A second principle of evangelism according to Christ is what I call the enfleshment principle. This is the principle of fleshing out the Gospel with our own flesh and blood and bones—the principle of incarnating in our lives the message which we verbalize with our lips.
The Gospel does need a voice. However it needs a body also. The Word has to become flesh in us.
Jesus not only spoke the Gospel and did the Gospel but also he was the Gospel. As John said, ‘The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14). If we would pattern our evangelism after Jesus Christ, somehow the Good News about the kingdom of God must become flesh in us. Not, of course, in the same unique sense as it became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. He was the ‘only begotten Son of God,’ the only one of his kind. Nevertheless, the Gospel must permeate the marrow of our bones, flow through the blood of our veins, and become wrapped up with our skin so that we become living extensions of the incarnation. (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1982), 20.
It is appropriate that we. begin this Festschrift in honor of Dr. Delos Miles with a section on “Being the Gospel.” As the preceding quotation from Master Principles of Evangelism makes clear, incarnational evangelism was at the heart of Delos’s teaching and life. His numerous books on evangelism frequently call us back to this incarnational principle of evangelism both in principle and practice.
Dr. Miles was convinced that we must begin with Jesus to have a model worthy of imitation. In his Introduction to Evangelism, he entitled the first chapter on models for evangelism, “Jesus as the Perfect Model.” He wrote, “Now, having said all of that, I want to go on to say that Jesus Christ is the only perfect model for our evangelizing. He is the perfect model evangelist.” He then pointed the reader to John 13:15-16, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him” (RSV). (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1983), 80.
In discussing the implications of Jesus as the model for evangelism, Delos allows us to view the passion of his own heart. “If anyone should ever ask me, What kind of evangelist do you want to be? My reply will be: I want to be the kind of evangelist Jesus was. I want to live as he lived, love as he loved, labor as he labored, and laugh as he laughed.”, 83f.
Dr. Miles’s discussion of Jesus as the model for evangelism and his own lifestyle indicates that he fully understood the implications of holding up Christ as the model evangelist. He wrote, “If we affirm Jesus as our perfect model for evangelizing and seek to pattern our evangelism after his, we shall have to flesh out the Gospel through our life-styles. We shall have to combine the deed and the word in our very lives.”, 85.
Dr. Miles concluded the chapter with this solemn reminder:
The idea, if logically followed, forces us to see ourselves as an extension of the incarnation. We are indeed, the body of Christ in the world today. Such a substantive concept also points again to our dependency upon the Holy Spirit for power to imitate the Jesus model. We cannot be like Jesus in our own strength. A power greater than ourselves is required to implement the imitation of Christ. Again we are reminded that evangelism is spiritual work which requires spiritual persons who have spiritual power., 86.
We are challenged to look again at what it means biblically and practically to took to Jesus as the model for being the gospel. We would miss the mark if we were to view this only as an academic exercise devoid of the demand for application. What we discover in the model of Christ we must be prepared to imitate in our own lives, so we can be more effective in bringing his message to a world so desperately in need of the Good News.
The person and ministry of Jesus are so rich and multifaceted that we could discover an endless number of principles to guide us in our own evangelistic ministry. I will limit my discussion to six key issues with a focus on being the Good News. First, let us look at Jesus as he embodied the Good News.
The prologue to John’s Gospel declares with profundity and certainty: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). John is clear that Jesus did not simply come to herald the Good News, he was the incarnation, the embodiment of the Good News.
John makes a clear distinction between a herald of the Good News and the one who is the Good News in the testimony of John the Baptist found in John 1:19-34. The Jews sent the priests and Levites to determine the identity of this prophet in the wilderness. Apparently, their question carried the implication that John might believe himself to be the Messiah.
John immediately denied any personal identification with the Messiah (v. 20). Rather, he identified himself as the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, making ready the way of the Lord. His answers to other questions, such as his practice of baptizing his followers, afforded him the opportunity to declare that the one who came after him would be totally different than himself. “It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (v. 27).
When John saw Jesus coming to him, he declared: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (v. 29). He then clarified that this was the one who had a higher rank since he existed before him, confirming the testimony of the prologue to Jesus’ preexistence and divinity. John related how God gave him a sign that Jesus was the embodiment of the Good News. Thus, John declared: “And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (v. 34).
