The Gospel and Evangelism

First, inspiration for this entry goes to a podcast series from Radical with David Platt.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to share the Gospel of Christ and what it means to be a Christian. The more I’ve grown in my metanoia, the more I realize just how far the western church has drifted from the true gospel of realizing our helpless sinful nature, realizing Christ’s sacrifice for us while we were in our sin, accepting that sacrifice in believing in Him, and preaching the message forward to others. In so many churches we hardly hear of sin, but understanding our sin is crucial to our understanding what Jesus actually did for us. We hear church leaders tell everyone that God loves them just the way they are, and while this is true, this message alone will not lead people to repentance. And without true repentance, there is no salvation. In fact, if we don’t honestly tell people that people are at enmity with God and are lost without Jesus, they may be less likely to seek true salvation because we’ve simply told them that God loves them just the way they are. I mean, if God loves us just the way we are and that’s that, then why look for anything more? Be happy for we are loved by God – no need to change. It’s a scary thought, but in our ‘seeker sensitive’ society, we’ve stopped believing in the power of the gospel to save sinners and instead hide the full truth of the gospel in an attempt to not scare away sinners. This is man’s thinking and not God’s. We don’t want to offend, but the Bible says that gospel is an offence, and it is also the power of God for salvation (see 1 Peter 2:7-8, 1 Corinthians 1:18, Acts 4, Matthew 10:22, John 15:18-21 and Romans 1:16).

I’ve come to realize that one of the greater self-deceptions Christians have is that they don’t have to share the gospel (as described in the Bible). We tell ourselves that we can live a good life and that will be a witness. I’m guilty of this myself. And while yes, we should live an upright life, is it scriptural to assume this can also be our only witness? Is not everyone who believes called to more? Is the gospel merely talking about Jesus and how wonderful he is? Is the gospel not a very specific message that is missing from so many of our modern churches, a message that we are required to share?

We need to actively proclaim the full and true gospel to others. Jesus warned in Matthew 7:21-23, ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

We must realize that there are many (Strong’s G4183 – polys, meaning a multitude, many, much, great, numerous, abundant) who will think they had been serving God who were never known by God. Jesus didn’t say there would be a small few who would fall under this deception – he said there would be many. It is clear that these people will die in their sins believing they were Christians, even Christians who worked for God and served in his kingdom with power. But Jesus will say they were not. They did not know the true gospel.

So what is the true gospel? What is the one and only message that leads to salvation? What does it mean to evangelize or proclaim the gospel?

In defining the gospel, Ephesians 2 is a good place to start. Here, Paul writes:

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

In looking at the above text, it is clear that the gospel starts with God. He made us alive. He is the one who is rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us. The gospel is so He might show the exceeding riches of His grace and His kindness towards us. Our salvation is not of ourselves but it is a gift of God. We are His workmanship.

The passage starts with “and you He made alive…” This implies (and states directly) that we were dead. We were dead in trespasses and sins. This is a powerful truth. We didn’t just not know God. We weren’t just “lost.” We weren’t lonely or depressed or not nice people. We hadn’t just messed up a bit. We, all of us, were dead in trespasses and sins. Simply by the course of this world, we were dead in our sins; it was the very way in which we walked. We were of the way of the enemy (Satan – the prince and power of the air). We served the flesh and our lusts and the desires of our minds (knowledge? power? happiness? – What does your mind desire outside of Christ?). We were by our very nature children of wrath. The gospel starts with this truth. Without Christ we are dead – a position which is utterly and completely hopeless. Without Christ we are on a path which will end with God’s wrath being poured out upon us as punishment for our sins. People must realize this truth. God may love us just as we are, but unless we accept Jesus as Savior – the one who took our sins and the punishment for those sins upon himself, we are dead, despite God’s love.

Notice how Paul fully describes both God’s mercy and grace as well as the fullness of our sinful state. He doesn’t just focus on God. In fact, he starts with our sin and deadness. The gospel is a two part story. First we find out we are dead in sin, and then we find out “but God…” The gospel is the conquering of one state by another. Death conquered by life. Wrath by Love. God’s unavoidable demand for justice by His great mercy of satisfying that justice in the crucifixion of Jesus. If we don’t realize the truth of God’s wrath and His demand for justice, then we won’t realize the true salvation being offered. You can meet a Jesus who loves you and gives you great gifts and tells you how wonderful you are, but that could be a random generous guy in a Spanish speaking country. We need to introduce people to the real Jesus – the Jesus who took our not only our sins, but the full punishment for those sins.

