One day shortly after I had taken up my new missionary post in Toronto, I stood on the busy downtown corner of Yonge and Dundas to distribute our broadside gospel literature. It was right across the street from the Eaton Centre, a large shopping mall, and in the course of two hours I had distributed more than 1100 tracts. I had also had several friendly conversations and a couple of hostile reactions. That afternoon sortie was a very typical Jews for Jesus broadsiding experience.
As I drove home and thought about my time on the streets, it struck me that several passersby who had taken one of my broadsides had asked, What are you selling?” My response had been automatic and honest: “Nothing—it’s the gospel.” Then they would take one of the pamphlets, smile and keep on walking.
The gospel is not for sale. Yet in witnessing, we believers sometimes treat it as though it were a merchantable commodity. Too often we look to “close the sale,” unaware that the “customer” is not “out to buy.”
One of the greatest misunderstandings most of us have about witnessing to friends or neighbors is that what appears to us as genuine interest is often nothing more than curiosity or politeness. Because we are insensitive to this fact, we turn people off before they are ever really turned on to the gospel message.
One of my uncles, who had spent most of his life as a salesman, once told me about his starting out in sales as a young man. He had met an older man who had taught him the “tricks of the trade.” He said he had never forgotten the piece of advice that old man had given him: “sell and repent.”
My uncle explained that phrase to me. He said it is better to sell an item, even if you have to lower the price. It is better to reduce your profit than not to sell the item, because at least you earn something rather than nothing at all. So you sell it for less, and after making the sale, you say to yourself, “I shouldn’t have done that,” but at least you have made the sale and some profit. My uncle also told me that for a salesman the most important sale of the day is the first one, and a salesman will do almost anything to make that first sale in order to break the ice.
For several days after that conversation I thought about my uncle’s words of wisdom. I have never been much of a salesman. I would rather give things away than ask someone to buy them. Besides, I don’t think that the principle of “sell and repent” can be applied to the gospel. After all, the gospel is a free gift from God that he offers to everyone who will take it. But we, the receivers, must do the repenting.
So now I want to pass on some words of wisdom to you. As you try to present the gospel message to your friends and relatives, remember that God never called us to be spiritual salespeople. All he ever told us to do was preach, teach and make disciples, thereby proclaiming his good news. Technique and salesmanship are not equal to, nor are they substitutes for, prayer and spirituality. We are not out there peddling the word of God. The world might well say “sell and repent,” but God says “repent ye and believe” (Mark 1:15).
The Bible tells us that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by God’s Word (Romans 10:17). His Word, sharper than any two-edged sword, is certainly more incisive than any sales pitch. So, the next time you try to witness and are asked, “What are you selling?” just say, “I’m not selling anything. It’s the gospel. It’s God’s free gift, and it’s yours for the taking!”