John, in his Gospel, presents a series of sign events which bear testimony to the veracity of the claim that Jesus is, in his very being, the gospel. The first sign event occurred in Cana when Jesus turned the water for purification into wine. Verse 11 of chapter 2 is the key verse for understanding this event. “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him” (John 2:11). Remember that John 1:14 emphasized that in Jesus the Word became flesh and we beheld his glory—a glory which reflects the very presence of God.
One of the great themes of John’s Gospel is the self-revelation of Christ through the great “I am” sayings. In John 6, after we are told of the feeding of the five thousand, we are allowed to listen to a conversation between Jesus and the people concerning the value of signs. Jesus seized the moment to talk to them about a food which endures to eternal life which the Son of Man alone can give (v. 27). Still seeking a sign, they reminded Jesus that Moses gave them bread out of heaven (vv. 30-31). Jesus told them that Moses was not the source of the bread; only God could give bread from heaven. They enthusiastically asked that Jesus give them this life-giving bread.
Jesus responded, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (v. 35). Jesus, unlike Moses, is not a mere human instrument through which God gives bread; Jesus himself is the Bread.
In John 8:12 we find a second “I am” declaration. “Again therefore Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.’” The Pharisees accused Jesus of bearing false witness about himself. Jesus then referred to the law regarding two witnesses and asserted, “I am He who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me” (John 8:18). The embodiment of this “I am” declaration is found in the next chapter when Jesus healed the blind man. Truly Jesus is the light of the world.
Jesus related to hearers the parable of the good shepherd, but once again they did not understand the things he was saying to them (John 10:1-6). In response he declared, “I am the door of the sheep” and “I am the good shepherd" (vv. 7, 11).
The death of Lazarus, the good friend of Jesus, provided the backdrop for one of the most powerful “I am” statements in all of Scripture. When Martha declared her conviction that her brother would rise again in the resurrection, Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Jesus simply does not bring a message about eternal life, he is eternal life.
Throughout the Gospel, John illustrates how Jesus sought in word and deed to make himself known to others so they could know the Father. His self-revelation was clearly evangelistic in nature and purpose. Nowhere is this more explicit than in John 14:6. While preparing his disciples for his departure, Jesus told them that He was preparing a dwelling place for them in his Father’s house (John 14:1-4). Thomas was troubled because they did not know the way. Jesus’ response was simple but profound: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me” (v. 6).
Further, Jesus promised that he would not leave them as a disconsolate and destitute group; he would ask the Father to send them another Helper (v. 16). The Holy Spirit would indwell and empower them. This in turn leads to another “I am” passage where Jesus declared: “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). The followers of Jesus are like branches on a vine. True branches will bear fruit that is consistent with the nature of the vine. The bearing of fruit will provide clear evidence that a person is a disciple of Christ. The disciple is called to bear fruit that is consistent with Christ.
Since John has made clear that Jesus’ life and message are inextricably bound, it is not too much to suggest that followers of Christ in any generation are to follow his pattern of evangelistic ministry. Jesus is not only the model; but also he indwells us through his Spirit to produce his fruit.
The principle of Jesus as the embodiment of the gospel has relevance for the practice of evangelism today. First, it clearly indicates that evangelism is the natural outflow of the life of the believer who is indwelt by
Christ. Delos Miles concludes his book, Master Principles of Evangelism, with this challenge: “Jesus made his true identity known in order to draw persons to the Father. If we share our Christian identity in order to point others to the Father, God will bless what we unveil and use it to touch some hearts and to tingle some minds.”, 94. Our lifestyle must clearly reflect the gospel that we declare with our lips.
Raymond Calkins underlines this truth in an effective way as he challenges his readers to embody the qualities of Christ. For example, he underscores the importance of grace to the message of the gospel and then reminds us that Jesus’ approach to people had the quality of graciousness. (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press), 14. The gospel we declare will lack conviction if it is not incarnated in our lives.
Second, we must see in Jesus, our model, that incarnational evangelism does not negate the necessity of a verbal witness; rather, it demands it. All too often people want to equate incarnational evangelism with verbal witnessing. All of us have heard the pious comment, “I witness through my life; it’s not necessary for me to give a verbal witness." If the One who perfectly reflected the Father found it necessary to bring together life and witness in incarnational witness, we would do well to follow his example.
