God has given the local church the task of proclaiming the gospel to her surrounding community. The way we do that is of extreme importance. If evangelism is not done the way of Christ, the way the scriptures tell us, we could unwittingly be encouraging false conversions.
Evangelism Is Not
In order to explain what evangelism is, it may help to first explain what it is not. Evangelism is not inviting people to church; it is not being nice to someone; it is not providing a free meal or providing money to the needy or being politically active. While all of that is fine and good to do, that is not what evangelism is. This is because it fails to clearly communicate the gospel and the need to repent and believe in Jesus Christ.
Many people equate evangelism with imposition – someone imposing their religious views on another person as a ploy for power or control. But this idea is mistaken. To equate evangelism with imposition implies that Christianity is only subjectively true – true and binding for me, but not for others. Christianity is not man’s subjective opinion. It is God’s objective truth, regardless of our opinions.
To equate evangelism with imposition implies that Christians are able to somehow convert people themselves. This is entirely false and a huge problem with many evangelistic efforts. Humanity is so entrenched in sin that unless God’s Spirit does the converting work Himself, none of us would ever repent and believe. Therefore, Christianity is actually unique among world religions for the impossibility of imposing its belief structure on others. Only God convinces people to repent and believe.
Some people believe that their personal testimony is evangelism. Many share their testimony in a way that merely tells others of the benefits that came with their conversion. This is not evangelism, and will lead to a typical “good for you but that is not for me” response.
Personal testimonies must communicate the claim of the gospel on the lives of the listeners if evangelism is to happen through them. The Apostle Paul gives us a clear understanding of this in Acts, Chapter 22.
What Is Evangelism
Biblically, evangelism is simply telling the evangel – clearly articulating the gospel of Jesus Christ and the claim that the gospel puts on people to repent and believe.
“Evangelism is not a making of proselytes; it is not persuading people to make a decision; it is not proving that God exists, or making a good case for the truth of Christianity; it is not inviting someone to a meeting; it is not exposing the contemporary dilemma, or arousing interest in Christianity; it is not wearing a badge saying “Jesus Saves!” Some of these things are right and good in their place, but none of them should be confused with evangelism. To evangelize is to declare on the authority of God what he has done to save sinners, to warn men of their lost condition, to direct them to repent, and to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (John Cheesman, The Grace of God in the Gospel [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1972], 119)
Many will identify evangelism success with “numbers” but is that Biblical? When Christ Himself left earth, He only had a few hundred followers. Success in evangelism is not equated with prayers prayed, aisles walked, commitments made, money given or how big a church is.
If we get this wrong, our evangelism efforts will surely be wrong. We will be more concerned with how many people will come to our church or how many baptisms we have. To be sucessful in evangelism is to preach what Jesus Christ preached. The continued preaching and command for others to repent and believe in Jesus Christ.
We should evangelize out of love for the lost.
“When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34).
Jesus’ love and compassion for the lost motivate Him to teach, not just to meet felt needs by working a miracle. Jesus’ teaching is motivated by love and compassion, not a desire to win an argument or appear intelligent.
We evangelize out of love for God.
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
“Love for God is the only sufficient motive for evangelism. Self-love will give way to self-centeredness; love for the lost will fail with those whom we cannot love, and when difficulties seem insurmountable. Only a deep love for God will keep us following His way, declaring his gospel, when human resources fail” (John Cheesman, The Grace of God in the Gospel [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1972], 122).
Just as the Apostle Paul was, we at Calvary Baptist Church are motivated by the compulsion of the Spirit to tell others about Christ:
“For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1Cor 9:16).
How Should We Evangelize
We must be faithful to the obligation we have from God, which is to present the same Good News that He has given to us. God will bring conversions from the presentation of the gospel. As we present the gospel in all its simple clarity, we also need to clearly call people to repentance from their sins and belief in the death and resurrection of Christ as the substitute penalty for our sins. We need to communicate three important facets of repentance and belief.
- It’s costly. Remember what Jesus says to the rich young ruler? “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matt 19:21). It’s not that we must tell our unbelieving friends to sell all their possessions to become Christians. But we need to present honestly God’s demand that we forsake anything we trust or choose above God.
- It’s urgent. A helpful way of communicating urgency is to winsomely discourage our friends from waiting for a better deal to come along. There is no better deal, because there is no other way to escape the penalty, power, and presence of sin (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Rom 10; Heb 4:7).
- It’s worth it. After an honest and sober presentation of the cost and urgency of repentance and belief, we are free to communicate their worth and fruit. We gain forgiveness of our sins, and God credits Christ’s acquittal to us. We get relationship with God Himself, we are loved by Jesus as His brothers and sisters, we are filled with His Spirit, and given every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1).
We Must Pray
Prayer expresses our dependence on God, and reminds us that only He has the power to convict, convert, and conform even the most ungodly of us. It is, then, vital that you pray and request God to convict as well as save. Prayer is an essential part of witnessing. When you witness you must pray. Then you are free to spread the gospel as effectively as you want and to trust God to give the increase (1Cor. 3:6-7). Ask Him to send the Holy Spirit; ask Him to convict the world of sin. The work of the Holy Spirit is essential in salvation.
Salvation Is The Work of a Sovereign God
“Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Psalm 3:8). When Jesus’ disciples asked Him who can be saved, He replied, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). That is why salvation rests in God alone by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9).
We should indeed try to persuade men like Paul did, but in doing so we should acknowledge that only God convinces and grows people, and His converting mercies are His to bestow as He wills, and to whom He wills. If we don’t believe in the sovereignty of God’s grace, then we will be more likely to tell people stories in such a way that they will cry, their hearts will be tugged, and they will make a sincere decision, but they will not be confronted by the reality of their sins, by their need to repent, and by the Holy Spirit. Such a method will not give them new life, yet they’ll be baptized and made members of the church. With such a method, we will be more likely to damage the church’s witness in the community by welcoming false converts as full members.
There are three important verses to know in witnessing. Here is an excellent article that discusses those verses.
Calvary Baptist Church is committed to fulfilling the Great Commission by Biblical Evangelism. We recommend the following resources.
Metzger, Will. Tell the Truth (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984).
Comfort, Ray. Way of the Master (Bridge-Logos, 2006).
Packer, J.I. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1991).