10 Important Things We've Forgotten About Evangelism

Listen to the sermon:

Part 1
Part 2

1. Evangelism is not about winning an argument, it’s about preaching the gospel.

Chances of a Christian Reading the Bible

The word evangelism literally means to bring the good message. Paul made it clear in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 that preaching the gospel is not about intellectual superiority, it’s about Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Despite the fact that he was an extremely learned man, Paul’s method of evangelism was weakness, fear and much trembling, not persuasive words; every act of evangelism is meant to be a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, not our own eloquence.

2. The Holy Spirit knows the hearts of men better than we do, so we should trust His leading more than our own.

Evangelism cannot simply happen on our own terms; we must be willing to be led by the Spirit in both word and circumstance. Consider Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40: an unlikely location (the desert) for evangelism, but Philip saw it as a divine appointment.

Jon Piper helps illustrate this with a sailboat analogy:

Consider the analogy of a manual on how to use a sailboat. It says on the front of the manual: “All you need to know for successful sailing.” So the manual claims to be a sufficient guide for sailing. You read in the manual on page 6, “Before hoisting the sail, be sure that you know the way the wind is blowing so as to put the rigging in proper position to avoid capsizing or injury.” So you go out on the lake with the boat and before you hoist the sail, you hold a little cloth in the air to see which way the wind is blowing.

Suppose somebody said, “Hey, why are you lifting that cloth in the air to find out which way the wind is blowing? The manual says that it contains everything you need to know for successful sailing. Shouldn’t you just look in the manual to learn which way the wind is blowing?”

That’s the kind of mistake people make, I think, when they say that we should not be like Philip today and listen for the special direction of the Spirit in personal evangelism. The Bible doesn’t rule out that special guidance and the Bible doesn’t take its place.

3. The most passionate and effective evangelism comes from those who have experienced the gospel.

Experience does not equal truth, but it does help fortify personal conviction and open doors of opportunity for those to whom talk is cheap. This is especially important in today’s society where information abounds often but is often disconnected from reality.

4. Godly evangelism frequently involves making ourselves (and others) uncomfortable.

If we are going to effectively share the gospel with the world, we need to be free from the bondage of pride and apathy towards people who are often seen as detestable. This prejudice is nothing new; Jesus dealt with it in Luke 15:1-7 when people were appalled that He ate with sinners. The important mindset to have here is that of a pilgrim: because this world is not our final home, comfort should not govern our actions.

5. The gospel is a message of hope.

Peter tells us that we need to always be ready to give a defense—not for our religious liturgy or our denomination, but for our hope. Many people promise hope, but they often mean change. (Part of the reason I believe Washington said in his Farewell Address, “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”) Only Christ can offer real, lasting hope because only Christ can change a person’s heart.

Where Lies Hope?

6. There are opportunities all around us to share the gospel.

First, it’s important to realize that God created us as creative beings. Sometimes we see evangelism as a slavish obligation, something we do wincing with our eyes shut. But consider the examples we’re given in Scripture. Jesus constantly spoke using parables—common everyday examples that illustrated spiritual truths. He was keenly aware of the things around him and used them naturally as part of the conversation. When speaking to the Samaritan woman in John 4, Jesus used a familiar item—the well—to help illustrate his point. When Paul spoke at Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-31, he used the altar to the unknown God he came across to help the Athenians better understand the gospel.

Second, it’s important to realize that even obstacles are opportunities. When Paul appears before Agrippa in Acts 26, it’s easy to forget what led him there. He was betrayed and arrested in Jerusalem where he had opportunity to preach before the Sanhedrin. After escaping a death plot there, he was brought before Felix, the Roman governor. Every one of these hardships led him to audiences he would not have otherwise had.

7. Not everyone will believe.

Isaiah 6 is a difficult passage: a holy calling, a willing servant, a vivid demonstration of God’s purity… all for people who God knew would not respond. Yet God sent Isaiah to tell them, to give them the choice. God, knowing full well whether a person will accept or deny, offered the choice. We are called to take the gospel to everyone, even to those we don’t think will accept it.

This truth is both sobering and encouraging. Knowing that some will not receive it should break our heart in pieces; if God sorrows over the prodigal who does not return, so should we. The encouragement comes when we realize that we cannot force someone into this choice; it is theirs to accept or reject. We can only place the choice before them.

8. Salvation takes a moment to receive and a lifetime to understand.

One thing that troubles me most about modern-day evangelism is how quickly we throw new believers under the bus when they make mistakes. Our gut reaction is often: “Oh no, they’re not acting like a Christian should act” and we respond by abandoning them. Look at Paul’s approach in 1 Corinthians 3; he compares new believers to children. I don’t punish my 7-month-old son when he dirties his diaper; he’s young and hasn’t learned yet how to take care of those things himself. Patient love and teaching are an essential part of the Great Commission.

9. The gospel is a message the world desperately needs.

Love is not self-serving. It acts in the best interest of others. If what God says about the human condition is true and we are to love people genuinely without hypocrisy, how can we conceal this message that the world so desperately needs?

We often make the false assumption that people are “fine” without Christ and that we’re just trying to give them something nice in addition to their already nice life. This puts a relationship with Christ roughly on the same level as choosing your cable television provider.

But consider the beggar mafia in the slums of Mumbai where corrupt doctors disfigure children to make them more effective beggars. Consider the lucrative slave trade in Haiti where you can buy a young girl for pocket change—over 400,000 children sold in 2002. Consider the abortion industry in the United States where 1.37 million abortions are performed annually, 93% of them for social reasons (the child is unwanted or inconvenient)—approximately 2400 unborn children will have been killed worldwide before you finish reading this post.

10. The sin that Christ saved us from is the same sin that condemns unbelievers to hell.

There are two important responses to this truth: humility and motivation. Our salvation has not come because we are more holy than others, because we are more impressive in the eyes of God. Salvation comes through God’s amazing grace. That should make Christians—of all people—the most humble. And the most motivated to share the grace of God with others.

C.S. Lewis explains just how weighty this truth is:

“It is hardly possible for [us] to think too often or too deeply about [the glory] of our neighbor … It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” (The Weight of Glory, pp. 14f.)