This principle flows clearly out of the first. Because Jesus embodied the gospel, his presence always made the gospel present. When we understand the full implications of this principle, we will need to ask ourselves why we are seeing so little in terms of evangelistic results through the church today. Have we made evangelism something which is done by only a few who are evangelistically gifted? Have we made it an event which can only occur when listed on the church schedule? Have we neglected to remind Christians, ourselves included, that when a Christian is present the Gospel is present?
I think that many of us who claim to be followers of Jesus do not win many persons to Christ precisely because we rarely make ourselves present with people in need or take advantage of the opportunity when it arises.
I have personally struggled with this issue since becoming president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I am required to live on the campus that I serve. When I leave the campus, I am frequently in the presence of believers or on my way to meet with other believers. I have found that I must have an intentional strategy to be in the presence of non-Christians. Further, I find, to my own chagrin, that I am often too preoccupied to take advantage of the opportunities that come my way when I am simply “on the way.”
It is instructive to note that Jesus presented the gospel both in planned and spontaneous meetings. Matthew 9:35-10:42 gives us a clear picture of Jesus’ intentional strategy to make the gospel present. Notice the intentionality of verse 35: “And Jesus was going about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.” In Matthew 10 we are told that Jesus summoned the Twelve, gave them authority and instruction, and then sent them out to do what they had seen and heard him doing. He reminded them: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master” (Matt. 10:24-25a).
It is clear that Jesus had an intentional strategy to make the gospel present by going wherever there were people in need. Furthermore, it is equally clear that Jesus expected that his followers would continue to embrace that strategy in order to obey him and be like him.
Yet many of the stories of Jesus dealing with people about eternal issues appear to be unpremeditated and unstructured. Some people in need took the initiative to come to Jesus. We can think of the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30), the blind man (Luke 18:35-43), the woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8:43-48), the demoniac from the country of the Gerasenes (Luke 8:26-39), or the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-21). It is important to note that people were able to come to Jesus because he did not avoid the difficult, the lonely, the unhappy places. He went to places where people were in need, even if it took him through the graveyard or near a leper colony.
Other persons were engaged by Jesus while he was on the way. Jesus was entering the city of Nain when he encountered a funeral procession. The event provided the opportunity for an evangelistic encounter as he was moved to compassion by the scene (Luke 7:11-17). Luke tells us that Jesus was passing through Jericho when he saw Zaccheus observing him from a sycamore tree. Jesus called Zaccheus down and invited himself to Zaccheus’s home, where he pronounced that salvation had come upon the household (Luke 19:1-10).
Delos Miles refers to these spontaneous witnessing events as illustrating the “principle of opportunism,” stating simply that Jesus took advantage of every opportunity he had to share with people., 40.Gaines Dobbins drew attention to this strategy of our Lord and called it the “principle of seized opportunity.” “The majority of instances in which Jesus dealt with persons with a view to winning them to discipleship were unpremeditated.” (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1949), 201.
Robert Coleman encourages us to note one other matter about Jesus’ presence. He reminds us that not only was Jesus present, but also he had his disciples with him. The key to training others to do personal evangelism ministry is to have them with you when you are ministering to others. (Westwood, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1963), 38.
Once again we are called to examine our own lives in the light of the master evangelist. Arc we intentionally present where we can encounter people in need of the gospel? We not only see the legitimacy of planned outreach strategies such as a church visitation program; we also see the necessity to sensitize ourselves to the ministry opportunities which abound if only we will seize the moment.
We cannot read the interviews of Jesus without being impressed by his attention to the individual—the person being confronted by the Good News. Jesus was concerned about the individual, and therefore he always personalized the gospel. Inviting himself to the home of Zaccheus was no gimmick to embellish the story; it was a personal touch that took the wealthy tax gatherer out of the eye of the public and put him in the comfortable surrounding of his own home. It enabled Zaccheus to hear the gospel unimpeded by the uproar of the marketplace and the potentially angry stares of those whom he might have defrauded while collecting taxes.
