Updated: Dec 21, 2018
In this third of four installments on evangelism, we turn to an important word: ask. As a reminder, the four key words we’re reflecting on to frame our evangelism are celebrate, serve, ask, and exit. So let’s think about what it looks like to move from serving fellow image bearers to asking simple questions.
In order to highlight the importance of asking in relationship to serving, we need to return to those biting words of Senator Cory Booker from last week. His summary statement was this: “In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as in how you choose to live and give.” Now, the idea is not new; maybe you heard it like this: actions speak louder than words.
But there is a fatal flaw in this argument, and I think the doctrine of revelation helps us here. The doctrine of revelation tells us that God has revealed himself in a general way through creation, but also in a special way through his Word. General revelation is analogous to communication via actions. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps 19:1) because they communicate what God has done. Special revelation is analogous to communication via words. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:1-2a). Now, which speaks louder, general or special revelation? Can anyone be saved by general revelation? To borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul, by no means!
Why is that? Because humanity in its fallen state misunderstands God’s actions (general revelation) apart from God’s words (special revelation). God certainly “speaks” when he acts, but we misunderstand the message apart from the proper context. So, God’s Word is the proper context by which we properly understand God’s “speech” through action. So, Calvin says,
For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any book, however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of the Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly.
With the spectacles of Scripture, God’s words, we see God’s actions clearly. So, in reality actions can’t speak louder than words because they need the words to bring things into focus.
Returning to Senator Booker’s words, let’s consider the ramifications of words without action as well as action without words. If somebody proclaims, “Jesus is my Lord,” while at the same time their actions are not consistent with the Lordship of Jesus Christ, then that person is a hypocrite. Anyone who encounters such a person can identify clearly the problem.
But if another person cares for the widow and orphan, feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, visits the imprisoned, and gives drink to the thirsty, while at the same time never proclaiming that these things are done out of thankful acknowledge for God’s mercy found in Jesus Christ, then that person is a moralist. The real problem is that nobody can identify clearly the problem. The outward actions will be interpreted variously, but if they are not interpreted correctly, then they will have no eternal impact.
One final example before getting to the actual topic of this reflection. Suppose that your lesbian friend invites you to her wedding; maybe she asks you to be a bridesmaid. If actions speak louder than words, then all you need to do is decline the invitation. Your friend will understand what you mean to communicate without the need to explain yourself with words, right? Wrong. Why did you decline? Apart from words, will your friend know that you believe that saying hard things with love now is the way to win your friend to true faith in Jesus Christ?
So we must urgently talk to family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers about spiritual things, because the plain fact of Scripture is that people who don’t know Jesus go to hell. And because words more clearly communicate our love for our neighbor, we need to use words. One way to do this is to extend invitations. Ask your family or friends if they ever think about what will happen to them when they die. Ask your neighbors or coworkers where they get their code of conduct. Ask your family or friends if they want to read the Bible with you. Ask your neighbors or coworkers if they want to go through the Life Explored series with you.
Asking a simple question has the potential to open the door to conversations you never thought possible. Just think about how you feel when you receive invitations. Being invited into a conversation is much more pleasant than being dragged into one. So, ask your coworker where she goes to church. Ask your neighbor if he has a Bible at home. Ask your friend if he’s interested in doing something really weird like going to church. Ask your family member why she stopped going to church.
What happens if you extend an invitation to someone and they shove it back in your face? Let’s chat about that next week.
 Calvin, Instit. 1.6.1