Teaching Sunday School to a bunch of five-year olds can be a humbling experience. I found this out one Sunday morning when I was abruptly interrupted mid-way through a dramatic re-telling of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. I’d spent hours in lesson preparation. I had almost every gimmick at my disposal: puppets, costumes, character voices and colourful visual aids. I was feeling confident. Until one of the children sighed heavily and said, “This is so boring, I want to die!” Then another chimed in, “We already know this story. Can we just get to the craft activity?”
Shocked and mortified, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry! This was not the response I had anticipated. I had (wrongly) assumed that with enough preparation, enthusiasm and persuasiveness, my gospel presentation could stir these kids’ hearts towards repentance!
But God showed me something important that day. He alone has the power to change people’s hearts. I’d missed the point of my own lesson: only God can raise the dead to life.
When proclaiming the gospel, it is tempting to make it all about us and our ability. We can convince ourselves that people’s salvation ultimately depends on us and our power, our appeal, our intelligence and our expertise. We try and do the work of God apart from the power of God.
There are several reasons why we might be tempted to do this. But I suspect the main reason is that we do not take seriously enough the sovereignty of God in the work of salvation, and the sinfulness of humanity. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father unless He enables them (John 6:65). “Without the grace of God no one can ever become a true Christian. Why? Because before we come to faith in Christ we are “dead in [our] transgressions and sin” (Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:19).
The reason we need a Saviour is not simply because we need to be forgiven for our sin, but because by nature we are spiritually dead (Rom. 5:12). We are alienated from God (Eph. 2:12), hostile to God (Rom. 8:7-8), cursed and condemned by God’s law (Gal. 3:10; Rom. 2:3) ignorant of God’s love and spiritual realities (1 Cor. 2:14) and completely incapable of seeking, loving and pleasing God (Rom. 3:11; 8:8).
We are helpless to change our circumstances and fully dependent on God for new life. Unless the convicting power of the Holy Spirit changes a person’s heart, no method of evangelism will be effective in bringing about salvation. And until we are utterly convinced of this truth – that it is God who raises the dead to life –then we will always be tempted to depend on man-made and man-centred evangelistic strategies for conversion.
Understanding this truth makes our job as ambassadors much easier. When we share the gospel, we can be confident that we have the Holy Spirit to help us. So if you feel a deep inadequacy when it comes to personal evangelism, be encouraged! But also be challenged to consider whether you are taking on more responsibility than God intended.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith –and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” God initiates everything in salvation. And He designed it this way so that He gets the glory. Not us. Our job is not to save sinners. Our job is to plant and water seeds – to proclaim the gospel as clearly, prayerfully, graciously, and persuasively as possible. God’s job is to make things grow (1 Cor. 3:6,7).