The book I mentioned last time is called Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will. Highly recommended. The author is Kevin DeYoung.
Evangelism: When We Scatter. I call this lesson Evangelism by the Book. Last time I reviewed several methods used by many people that simply are not evangelistic. This week, we turn to the Word of God to see how we should go about this holy task. Paul’s letter to the Colossians helps. You can listen to this message here.
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Colossians 4:2-6).
With Paul’s persistent desire to take the gospel to all the world, he asked a gathered group of God’s people to pray for him to have the open way to keep on proclaiming the gospel. Wanting the saints at Colossi at Arpelar to work with him in this endeavor, he told them and us to be wise in how we engage lost people, always speaking truth with grace to each person. We are ambassadors of His gospel not one of our own choosing; we should seek to honor Him as we scatter to take His message to our area and the world.
One of the major purposes we are left on this planet after being raised from spiritual death is to take the gospel to every nation, tongue, and tribe; being evangelists and ambassadors of reconciliation. We need to clarify what evangelism, having spent time reviewing what it isn’t. Ephesians 4 teaches that the local church is to be equipped so the sheep will not be tossed about by the wiles of men. YHWH tells us, So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured (Hebrews 13:12-13). By this, God means we are to go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19); making disciples of those that have answered the call. Evangelism is our outward work; discipleship is our inward work. No church is healthy unless she is active and obedient in both endeavors.
The essential element in all evangelism is proclaiming the biblical gospel (which is the topic for next week). By doing so, we take the pressure of our performance and insure we don’t contribute to false converts who may have been pressured one way or another to “make a decision,” and we also get confidence in the Word and Spirit of God as we see them do the work that only they can do. Being familiar with the Scriptures will embolden us as we see YHWH has gone before us preparing the soil for the seeds we sow, insuring a good return for His kingdom; see Mark 4:1-9 and (Isaiah 55:10 & 11):
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
It is His Word, sent out as He intended, that will not return void, not the 3 minute summary of our personal testimony or a twisted version that He has not commissioned.
We see a prime example of evangelism in Scripture, Philip evangelizing the Ethiopian eunuch and from town to town, as recorded in Acts 8:26 – 40. Philip went where the Spirit told him to go. We are to go where He tells us, which is wherever we find ourselves. Philip found a man reading from Isaiah and asked him if he understood what he was reading. In our day, many people have some knowledge of the Bible but they don’t understand what they have read. We should ask them this. Philip explained from Scripture the good news about Jesus. That should be our focus – not explaining why infant baptism is wrong. The good news about Jesus is that belief in Him brings eternal life because He saves sinners from the wrath of God!
As we go about faithfully proclaiming our Lord’s message, we would do well to bear in mind that there are two calls involved in evangelism: we give a general call to every creature (Mark 16:15) and God gives an effective call to His elect (John 6:44). Our call is universal, general, and outward, as we do not know who He has chosen to save. His call is specific, effectual, and internal, as He alone knows those chosen before time to be His adopted children (Ephesians 1:3-10); He will be faithful to give ears to hear to His elect. We see this graphically portrayed in Scripture in several places, including the scene wherein Paul and Barnabas had been preaching in Pisidia and gained the attention of many people.
The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,
“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:44-52)
The message preached is found in verses 16-41. Gentiles and Jews heard the same general call, bringing them the good news that what God had promised to the Fathers He had fulfilled by raising Jesus from the dead. The seed fell on some rocky and thorny soil, but it fell on some good soil that had been prepared in advance by the good husbandman (John 15:1). As we see in the well-known road to Emmaus scene, it is YHWH Who keeps people from seeing or understanding until the time of His choosing (Luke 24:15 & 16; 30 & 31).
Jesus gave this general call in Matthew 11:28 and John 7:37, as people without respect to their persons were called to come to Him and find rest, to come to Him and satisfy their thirst. This is also the context of Peter’s sermon recorded in Acts 2, as men from myriad countries and religious beliefs (verses 9-11) were called to repent and be baptized (as a sign of their belief). The problem with this call is the same problem the Jews had with their Law: neither one can save or enable the hearer to be saved. People can claim to obey the law (Luke 18:18-23) and they can ignore or refute the words of men (Luke 14:15-24). God must call each person to be saved because only His call is powerful (John 11:43).
The general and effectual calls are revealed to us explicitly in Acts 16, wherein we see Paul, Timothy, and Silas making a journey which finds them in Philippi where they stayed for a while. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” (verses 13 – 15). A good number of women who were somewhat aware of God had gathered at the river and all had heard Paul’s gospel message as the general call went out without restriction. At least Lydia had her heart opened by YHWH so that she heard the effectual call and was obedient to follow in believer’s baptism.