We tend to minimize the seriousness of sin. People don’t think they’re “that bad.” Churches that don’t talk about sin perpetuate this problem. Our society and culture, even within the church, treat sin far too lightly. With God, all sin is serious and the penalty is severe. Consider the following examples regarding how God treats sin.

In Genesis 19 when Lot’s wife was fleeing from Sodom, she had been told not to look back, but did. She died instantly (see Genesis 19:15-26). Whether this was simply looking back to see what was happening or her looking back longingly at the life she was leaving, either way, she was killed for this sin.

In Numbers 15:32-36 a man was caught picking up sticks on the Sabbath. God has him stoned to death for violating the Sabbath.

In 2 Samuel 6:6-7 when Uzzah put his hand forth to steady the ark of the covenant that was being transported because an oxen stumbled, God immediately struck him dead.

And even under the New Covenant brought forth by the death and resurrection of Jesus, when  Ananias and Sapphira lie about their offering they are each struck dead for their lie and holding back something for themselves (See Acts 5). God takes sin seriously. He is a perfect Holy God and sin against him (and all sin is against him) requires punishment. The wages of sin is death (see Romans 6:23).

We look at these examples and likely think them extreme. Stoned for picking up sticks? Really? But this is because we’ve become soft on sin and we view sin from our vantage point – the viewpoint of sinners. We are a vapor, and small sins against us are seldom a big deal. God, on the other hand, is completely perfect and eternally big, and sins against him are an eternally big deal. No matter how small we might classify it, one sin against an infinitely holy God is infinitely serious and causes eternal separation from God; just one sin will incur the full wrath of God. Sin is serious. We must remember that the entire fallen state of this world – every horrible thing that happens – is ultimately the result of one person’s sin – one person denying the instruction of God and doing what he wanted to do instead. The sin of one person eating a piece of fruit caused every vile thing you’ve ever seen in this life. Sin is serious.

Considering the above, while we often hear people say “How can a loving God condemn man for one tiny sin?” we should be asking “How could a God of perfect justice allow any sinners into heaven?” The gospel seeks to answer the second of these questions, for this is the question asked in the viewpoint of God. And thankfully, even though we could never find the way, God did. He made a way to retain His justice yet show his Mercy and allow sinners into heaven. God is a God of justice, and justice requires that a sinner be found guilty. It’s what we expect of our courts and it is what we should expect of God. So how does a just God condemn our sin yet save us in his mercy? The answer is in Christ.

Jesus came, God in the flesh, and took our sin upon himself. He took the sin of the whole world, and was crucified for that sin. For the next man who would pick up sticks on the Sabbath, Jesus was crucified. For the next couple who would lie about an offering, keeping back a portion as if they had right to anything in this world, Jesus was crucified. He took our sin. He took our punishment. God’s justice was satisfied, and in that, God’s mercy triumphed for all who would believe. God showed justice for sin at the cross and God showed mercy for sinners at the cross. This is the gospel.

So if the above is the gospel, then what is evangelism? In defining evangelism, David Platt puts it well:

Evangelism is the proclamation of the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit with the aim of persuading people to repent and believe in Christ.

Right before he ascended into heaven, Jesus said “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). This tells us two very important things. First, that as Christians, when the Holy Spirit has come upon us we will receive power. Second, it says that we will then be his witnesses. Our witness is not in our own power. Our witness is not successful because of our own enticing speech or wisdom (see 1 Corinthians 2:4). Our witness is effective because of the power of the Holy Spirit in making us witnesses. The word translated witness in Acts 1:8 is Strong’s G3144 – martys. It is the word from which we get the English word martyr. Ten of the 11 disciples were martyred because of the words they spoke. A witness tells. A witness proclaims. There is a legal aspect to this word. A witness testifies to the truth.

Our witness is not a smile, our good nature, a kind gesture, a positive life, a compliment, or even a story about how great Jesus is. Our witness is our testimony of the gospel. Everything else can compliment our witness, but the Bible would make it clear that these other things are not a witness in and of themselves. Jesus did not say “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be kind people who are generous and positive and complimentary until the ends of the earth.” The world has many non-christians who would satisfy that witness. No, Jesus said we would be His Witnesses. A witness speaks. We should have the spirit of God on us so that we can speak and proclaim the truth we have found in Christ. The Bible makes this clear.