Gaines Dobbins compares Jesus’ ministry to Nicodemus with that of the Samaritan woman. He writes: “We think of his respect for Nicodemus as ‘the teacher of Israel,’ and at the same time of his utmost courtesy shown to the Samaritan woman who had lost respect for herself.” Dobbins referred to this personalizing of the gospel as “the principle of respect for personality.”, 197.
Whatever title we give it, the ministry of Jesus clearly demonstrated the need for the evangelist to make the gospel personal. Personalizing the gospel will call us to place the needs of the individual over all extraneous concerns. The priority Jesus placed on persons kept the religious establishment off balance, as the story in Luke 13:10-17 makes clear.
Jesus healed in the synagogue on the Sabbath a woman who had been bent double for eighteen years. Jesus placed his hands on her, and she stood erect and began glorifying God. You might think this event would be the catalyst that would spark revival in the synagogue—but not so. The synagogue official became indignant and issued a lecture about working on the Sabbath. Jesus responded by reminding them that they would take care of their animals on the Sabbath. Then He asked, “And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16).
A reading of the Gospels reveals that numerous occasions of ministry occurred in a setting where it juxtaposed the need of an individual with some Jewish institution, tradition, or regulation. In each case Jesus demonstrated a priority for caring for the needs of an individual. Jesus’ concern for persons does not in any way trivialize his love for the temple, the synagogue, or the law. An event such as cleansing the temple of the traders indicates that Jesus had the highest regard for the temple because it represented God’s presence.
Jesus articulated this principle of personalizing the gospel clearly in Mark 2:27: “And He was saying to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.’” Religious institutions and regulations were designed to bring people to God, not separate them from him.
In his book, How Jesus Won Persons, Dr. Miles underlines the need to value persons if we are to be effective in winning them to Christ. “One of the very first things we have to settle in order to be effective witnesses to Jesus Christ is our attitude toward persons. If we don’t believe persons are worth saving, we shall not so much as lift one little finger to save them.’’ Speaking of Jesus he notes, “He sets an infinite value upon every human being. Persons are more important to Jesus than are profits and property and things.” (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1982), 14, 38.
If we are to follow Jesus’ model, we must value people, build effective witnessing relationships, and expose our true selves to people., 27f. Miles refers to the exposure of our true selves as the principle of vulnerability. These are risky and frightening thoughts for many persons today. Issues such as abortion and assisted death, along with the depersonalization of society, have called into question the value of persons. The pressures of our busy schedules and the temptation toward cocooning in what little free time we have has made the building of relationships for evangelism even more challenging. The thought of exposing our true selves with the accompanying risk of vulnerability always creates the fear of possible rejection. But these are risks worth taking and challenges to be overcome for the sake of the gospel.
These great principles of evangelism taken from the life of Jesus flow naturally from one to the other. It stands to reason that for Jesus to personalize the gospel, he must also contextualize it. Dr. Miles makes the point that God contextualized our salvation in the incarnation. He writes: “God, in other words, offers us salvation in our particular cultural setting. We don’t have to conform to some other person’s cultural image in order to be saved. The only image to which we need to conform is the image of God’s beloved Son.” 29.
Jesus never compromised the content of his message, but he suited it to the need of his hearers. Jesus understood what the potential barrier was in the life of the rich young ruler that could keep him from responding to the gospel. Therefore, he challenged him to forsake his wealth for a much greater wealth. He talked to the woman at the well about water that would fully satisfy, and then he inquired about her husband. He challenged Nicodemus, the religious intellectual, with the message that he must be born again. In each case Jesus suited his message to the unique circumstances of his hearer.
In commenting on this principle of contextualization, Dr. Miles notes: “Surely, we can see how Jesus began with persons where they were. He began with them where they were socially, morally, religiously, educationally, physically, and so forth. While he sought to lead them into the kingdom, he did so by relating what he said and did to their unique personalities and to their particular needs and peculiar circumstances.”., 33.
Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 is better understood in terms of contextualization of the gospel than it is in terms of accommodation. For Paul there could be no compromise of the message, but there was flexibility in the presentation of the message. Paul could with clear conscience declare, “I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22b).
To apply this principle will require that we come to understand people and their circumstances. This in turn requires that we spend time with the people we are attempting to lead to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. We will be willing and desirous of developing relationships with them because they are a unique creation of God who needs to hear his redemptive word.
