You’ve committed yourself to a lifetime of followership, allow our lives to be the blueprint for how you ought to live out every aspect of your life for the Lord Jesus.”
The growing body of believers in Thessalonica was very young. Paul knew that sharing the gospel but leaving without teaching them the discipline of being a disciple would be disastrous. He goes so far as to say that his love for this body was likened to that of a father for his children. Is there a greater connection than a father and his children? A mighty love compelled by the gospel enveloped the heart of Paul. He loved them as his own and committed himself to their maturing in Christ.
This was hardly a Pauline initiative. The Gospels paint a vivid picture of the imperative of life investment. The mission of Christ was world evangelization. His method was making disciples. And the same mission (Matt. 28:18-20) that the Father sent him to do, he was sending his followers to continue (Jn. 20:21). Paul understood well that a disciple is a student of Jesus, so devotion to discipleship was imperative in his life. His desire was that those who God was sending him to reach would join him in this lifelong process in Christlikeness.
And so, if Paul was to be like Christ, he would need to invest his life in other men so that they would multiply and make more disciples. His understanding of the gospel as word and deed led him to teach others what it looked like to pick up their cross and follow after Jesus. There is no other option. We follow in the footsteps of Christ and make disciples his way. Who are you loving enough to intentionally invest your life into, for the sake of joining Christ in his mission of making disciples who make disciples?
This process involves investing in life with others and showing them how the gospel permeate every area of your life. I meet with a couple of guys weekly for Bible study and Scripture memorization. If I were to confine this discipleship group to getting together once a week, it would hardly be life investment. We eat together; we also pray together outside of our meetings. We enjoy playing nine-ball together. My goal is that these men would see how Christ is preeminent in my life, in every circumstance. We really are investing in life together.
What does it look like for me to allow someone to imitate me as I imitate Christ?
1. Pray and ask who God might allow you to disciple. Who has God placed within your sphere of influence that might need spiritual direction? When I was discipled, it started with a man approaching me and saying: I see that you desire to grow in your relationship with Christ, but you just aren’t sure what your next step is. Allow me to help you. It was true. I did desire a deepened and more meaningful relationship with Christ. Yet, no one had ever taught me what that looked like.
2. Allow those you lead to see how the lordship of Christ governs your life. Let them see what Spirit dependence truly looks like and how the Word of God informs every decision you make. Allow them to see your shortcomings and failures and remind them that the goal is progression, not perfection.
3. Let the Word of God be the foundation throughout the discipleship process. Teach them how to study the Word, how to store the Word, and how to share the Word. Create accountability with each other, holding fast to Paul’s commitment to the Thessalonians to “charge you to walk in a manner worthy God.”
More discipleship classes or programs will not work. We’re going to have to allow the love of God through Christ to control us that we might share our very lives with others for the sake of the gospel.
Tre Wiggins is the Campus Pastor at Kennesaw Mountain High School with NorthStar Church in Kennesaw, Ga. Tre grew up in Warner Robins, Ga. in 2009, he left to attend Kennesaw State University, where he met his wife Rachel, and eventually earned a degree in Political Science. You can connect with him on Twitter @trewiggins7