Subjective Evangelism

jesus-weeping-st-josephs-churchDon’t underestimate the power of your relationships. When I think back to my own conversion it was not initially that facts of the gospel that drew me closer to salvation. It was the people who loved me and persisted to share the gospel with me. The facts of the gospel are exceedingly important in our evangelism, but equally important is the personal connection. There should be a subjective element to our evangelism that appeals to people on the relational level.

John Piper communicated it so pointedly in his address at this year’s Together for the Gospel conference. There he spoke of the importance of pleading and persuading others to come to Christ. He encouraged his hearers to plead with the lost person sitting across from them saying, “I want you to go with me.” The words had a striking passion and desperation to them that made them stand out in my mind. “Sometimes we do objective evangelism,” he continued “we never get to the point of ‘I want you.’” The facts of the gospel are important, but we ought to plead with people and make our earnest desire for their salvation known. Paul demonstrates this is his desire for the Jews to be saved.

Paul was certainly an objective evangelist. He knew the facts of the gospel and communicated them well, with force and rhetorical skill. Yet, he was also deeply burdened in his soul for the lost and he communicated that subjective element too. In Romans 9 He writes:

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. (9:1-3)

He has great “sorrow and unceasing anguish” at the thought of their lostness. Is that what characterizes our emotions when we think about the state of those we love apart from Christ? Are we sorrowful for them? Have we communicated it to them? Have you said, “I want you to be saved”? Don’t underestimate the power of your relationships. Such a subjective appeal has great attraction.

Perhaps many of us simply don’t have that emotional desire to see people saved. It’s a great fear of mine that we are breeding a generation of Christians who are passionate about apologetics, about doctrine and theology, about truth, but whose compassion is very thin. I fear that there are many who would rather win an argument than win a soul. They would rather debate than make personal appeals for the faith. I fear that there are many who would rather “defend the truth” than plead with people to embrace it. It’s not an either/or dichotomy. Both are necessary, both have their place, but where is the growing emphasis on compassion and pleading and persuading? We write books, blogs, and articles on apologetics but where is the compelling, theologically robust, advocacy of persuading people like Paul to come to Christ. We love the objective truth, but where is the subjective evangelism? We need subjective evangelists.

In my case it was the relationships I had with specific Christians that made the biggest difference. I grew up around the church, had heard Bible stories, had heard the gospel, had even taught lessons as an early high school student. Yet, I was not a follower of Christ. It was a faithful friend who kept praying for me, loving me, and pleading with me that made the difference. His personal appeals were the difference between faith and rebellion for me. For another friend it was the desperate pleas of his mother that kept him close to the faith until he finally believed for himself. For still another it was the continual audible prayers of his grandmother begging God to change her grandson’s heart that finally won him over. Again and again the subjective has made a difference. We cannot downplay or ignore the facts, the objective propositions of the gospel, but if we don’t accompany those facts with personal pleas we may see little fruit from our evangelism. Because, of course, that is how God won us over too.

The Bible does not merely give us facts, it gives us emotionally charged appeals from God to us. The most famous verse in the Scriptures contains massive personal pleading in it. John 3:16 reads:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

What compels God to give up His only Son? His love for the world! Or hear the author of Hebrews:

As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (3:15)

God pleads with us to come to Him. Jesus weeps for Israel’s salvation like Paul would later on (Matt. 23:37) This is how the Bible speaks of God’s evangelism. It is a deeply emotional activity for Him. He is a subjective evangelist. Are His people characterized by the same passionate, compassionate, pleading for the souls of men? Are you? Am I?

Subjective evangelism is not about downplaying facts. We must never do that. But it is about valuing the strength of quality relationships and being desperate for those who are bound for hell if they do not repent and believe in Christ. It is about pleading with people because we love them. It is a vital part of our evangelism, and one that does not get enough attention. Be a subjective evangelist, friends, and plead with those you love.

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