A Compelling Proclamation

Part 2

In part one of this series, we dealt with the first half of the following thesis: Evangelism is simply the act of proclaiming the gospel; but, inasmuch as we are able, we ought to proclaim the gospel in a compelling manner. We saw that evangelism is not a magic formula that always results in people getting saved. Rather, evangelism is heralding the good news of Christ's life, death, and resurrection to unbelievers, and it is calling them to turn from their sin and trust in Christ for salvation. This is all we are called to do. Moreover, this is all we are able to do. 

That being said, I now want to challenge us to grow in our ability to winsomely articulate and even defend this gospel message. As much as we have a responsibility to proclaim the gospel, we must proclaim the gospel responsibly. The gospel is compelling in and of itself, so we should do our very best to share it in a way befitting that attribute.

A Compelling Manner

While it is absolutely true that evangelism is nothing more than proclaiming the gospel, we must not be overly simplistic in how we apply this truth. Indeed, we herald the message, and the Spirit causes the heart to respond. We sow the seeds; God grants the growth (1 Cor 3:6–7). But does this mean that we should give no care to how we present the gospel? Can we take a hit-and-run approach when sharing with someone the good news of salvation in Christ? Sometimes, yes. But I think the wiser answer is oftentimes no. People have been converted through short, simple proclamations that provide little or no explanation of the truths asserted: “You just need to believe in Jesus, man.” People have also been converted through long, detailed arguments concerning the reasonableness of the gospel. Whether short or long, God saves both ways. But we must take seriously our call to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for the hope that is in [us]” (1 Pet 3:15). Just look at the example Paul leaves in the book of Acts. The following uses of words like “reason,” “persuade,” and “convince” show us that Paul was striving to provide convincing evidence that Jesus was who he said he was:

“And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2). 

“And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women” (Acts 17:4).

“So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:17).

“And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4).

“And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews” (Acts 18:19).

“And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8).

“But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9).

“And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, ‘Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you’” (Acts 24:25).

“When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets” (Acts 28:23).

“And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved” (Acts 28:24). (Emphases mine)

When Paul is evangelizing, he is undergirding his proclamation of the gospel with arguments. Speaking to Jews, he demonstrates how Jesus fulfills the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament, as in Acts 13:13–52. Speaking to Gentiles, he preaches repentance using evidence in creation, in Acts 14:8–18, and in culture, in Acts 17:16–34, to back his message. I agree with Mark Dever, as quoted in part one, that “the Christian call to evangelism is a call not simply to persuade people to make decisions …”[1]

Becoming a Christian is not just a decision. It is not the same as choosing grape flavored over cherry. And it is not like weighing the pros and cons of one political candidate over another. Becoming a Christian is the supernatural event of being raised from spiritual death to spiritual life wrought by the Holy Spirit. As some rightly say, “You can never argue someone into the kingdom.” We are incapable of, and should never try, strong-arming someone into accepting Christ by way of persuasive argumentation.

But we should still strive to speak in a compelling manner, because this is what we see in Scripture. Paul reasoned. He sought to persuade; he tried to convince his audience of his message. He defended and confirmed the gospel (Phil 1:7). J. Mack Stiles’ definition of evangelism is helpful here: “Evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.”[2] While we do not have the power to change the hearts and minds of unbelievers, we do make every effort to point them fully toward the truth. Our trajectory, then, in proclaiming the gospel is that our listeners hear, understand, and affirm the message we bring. 

Application

So, evangelism is as simple as communicating the gospel, yet we should do our best to communicate it reasonably and effectively. Where do we go from here? Here are four brief words of direction: 

(1) Ground your claims by providing reasons as to why one should believe the gospel. Appeal to the moral conscience with which God has endowed every human. Appeal to empirical data, like the historicity of Jesus' life and work. There is good reason to believe what we believe. Share this while evangelizing.

(2) Speak in such a way that the beauty of the gospel freely shines through. You could communicate the gospel as a list of cold facts: "God is perfect; you are sinful; Jesus can save you; repent and believe." But does not the true glory of the gospel deserve to be seen? Is not the greatest message in the cosmos entitled to the dignity it is worth? Paint the picture of God the Father shamelessly running toward us prodigal sons because his heart bursts with love toward vagabonds like us (Lk 15:11–32)! Tell the story of how a shepherd named Jesus earnestly searches every rocky cliff and every crooked cleft till he can stoop down and scoop up cold, lost sheep like you and me (Lk 15:1–7)!

(3) Study, practice, study, practice. To be able both to provide reasons for and display the beauty of the gospel, you will have to learn how, and then try. Read good books. Listen to good sermons. Go evangelize. And repeat it all over again.

(4) Whatever you do, proclaim the gospel. If you are struggling with the idea of just sharing Christ with others and feel paralyzed by the thought of trying to do so compellingly, just share the gospel. The rest will come later with time and effort. It is better to splutter out whatever you can than to say nothing at all. Take heart, God sees. He sees your fears, and he knows. He sees your efforts, and delights in the littlest attempt to proclaim the excellencies of his name!

We have the uncommon privilege and significant responsibility to tell others about Jesus. Because he is worthy of the praise of all peoples, we take the gospel of his kingdom everywhere—from the Monday morning water cooler to the coasts of the South China Sea—for all people to hear.



[1] Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 81–82.

[2] J. Mack Stiles, "How Should We Define Evangelism?", https://www.9marks.org/article/how-should-we-define-evangelism.