The Great Commission is God's call to Christians to evangelize the lost, or to bring non-Christians into the fold. Scripture calls all Christians to share their faith, or to witness.
In order to clear up any confusion, some definitions are in order here:
- evangelism (evangelizing the lost): The act of converting non-Christians to Christianity
- witnessing (sharing your faith): The act of sharing the Christian faith with another person, with the goal of bringing this person to faith in Christ or at least bringing him or her closer to this decision
- leading a person to Christ: the same as sharing your faith, if the lost person accepts Christ and becomes a Christian
The Great Commission
Old Testament Passages
Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. (Genesis 12:1-3)
And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. (Genesis 28:13-15)
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise. (Proverbs 11:30)
And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul. (Ezekiel 3:16-21)
New Testament Passages
But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest. (Matthew 9:36-38)
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:15-16)
After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come. Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest. (Luke 10:1-2)
And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:46-48)
Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. (John 20:21)
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles...Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. (Acts 8:1,4)
Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
All Christians Are Commanded to Evangelize the Lost
Scripture calls all Christians to evangelize the lost. The first three passages (Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 28:13-15; and Ezekiel 3:16-21) indicate that this call is not new to the New Testament. The Acts 8 passage (Acts 8:1,4) indicates that the call to witness does not apply only to leaders, but to all Christians.
These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 10:5-7)
After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come. (Luke 10:1)
And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:7-8)
It may be best to start out with "safer" witnessing. For example in the Matthew 10:5-7 passage above, Jesus did not send His apostles to the Gentiles nor the Samaritans. His apostles were still "green," and the Gentiles and the Samaritans may have tripped them up. Later, as in Luke 10:1, Jesus sent disciples to everybody.
To make an analogy, you would not send your 6-year-old kid, who is just starting school, to 12th grade, would you? Of course not! You would send him to 1st grade and have him progress to 12th grade. Likewise, evangelizing the lost normally should start "safer" and then progress to the less "safe." Just like your kid in school, evangelism should also progress. As in the Acts 1:7-8 passage, evangelizing the lost should start in your "Jerusalem," then progress to your "Judea," and on from there.
Size of Group to Witness
Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch
Paul at Athens
Witnessing in Pairs
Jesus Sends the Twelve
Jesus Sends the Seventy
Conclusion as to Size of Group to Witness
It is scripturally acceptable to share your faith by yourself, with another person, or in a group. If you are comfortable witnessing by yourself, by all means. If you are more comfortable with another person or in a group, then find another person or a group and go.
Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? (2 Corinthians 13:5)
You need to constantly check yourself to be certain that you are influencing the people that you are witnessing to rather than vice versa.
How to Share Your Faith
The Scripture passages given above describe several ways to share your faith as to the size of the group to witness. Other ways to evangelize the lost are described below.
The Woman at the Well
Although few, if any today, are omniscient as was Jesus, this passage describes one method of evangelizing the lost: bringing a lost person before somebody knowledgeable about the gospel.
My Own Witnessing
I will walk up to a person or a group of two or more people and try to start a conversation with them.
I usually ask them how they are doing. I will then move on to small talk, such as the weather or a similar subject. I then attempt to find things that the person(s) that I am talking to are interested in or things that we have in common. This can be from what they talk about, or sometimes by what is on their T-shirts, jackets, caps, etc.
The word "I" is the most common word used in a conversation. I try to use the word "you" more often than "I" in a conversation, although I will not completely abstain from using "I".
I try to affirm the person that I am speaking with. I will say things such as "I care about others"; "I care about you"; "I think you are important"; "Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself, and I am trying to show that I do"; and the like.
When I find areas of interest or areas that we have in common, I talk to the other person(s) on these areas. For example, if the person is wearing a Denver Broncos (a pro football team) jacket, I may talk to him about the Broncos, even though I personally may not have a lot of interest in that particular team. My objective at this point is to get the person(s) to like me and for them to enjoy the conversation. The conversation can be short (often is, for example, when the weather is cold) or long.
Early in the conversation, I will give them my first name. Usually, give me theirs. First names are usually non-threatening. I then make an effort to remember their names (people appreciate if I remember their names during a conversation). I will extend my hand as well to shake hands; however, if the other person(s) is unwilling due to COVID-19 or whatever else, I will do what the other person is willing to do, whether shake hands, fist bump, elbow bump, etc. Although I do not fear COVID-19 (the worst that can happen to me is that I contract it and die; in which case, I go to heaven), I do wish to respect the other person's wishes.
At some point in the conversation, usually toward or at the end of the conversation, I hand the person(s) a tract (pamphlet) that contains the gospel.
Often the conversation ends at that point; other times, they ask me about the tract; and I can then go into the gospel with them. Sometimes, this ends with one or more people accepting Christ.
If a person says that he needs help in any way (other than money, since giving out money normally does not help in the long run), I usually offer to help him out, if possible. I will often "go the extra mile." For example, if he wants to know how go get to a particular place, I often walk with him to that place rather than simply giving him directions. Or, if he needs to get somewhere outside of walking distance, I may offer to take him there without charge, even if it is out of my way. Remember, actions often speak louder than words! See also my page on The role of good works.
I will also use this approach when I am at a farmers' market when there is no line at a booth; in this case, I also will buy something from the person at the booth. After all, this is in part how they make a living!
This type of approach does require an outgoing personality (you need to be willing to walk up to complete strangers, without introduction, and try to start conversations with them). This approach also requires a good amount of spiritual knowledge. As you may never see these individuals again, a response such as "I don't know the answer to your question, but I will get it for you" will not work here. This does not mean total knowledge; or nobody, myself included, would be able to use this approach!
Reasons Christians Do Not Share Their Faith and Solutions
Fear About Witnessing
I Don't Know How to Witness
It Is the Pastor's Job to Witness
Faith Is a Personal or Private Matter
I'll Just Pray for Them
Congregations Can Penalize Witnessing
I Will Live as a Christian and Let Them Come to Me
Congregations Do Not Recognize the Problem
Church leadership may believe that witnessing is common in their congregation when it actually is not. I was a member of the evangelism team of a large congregation and repeatedly pointed out how little witnessing was going on in the congregation, backed up by facts. The response with the rest of the evangelism team was "It can't be that bad." It can be that bad, and it was. If church leadership does not recognize a problem, are they going to take steps to address it?
I Am Too Young to Witness
Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD. (Jeremiah 1:4-8)
I am not saying here to send your child to a public school so that they can witness to others there (I understand that many parents send their children to public school due to non-availability of Christian schools or due to not being able to afford a Christian school). If you try having your 6-year-old child witness to a 40-year-old humanist teacher, that probably is not going to end well!
I Can't Do This without a Partner
See my section on this page on Solo Witnessing. Scripture clearly approves witnessing by yourself.
If you are truly uncomfortable with witnessing alone, then by all means pray for God to send you a partner.
Evangelism That Is Not Permitted in Scripture
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? (2 Corinthians 6:14-15)
In other words, a believer is not to marry an unbeliever in order to evangelize him or her.
However, if You Blew It Here, or if You Come to Christ but Your Spouse Has Not...
But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy... For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? (1 Corinthians 7:12-14, 16)
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