A Compelling Proclamation

Part 1

When you hear the word “evangelism,” what do you picture in your head? A zealous man on the corner of a sidewalk preaching to a crowd that is soon overwhelmed by its guilty standing before God? A woman answering every possible objection that her atheistic coworker raises about God until her coworker "sees the light"? A soft-spoken man unfurling an explanation of the gospel that is so beautiful that everyone listening gets misty-eyed and chooses to follow Jesus? All of these could very well be examples of evangelism. But if these are the only examples of evangelism that come to mind, I think it is safe to say that most Christians are not evangelizing.

In order to help us think more accurately about evangelism, I want to advocate the following two truths in this two-part series: here in part one, I want us to experience the relief of knowing that evangelism is nothing more than telling people the gospel—that is it. Evangelism is not some impossible task. You do not need to be a skilled public speaker. It is okay if do not have a PhD in apologetics. You do not need to know a magical gospel presentation that causes nine out of every ten people to get saved. All we do, by the grace of God, is share how Jesus' life, death, and resurrection relate to us and the world. It is up to God whether our message falls on packed down soil, rocky soil, thorny soil, or good soil (Matt 13:1–9, 18–23). 

But secondly, in part two of this series, I will challenge us to grow in our ability to winsomely articulate this gospel message. While evangelism is nothing more than communicating the gospel, it is a mark of maturity not to be content with doing the bare minimum. If you have been evangelizing for quite some time, yet you still get stumped every time someone asks you a hard question ("Why is there evil in the world if God is good?") or challenges one of your claims ("I don't think we can trust the Bible because it's written by man."), I want to encourage you to take some steps toward undergirding your ability to bear witness to the truth.

So here is what we need to understand: evangelism is simply the act of proclaiming the gospel; but, inasmuch as we are able, we ought to proclaim this gospel in a compelling manner.

Proclaiming the Gospel

Whether through the written or spoken word, evangelism is the act of communicating to unbelievers the truths of the gospel as revealed to us in Scripture. The gospel is literally "good news," and as such it is a message to be heralded. In Acts, we see that it is not just the apostles who are evangelizing. After Stephen is martyred, persecution against the church increases, causing Christians to scatter throughout Judea and Samaria. Luke records that "those who were scattered went about preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). Some of these scattered Christians, we learn, "traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews." But the evangelism does not stop at the house of Israel, for "there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus" (Acts 11:19–20). These first Christians were talking to people and telling them all about Christ's redeeming work on the cross.

Indeed, the of heart of evangelism is telling unbelievers about who Jesus is, what he did, and how that relates to them. We proclaim that Jesus is fully God and fully man. He is perfect because he is God, and he can ransom sinful humanity because he is human. As such, he is the only one who can be the perfect sacrifice on man's behalf. And sacrifice he did: we were criminals, convicted of high treason against God, and sentenced to death; but Jesus Christ stood in for us, taking our place on death row and giving us his clean record. As sinners, we are able to receive what Jesus has done for us if, and only if, we turn away from our sin and trust that he will make good on his promise to save us. To "turn and trust" is to "repent and believe." The proclamation of the gospel includes this call to respond. As Jesus himself declared, "[T]he kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15).

Evangelism, then, is simpler than we often make it out to be (albeit not necessarily easier). One way that we overcomplicate evangelism is when believe that evangelism is the act of converting people. But this is not so. Mark Dever gives an encouraging reminder that evangelism is not the same as the results of evangelism. He writes,

[O]ne of the most common and dangerous mistakes in evangelism is to misinterpret the results of evangelism—the conversion of unbelievers—for evangelism itself, which is the simple telling of the gospel message ... The Christian call to evangelism is a call not simply to persuade people to make decisions but rather to proclaim to them the good news of salvation in Christ, to call them to repentance, and to give God the glory for regeneration and conversion. We don't fail in our evangelism if we faithfully tell the gospel to someone who is not converted; we fail only if we don't faithfully tell the gospel at all. Evangelism itself isn't converting people; it's telling them that they need to be converted and telling them how they can be.[1]

Have you ever shared the gospel with someone who rejected your message, whether with militant venom or apathetic disinterest? Did you later tell a Christian brother or sister, “Yeah, I tried evangelizing the other day, but to no avail.” You tried? Although we often think that successful evangelism means conversion of the listener, evangelism only has to be a declaration of the gospel to be considered successful. To evangelize is to proclaim. What we proclaim is the gospel. So, if you shared the gospel, you did not try to evangelize; you did evangelize! 

I hope this clarifies what evangelism is at its core. Be encouraged that God does not expect you to convert people. That is his job. He has simply given us the honor and the joy of carrying his saving message to unbelievers. In part two, we will see that although evangelism is just proclaiming the gospel, we should still give thought and consideration to how we present this good news; that is, we ought to share Christ in a compelling manner. But for now, just remember that the lost will call on him only when they believe. They will believe only if they hear. They will hear only if someone preaches. And God sends you and I to preach this glorious news.

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