Basic Principles for Sharing Your Faith
Next to personally knowing Jesus and walking with Him, I know of no greater blessing or privilege than actually leading someone to Jesus Christ.
God used Philip to lead others to Jesus with two forms of evangelism. In the early part of Acts 8, Philip is engaged in what you might call mass evangelism. Later, we see him doing personal evangelism, as he talks one-on-one with the Ethiopian.
God uses both forms of evangelism in getting out the gospel. Interestingly, surveys have shown that 85% of those who come forward at a crusade have been brought by a friend. In a sense, it is one-on-one evangelism using an event to expose someone to Christ.
Acts 8:26–40 lays out several important principles you should follow in witnessing to others.
Principle 1: Have a God-given burden and compassion for the lost.
We never know when we start the day whether the Lord has plans for us to share His gospel with a whole roomful of people—such as a group of friends or family—or just one individual. But our witness will be empty if we have no compassion for the people we are sharing with. With that in mind, here are four essential truths about people that you must understand:
- Every life without Christ has a basic emptiness.
- Every individual experiences loneliness.
- Everyone has a sense of guilt.
- There is a universal fear of death.
Some people may appear to have it all together, but no matter how much money, possessions, sex, or power they have, they still have a basic emptiness. Everyone longs for inner security and peace—and nothing outside of Christ can fill that need. As you recognize the fullness that a life in Christ offers, and you understand these basic facts about people in general, you will have a greater desire to share the hope that is within you.
Principle 2: Go to Those Who Need Christ.
This probably explains why Philip, though forced to leave the city he knew as home, still preached the message of Christ wherever he went—even if it meant preaching to a group of people he had previously been taught to hate. In this case, he went to Samaria (Acts 8:4–5).
As a Jew, he would have been raised with a natural prejudice against the Samaritans. Yet, Philip was simply following the lead of his Lord, Jesus, who had planted the first seed in Samaria through His conversation with the woman at the well.
The apostle Paul reminds us of the mysterious work of conversion through sowing and reaping: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but God, who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor” (1 Corinthians 3:6–8).
This passage illustrates that God often uses a number of Christians to reach someone for Christ. Consider the story of the four men who brought their crippled friend to Jesus for healing (Mark 2:3–12). The four of them, working in harmony, were able to bring that man to the Lord.
Principle 3: Be open and available to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit.
Philip was told where to go. He heard the leading of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:26). This can make all the difference in sharing one’s faith.
What does God’s Spirit say to us today? Remember Paul’s words to Timothy, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). We need to be listening to the Lord. As Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). It may come in the form of an impression, or a sense of burden for an individual. But you must take it as a possible leading from the Lord Himself.
Principle 4: Be obedient to God’s leading.
We read that Philip “arose and went” (Acts 8:27). He was obedient to the Lord’s calling. God told another individual to get up and go—and he got up and went the opposite direction! His name was Jonah, and after a little gentle persuasion from the Lord, he saw it God’s way. God then used him to lead the greatest revival in human history (See the Book of Jonah).
Philip could have easily questioned the logic of such a decision. After all, he was in the midst of a full-scale revival in Samaria, with many coming to faith, miracles happening, and people being delivered from demons. He could have argued with the angel, “What? Leave this mighty work in Samaria to go to the desert? I’m 80 miles from where you want me to go. The apostles and other believers are at least 30 miles closer. Why don’t you just use one of them?”
But Philip did not argue. He obeyed—even if he did not completely understand why God was having him do this. And God knew that Philip was the right man for the job. God had uniquely prepared both Philip and his subject for this very moment.
God has uniquely prepared you, as well. But if you do not seize the moment, He will find another to take your place. In the story of Queen Esther, Esther’s cousin Mordecai understood this aspect of God’s work on earth, and he told Esther, “If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. What’s more, who can say but that you have been elevated to the palace for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
When God tells you to go and do something, He sees the big picture, while we are limited to the small one. God does not usually give us a detailed blueprint, but instead leads us one step at a time. If you are unwilling to take the first step, don’t expect Him to give you the second!
Interestingly, God decided to move Philip out of a great revival to reach one single man. This shows that God is keenly interested in individuals. As in the parable of the lost sheep, He is willing to leave the 99 in search of that one lost lamb (Luke 15:4–7).
Principle 5: Be tactful and clear.
When Philip approached the Ethiopian eunuch, he asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (Acts 8:30). He does not start out with a statement like, “Are you saved?” or “Do you know that you are going to Hell?” Instead, Philip carries on a dialogue with the man. He speaks, and then he listens.
