Every Christian is responsible for sharing the good news about Jesus. Those who know Christ owe Christ to all people.
We Are Debtors
Every Christ-follower, without exception, is called to be share the good news. We cannot escape this call. In his letter to the Romans, Paul described himself as a debtor (Rom. 1:14). A debt is an obligation. So, to whom was Paul obligated? He was certainly obligated to Christ for his salvation. But, he was also obligated to all who do not know Christ —“both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.”
The terms Greeks and Barbarians refer the Gentiles, among whom Paul hoped to have a harvest. However, Paul also desired to reach the wise, those who were lost because of their worldly wisdom, and the unwise or those considered unworthy to receive the gospel. All of these terms define the broad scope of Paul’s personal mission field.
Paul understood that Christ had already “broken down the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14) between Jews and Gentiles. And he believed that God had called him to carry the message of reconciliation through Christ to all peoples. He owed it to them. Those who know Christ are indeed in debt or obligated to take the gospel to those who do not know Christ. In other words, those who know Christ owe Christ to all people.
A Call From Above
When it comes to evangelism, Christ-followers have a two-fold responsibility — to show Christ (incarnation) and to share Christ (proclamation). Both are essential. Like two wings on an airplane, we need both incarnation (our ways) and proclamation (our words) in order to get our witness off the ground.
According to the Bible, evangelism begins with a call from above. God Himself calls, commands, and commissions us to tell the good news to the nations. Evangelism begins with a call from above because that is where evangelism began — in the heart of God. He sent His Son into the world (John 3:16) to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).
The last command of Jesus was a command to evangelize (read Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15, John 20:21, and Acts 1:8). We are still under obligation to obey this command; it has not been repealed. There are no exemptions to obedience by virtue of our age, gender, rank, race, or riches. Nor can we substitute anything in place of this command. Regardless of whatever else we may do in the church and for the kingdom, these things are to be done in addition to but not in place of evangelism.
John R. Mott, a leader of the Student Volunteer Movement at the turn of the twentieth century, understood what it meant to be a debtor. In a speech that he gave in April 1901, Mott challenged his audience to come to grips with the fact that not only do all people need Christ, but that we owe Christ to all people. “To have a knowledge of Christ,” Mott said, “is to incur a tremendous responsibility to those that have it not.”
Unless we understand that the gospel concerns all people, we will likely never feel the weight of our obligation to the nations. Mott reminded his audience, “You and I have received this great heritage, not to appropriate it to our exclusive use, but to pass it on to others. … What a colossal crime against two-thirds of the human race to withhold this surpassing knowledge!” Withholding the gospel from others is indeed a colossal crime, one with eternal ramifications.
Mott was right. Think about it. If we were not called to evangelism, then we would not have to concern ourselves with telling others about Jesus; we would not have to make evangelism a personal priority; we would be able to call every missionary home; we could stop the publication and distribution of tracts and evangelism materials; and we would not have to concern ourselves with the spiritual welfare of others.
But, that is not the case. There is a divine call to evangelism that comes from above and is directed at every Christ-follower. We are called to go and tell and to tell as we go.
A Call From Below
The Bible teaches that there is a call to evangelism that originates from above and is directed at every Christ-follower. According to Luke 16:19-31, there also is a call to evangelism that originates from below.
Jesus told a parable about an unnamed rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. Lazarus was a sick man whose body was covered with sores. He was so poor that he longed to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.
One day Lazarus died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died, but he went to hell. While in hell the rich man saw Lazarus being comforted in the bosom of Abraham, far away across a chasm. The rich man then cried to Abraham, asking that he send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool his parched tongue and thus relieve a little of the agony he was experiencing in hell’s flames. But, his request was denied.
The rich man then made another request: “Then I beg you, Father, that you send him to my father’s house — for I have five brothers — that he may warn them, lest they also come to this place of torment” (Luke 16:27-28). This request was also denied.
