Monthly Archives: August 2011

For a long time now, I’ve been an adherent of the Way of the Master (WotM) approach to evangelism. For those who don’t know what that is, it is a technique that focuses heavily on using the Ten Commandments to bring the knowledge of sin to an unbeliever so as to pave the way for faith in Christ. After all, as the Scriptures say, “through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20, ESV). This approach usually involves giving someone what is known as “the good test,” a series of questions that usually follows this pattern:

Evangelist (E): Do you think you’re a good person?
Man on the street (MotS): Sure, I’m pretty good.
E: Would you like to take a quick test to see if that’s true?
MotS: Okay, sure.
E: Have you ever told a lie?
MotS: Sure, who hasn’t?
E: And what does that make you?
MotS: Ummm…a liar?
E: That’s right. What about blasphemy? Have you ever taken God’s name in vain (used it as a curse word)?
MotS: Yeah.
E: So what does that make you?
MotS: A blasphemer?
E: Correct. What about adultery?
MotS: No, I’ve always been faithful to my wife.
E: What about looking at women to lust after them? Have you ever done that?
MotS: Oh yeah, definitely.
E: Jesus said that anyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her in his heart. Now by your own admission, you’re a liar, a blasphemer, and an adulterer at heart, and we’ve looked at only three of the commandments.

The above fictitious conversation does not always follow this pattern, and there are usually conversation and interaction both before and after the “good test” is given. What the above example shows, though, is the manner in which the WotM evangelist tries to drive home to the other person the reality of sin. Admittedly it is a very strategic starting point when presenting the gospel because, as the Scripture states, the work of the law is written on everyone’s heart (Romans 2:15). Since it is general revelation, it is something that all people know regardless of where they live or what time period they live in, so it is relevant to everyone without exception.

Let me say here and now that I value this approach and use it regularly in my own personal evangelism. I value the work that Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron have done in not only making this approach popular but also in inspiring many Christians to take the gospel to the public. Nevertheless, I’ve seen a pitfall that those who use it should watch out for: The WotM’s heavy emphasis on using the Commandments could result in an overemphasis on the law and an underemphasis on the person and work of Jesus Christ, possibly because the evangelist feels that the unbeliever has not been convinced of sin enough to receive the Savior. As a result, the evangelist might be inclined to mention Christ only briefly at the end of the gospel presentation, squeezing Him in for good measure, as it were. The fact is, though, that no human being is capable of creating—or even discerning—such spiritual readiness. That is something that only the Holy Spirit can do. It is our job to communicate the entire gospel, not to withhold parts of it because we think our audience might not be ready.

The fact of the matter is that Jesus Christ’s person and work should dominate the message. One place where this is especially emphasized is in the Gospel of John. In that book’s own statement about its purpose, we read: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31, ESV). If there is anywhere in the Bible that God tells us explicitly what a person must know to have faith in Christ, it is here. The Holy Spirit inspired John to write that what a person needs to know about Christ in order to come to saving faith is the miracles that he performed, the signs that show he was truly the Messiah. The text says: “…but these [the signs, the miracles] are written so that you may believe…” It doesn’t say here anything about using the Commandments to bring a person to saving faith; John simply points to the miracles as accomplishing that. Was John missing something? Is his gospel incomplete? Not at all.

If we truly desire to think God’s thoughts after him on a given topic, we will look across the whole landscape of Scripture to discover all of His thoughts on the subject. When we do, we will see that the Commandments are rarely used in evangelism in the Bible. In all the gospel accounts, there is but one event that I know of in which Christ preached the Commandments to someone: when he dealt with the rich young ruler. Apart from that, the use of the Commandments as an evangelistic tool is scarcely mentioned in the Bible. Paul did not use them on Mars Hill, nor did Peter in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Certainly the audiences in both those cases were hardened: Paul confronted widespread idolatry on Mars Hill, and Peter addressed the very people who had crucified Christ. If ever there was an audience that needed to be humbled by the divine law, it was those people. Yet in spite of the hardness they encountered, they did not use the divine law in their gospel preaching.

Does any of this make the WotM wrong? Of course not. What it does suggest, though, is that there is no biblical reason to regard the use of the Ten Commandments as a litmus test for true evangelism. It is certainly an evangelistic tool that is advisable and powerful in certain, but not necessarily all, circumstances. The rich young ruler was self-righteous, confidently declaring that he had kept all the Commandments from childhood. Therefore, he had to be set straight, and his sin had to be brought home to him because he was in a dangerous state of denial. Others, perhaps, who know and admit their sinfulness, might not need to be brought under the unbending scrutiny of the divine law.

I wonder: Are those of us who use the law in our outreach (including myself) focusing on the law too much and not enough on Christ? If John—inspired by the Holy Spirit—said that it was knowledge of Christ’s miracles that bring a person to saving faith, shouldn’t we lift up Christ and his miracles as much as possible in our preaching instead of just mentioning him briefly like a mere afterthought? Do we labor to expound on the law in the hopes of bringing home to a person the reality of their sin and guilt, but then, after that lengthy discussion, insert Christ hastily like a footnote at the end of a long paper? I am not suggesting that we not mention sin at all; quite to the contrary, sin and its dangers must be driven home at all costs. My concern is that perhaps we focus so much on trying to convince people of sin that we are practically omitting the One who is the only means of forgiveness of sin. What good is it to talk long about the malady but barely mention the cure? To stress sin and condemnation while barely mentioning the remedy borders on cruelty.