A Lesson in Changing Hearts

Acts 28:23-31 (NRSV): After [the leaders of the Jews in Rome] had set a day to meet with [Paul], they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets. Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe.

By Chuck Griffin

I’m going to use what some think is an ugly word, even a scary word: evangelism. Before ascending into heaven, Christ called us to evangelize, but we sometimes avoid the topic because it carries some negative connotations.

All that negativity stems not from use but from abuse of the basic mission Jesus gave us. Evangelism isn’t about ambushing people with difficult questions so we feel we have discharged our duties. It is about preparing ourselves spiritually and intellectually, and then helping people find the answers to questions they naturally have.

The end of Paul’s story as he arrived to house arrest in Rome serves as a good example. Through letters and representatives, he already had built a relationship with a small group of Christians there, and his reputation allowed him to draw leaders of the Jews to his guarded home. There they heard the message that Jesus Christ is Savior, a deeply controversial idea.

Here’s what Paul did:

  1. He met his audience as the people they were. In this case, they were Jews, and he used the two godly sources they most respected, the law of Moses and the words of the prophets, to make his case. Being an educated Jew who had studied Judaism on a deep level equipped him well, of course. In short, we have to know our audience and the details of our own faith.
  2. He found a way to hold their interest and keep them in an extended conversation. It’s hard to imagine keeping people in an all-day conversation today, but we need to have a similar willingness to spend extended time with those who care enough to keep talking. Instead of a whole day, we might need to be willing to commit regular chunks of time to those who keep wanting more.
  3. He persevered despite the fact that some opposed him. Paul did all he could to make a convincing argument that Jesus Christ is Lord, and he kept trying to win the hearts of all who would listen. Acts ends this way: “He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”

Our churches’ situations can seem very different than what Paul faced, but these basic principles of evangelism remain. What creative efforts can we make to be Paul-like to our unbelieving neighbors?

Lord, grace us with a deeper understanding of evangelism so more may enter your kingdom each day. Amen.

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