Remember, a witness is a martyr. A witness is not martyred for his niceness or her good attitude. A witness is not martyred for being helpful and complimentary. A witness is martyred because he said something that offended. In our case, the gospel is that offence. The gospel is not just about the holiness and love of God. That is a part, but that is not all. People do not get offended when you say God is holy and loving. Many faiths would agree this is true. The gospel is also about the sinfulness of everyone, no matter how good and upright they think they are. People get offended when you tell them they’re sinners. The gospel is also about the atoning sacrifice of Jesus – his death for our sins and his resurrection leading us to a new life. And we must be careful. The gospel is not that Jesus died… it is that he died for each and everyone one of us to pay the penalty for each and every one of our sins. If we don’t recognize our own sinful nature, his sacrifice will be meaningless to us and our salvation won’t be genuine. We can’t truly repent if we don’t realize that we are fully in the wrong when it comes to God’s expectations regarding perfect holinenss. All of these things must be communicated if we are to share the full gospel.

Just talking about God and Jesus and how wonderful they are is not evangelism. People from many religions and walks of life talk about those things. And while it is fine to talk about God, evangelism is the proclamation of the gospel as described in the previous paragraph, as described in the Bible.

As we saw in Jesus’ last words before ascension, that when the power of the holy spirit comes upon/fills us, we will be witnesses. Where else is this phrase used, and what happens immediately after the power of the holy spirit comes? As seen in the list below, every time the phrase “filled with the Holy Spirit” is found in the new testament, a proclamation or speaking follows.

In Luke 1:15 it says that John the Baptist was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. And what did he do? He witnessed/told/proclaimed the coming of the Lord.

Later, in Luke 1:41-42 Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and immediately she proclaimed that Mary was pregnant with Elizabeth’s Lord (Elizabeth called Mary the mother of her Lord).

And even later in Luke 1:67  Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and he immediately prophesied regarding Jesus.

At Pentecost in Acts 2, when they were all filled with the holy spirit, they witnessed of Christ, even in other tongues (languages they did not speak but that their hearers did speak and understood).

In Acts 4:8 Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, immediately speaks, proclaiming the truth of God.

Acts 4:31 says “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”

In Acts 9 after Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit he proclaimed the gospel. In Acts 13 he again spoke after being filled with the Holy Spirit.

As can be seen from these verses, when we are “filled with the Holy Spirit” we should speak. Every single Biblical example shows this. There is no Biblical example that does not. I have to wonder, are those in Matthew 7:21-23 under the impression that they were filled with the Holy Spirit because of the powerful things they did when in fact they were not even known by Jesus? They prophesied. They cast out demons. They did mighty works. But did they, filled with the Holy Spirit, proclaim the true gospel of man’s sin and enmity with God, God’s love for man in sending his Son, the Son’s taking our sin upon him and the punishment for that sin, his death and resurrection, and our need to turn from our sin and believe in him? Jesus gave no evidence that they did.

If we are to be a witness as Jesus told us to be, then we should be a witness to the gospel. Also, we don’t just tell the facts and stop there. We persuade people to repent, to make a decision for Christ, trusting the power of the Holy Spirit to work.  We must also remember, that even though God has chosen us and our testimony to be the vehicle through which the Holy Spirit works to bring salvation, the power is not in our words, no matter how eloquent. The power is not in our theatrics. The power is not even in us telling others how great God is and how much He loves them. The power is in the gospel message. That is the message we are to carry; God gives the repentance. Consider the message in Acts 2 after Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:37-38: Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

These Jews, who had been waiting for the Messiah to save them from their sins were made to realize that Jesus, whom they had crucified, was that very Messiah. The Holy Spirit was at work and they were “cut to the heart” when they heard Peter’s message. Peter continued with them and lead them to repentance, assuring their salvation.

In Acts 5:31, when Peter and the others answered the council, they said “Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” If we give the message, filled with the Holy Spirit, God will give repentance. And while yes, our good nature and kindness should support our witness, Romans 2:4 makes it clear that it is the goodness of God which leads to repentance.

Ephesians 2:8 adds, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,” Again, the faith by which we come to salvation is a gift of God. It is not something we can impart to others and it is not something others have power for in themselves. God must give them the gift. We explain the gospel. We give the testimony. God gives the faith for repentance. We must trust the power of the gospel. Yes, it offends, but it is also the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16), and without the gospel, there is no true salvation, even if there is an appearance of power, just as Jesus warned.

In a random find while working on this article… the following video gives a great example of explaining the gospel, in this case to those of Jewish heritage:

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