What is the relationship of godliness to evangelism?
Mention the words ‘social action’ and ‘evangelism’ and you’re likely to generate a discussion. Usually the discussion generates a whole load of heat and not a whole load of light. And so it was with huge appreciation that I read Tony Payne’s efforts to provide illumination! [Social Involvement and Evangelism: How They Relate, Tim Chester and Tony Payne, Briefing #317, February 2005]
He argues that ‘social action’ is really a subset of Christian living. And so to understand the relationship between social action and evangelism he simply replaces the word ‘social action’ with ‘godliness’. Do that and the following six assertions follow.
1. Godliness isn’t the same thing as evangelism
We should be godly and we should be evangelistic. But they’re not the same thing. They are related but different. And therefore we can distinguish between them. In the same way we can distinguish between social action and evangelism.
2. Godliness isn’t a competitor to evangelism
We’d never say ‘I can’t do godliness today because I’m too busy doing evangelism’. It’s not either or. It’s both and. We pursue godliness and evangelistic opportunities. And as we pursue evangelistic opportunities we don’t neglect the activity of godliness. In the same way we mustn’t pit social action against evangelism and put either of them at the bottom of the agenda.
3. Godliness isn’t an optional extra in evangelism
Godliness is not something that we can choose to ditch. It commends our evangelism and reinforces it because godliness is what the gospel produces in us. In the same way social action will adorn and commend the gospel.
4. Godliness isn’t a tactic to lead to evangelism
Godliness may open up some opportunities for evangelism. But that’s not why we do it. We do both because we’re supposed to Godliness is not a means to an end. It’s the end. It may attract people to the gospel, or it may not. People may love us for our godliness or they may hate us. In the same way social action isn’t a tactic to get a foot in the door.
5. Godliness isn’t earning the right for evangelism
We don’t do godliness because without it we don’t have the right to evangelise. We don’t need permission to preach the gospel. In the same way social action is not the permission we need to enter a community with the gospel.
6. Godliness isn’t the silver bullet for evangelism
Godliness isn’t the key that unlocks people’s minds and makes them receptive to the gospel. It may influence them, or it may not. It may influence them for good, or it may not. People need their eyes opened so that they can see the truth. Godliness doesn’t do that. God does.
When you put it like that, it’s helpful. Isn’t it?
In the same way social action isn’t the magic ingredient to help people suddenly understand the gospel.