As Christians with a calling to evangelism, our goal is to share the Gospel with people. We want to tell them about their sin, their need for a Savior, about Jesus’ work on the cross, and about the new life that only He can give us. It is a great challenge, but it also brings great joy, knowing that we are busy about our Father’s business.
However, there is one issue that I think is very important in evangelism of which we must be aware, and that is the issue of identity: who a person is and how he defines himself.
The Webster’s Dictionary defines identity as:
The condition or fact of being a specific person or thing; individuality
The characteristics and qualities of a person, considered collectively and regarded as essential to that person’s self-awareness
A person’s identity is who a person is. As Christians, we find our identity in Christ. We find oneness in Him and with Him. Indeed, our whole lives are committed to furthering oneness with God and with our brethren (see John 17).
But as we know, most people base their identity in something else, especially in a particular religion. “I’m a Muslim” or “I’m Jewish” or “I’m a Hindu”. Why, you might ask? “Because I was born that way. It’s who I am.” Most people do not examine the truth claims of the religions in which they were raised. They simply stay in that religion because it is just who they are. They have based their identity in something other than Jesus.
I can give you an example of this. I knew a Muslim woman at work who was having some health issues. I offered her a Christian book to borrow. It wasn’t a book that compared Christianity to Islam, nor did it even mention any arguments against Islam. It was just a book about finding Jesus in sickness. I offered her the book with hopes that it might plant some seed in her heart. I even told her it was a Christian book, and she kindly stated that she was okay with that. But the next day, she reported me to Human Resources. She told the HR Director that her Muslim Religion was everything to her, and she was offended that I had tried to push my religion on her. Sadly, this is an example of someone whose entire identity is staked in a false religion.
Another example I can give of this is myself. You see, I was Jewish, and there was a time when I was offended by the Gospel. When a classmate first told me about Jesus in junior high, I was offended. I became angry and for a time, rejected her friendship. I eventually came around. But the problem was not just that my mind was darkened, or that I believed the lies of the Enemy, although these are true. The problem was the fact that my identity—the very essence of who I was—was staked in Judaism. I based my identity in a religion that rejected Jesus as Messiah. When I decided to become a Christian, I faced the fact that I was surrendering my identity as a Jew to become a Christian.
And so it is with many people whom we would like to lead to Christ. They find themselves in something other than Christ. "I’m Jewish," "I’m Muslim," "I’m a Jehovah’s Witness," "I’m a liberal democrat," "I’m gay," "I’m pro-choice," "I’m an atheist," etc. It’s not merely the Gospel message that they reject. They find the essence of who they are in something other than Christ. This is a barrier between them and Christ, and it is something of which we must be aware.
In Luke 14, Jesus talks about the Cost of Discipleship. He says this:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” –Luke 14:26-27
When Jesus says things like this, we often think He is talking about physical possessions. We think He is asking each of us to give up all that we own and walk away from our families. Surely there are people who literally renounce their families and their worldly goods. But on a more practical level, there are many other things that one can renounce for Jesus. What sins keep a person from Christ? What affections toward worldly things keep the sinner from salvation, or the disciple from drawing closer? What heartstrings need to be cut in one’s life when she comes to Christ? In what is a person’s identity staked that will have to be surrendered in order to know Him? These costs are just as important to count in evangelism and discipleship.
Practically speaking, how does this apply to evangelism? Primarily by awareness. We need to be aware of what is at stake when sharing the Gospel with someone. We need to look at the whole person, and share with an awareness of the internal forces at play. We need not change our Gospel message, we just need to share it lovingly, with an awareness of whom we are speaking with.
I am a nurse by trade. When I care for a person, I have learned to look beyond the illness. I cannot simply see the PICC line or the bowel movement or the wound. I must look at the whole person. I must see how the body systems interact. I also like to know what that person’s story is. I try to see their body, mind and spirit. The same goes with evangelism. We must see the whole person. We need discernment to see what really keeps a person from Christ.
Lila Rebecca Feldman
Webster New World College Dictionary. (2005). Wiley Publishing: Cleveland, Ohio.