This parable paints an awful picture of the terrible reality of hell. If we could intrude upon the fiery depths of hell with a listening device we too would hear a distinct call to evangelism, pleading with us — “Go and tell my brothers…”. If you and I could hear the cries of those in hell we would hear familiar voices calling us to go and tell.
William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, said the following in a speech to the first class of graduates after they had completed two years of intensive study and training: “Young men, I’m sorry that it has been necessary to keep you here for two years before we could send you into the world to preach the gospel. What would have been better is if you could have had five minutes in hell! That would have been all the preparation you would need in your zeal to reach the lost.”
Booth was right. Many will never see heaven because we have never seen hell. Many will never hear and respond to the voice of God because you and I have not heard and responded to the cries from hell.
As Christ-followers, we cannot escape the call to tell others the good news. If we look up to the heights of heaven, we will hear a commanding call to evangelism. And, if we look below to the depths of hell, we will hear a distressing call pleading with us to go and warn others lest they go to that place of torment.
A Call From Without
There is yet a third call to evangelism that we cannot escape — the call that comes from without.
Luke’s account of Paul’s second missionary journey starts in Acts 15:36. Immediately prior to the start of this second journey, Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement regarding whether or not to allow John Mark to join their team. Paul did not want John Mark on the team because he had deserted them in Pamphylia on the previous journey. Barnabas, the encourager, wanted to give John Mark a second chance. Since Paul and Barnabas could not agree about what to do with John Mark, they agreed to go their separate ways. Barnabas took John Mark with him on another journey and Paul chose a new traveling companion named Silas to accompany him on his second missionary journey.
As Paul and Silas traveled, the Holy Spirit shut doors along the way and redirected them to Troas, a city on the extreme western shores of Asia Minor. While there, something significant happened (Acts 16:9): “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
This is the call to evangelism that comes from without — an urgent call from lost humanity, pleading with us to come and help. This was a significant call for Paul because Macedonia was on the continent of Europe and represented the place where the gospel had not yet been preached. And, the man in the vision represented and spoke for all who had not yet heard the gospel.
Like the Macedonian man, there are billions of people in the world today who are urgently crying out for help, asking for someone to show them the way out of darkness into the light and out of condemnation into forgiveness. People everywhere are looking for answers to life’s deepest questions. If you will listen, you’ll hear the cry of the Macedonians in your world, pleading for help.
Are you sensitive to the cries of those who are still waiting to hear the good news? Ask God to help you to tune out distractions so that you can hear the cries for help from others, cries woven into daily conversations with words that signal confusion, hurt, despair, and lostness. And when you hear these cries, do what Paul and Silas did — share the good news of Jesus Christ.
A Call From Within
There is a fourth call to evangelism, a call that comes from within. If we fail to hear and heed this call, then all of the other calls will also go unanswered. This is the call that ultimately stirs us to action. Isaiah heard this call in the year of King Uzziah’s death when he heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8).
Centuries after Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord, another young man heard God’s voice. In the 18th century, churches throughout Europe had become indifferent to the spiritual needs of the world. During this time there lived a young English pastor who served as a part-time teacher and shoemaker. This young man was under the conviction that the Great Commission was directed to every believer and still operative. Many of his contemporaries felt otherwise.
At a ministers’ meeting in 1786, this young man asked “whether the command given to teach all nations was not obligatory on all [believers], to the end of the world.” Upon hearing this, an older pastor is reported to have said, “Sit down, young man. You are a miserable enthusiast to ask such a question. When God wants to convert the world, He can do it without your help.”
However, this young man dared to swim against the tide of apathy in his day because he had heard the voice of the Lord reverberating in his heart, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Like Isaiah, this young man dared to heed this divine call from within and answered affirmatively, “Here am I. Send me!” As a result, this young man named William Carey unwittingly launched the modern missionary movement in 1792 and became known as the father of modern missions.
Can you hear God’s voice reverberating within the chambers of your heart, asking “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” If not, turn down the volume, tune in to God, and make yourself available to beg others on behalf of Christ, “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).