David wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the expanse proclaims the work of his hands” (Ps. 19:1).
Jesus responded to the Pharisees when they told him, “Teacher rebuke your disciples” by saying, “I tell you, if they were to keep silent, the stones would cry out” (Luke 19:10).
We learn something extremely important about creation in these two verses. We learn that creation, by its very nature, is an evangelist. The heavens “declare,” the expanse “proclaims,” and the rocks “cry out” in an act of praise to its Creator.
If creation is, by its nature, an evangelist, then it would only stand to reason that human beings—by their very nature—should be considered evangelists as well.
Humans were created in the image of God—meant to represent God’s presence (along with his rule and reign) on planet earth. Therefore, the heavens weren’t the only thing that was to declare God’s glory; the expanse wasn’t the only thing that was to proclaim the work of God’s hands; and the rocks weren’t the only thing to cry out in response to their Maker.
Humanity was the crown of God’s creation meant to exercise dominion over the created order, and thus to lead out in the universal declaration and proclamation of the King of the Cosmos.
Think about it—way before Israel or the church were brought into existence and were called to “declare God’s glory among the nations” (Ps. 96:2) or “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15), God created his image-bearers to be his evangelists.
If you’ve read the first three chapters of Genesis, you know the calling to be evangelists was short-lived. While humanity’s calling was short-lived due to the Fall, it is in the account of their fall that we (believers who are part of his church) today can learn what stifles and prohibits evangelism—something in which many churches and believers struggle.
From the account of Adam and Eve’s fall in the garden, there are at least four reasons why believers may not be sharing the gospel—declaring God’s glory and proclaiming the work of his hands.
You may not share the gospel if you’re skeptical of God.
The crafty serpent said to Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden?’” After a few exchanges, the serpent told Eve, “No! You will not die…in fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God…” (Gen. 3:4–5).
Satan sought to plant seeds of doubt and skepticism in Eve’s view of God. He wanted her to think that God was holding out—that he wasn’t as generous or good as she might have thought.
The reality is, you won’t share what you are skeptical of, and you won’t declare what you doubt.
If believers are to exercise their evangelistic calling as God’s people—image-bearers who are redeemed and being restored in Christ—then they will have to trust in the graciousness, goodness, and generosity of God. That doesn’t mean they will fully understand everything in the world or that happens in and around their life. As Elisabeth Elliott once noted, “Don’t dig up in doubt what you planted in faith.”
You may not share the gospel if you’re seduced by sin.
The longer Eve talked with the serpent, the more she was tempted to slowly take her eyes off her Creator—and his rule of law in the garden—and even the words of the serpent, and put them on the goodness, delightfulness, and the desirability of the [forbidden] fruit.
James explains in his letter the process of temptation. He writes, “But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown it gives birth to death” (James 1:14–15).
It wasn’t the serpent’s fault for luring Eve to the tree. He didn’t force her to come over. [Not to mention, Adam slacked on his responsibilities of working and protecting the garden.] It wasn’t the serpent’s fault for twisting the truth Eve was supposed to know. [Either Adam didn’t do a good job in relaying God’s word or Eve didn’t do a good job listening.]
But it was the serpent’s intention to plant seductive seeds that tempted Eve to rebel against God.
The reality is, Eve stayed way too long at the tree. She should have fled the moment the serpent started questioning God’s words. But she didn’t. She stayed and ate replacing God with the fruit. And what becomes your god, becomes your gospel. Why do you think Eve turned around and gave the fruit to Adam?
Billy Sunday once stated, “Temptation is the devil looking through the keyhole. Yielding is opening the door and inviting him in.” When it comes to temptation and evangelism, the more we are intoxicated to sin in rebellion against God, the more difficult it will be to invite sinners to be redeemed by God.
You may not share the gospel if you live in shame.
In their sin, Adam and Eve sought shelter from God when they heard His footsteps. As a result of their sin, their faith and security in God quickly turned to fear and shame. And their fear and shame drove them into hiding.
Today I believe we live in a shame-based culture. The difference between a guilt culture and a shame culture is—a guilt culture is more about a person believing they have done badthings, whereas a shame culture is more about people feeling they are bad. But this new shame culture we live in is somewhat different than a traditional shame culture.
Andy Crouch argues that our new shame culture has emerged with the rise of social media. David Brooks, writing about this new shame culture, expresses how “everybody is perpetually insecure in a moral system based on inclusion and exclusion.” And in this new environmental system, “There are no permanent standards, just the shifting judgment of the crowd.”
What does this have to do with evangelism? In short, shame silences sharing.
For believers who already live in a shame culture—where people are crouching down like a hungry lion ready to attack via a tweet, a Facebook post, a gossip and slander chain, or a hostile response from someone who doesn’t like what another shares—coupled with the shame they have in their struggle with sin (past or present), it’s no wonder many live in a prison of silence when it comes to sharing the Good News.
You may not share the gospel if you experience relational strife.
God graciously draws Adam and Eve out of hiding. How they respond to His questions reveal the hurtfulness and hostility of their hearts. They each play the blame game. Adam begins first and says, “The woman you gave to be with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). Adam is clearly upset at both God and woman—for God gave the woman, and the woman gave the fruit. If neither would have happened, Adam (from his perspective) wouldn’t have had to learn to sew.
Relational conflicts exert negative effects. When things aren’t going right in life, and the impulse is to blame others—to see “others” as the problem—relationships are bound to stay off track and fail to experience positive forward progress. Thus, when churches experience conflict and friction that disunifies a body, it disrupts God’s mission.
Relational strife within a church keeps a church from reaching sinners. I would argue that Jesus knew this, which is why He prayed, “May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me” (John 17:20–21).
Could relational strife be one of the many reasons why so many churches fail to reach their communities? I think so.
In closing, at the core, a lack of gospel evangelism is a God problem. From the very beginning God put within men and women the natural impulse to declare his glory and to proclaim the handywork of his hands.
By nature, humans—as well as the created order—are evangelists. However, sin distorted and damaged the object of our declaration and proclamation of God’s glory and work. Yet, in Jesus, God brings humanity back into a right relationship so that they may declare the excellencies of him who called them out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Therefore, in Jesus, skepticism, seduction, shame, and strife have subsided so that the declaration of God’s glory and the proclamation of his salvific work in Christ may rise from the lips and lives of those who are his.
Josh Laxton currently serves as the Assistant Director of the Billy Graham Center, Lausanne North American Coordinator at Wheaton College, and a co-host of the podcast Living in the Land of Oz. He has a Ph.D. in North American Missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.