“For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.” Rom. 11:36
If we had the opportunity today to interview one of the apostles, we would probably love to know more about them personally and who they are. Since becoming famous in history, I expect there are millions of Christians who would be eager to find out more about their personal lives and even some of the unheard of VIP Jesus stories. Their names would be in the headlines of the news all over the world and I’m sure many of us would listen carefully, piece by piece, to their tales.
However, if such a thing really happened, I reckon we ultimately would be frustrated. Once under the lights and in front of the cameras, they would promptly talk about Jesus and likely avoid personal stories, personal opinions or the gossip that would have been among them that could lose the main focus on Jesus. Probably, while the interviewers would be trying to get something about their personalities, deeds and achievements on a personal level, the apostles would intentionally dodge talking about themselves, by talking about someone that for them was, and is, much more important.
Every opportunity these men got in the New Testament they intentionally decided to hide themselves from the message, focusing on Jesus and on the privilege offered to the listeners. The apostles used a Christocentric approach when they evangelised to a group or a person. Therefore, more than a matter of mere style, this Christocentric focus is one of the most crucial traits of the apostolic and biblical evangelism. This article will discuss why the Christocentric appeal of evangelism was and is so important, and why our evangelism should be shaped by it.
Our human life is ruled by time and space, and so our life is a succession of opportunities and encounters happening in a timeframe. We can’t say for sure how much time we will have to talk and relate with a person or group, or the time we have in a place, or even the time living in this world. Time is something that we can’t control, but if we are wise and manage it well, we could make the best of it. If we then apply this idea to our evangelism and the salvation of others, then it implies that we will always have small and limited windows of time and only a few opportunities to do it.
The early Christians knew very well that their time and opportunities were short. Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the growing persecution that they were suffering, were a vivid demonstration of this. And for this very reason they usually started their proclamation by saying what was the most important thing of all: Jesus. If they had the time and opportunity, they would explain Jesus more deeply. Since there existed a world of people that didn’t yet know Christ, the apostles and disciples would sow the gospel as best as their time and opportunity allowed. They would advance in Jesus’ mission of evangelising others into the kingdom of God in other cities and to other groups until the ends of the earth. Because time is short, they and we should, “preach the word, in season and out of season”, making the best use of our time and opportunities to share Christ with the lost. A good reminder of this urgency is the classic quote from Oswald Smiths: “Why should anyone hear the Gospel twice, before everyone has heard it once?”.
As Christians we can’t afford to lose the time and opportunities of others’ salvation because our message and focus are no longer primarily about Jesus. I remember a chat that I had with a guy at the end of a service that I preached. He told me that he didn’t know he needed to repent and abandon his sins and addictions to follow Jesus. When I asked if this was his first time in church, to my surprise and sadness he said that he had been there every Sunday for 2 years. Sadly, we have today a multitude of people that know the church and its traditions, the songs and hymns and several Christian friends, but unfortunately they don’t yet know personally Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. We can’t lose more time!
The apostles not only didn’t have the time to talk about themselves, but also, intentionally, became less in their proclamation so Christ became greater. Instead of telling us about how great their stories were with Jesus and give the impression that they were “the special ones”, they chose to highlight Jesus and show what he had done for them and the new life freely available. Therefore their message not only presented Christ, but appealed for an urgent decision from the listeners, in view of how special and privileged they were and would be with Jesus.
In the seven evangelistic speeches in the book of Acts, all of them followed this simple twofold structure that seems to be the foundational way early Christians evangelised. Of course they contextualised their message in accordance to their listeners (using a variety of ways to explain who Jesus was, what he did, and what the listeners should do to know him), but time after time, they basically preached a Christocentric message closing with a Christocentric appeal.
Today, where there is a massive cult of individualism, it is really hard to discern when our stories, testimonies, and personal experiences are taking the place of Christ when we evangelise. For many Christians the idea of evangelism is so connected with their personal stories and testimonies that if they don’t have amazing stories, they think that they can’t evangelise. In the back of their minds, they cultivate ideas like, “Maybe after an Angel visits me…”, or “Once I walk on water…”, or “if I was used to doing miracles…”, “…then I will be able to evangelise!”.
However, if those who walked on the water, received the visit of angels, performed those miracles in Jesus’ name, decided to barely mention these things, why should we consider our own personal stories more essential than Christ alone when we evangelise? Is it our stories that touch and convince the hearts of the lost?
Don’t get me wrong! This is not an excuse to not walk with the Lord in holiness and to share testimonies of how he has changed and impacted your life. If we take them out then sooner or later we will compromise our message by lacking credibility. But we need to have the right order of prioritise when we evangelise, otherwise we will leave our listeners with an understanding more of us rather than of Jesus. We need to be intentional, like the apostles, putting us aside and giving honour and focus to Jesus when we evangelise others.
Like the apostles, our lives, mouths and deeds will be like vessels filled with Christ for others. These vessels will pour Jesus into the lives of others as much as they can with the time that they have, with an intentional focus on the real treasure inside, rather than the beautiful exterior.
An excellent piece of advice that I keep in my heart over the years was this phrase from an experienced pastor to young preachers: “If you are shining too much, is because you are far from the real light. Remember, that when the Sun shines, the light of all other stars disappears”. He must become greater, and we must become less.
1. Is my evangelism mainly about my stories and testimonies our about Jesus’ story, work and appeal?
2. Is my evangelism Christocentric, or do I have other prioritise and added in other elements instead?
3. Do you use your time and opportunities to evangelise others to Christ well? How could you improve on your evangelism?
 Luke 4:43.
 Acts 1:8.
 1Timothy 4:2a.
 John 3:30.
 3 from Peter (Acts 2:14-40; 3:12-26; 10:34-43), 1 from Stephen (Acts 7:2-53), and 3 from Paul (Acts 13:16-41; 17:22-31; 28:25-28).
 William Abraham, The Logic of Evangelism, p.57.
 John 3:30.