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Whole Life Evangelism Part 2: Our Ethos and Our Evangelism

In this short series, we are looking what it means to live a life on mission for God. Or, put another way, to practice what I call whole-life evangelism. We’ll see why how we live and who we are matters as much as what we say. Today, we’ll look at how and why the way we live shapes our witness.

            George Harrison is reported to have said “it’s better to be an outspoken atheist than a hypocrite.”  I would posit that it is best to be neither. That said, Harrison points to what may be the Achilles heel of the witnessing Christian.  When our actions or our lives fail to reflect our beliefs, we in essence send a message that we don’t really believe what we say we believe.

            This may be why evangelist and author Joe Aldrich calls hypocrisy one of the four gospel-message killers, or as he puts it the “four marks of ugliness” and “enemies of evangelism.”[1]  The other three are rationalism, impurity and legalism. All four are destructive to our witness and must be avoided.  But it was hypocrisy in particular that seemed to most deeply bother Jesus, especially the hypocrisy of those who held themselves out to be religious leaders. “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses;” Jesus warned, “therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.”- Mt. 23:1-3

A Common Thread

There is one thing that all four marks of ugliness have in common. They all pertain to lifestyle.  Hypocrisy is a lifestyle that does not match one’s words. Rationalism becomes the justification for living a lifestyle that does not accord with biblical truth.  Impurity is the fruit of rationalism and often the basis of hypocritical living. And legalism is a lifestyle choice that stems from a works-based mentality and the imposition of often arbitrary rules instead of the extension of godly love.

            These four marks show us just a handful of ways in which our lifestyles and actions can shape our witness. Ultimately, however, all of this might be boiled down to one question: Does your walk match your talk?  Responding to this question is foundational to effective evangelism.

Our Ethos and Our Christian Witness

In our Life of Mission series, we rely on the following definition of evangelism to strengthen our witness: “God’s good news expressed through life, love and logic; it is the ethos, pathos and logos of our Christian walk and witness.”  This is what we call “whole life evangelism” – or a witness that involves all aspects of our being, not just our words.  Today, as we explore matters of lifestyle, we are looking at our ethos.

The term ethos captures what Aristotle termed “moral virtue”, and is derived from the Greek word for “habit.”[1]It is where we get terms like ethics and ethical, and can be defined as “the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution.”  Merriam-Webster.[2]  As such, our ethos is focused on our actions and how our actions align with ethical norms.

In rhetorical argument, ethos refers to a method of persuasion that focuses on the credibility of the source of the argument (the speaker).The content of the argument is believable because the source/speaker of the argument is trustworthy.Ways that speakers use ethos include establishing credentials, exuding confidence, and using certain language.

Similarly, ethos in whole-life evangelism considers the way we act, speak and carry ourselves in everyday life. It reminds us that our credibility turns on whether our actions match what the Bible teaches.Again, it addresses the key question: Do our lives align with our witness?  If these don’t align, our logos – our words – won’t matter much.  In this way, if we are to be effective disciple makers we must learn and remain attentive to the kinds of lives we live. We must realize that who we are as much as what we say is part of our testimony.

Setting Up “Divine Signposts”

So how might we live lives that demonstrate our faith and our trust in Jesus? There is no magic formula.  Rather, adopting an ethos worthy of Christ is a lifelong journey, taken minute-by-minute to try and do the next right thing.  It is also acknowledging when we fail, seeking forgiveness, and remaining authentic with respect to our shortcomings.  In other words, it is not just about acting out your words. It is also about speaking honestly about your actions, including your struggles and your failures.

            While there is no particular formula, we can once again turn to Aldrich for a few helpful pointers on Christian living; things he calls “divine signposts” for nonbelievers.[1]These four simple signposts are love, unity, good works and hope. Loving one another is the means by which the world knows we are disciples of Christ (John 13:35). When Christians love one another, we demonstrate Christ-like behavior.  Alternatively, if we bicker – especially over non-ultimate matters – we do just the opposite. We portray a lifestyle no one would want to be part of. Likewise, our display of unity “is the highest form of evangelism,” Aldrich observes. “God pours out His blessing where it is present.”

            While love and unity project the inner peace within the Christian body, good works and hope are our witness to those outside the body. If we love our neighbor as ourselves, as Jesus commanded, our love will be reflected in inexplicable acts of kindness offered unconditionally to those around us.  They will want to know why. And we will certainly have an answer. Likewise, our constant expression of hope is perhaps our most powerful testimony, especially in challenging times or circumstances.  Hope is what makes Christian faith infectious, it is the very antidote to the despair all around us.  And when hope springs forth in the midst of our own despair, we once again become inexplicable to those around us. And we once again can, through who we are and how we act, show the world who Christ is.

Lord Jesus, we praise You that through Your life You have given us the example of a living testimony, and through Your death you have given us the example of a divine sacrifice, and through Your resurrection You have given us the example of the basis for an eternal hope.  May we live our lives according to these gifts such that the world may see and believe. Amen.

[1] Joe Aldrich, Lifestyle Evangelism; Learning to Open Your Life to Those Around You, Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 1993, p 116.

[2] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1


[4] Aldrich, Lifestyle Evangelism, p. 123