We will need to listen to people and to develop relationships with them through which the gospel can flow with power and authenticity. It will require that we look at witnessing as a dialogue and not a monologue. Applying this principle will force us to see evangelism as a way of life and to look for every opportunity to contextualize the gospel. This will require that we treat people with dignity and that we separate the sin from the sinner.
When Jesus gave the Great Commission, he made it abundantly clear that the mission field was the world. The Book of Acts begins with the ascended Lord reiterating the global reach of the Gospel: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Here once again the Gospel narratives tell us that Jesus embodied the gospel he presented. Jesus evangelized Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, the religious and not-so-religious, officials and common people. You cannot read the Gospels without seeing that Jesus was the man for all people. He universalized the gospel by befriending people from every walk of life. He was willing to eat with a Pharisee or a tax collector. He healed the centurion’s servant and the widow’s son. Jesus was no respecter of persons.
This principle of universalizing the gospel is brought into stark relief by the story of the meal in the home of Simon, the Pharisee. Simon was a well-to-do, well-educated leader of the religious establishment who invited Jesus to dine with him and some of his select friends (Luke 7:36-50). The appearance of an uninvited guest created a level of drama.
The woman who came without invitation was declared by Luke to be a sinner. The truth is that both the woman and Simon were sinners, but only the woman was aware of her sinful condition. She was so overwhelmed with her sin and guilt that she was unconscious of her own immodesty when she took her hair down and kissed the feet of Jesus. Jesus was willing to eat with the Pharisees, and he was also receptive to the plight of the immoral woman. He embodied the universal scope of the gospel.
It is easier for us to talk about the universal scope of the gospel than it is to embody the implications of its universality. If we believe that the Good News is for every people group of every nation, we must be willing to go to the dangerous and difficult inner city as quickly as we go to the wealthy suburbs. We must be as interested in targeting those on welfare as we are those in the country club. We must give and go with the world in view.
We must call into question the spending patterns that have provided too little resources to develop and fund a strategy for evangelizing the world. We must challenge North American evangelical spending patterns which have allowed us to spend 94.5 percent of all monies given to Christian causes on 4.7 percent of the world’s population.(Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 177.
“Jesus never made a disciple, preached a sermon, or worked a miracle until the Holy Spirit came upon him at his baptism.", 60. The Gospel writers make it clear that Jesus’ ministry was empowered by the Holy Spirit. Luke tells us that “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led about by the Spirit in the wilderness” (Luke 4:1). Mark states that “the Spirit impelled him to go out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12).
Speaking of Jesus’ dependency on the Holy Spirit, Delos Miles draws particular attention to Luke 11:14-26. You will recall that Jesus had been accused of exorcizing demons by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. Jesus answered this false accusation with several points, but the key point is stated clearly in Luke 11:20: “But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
Dr. Miles writes: “Make no mistake about it. Jesus was claiming to lay waste to the kingdom of Satan by the power of the Holy Spirit. He was implying that all evil spirits are cast out by the Holy Spirit. He was claiming that the power which he has is greater than all the demonic powers.”., 62.
Jesus’ ministry of evangelism was accomplished in the power of the Holy Spirit. He promised his followers that they would be empowered to witness by the same Holy Spirit who indwelt him (Acts 1:8). The powerful and convicting preaching of Peter on the day of Pentecost bears testimony to the veracity of his promise. But the power of the Spirit was not given to Peter alone: “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
As believers we have received the promised Holy Spirit, and we have been entrusted with a gospel which has supernatural empowering. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). Why then, we must ask, are we seeing such meager results in terms of evangelization?
Some church growth statisticians indicate that as many as two-thirds of all evangelical churches have either plateaued or have begun to decline. Many churches will go an entire year without seeing anyone confess Jesus Christ as personal Savior. What is the source of our problem? Could it be that we have become so obsessed with our man-made methods and models that we have neglected the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit made available through prayer and the sharing of the gospel?
I would like to end this short essay in honor of Dr. Miles as I began—with a quote from Dr. Miles which will serve as a challenge to all of us: “When we get to feeling powerless and impotent in the face of our mammoth task of world evangelization, we need to remember that there is enough power in our Gospel to save every one who will believe. God has passed down to us through faithful witnesses a constructive power which can liberate the world from its bondage to all the powers of this present and passing age.” (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1984), 81.