I love watching God transform lives. I’m awestruck as I remember the life changes of friends God called into his kingdom. And sometimes God used me in that process.
Unfortunately, many people miss out on the blessing of evangelism. Perhaps it seems too scary. Or maybe they’re not sure how to have an evangelistic conversation. Evangelism can be intimidating for many reasons—but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve found great help by considering how the apostle Paul shared the gospel in Acts 26. His example provides an effective paradigm for us to follow.
Paul Told His Story
Paul was called before King Agrippa and Queen Bernice to defend himself against several charges. He started his defense by telling his story, and he told it in a way that allowed him to share the gospel. Paul began with a brief account of his life before encountering Jesus (vv. 4–5, 9–11) and then shared about his conversion (vv. 12–18). He concluded with how God changed his life (vv. 19–23)—the persecutor became the preacher.
Some people share long and lurid accounts of their pre-Christian life, but Paul focused more on his conversion, how God changed him, and, of course, the gospel. He wanted God—not his sin—to receive the glory.
Notice how Paul’s story includes the key gospel message: “The Christ must suffer and . . . rise from the dead” (v. 23). Paul also shared the benefits of belief, that we “receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in [Jesus]” (v. 18). He then explained that the proper gospel response is to “repent and turn to God” (v. 20). Following Paul’s example, I’ve found that sharing my story—including how I heard the gospel—is a nonthreatening way to tell my unbelieving friends about Jesus. My story is his story, after all.
Paul Knew His Audience
It’s important to note not only what Paul shared but how he shared it. Paul spoke with an awareness of his specific audience. He said he stood “testifying both to small and great” (v. 22). That comment recalls 1 Corinthians 9:22, where Paul said, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”
I’ve found that sharing my story is a nonthreatening way to tell my unbelieving friends about Jesus.
Paul understood he needed to know his hearers and speak with their backgrounds in mind. He knew that King Agrippa was “familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews” (Acts 26:3). Therefore, Paul mentioned the “promise by God to our fathers [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob]” (v. 6). And Paul asked, “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” (v. 8), perhaps reminding Agrippa of the resurrection controversy between Sadducees and Pharisees.
In Acts 17, Paul spent some time observing the Athenians’ pagan culture (v. 23), and he tuned his message to that audience. His Areopagus address begins with complimenting the Gentiles’ religious search and ends with the resurrection, causing quite a stir and keeping his audience engaged (vv. 16–31).
We can follow Paul’s example by getting to know our unbelieving friends better and speaking a language they understand. For example, when sharing with unchurched friends, I’ve learned not to use “Christianese” in my story, such as “lost” and “reconciled.” Instead, I substitute phrases like “far from God” and “having a relationship with God.”
Paul Led with Humility
Paul didn’t approach Agrippa with pride, as one who made the right faith choice. Rather, Paul complimented Agrippa, just as he complimented the Athenians. He humbly told Agrippa he considered himself “fortunate” (Acts 26:2) to speak with a man familiar with the Jewish faith, and one who knew much about Paul and Jesus (v. 26). Paul knew he was no better than Agrippa or any person with whom he shared the gospel. He took the humble attitude of one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.
Paul also demonstrated humility to Governor Festus. When Paul mentioned Jesus’s resurrection, Festus mocked him: “Paul, you are out of your mind” (v. 24). But Paul didn’t get defensive. He didn’t start an argument. He didn’t try to prove Festus wrong. In fact, he addressed Festus as “most excellent” (v. 25). Paul’s humility allowed the discussion to return to what matters—the gospel.
Paul didn’t get defensive. He didn’t start an argument. His humility allowed the discussion to return to what matters—the gospel.
There are many ways we too can approach evangelism with humility. One practical way is to lead with a question rather than asserting all the answers.
Philip demonstrated this with the Ethiopian eunuch, approaching him by asking, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (8:30) Similarly, I’ve found it helpful to begin evangelistic conversations by asking questions like “Would you like to hear what the Bible says about Jesus?”
Paul led with humility because he understood who holds the power in evangelism. He didn’t pridefully think, It’s up to me to convince Agrippa to become a Christian. Instead, he confessed, “To this day I have had the help that comes from God” (26:22). Agrippa’s response was in God’s hands, so Paul could relax. The same is true for us.
Paul Loved His Hearers
Agrippa and Bernice—and all those listening in—weren’t just a conversion headcount to Paul. He cared about them and wanted to see them come to salvation, even if it took time. When King Agrippa asked, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (v. 28), Paul responded, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains” (v. 29). Paul longed to see sinners transformed by the gospel, so he took whatever opportunity he had—even his own trial—to share the good news.
Do you desire to participate as God changes a friend’s life? Learn from Paul’s example. Share your story. Know your audience. Go in humbly. And love your hearer right into Jesus’s arms.