A reader submitted a question about evangelism in the Old Testament.
I’d love to be steered toward some Old Testament passages that relate to “Relational Evangelism” any passages come to mind?
Part of how I answer the question is rooted in how I define evangelism and relational evangelism. So let’s start with these
My definition of evangelism
I consider evangelism as the entire process
- of a person awakening to their spiritual restlessness
- seeking answers to that restlessness
- hearing how Jesus is the way God satisfies that thirst.
- hearing about our sinful condition before God.
- hearing the proclamation of Jesus as Lord and our need to repent
- the call to place faith in Christ and live as a follower of Jesus.
Every conversation about faith, every rumination in the late night hours, every invitation to church, every sermon heard, every bible verse read, every small group conversation all become “seeds” that that the Lord uses in the drawing process.
Since I’m a Presbyterian pastor, I choose to use an excellent definition of personal evangelism, as adopted by the General Assembly (1990).
Joyfully sharing the good news of the sovereign love of God, and calling people to repentance, to personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, to active membership in the church, and to obedient service in the world.
I’ve written about this definition before. See these articles:
- Joyfully – The Emotion of Evangelism
- Sharing – The Activity of Evangelism
- The Good News – the Content of Evangelism
- The Invitation – the Call of Evangelism
This definition of evangelism has guided me since the early part of the last decade and I have chosen to live it out in my own personal lifestyle of evangelism.
Evangelism involves me telling the first hand stories of God’s activity in my life. In the course of doing that, I can talk about how I started my relationship with Christ and how my friends can do the same.
A stricter definition of Evangelism
A stricter definition of evangelism would focus exclusively on the presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ.
In this view, all of the process leading up to the sharing of the gospel would be “pre-evangelistic” seed planting. An example of this is seen in Doug Cecil’s book “7 Principles of the Evangelistic Life”
Evangelism is an event and not a process. We are to do the work of an evangelist. The definition of evangelism has two main parts: information and invitation. One part without the other is out of balance. One should not think of presenting an invitation without any information. And likewise, providing only the information without an invitation to trust Christ will leave the listener frustrated and still unsaved. After a person trusts Christ, instruction in the spiritual life starts the person down the road toward spiritual maturity.”
On the one hand, I agree with his definition of evangelism. A strict biblical interpretation of meaning of evangelism would be the actual proclamation of the gospel.
On the other hand, I would see all the appropriate activity and conversations leading up to that particular moment as part of the evangelistic process as people walk through stages of their journey to Christ. He would call that “witnessing.” It’s a slight difference of nuance.
My definition of Relational Evangelism
Before getting to some Old Testament passage, I need to share my perspective on Relational Evangelism. This style focuses on doing good, living good, so that your lifestyle attracts spiritual curiosity. “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” Matthew 5:16 (NLT)
I look at relational evangelism this way:
- Living in such a way that your faith is obvious AND
- Being intentional in talking about the gospel
- In the context of intentional relationships
It is living in such a way (actions) and speaking regularly (Words) that your friends know you are an approachable Christian they can talk over their own spiritual issues.
Relational Evangelism in the Old Testament
In one sense, evangelism in the strict sense is not seen in the Old Testament. Since the proclamation of evangelism is Jesus centered, you’ll not find evidence of such in the Old Testament, which only foreshadowed Christ.
However, we can see that the covenant people were to be active witnesses of their faith.
They were to live out their faith and tell stories of all that God had done.
- They were to be a Kingdom of Priests AND a Holy Nation with a message. Exodus 19:6
- The introduction of Psalm 67; in a sense, is an evangelism prayer. ”May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” Psalm 67:1, 2
- Israel was called to faith and repentance: Deut 30:8; Josh 24:15; Lev 5:5; Lev 16:29-31; Deut 10:16; Ezek 18:30-31
- Israel was called witness to their children: Deut 6:7, 20-25
- Israel was called to witness to their neighbors: Jer 31:34;
- David’s call was to witness to the nations: Ps 18:49;
- David’s prayer was that salvation would be known among all the nations: Ps 67;
- David’s confidence was that all nations would be converted: Ps 22:27;
- The prophets had “missionary” work: Isa 2:2-4; 19:25; 40:5, 9; 42:6; 45:22; 49:6; 56:7; 66:19; Zech 8:23; cf. Ps 68:31
The exhortations that speak to me the most are found in the Psalms. The people of Israel were to tell of the goodness of the Lord.
Psalm 73:28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.
Isaiah 63:7 I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us— yes, the many good things he has done for Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses.
I see where parents should teach their faith to their children
I see where believers were to talk about God’s goodness and faithfulness.
The Psalms are full of summaries of what God has done in history so that people could remember the stories.
I would argue that all of this is a predecessor to relational evangelism we practice today. The members of the covenant community were called to talk about their faith with their friends.
Can we tell of ALL the deeds of the Lord with our non-Christian friends? Can we share “the many good things He has done?”
Think back over the last 30 days. How have you seen God’s kindness at work in your life?
You might see evidence of God’s work in:
- Speaking to you
- Growing a particular fruit of the Spirit
- A season of testing
- To be a blessing in the life of another
With whom can you share a story this week?