John 4 is an excellent guide to personal evangelism with the Lord Jesus as the model witness in the city of Samaria.
Things were going well in Judea. “Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John” (v. 1). But success, was never an excuse to relax his sensitivity and burden for souls. “He had to pass through Samaria” (v. 4). He maintained a consistent burden before the Lord for lost souls that did not waver during the lack of response during 30 years in Nazareth, or the great response in Judea. His own personal needs did not make his concern for souls dip either. On that day, Jesus was “wearied…from his journey” (v.6). It is searching to ask, how much of a Christlike burden do you have for lost souls and what does it take for you to lose that concern?
If you were on a cruise ship bobbing in the Caribbean sun, you would only talk to your family and friends traveling with you. However, the moment the siren goes and an S-O-S is sent out, you will talk to every person on board to warn them that the ship is going down and to help them find the lifeboats. Perspective clearly determines our level of concern. Reviewing Scripture about where this world is headed, the reality of souls spending an eternity in Hell and the Lake of Fire, and most importantly, the greatness of salvation through Christ will deepen our passion to share the gospel with others.
"A general burden for lost souls will quickly lead to a specific concern for a specific person."
A general burden for lost souls will quickly lead to a specific concern for a specific person. In the case of the Savior, he was always directed by the Holy Spirit. As he left Judea, he sensed the directing of the Spirit such that “he had to pass through Samaria” (v. 4). There was a seeking, empty soul and a perishing, confused community in which God was preparing hearts. Oh, to have that kind of sensitivity to detect the urgings and the leading of the Spirit! Our concern should be for all souls, but we should be specifically praying that the Lord will lead us to some individual with whom he has been working.
Philip, the only man called an evangelist in the New Testament, had a similar experience. His gospel campaign in Samaria was booming. Miracles were being performed, souls were being saved, and saints were being baptized. It was a spiritual bumper crop harvest in Samaria (every preachers’ dream!). Right at the apex of his success, suddenly he drops everything and heads for the desert. Did anyone think Philip had slipped a gear? Did anyone criticize him? He headed for the desert, because the Sprit was directing him there to meet an African man who had bought a copy of Scripture because he was searching for God. A deep burden combined with spiritual sensitivity was perfectly modeled by Christ and evidently reflected in Philip.
Thankfully, the Savior had no limitations or filters on his burden for souls. The disciples were shocked that “that he was talking with a woman” (v. 27). The woman was shocked that he would converse with a Samaritan because “the Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” (v.9). The Lord Jesus did not limit his personal witnessing to the people with whom he would be most comfortable. He reached across cultural boundaries and carefully, and respectfully reached out to the opposite gender. So, make a list! Who might the Lord be working with among the students in your class? What about the shy person that seems withdrawn that most students seem to ignore? What about the kid that dresses differently, speaks with an accent, or eats strange food? A true Christlike burden for souls has no conditions as to who would make a good candidate for the gospel. As the Lord Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15). So, who will you pray for next?
Hermits don’t have much success with evangelism. To see souls saved, the Lord “came to a town of Samaria called Sychar” (v. 5). “Jacob’s well was there; so he sat down beside the well” (v. 6). People need water to survive, so the Savior intentionally put himself in a place where he could interact with people. On that occasion, He did not wait for an invitation to speak of his God in a synagogue or church. Instead, he looked for opportunities in the daily activities of life such as going to get a drink when he was thirsty. Don’t wait or dream for miraculous circumstances or even ideal situations. “It was about the sixth hour” (v. 6), so this was far less than the ideal time for witnessing. The sixth hour would be about noon, the hottest part of the day and the least likely hour that anyone would go to the well. The Savior shared the gospel in the routine experiences and encounters with people in life and he even shared it on this occasion when circumstances were not optimal. So, don’t wait for the perfect time, the perfect place and with the perfect sermon. Just go, and be a witness for him!
The greatest amount of stress on a motor is to get it cranked and running. It is the same with evangelism. Initiating a conversation with someone can be very difficult, especially if you tend to be quiet and shy. The Lord Jesus did not begin by yelling at the woman, “Hey lady, turn or burn!” He simply initiated a conversation, by looking around at the circumstances and talking about something normal and expected. There was no shock and awe when a man asked for a drink of water at a well. So, look for conversation-starters based on the circumstances you are in (e.g. you both are in Chemistry class) and what you have in common (both of you are on a plane to Philadelphia).