One of the best ways to share your faith with someone is to listen to that person for awhile. Ask him about his opinions, his situation, his thoughts. Then build from there. That is certainly the model Jesus gave us in His one-on-one encounters with individuals (e.g., the woman at the well in John 4:7–30).
Responding to Philip’s tactful statement, this empty man from Ethiopia found Jesus Christ. He asked Philip to guide him, or show him the way.
God wants to use you to show the way to others.
“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14).
“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21).
This last verse does not say that it pleased God through foolish preaching to save, or it pleased God through Christian entertainment to save those who believe. It says “through the foolishness of the message preached.” In other words, God saves people through the simple message of the gospel. In the words of the blind man healed by Jesus, “One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see!” (John 9:25).
An opportunity seized.
In November of 1996, the news media covered the story of a hijacked jet with 163 passengers and 12 crew members that crashed near the Comoros Islands because it ran out of fuel. What we did not read or hear was a dramatic story of what God did in the final moments of that ill-fated flight. There was a man on board named Andrew Meekens, an elder in the International Evangelical Church of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He was on his way to a Bible conference. He was described as a reserved man, yet deeply committed in his faith. According to survivors of the crash, after the pilot announced that he would be attempting an emergency landing, Meekens, seizing the moment, stood up and quickly shared the gospel message with all on board, and invited people to respond. A surviving flight attendant said that about 20 people accepted Christ, including a fellow flight attendant who did not survive the crash.
While the opportunities God gives you to share your faith may not be as dramatic, they are just as significant to the Lord. If you follow these biblical principles for personal evangelism, like Philip from the early church, you will surely see God use you in amazing ways.
Principle #6: We must adapt to the situation
God led Philip to a visiting dignitary from Ethiopia who had actually come to Jerusalem searching for God and was now reading from the Book of Isaiah. You could call it a divine set-up.
Philip assessed the situation by asking the man about his reading material (Acts 8:30). When he found out that the man was reading from Isaiah chapter 53 (a chapter that speaks prophetically of Jesus), he adapted his message accordingly: “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:35).
Philip found some common ground upon which to build his message. The apostle Paul spoke of this in 1 Corinthians:
“I have become a servant of everyone so that I can bring them to Christ. When I am with the Jews, I become one of them so that I can bring them to Christ. When I am with those who follow the Jewish laws, I do the same, even though I am not subject to the law, so that I can bring them to Christ. When I am with the Gentiles who do not have the Jewish law, I fit in with them as much as I can. In this way, I gain their confidence and bring them to Christ. But I do not discard the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are oppressed, I share their oppression so that I might bring them to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone so that I might bring them to Christ. I do all this to spread the Good News, and in doing so I enjoy its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NLT).
Fishers of men
Jesus said: “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).
A more literal translation of that verse is, “I will make you catch men alive.” This Greek verb is used in only one other place in the Bible. In speaking of the unbeliever, Paul says: ” . . . that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive (caught alive) to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:26).
In other words, according to these two passages of Scripture, either we can catch men alive, or the devil will catch men alive.
Principle #7: We must find the right bait
Just as experienced fishermen use specific baits and lures to catch certain fish, we need to use different bait as we go fishing to catch men alive in the sea of life. Jesus gives us the perfect example in this regard. Throughout the gospels, He never deals with any two people in exactly the same way.
- To a woman who had spent a lifetime trying to fill a void in her life with failed relationships with men, Jesus spoke of the deepest spiritual thirst (see John 4:5–29).
- To a man of tremendous intellect who was an expert in theology, Jesus spoke in almost childlike terms about the need to be “born again” (see John 3:1–21).
- To a lonely, friendless outcast perched on a tree to simply catch a glimpse of Jesus in the crowd, Jesus offered friendship, calling him down to have a meal together (see Luke 19:1–10).
- To a woman actually caught in the act of adultery, Jesus spoke of mercy (see John 8:3–11).
Like Jesus, we need to recognize the specific needs of individuals as we present the gospel. God is looking for responsible sharpshooters, not haphazard machine gunners.
Billy Graham has said: “Time and time again in my ministry, I have quoted a Bible verse in a sermon—sometimes without planning to do so in advance—and had someone tell me afterward that it was that verse which the Holy Spirit used to bring conviction of faith to him. ‘Is not my word like a fire . . . and like a hammer that shatters a rock?'”