This short post is motivated by a desire to see "a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues" (Rev 7:9) worshipping the Lord. The Lord will accomplish this great thing, but He will make it happen only through biblical evangelism. As in most things, if we — and by "we" I refer to myself and fellow Christians — if we do not do things biblically, God's way, then we will at best contribute nothing for the kingdom of God despite all our strivings, or we may hinder (God forbid!) His kingdom work. Below is a short statement of my thinking derived from the Scriptures about the glorious activity of evangelism. It is more of a high-level ideological treatment of evangelism than a ground-level treatment of the practical advice for evangelism, but there are of elements of both.
Regardless, in no way is this statement exhaustive. Someday I would love to develop these thoughts into a deeper treatment so that more of God's people would evangelize as God desires. (Or, if you know of any comprehensive treatments of evangelism, please do tell). But for now, below is my simple statement of what evangelism is, what it desires to accomplish, how it must be done, and other relevant topics. May the Lord bless it so that many evangelists will be raised up for the sake of His gospel.
What is Evangelism?
First, we must answer the question, "What is evangelism?" To find the biblical answer, let's look at Acts 8:1-12.
Acts 8 1 Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. 3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. 4 Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. 6 The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. 7 For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. 8 So there was much rejoicing in that city. 9 Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; 10 and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, “This man is what is called the Great Power of God.” 11 And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts. 12 But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.
As a result of the scattering, Philip, later called "Philip the evangelist" (Ac 21:8), one of the proto-deacons of the church (cf. Ac 6:5, 8:1-4), "went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them" (Ac 8:5). Note that while Luke, the human author of Acts, gives important detail about the miracles that Philip performs, he still places "proclaiming Christ" as Philip's foremost activity, as it is placed first in the description of Philip's activities in Samaria.
Luke also records that the crowds were "giving attention to what was said by Philip" (Ac 8:6), even as they saw the signs cleansing and healing which he was performing. Luke also says that the Samaritans believed Philip "preaching the good news" (in Greek, εὐαγγελιζομένῳ, euangelizomenō) "about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ" (Ac 8:12). This preaching of the good news, or 'gospelizing,' is the primary activity, the action that begets faith. Luke does not say that they believed Philip healing and casting out demons; preaching Christ, preaching the good news, 'gospelizing,' takes priority in Philip's evangelistic activities.
Thus, I derive this definition of evangelism: the act of a believer preaching/proclaiming to an unbeliever the gospel (literally "good news") of Jesus Christ. The gospel of Christ is this: Jesus was crucified for sinners (Is 53:4-6) for the forgiveness of sins (Mt 9:6), thereby purchasing salvation (Ro 1:16) — graciously given to us by God and received by us through faith (Eph 2:8-9).
What Evangelism is Not
On the surface, it may seem trite to define evangelism in this way. You may ask, "Don't all professing Christians think this way?" Oh, if only! The kingdom of God would benefit greatly if that were true. However, in current times it is necessary to define evangelism in this way, for a manifold of false gospels and false methods of evangelism have been proposed by those who would do well to listen more to the Scriptures. They have attempted to reduce evangelism to something less of biblical evangelism.
However, this is unacceptable. God has defined the gospel, and evangelism is His work. Anything that adds or takes away to either is a counterfeit. Below are some notable principles.
First, evangelism cannot be reduced to merely a statement of historical or theological facts; it is a preaching, a proclaiming of Jesus Christ, and always involves compelling the unbeliever to respond in repentance and faith (Mk 1:15; Ac 2:37).
Secondly, evangelism also cannot be reduced to merely a warning of judgement for sin (as some modern day hell-fire and brimstone preachers seem to think). Although evangelism certainly requires warning the sinner of the wrath of God (Mt 3:7-8), this warning alone is not sufficient to be called evangelism, for it contains no good news of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners.
Thirdly, evangelism cannot be reduced to merely a particular manmade outline (such as that from Evangelism Explosion), a particular method (such as cold contact or meeting ), or a particular illustration (such as the bridge illustration). Rather, we must be mature enough to admit that these are merely helpful tools to evangelism, not the substance. There are methods that may be more helpful than others, but the Scriptures do not define one method of evangelism as the standard; thus we should not either.
Fourthly, evangelism cannot be reduced to merely loving or befriending a sinner and introducing them to other Christians and to Christian activities. Simply loving a sinner through actions but void of words that communicate the gospel cannot save them (Ac 4:12; Ac 10:34-43); to do so and call it evangelism is the greatest of disservices.