The key moment is the transfer from a conversation about material things to a discussion about spiritual things. The Lord Jesus capitalized on the concept of thirst, water and satisfaction to segue into speaking about “living water” (v. 10).
Human beings are like my niece’s pet hedgehog whose official name is Hobbit Ajizy Fyndry Sluiter the Second. Her name is longer than she is so everyone calls the little beast, “Hobbit.” At the slightest indication of what Hobbit thinks might be danger, the cute, little “hedgie” begins to huff, snort and spit. Then she extends the 5000 spines around her body and rolls into an unapproachable ball. As soon as the Lord Jesus speaks of “living water”, the Samaritan woman presents the first challenge of thinking on a physical level rather than a spiritual one. She says, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” (v.11). Remember Nicodemus? He faced the same difficulty when Jesus spoke to him about being born again. He asked if he had to somehow return to his mother’s womb and go through the physical birth process again. This is not a reflection of a lack of intelligence or even of Biblical knowledge (Nicodemus was an expert on the first five books of the Bible). It is the reminder of how material-focused and earthbound the natural human mind is. Be prepared with an extra bushel of patience when you lead people into a dialogue about your God “whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:16). That is why the Savior used everyday objects (such as water) to illustrate abstract spiritual concepts such as eternal life and faith. Using good, well-known and even common objects and events as illustrations can be extremely helpful to explain gospel truths. It is a good idea to build your repertoire and to look for opportunities to use them.
The next objection the Samaritan woman raised was that of her family and as she spoke about “father Jacob” (vs.12). The gospel can bring people to a crisis where they must choose between Christ and their family connections and traditions. Jesus even said, “For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:52-53). The gospel pushes people out of their comfort zones and forces them to consider the impact that the claims of Christ will have if they pursue and accept salvation. This is a scary test as some will find the cost too much and turn back. It is hard to see people turn away and give greater importance to what others might say or what their parents have taught them. The Lord Jesus had the solemn task of pointing out how the religious beliefs of her forefathers would never meet her need and would never give her the peace and joy for which she longed. He said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again” (v.13).
"So, be prepared for the “cross-roads” moment that every soul must face."
So, be prepared for the “cross-roads” moment that every soul must face. The Lord tests people as to how much they want salvation. This is especially hard with family and friends as you risk them rejecting the gospel and turning on you. The natural tendency in all of us is to want to be accepted by others. Sometimes, knowing that a friend or family may turn on us or that they will make the wrong choice, we avoid the “cross-roads moment.” However, we must want souls to want Christ and his salvation more than we want them to like us.
Finally, the woman recognized that she did not have salvation and she said, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” (v.15). The tendency when someone says they want to be saved is to think they are ready to receive it. Be aware, though, that often that is not the case; it sounds so good, but there is a key matter that must be addressed first.
Suddenly, the Lord Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” (v.16). He knew the woman’s history (you have had five husbands v.18). He had her face her past sins and her present ones. He delicately pointed out, “the one you now have is not your husband” (v. 18). Before a person can come to faith in Christ, the person must face their sin. Getting a person to see their sin, admit it, and accept responsibility for it is very, very difficult. Every fiber within human beings resists recognizing sins committed and the sinfulness of the heart. This woman was no different. But when the word of Christ illuminated her mind as to her sin, she became concerned not just about her specific sin of adultery and fornication. Shortly after she told her townspeople, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.” (v.29). The Lord Jesus made it clear in the great commission when he said, “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name” (Luke 24:47). Paul preached, “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).
So, when you are sharing the gospel, don’t fall into the trap of just telling them to believe in Jesus or to “accept Christ into their hearts.” True salvation will only occur when genuine repentance has taken place first. That includes an acceptance of responsibility for all sin committed and the punishment they deserve. Coming to the point of agreeing with God’s evaluation about their sin and the consequences for them is absolutely vital. Remember, the Spirit of God is the one who truly brings people to repentance. Jesus said, “He will convict the world about sin” (John 16:8, HCSB). Therefore, you need talk to people about their sin and it is most important to present Scripture that shows them their true condition before God. At the same time, you must pray knowing that God alone, by the Spirit, can bring about repentance from sin and faith in Christ.
