Evangelism has never changed since sinners first needed forgiveness. Even before the cross the message was always about a saving God bringing that which does exist into existence and bringing the dead to life. Abraham believed that and it was credited to him as righteousness.
Certainly we have more of the story unfolded in our day, so we call sinners to run for mercy to a risen Savior who bore our sins in His body on the cross. But is there any difference in the way you reach Sunday School kids and the way you reach people who have never darkened the door of a church? The gospel does not change, but the very concepts of God, Jesus, sin and forgiveness are either foreign or redefined to the average unchurched person. You cannot believe a message you cannot understand.
I have seen this firsthand because I have been working with men in our community who have been in trouble with their families, in trouble their girlfriends or wives, in trouble at work, in trouble with the law…drugs, etc. There are many church members who have a hard time finding Habakkuk in their Bibles. That’s a shame, but I'm talking about high school graduates who don't know what the Garden of Eden is.
Where do you start? “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”? But who is God?
I usually start in Genesis instead of John or Romans. I want these men who are in trouble with people to understand what kind of God made man and what God’s kind of man looks like. Once they see that, we have defined our terms and I can explain why they are also in trouble with God. The message of redemption only makes sense once you understand you are in trouble.
Working with troubled men over the last year has brought me to make some general observations:
- Most of these men grew up without an active father.
- Most of these men have not been able to hold a steady job.
- Most of these men are very angry.
Based what I know about the Bible's estimation of men, I think my last two observations are related to the first. But simply protecting the girl from his wrath or getting the guy to work are not the primary objectives. Regeneration, not behavior change, is the solution to these big problems.
So one of the first homework assignments I give to an unbelieving man is to read Genesis 1 and 2. I often ask them to lead in that reading with his wife or girlfriend. That starts some interesting discussions. After reading those chapters I ask him to answer some questions:
- List all the conclusions you can make about this God when you read these chapters (for example, “He must be very ______________ because He _______________.”).
- What were the things God gave Adam to enjoy? List them.
- According to Genesis 1:26, what was Adam's job?
- What were some other jobs God gave Adam to do (see Genesis 1:28; 2:15; 2:19-20)?
If you do his homework assignment yourself you may or may not be surprised to see that work came before sin. God commanded Adam to rule over the earth. He told Adam and his wife to have babies. He told Adam to cultivate and keep the garden. Men are wired to love one woman and work hard for the glory of God. Go figure.
Something else worthy of note here is that before they took the forbidden fruit their exclusive delight was found in God and God's gifts. In other words, they had unlimited pleasure inside the boundary. I often illustrate that as a fence labeled “boundaries of legitimate pleasure.”
Then we work together to see all that Adam and Eve had inside those boundaries. Inside they had fellowship with God and all that he is. They had companionship, work, food, the beauty of the garden and even marital sexual pleasure.
Then we talk about the consequences Adam and Eve experienced outside “the fence.” Outside they found guilt, pain and death. When you see what they traded for a piece of fruit I usually say, “That must have been some piece of fruit.”
Talk of that exchange readily takes us to their own lives and the consequences they are reaping. It is easy to see how God defines idolatry and it is easy to see the “exchange” of Romans 1 in living color when you work with men who live there. It is also humbling to wake up to the fact that I have made the same trade.