Fifthly, evangelism cannot be reduced to merely praying for God to save sinners. The model of the early church was to pray for God to give them confidence to speak, and after praying, they were compelled to evangelism (Ac 4:31).
These principles reveal that many of the popular ideas about evangelism are unbiblical reductions of evangelism because they do not measure up to biblical evangelism. Although there are a multitude of motivations for these reductions, I fear that the most dangerous ones are as follows: fear of man rather than fear of God, feeling ashamed of the gospel of foolishness, and legalism. May God give us reverence, courage, and grace.
Motivations for Evangelism
By defining what evangelism is and is not, we have paved intellectual road of biblical evangelism. But we must still walk it. Here are some reasons that should compel Christians to walk in the way of God and evangelize.
Evangelism is a command (2 Tim 4:5).
Evangelism is a primary reason we exist as God's people (1 Peter 2:9).
God is patiently waiting for sinners to repent, and does not wish for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance instead of perishing (Eze 18:21-23; 2 Pet 3:8).
Hell is real, conscious, eternal place of torment, agony, and suffering (Mt 5:22, 18:8-9; Mk 9:43, 48; Lk 13:28; Rev 21:8).
Apart from hearing the gospel, or evangelism, it is impossible for sinners to believe in Jesus and be saved from hell and unto God (Ac 4:12).
If you don't want to unbelievers to be saved, you don't understand the gospel, and you need to pray Psalm 51 (do I even need to quote a verse?).
When we evangelize, we join our Savior in calling His lost sheep to Himself (Jn 10:16).
When we evangelize, we have the opportunity to have the same joy that God and the angels have when a sinner repents (Lk 15:7).
Jesus Christ deserves the reward of His sufferings: a people for His own possession (Titus 2:14) to worship Him and give Him glory for eternity (Rev 5:11-14).
Evangelism is not a past time, a hobby, or 'something that only really mature Christians do.' It is an activity that reflects the heart of God; truly, I think that Christians are at their best when the gospel of grace is flowing over their lips to the thirsty soul of an unbeliever. Thus, the road of biblical evangelism paved and the motivations to walk it laid down, we must learn how to walk this road well. Just how are we to evangelize like God says we should? We can learn much from the examples of evangelists in the Bible (Jesus Christ, Peter, Paul, Philip, etc.). Most of the following statements take their cues from them.
Evangelism with which God is pleased is clear (Col 4:2-4), bold (Eph 6:18-20), humble (1 Tim 1:15-16), and persuasive from the Scriptures (Ac 19:8, 26:28; 2 Cor 5:11).
Evangelism does not require that the evangelist ask permission from an unbeliever in order to evangelize. Never in the Scriptures does someone ask, "May I share with you…?" It is at best a nice question, but we need not think that an unbeliever has authority over God's commands (Ac 5:28-29, 2 Cor 4:3-4).
Although we should strive to communicate all things clearly and in such a way that unbelievers understand, we must remember that without the Spirit working all of it will be foolishness and rubbish to them (1 Cor 2:14).
While the goal of evangelism is to convert and save the sinner, its completion is dependent on the proclamation, not the final response from the sinner. Thus, if we preach the gospel and the sinner does not believe, we have not failed (Ro 15:18-19).
In no way should we treat disbelief and rejection of the gospel lightly. Compassionate evangelism requires a love for sinners' souls, a begging of them to be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20), and desperate prayer for the Lord to save them (Ro 9:1-3).
God is the only One who can save (1 Cor 1:26-31, Eph 2:5), but He uses and commands us to be His ambassadors and plead with sinners to repent (2 Cor 5:18-20).
Through the command of evangelism, God will humble us to know that only He can save, that salvation is not a matter of human will or strength but His (Ro 9:14-18).
Effective evangelism compels us to become all things to all men to remove every stumbling block possible that might prevent a sinner from believing (1 Cor 9:19-23).
In conclusion, pure proclamation is insufficient. Pure relationship building is insufficient. Pure prayer is insufficient. Rather, the biblical evangelists proclaim the gospel, loves the souls of sinners, pleads before the Father for conversions, and bears the suffering of Christ in order to bring about faith.
The life of an evangelist is no simple nor easy. But it is infinitely glorious. May we be fueled by an unquenchable ambition to make the name of Christ known. Declare His Name!