The woman then raised another barrier – her religion. Often that happens when you speak about sin. To the Samaritans, the most holy place on earth was Mount Gerizim, while the Jews worshiped in the temple in Jerusalem. One important note is that she identified herself as a Samaritan, but she never spoke of her own level of involvement, just her forefathers. Perhaps people who are not deeply entrenched in a religion are some of the best prospects for the gospel. Another important lesson is that Jesus never talked badly about her religion or religious beliefs and practices. Instead, he spoke about the true, divinely planned system of worship “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (v. 24). It is most important to avoid arguments about religions. Instead, keep the focus on the revealed mind of God on spiritual matters, the truth in the Word of God.
The woman also needed help to appreciate who the Lord Jesus is. Three times, she called him, “Sir” (v. 11, 15, 19). She only saw him as a man to whom she should show respect. Eventually, her understanding grew and she said, “I perceive that you are a prophet” (v.19). Now, she understood that he was a chosen instrument to convey the revelation of God. Eventually, the Lord Jesus revealed to her that he was the Messiah. She got it! She said to her friends from town, “Can this be the Christ?” (v.29). She expressed this newly understood truth as a question, but it is obvious her comprehension went beyond the mere facts that Jesus was the Messiah. We can tell from what the people of the town said after they heard the Lord Jesus for themselves. They said, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” (v.42). From “Sir” to “prophet” to “Christ” to Savior.” There must be clarity as to the deity, humanity and the work of salvation of Christ before conversion can take place.
At what exact point does salvation take place?
Souls can start with a thirst for information. The Samaritan woman asked four intelligent questions. Often, seeking souls can be curious and suddenly appear at peace without being saved. Sometimes, they are looking for information to be able to have the right answers or explain spiritual truths. That is noble, but accepting information is a long way from trusting Christ. Therefore, it is necessary to discern if a soul is seeking salvation or just answers.
The difference can be seen when it comes to conviction. The Samaritan woman went from processing information generally to pursing salvation personally. She said, “Give ME this water!” (v.15). She also said the Savior was “a man who told ME all that I ever did” (v. 29). Sin and salvation are very personal matters. “Group-think” and “group-speech” will never lead a soul to deliverance; it must be personal. Isn’t that what happened with the Philippian Jailor who asked, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Paul discovered the personal nature of salvation as well. About sinners, he said, “I am [the] chief!” (1 Timothy 1:15). About the Savior, Paul said, “He is the Son of God who loved ME and gave himself for ME” (Galatians 2:10).
The key moment came when all the pieces of information came together in her mind. She was thinking of her sin (“all that I ever did”) and the Savior (the Christ). Although the word “trust” is not directly mentioned, it is used of those with whom she shared the gospel. “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him” (v. 39). They learned they needed to believe from her which is the only fitting response when souls understand who Jesus is and what He has done for them. The connection between the individual’s sins and the Savior’s work is essential. When a person, like the Samaritan woman, understands and relies on Christ for the salvation of his soul, the connection is made and the light of understanding comes on. While we can be faithful evangelists like Christ, at the same time, we depend on God to bring souls to this great understanding by the Spirit of God. Paul spoke with gratitude that God “called me by his grace [and] was pleased to reveal his Son to me” (Galatians 1:16). The authentic moment of connection and trust in Christ is worth working towards and worth waiting for when you are dealing with souls. It gave her assurance of salvation which resulted in effective witness on her part as most of the city of Samaria was reached with the gospel.
So, what soul do you have on your heart and in your prayers? May you learn from the amazing model provided for the Lord Jesus. The job of the witness is not to produce results. We must remember that in our results-oriented society. God calls us to be faithful and speak the gospel to others and leave the results up to Him. It is a joy to speak for him and about him and an even greater thrill when souls are saved. So, may God give you much wisdom and tact to imitate the perfect Evangelist with the Gospel You Share.