"Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary" supposedly quoted by Saint Francis, is one of those quotes that seems to have valid arguments both ways. Both sides of the argument have good points that we need to consider when evangelizing. But as I think of this quote, there really is more to it. I think the quote is implying something that asks the wrong question. So, we need to identify what is the wrong question, why is it wrong, and what is the right question.
The argument is valid. One side claims that you can preach the Gospel without having to proclaim the Gospel. In other words, people can look at your life and figure out the Gospel and consequently, get saved. The other side says that people can only be saved if they hear the Gospel. Who's right though?
As the arguments progress (which really is a good thing, as long as the arguments are done in the spirit of love) it looks like both sides are, in a sense, saying something similar, although not exactly the same thing. Most will agree that a person who evangelizes needs to be living a life that matches what he or she is proclaiming. That makes perfect sense. The difference between the two sides is really a matter of deciding if a person can get saved without hearing the Gospel.
First, let's take into consideration the fact that most people hear the Gospel in bits and pieces. Somewhere he hears a Bible verse or Scriptures telling of his need for a Savior. Someone else comes along who is a Christian and invites him to a church event which depicts the resurrection of Christ. A billboard explains that in life there are many choices, but eternity only has two. A couple of years later, he finds a tract explaining that lust is the same as committing adultery. Then he watches a move called, 'The Passion of the Christ". All this time, God is preparing this man's heart to respond to the Gospel. While his son and wife are in the hospital, a family steps in to minister and serve where this family has needs. They are devout believers and share the Gospel on a regular basis. This man experienced many opportunities to hear 'seeds' of the Gospel, and, finally after years of God's working in his heart, he comes to Christ.
Every person who comes to Christ has to hear the Gospel, whether it be in the form of many seeds over a period of time, or someone just sharing the Gospel in love with him or her. But, there is something very effective about serving people and living a life of love for others. The key word here is 'living a life of love for others'. We can serve people with everything we have, and still miss the boat on ministering the Gospel. It is never wrong to serve someone, but serving by itself is not the same as sharing the Gospel.
Part of the problem with serving others with love, is that we really don't know what love is. Yes, most of us have heard or read 1 Corinthians 13 and are familiar with that 'love' chapter. Knowing about something and living something out are two different things though. We hear about God's love for us, but we really don't have a clue what that means. Unfortunately, to an unregenerate mind, it means a self centered, self serving type of love, where we are the objects being served and catered to. We use God like an idol, because we think His love is like that. Love involves a lot more. It involves sacrifice for the success of others. If we really love someone, we will lay down our lives for them. But this can be tricky. We can sacrifice and give up things thinking we are serving and loving, but it is for a different motive, so many times.
We see many organizations that give their all to help the weak and orphans. We see men stepping in to protect little girls, who are so vulnerable. We give lots of money to organizations that help children get well. We donate blood because we care about those who need to receive more blood. Human beings are created in God's image and, although this image is severely marred because of Adam's sin, some things still shine through, like compassion. Even rotten people can have compassion. It's part of being created in God's image. However, it doesn't mean that we are born again. Many of these organizations are founded by people who are not Christians. So then, what does love look like? Real love, that is?
Love involves sacrifice. It involves laying down our agenda, for someone else's benefit. It involves dying to our own wants and happiness, so others can be happy and safe. Some examples of this kind of love are: Eight young men decide to renounce everything they could have because they live in America, and going to a slave-trading island to reach the slaves there for the Gospel. This mission doesn't involve just giving money to some people in a far away place, nor is this mission one that will last just a couple of weeks. The young men are now living and working among the slaves and owners that live on this island. Another example is a young country preacher sensing a call to go to the inner city of New York and eventually move his family there to minister to gangsters. The family leaves their home with no promise of anything, and relocates to New York leaving family and comforts behind. God puts a love in their hearts for the young gangsters who live in NYC. There are many, many more examples of people showing love, out of the love they have received from God.
Perhaps a better question to ask than 'Can a person come to Christ by just watching a Christian living out their lives?' would be, 'Why do we evangelize?'. Are we doing evangelism because we don't want people to go to hell (which isn't a wrong reason in itself)? Are we doing evangelism because we feel pressured? Do we evangelize because we have friends in the church who do evangelism and we want to be accepted by them? There are thousands of reasons we might do evangelism, but there is only one reason why we should do it. The reason is, because of the love that God has put into our hearts. This sounds shallow to some Old Timers, because, like I said, we don't understand what love really is. It goes back to the definition and meaning of love. Everything we do, in our Christian walk, is to be done with love, and because of love. If we do anything out of duty (because we have to, or because we should) it is not out of love.
The answer of 'love' answers both sides of Saint Francis's quote. If we truly love, our lives will manifest it (demonstration). If we love, we will proclaim the Gospel (proclamation). We need to have both in our lives on a regular basis. This will happen as we abide in the Vine. This will happen as we grow spiritually. This will be an outworking of our salvation.
People need to see demonstration as well as proclamation. The shortcoming of this would be, for example, street evangelism. We can do evangelism on the streets and be very productive. Those who we share the Gospel with, will not necessarily see the demonstration of our lives, but, perhaps they will have seen the demonstration in someone else's life, which will be helpful. And even though they won't see the demonstration in our lives, necessarily, that doesn't mean we have an excuse to live like we want to, in a selfish way, nor is it an excuse for others to not preach the Gospel, since we are commanded to do so (Mark 16:15). We might be the only Bible that some people will get to read. Some will read our lives. Others will hear, from our mouths, the Gospel we preach. But if we preach the true Gospel, but live outside of it, we are only fooling ourselves, and God will not be honored in our evangelism endeavors.
The main thing to remember is that God does the work in the heart. Whether it be from a person observing the Gospel or hearing the Gospel, God makes His truth real to people. And God works in our hearts to receive His grace to change and to give away what He has given to us. We sow the seeds, but God does the watering and harvesting.