There are some who think the Law ought to be a part of the gospel, as people need to be convicted of their sin before they can see the need of grace. The law provokes us and reveals sin in us, but cannot grant eternal life. John Bunyan is thought to have written this little poem, showing us with memorable lines the difference between the Law and the Gospel:
Run, John, Run! The Law commands;
But gives me neither feet nor hands.
Far grander news the gospel brings;
It bids me fly and GIVES ME WINGS!
Our Savior has said something similar, in Paul’s Roman epistle: For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:3 & 4).
The gospel is the good news of what Jesus has done to save sinners. Our focus must be on that message, not 4 spiritual laws or any other nifty scheme man may have invented to make witnessing easy. We are not called to a life of ease; we are called to obedience. We are ambassadors of His message of reconciliation, not a one-off message of our own making. While the Law may rightly be used to show a self-righteous religious man his sin; it is not part of the gospel that every spiritually dead person must hear. Seeing the holiness of God in Christ, even in part, will do more to crush self-righteousness (as in the opening scene in Isaiah 6) than all the heavy yoke of the Law can bring to bear for the one who is being called to new life by the Spirit of the living God.
Much of the activity in a local church under the flag of evangelism takes place in what are called revivals. This is a logical progression of the idea mentioned last week that evangelism is bringing lost people to church. It appears that there is a belief that a specially called meeting with an out-of-town preacher will create an environment for sinners to be saved. I cannot commend revival meetings because I do not find them revealed or recommended in Scripture; I do not find them practiced by the early church; they presume man can schedule the work of the Holy Spirit; they rely on someone other than the shepherd of the local flock to feed them; and they influence many to chase numbers rather than spiritual growth. The revival meetings of our time are the product of Charles Finney and his “new methods” of the 18th century. He was of the belief that man could save himself if given the right opportunity and encouragement.
Evangelism, like all kingdom work, must be in accordance with the instructions and principles clearly given to us by our God. When we use what man has developed to further kingdom work rather than what God has given us, we are revealing a greater trust in man than we have in our Creator. And this should never be the case for people of the Book! God is a jealous God and He will not give His glory to another. There is safety in our standing on and under the Word of God; it is His authority and revelation to us.
Charles Eck had been sent by Rome to Germany to refute what Luther, Melanchthon and others had written in the Augsburg Confession; a document intended to declare essential doctrines and not to be the handmaid or rival to the Word of God. The Duke of Bavaria was the judge. After listening to the reaction to the confession, he asked Rome’s defenders, “can you refute by sound reasons the Confession made by the elector and his allies?” – “With the writings of the apostles and prophets – no!” replied Eck; “but with those of the Fathers and of the councils – yes!” This peek into history reveals the absurdity of using man’s documents to defend Christian disputes. If we cannot, by sound reason, defend our beliefs and practices by the writings of the apostles and prophets, we have no business expounding them as Christian doctrine or practice.
The Great Commission sums this up for us nicely: Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus claims all authority over this activity; we have none. For this cause we must be diligent to follow His instructions and not our traditions. As we go, we are to proclaim the biblical gospel (for it is the power of salvation to those who believe!). In this way making disciples in every people-group; baptizing those who profess faith in Christ. And we are to teach them everything He has given us.
We see in this short passage both the outward work of evangelism and the inward work of equipping the saints. As His ambassadors of reconciliation, we are bound to convey His message and not our own. The Lord end His teaching on the Great Commission the way He opened it – reminding us He is our commander, our King, our Lord. He said, All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Our confidence in evangelism is in Christ Jesus. By His Spirit He will bring into His sheepfold every lost sheep that the father has chosen to be with Him. He has condescended to use us sinful creatures to be His means towards that end. An old preacher said many years ago that the right posture for Christians spreading the gospel is as one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread. Jesus is the bread of life – we should be telling people about Him.
When man claims to accomplish by the flesh what only God can do, we steal glory from God and He will not allow that to continue. It is His work to raise sinners to life, as He breathed life into Adam, as He gave life to 4-days dead Lazarus by calling him forth. Let us abandon the false hope that we can defer to pastor-man or that we can cause God to respond to our schedule and schemes. It is His kingdom, His Word, His temple; He is building the New Jerusalem with spiritual stones that He gathers from every nation, tribe, and tongue. We can work with Him or against Him. ‘Tis a far better thing for professing Christians to work with God than in opposition to Him. May it be so with us, as we herald His glorious name throughout the world.
If you want to go further into this topic, I highly recommend a new book by Randy Seiver – Authentic Evangelism and Its Counterfeit, available on Amazon.