Perusal* – January 2010, Understanding Biblical Evangelism

(* perusal; to examine or consider with attention and in detail)

Mathew 28:16, Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. 

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Brit Hume, Fox News Senior Analyst, said recently that Tiger Woods should seek redemption and forgiveness for his lifestyle in the hopes that he could save his marriage and family:

"He's said to be a Buddhist. I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith," Hume said, "so my message to Tiger would be, 'Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.'"

Believers should applaud Mr. Hume for “speaking the truth in love.” With clarity, insight, and compassion Mr. Hume presented the truth that is at the core of the Gospel. He evangelized, not in an overt way, but certainly with candor and respect. He has now been compared to an Islamic extremist for his choice of words. Just words mind you, not violence or the strapping of bombs to his body and exposing even little children to radical means in order to compel them to convert.

Our world and particularly western culture is awash with much sentimentality and confusion about the Christian faith. Unfortunately many churches mistake acceptance of ALL faiths as paths to the inner light and God. There is a frightening rise in the number of evangelicals that believe that other faiths or religions provide a highway to heaven. Fearing we will fall into Brit Hume’s narrow mindset, we eschew the veracity of scripture and supremacy of Jesus Christ. We have jettisoned His glory for our own, made the Gospel into a process or procedure, and downplayed doctrine because it divides. Little wonder Mr. Hume is being chastised – even the church is ashamed of unabashed faith.

What is evangelism and why does it matter? Is it a prayer, making Jesus Christ your personal Savior, walking an aisle or submitting to baptism? Mr. Hume is being criticized because our world assumes that evangelism in the name of our Lord is imposition. All those Christians are trying to do is impose their beliefs on the world. Are we imposing?

In order to know what biblical evangelism consists of it is important to discuss what is not evangelism. There are many good things believers are involved in which are not the Gospel. In fact, Augustine said, “ sin is not necessarily loving bad things, but loving good thing inordinately”. It is important to aid people, to foster their personal development and befriend them in the name of our Savior. But these methods are not evangelism. These situations may be pre-evangelism, but not biblical evangelism proper. Jesus was kind when the situation called for kindness, but he was also offensive and abrasive when people misinterpreted or misunderstood scripture. In fact He corrected on more than one occasion errant theology by stating “…you do err not knowing the scriptures or the power of God.” If the scriptures are important to the Savior, I suspect they are important to his disciples.

This leads us back to the definition of evangelism. Social action is not evangelism because it does not declare the Gospel. There is no “social gospel” identified in the New Testament. There is only THE Gospel. And THE Gospel requires us to acknowledge we have sinned against each other, but primarily we have sinned against God. He is the offended One. And He can offend because He is God!

Evangelism is not apologetics, the defense of our faith before skeptics. Apologetics can lead to evangelism, but the Gospel must be shared while using scripture and logic to reason about the faith. Evangelism is not the number of people walking aisles or submitting to baptism. It is not based upon numbers, it is based upon Jesus Christ and His completed work.

Biblically, evangelism is simply telling the evangel - clearly articulating the gospel of Jesus Christ and the claim that the gospel puts on people to repent and believe. 

To evangelize is to declare on the authority of God what he has done to save sinners, to warn men of their lost condition, to direct them to repent, and to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." John Cheesman, The Grace of God in the Gospel.

Ultimately believers should evangelize out of our love for God. This love cultivates love for lost mankind. Quoting John Cheesman again:

Love for God is the only sufficient motive for evangelism. Self-love will give way to self-centeredness; love for the lost will fail with those whom we cannot love, and when difficulties seem insurmountable. Only a deep love for God will keep us following His way, declaring his gospel, when human resources fail.”

Love for God will result in a desire to obey His commands and promote His glory by gathering more worshippers and making more disciples. “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” 1Peter 2:12.

So biblically, while we are to care, to plead, and to persuade, our first duty is to be faithful to the obligation we have from God, which is to present the same Good News that He's given to us.  As we present the gospel in all its simple clarity, we also need to clearly call people to repentance from their sins and belief in the death and resurrection of Christ as the substitute penalty for our sins. 

Evangelism means we need to communicate three important facts about repentance and belief

It's costly. Remember what Jesus says to the rich young ruler?  If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Matt 19:21).  It's not that we must tell our unbelieving friends to sell all their possessions to become Christians.  But we need to present honestly God's demand that we forsake anything we trust or choose above God.

It's urgent.  A helpful way of communicating urgency is to winsomely discourage our friends from waiting for a better deal to come along.  There is no better deal, because there is no other way to escape the penalty, power, and presence of sin (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Rom 10; Heb 4:7). 

It's rewarding.  After an honest and sober presentation of the cost and urgency of repentance and belief, we are free to communicate their worth and fruit.  We gain forgiveness of our sins, and God credits Christ's acquittal to us.  We get relationship with God Himself, we are loved by Jesus as His brothers and sisters, we are filled with His Spirit, and given every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1).

Biblical evangelism should occur from born again believers in a local church. That’s the New Testament way, God’s way, and should be our way. When we are obedient God will bring conversions from our presenting this Good News.  Our prayer is that the message of Brit Hume may challenge, not only Tiger Woods, but others as well.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Pastor Carey