In my last article we looked at five ways a person who is not gifted as an evangelist can have an impact on the unbelievers in their life with the gospel. In this article I want to look a bit more closely at the fear factor in evangelism.
Many of you probably know what it is like. You’ve tried to talk to friends about Jesus, or invite them to church or even identify yourself as a Christian but every time there’s an opportunity you become paralyzed with fear and say nothing. You hear stories of other believers freely and easily sharing the gospel with everyone they meet and you wonder why it is so easy for them but so hard for you. You sigh in frustration and wonder what on earth can be done.
If this is the situation you find yourself in, I want you to know that you are not alone. Many of us know what this is like. In fact the Apostle Paul himself knew what this was like. He says that he came to Corinth to preach the gospel in “fear and much trembling” (1 Cor 2:3).
The question is why do we feel like this and what do we do about it?
Why do we fear?
I suggest to you that there are two main reasons why we are afraid in evangelism.
The first has to do with what’s in us – the ‘flesh’. That is, our sinful nature which we inherited from Adam, which has been disempowered by Christ but nonetheless remains with us until he returns (Rom 6:6; Gal 5:24). Our sinful nature causes us to be afraid of being identified with Christ and speaking of him because of the possible rejection, ridicule or persecution we may receive as a result. Therefore this is simply a classic example of the flesh trying to stop us serving Christ, and causing us to be unwilling to suffer with him, which is something we are all called to do (Phil 1:29). This is not surprising since the Bible tells us that the desires of our flesh are opposed to the desires of the Spirit of God (Gal 5:17).
The second reason we fear is because of what’s outside of us. The Bible tells us that as Christians we are involved in a “struggle” or a “wrestle” against “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). Such demonic forces are opposed to Christ and his people and the spread of the gospel. They would love it if the church simply threw in the towel and gave up bringing the gospel to unbelievers. Such demonic forces can bully us into being afraid in evangelism by giving us the threatening perception that great harm awaits us if we speak up.
What do we do about it?
Regarding our flesh we are firstly to remind ourselves that because we have died with Christ our sinful nature has been rendered powerless (Rom 6:6). It may try hard but it has no power to keep us from doing God’s will. Second we are to put it to death by the power of the Spirit (Rom 8:13). That is, pray that God would help you, and then choose to do what the Spirit would have you do and not what the flesh wants you to do (Gal 5:16). Don’t let that feeling of fear determine your actions.
Secondly, regarding the demonic forces, Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew 10:26-33 are helpful for us. Jesus reminds them of the truth so that, having a true perspective on their situation, they will not be deceived into being afraid and shrink from proclaiming the gospel. He reminds them that one day all people will see and acknowledge that Jesus is the king; he reminds them that they are to fear (and obey) God, not man, because what man can do to us pales into insignificance in light of what God can do; he reminds them that they are God’s valuable children; that nothing will happen to them without God’s knowledge and permission; and finally that there is great reward for those who identify publicly with Christ, but great shame for those who don’t.
We must let the truth disarm the lies we are presented with by the demonic forces opposed to the gospel. This will allow us to serve Christ despite our fear.
Matt Cole is in his third year of ministry training at PTC and attends Somerville Presbyterian Church