[Introduction: This post is from a Sunday School lesson I taught on February 25, 2007 at Kosmosdale Baptist Church. Our class had been studying The 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever. "A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism" was explored as the fifth mark of a healthy church. The biblical exposition concerning the 9 Marks is greatly beneficial to anyone thinking of how a church should function as a body according to the Word of God
Consequences of neglecting a biblical understanding of evangelism:
In many church congregations, the understanding of what the Bible has to say about evangelism does not extend much beyond a bare citation of Romans 10:9, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (KJV). While this verse is certainly important to a biblical understanding of evangelism, it is only helpful as we understand what this verse is actually teaching and what it is not teaching.
To start with what this verse is not teaching: this verse is not meant to indicate that we are to try to simply get a head nod from people concerning Jesus' resurrection and then encourage them to say the words, "Jesus is Lord." If this is what is being indicated in Romans 10:9, then we could simply evangelize by asking people, "Do you think that it's likely that God raised Jesus from the dead?" If anyone said, "Yes," then we could say, "Please read this card," on which the words were printed, "Jesus is Lord." This type of 'evangelism' would likely be very effective, at least in areas where there is a high level of cultural Christianity- that is, if someone has been raised in or near a church, hearing the Easter story each year, then he or she may very well have a certain level of intellectual assent to the resurrection and may be more that willing to say, "Jesus is Lord"- whether or not he or she had any intention of living out a Christian lifestyle.
But I would assert that the meaning of Romans 10:9 is much deeper than what many may think from a surface reading of the text. Consider the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 7:21, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (NIV 1984). These words from our Lord should make us ponder what is meant in Romans 10:9 concerning the confession that Jesus is Lord and the belief that God has raised Him from the dead. It is my conviction that this verse is indicating the proper response to the gospel message, namely, faith and repentance. This is clear from what it means to confess Jesus as Lord. Confessing Jesus as Lord is not just indicative of a certain verbalized phrase, but is actually an entire submission of the will to the lordship of Jesus Christ, under whose lordship we do the will of the Father. But what is the will of the Father? The answer to this question is clear from an understanding of Matthew 7:21 in light of John 6:29, in which Jesus says, "This is the work of God: that you believe in the One He has sent" (HCSB). And so the concepts of faith and repentance are inextricably intertwined in the biblical presentation of the Gospel call. This is seen even in the earliest stages of Jesus' ministry in which He proclaimed, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!" (Mark 1:15 HCSB)
The way we carry out evangelism is shaped by our understanding of the Gospel and conversion.
Our evangelism is positively effected by an understanding that it is God who does the work of conversion. This understanding gives us great confidence as we are free from the fear of failure; this understanding gives us great dependence on God's Word as the means by which He has chosen to do His work of conversion. If we convince ourselves on any level that it is ultimately necessary for Man to convert himself, then we will tend to adopt emotionally coercive, unbiblical methods designed at appealing to sinners' felt needs in order to get them to make that choice. In other words, we will begin to adopt the worldly wisdom of marketing techniques rather than a humble dependence upon the message of the Cross.
The definition of evangelism:
To evangelize is to present Jesus Christ to sinful men in order that through the power of the Holy Spirit they may come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His Church.
Presenting Jesus Christ to sinful men entails bringing people both bad news and the Good News. The bad news we cannot overlook is the fact that men are naturally dead in their trespasses and sins (cf. Eph 2:1-3): made enemies of the Sovereign Creator and Sustainer of the universe both by nature and by choice. Sinners must be aware that they are sinners before they can be aware of their need for the Savior. How does this awareness come about? In Romans 7:7 the Apostle Paul writes, "I would not have known sin if it were not for the law" (HCSB). Earlier in the same book he had written that through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (cf. Rom 3:20). So we must proclaim the Law as this is the means by which the Holy Spirit will convict people of their sin before God. Once people feel the weight of their sin and desire the mercy of God, then we must proclaim the Good News that Jesus died as an atonement for the sins of all who will believe on Him, that He was raised from the dead, and that He is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, offering eternal life to all who repent and trust in Him. Having been faithful to our role in evangelism. presenting God's Word (both Law and Gospel) to the sinner, we must yield to God's role in evangelism, namely, the conversion of sinners.
It is God who converts sinners.
God providentially sends Christians with the message of Christ to proclaim the Good News to the lost, as the Bible declares in Romans 10:14-17, “But how can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How welcome are the feet of those who announce the gospel of good things! But all did not obey the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message? So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ” (HCSB).
Yet even after His Word is presented, God must still grant salvation, as Scripture says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift: not from works, so that no one can boast.”
The call for a response:
Whenever God grants us the opportunity to present a non-Christian with the judgment of the Law and the Good News of salvation in Christ, we need to be careful to confront the non-Christian with the weight of the message he or she is hearing. In other words, our trust in the sovereignty of God for salvation should NEVER make us complacent about how non-Christians respond to God's Word. While we must not be so eager to see conversions that we try to rush sinners to make a decision they do not truly understand or to pray some scripted prayer not found in the Bible, we should warn them that they cannot remain apathetic to their sin and to what Jesus has accomplished on the Cross. For Christ Himself declared that the one not believing in Him is already condemned (cf. John 3:18), and so the call to follow Christ is urgent.
In the Gospel we are dealing with a situation that is even more important than life and death. Whenever the Good News of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, the eternal destiny of those listening is at stake. This is why the Apostle Paul is recorded in Acts 20:31 as having said that he warned
each one in the Ephesian church day and night with tears concerning matters of the Gospel. This is why the Apostle wrote, "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ; certain that God is appealing through us, we plead on Christ's behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God
’” (2 Corinthians 5:20 HCSB). This is why the Apostle further impressed upon his listeners, writing, "Look, now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation
" (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:2). In pleading with sinners to cry out to God for mercy, however, we must avoid dishonoring the Gospel by failing to stress that the decision to follow Christ is costly
. Following Christ means complete submission to His will for our lives, forsaking our own plans and desires, as Jesus said, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (cf. Luke 9:23b HCSB)
. This is why Jesus warned those who would seek life in Him, saying,
Don't assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to turn A man against his father , a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household. The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. (Matthew 10:34-37 HCSB)
The costliness of eternal life is why Jesus even issued the following challege to those who wanted to be His disciples,
For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn't first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, after he has laid the foundation and cannot finish it, all the onlookers will begin to make fun of him, saying, 'This man started to build and wasn't able to finish.' "Or what king, going to war against another king, will not first sit down and decide if he is able with 10,000 to oppose the one who comes against him with 20,000? If not, while the other is still far off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. In the same way, therefore, every one of you who does not say good-bye to all his possessions cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:28-33 HCSB)
In presenting the Gospel, we must not try to become more "kind" than Jesus Himself (as the world understands kindness). Instead, we must recognize that in being honest as to the cost of becoming a Christian, Jesus was actually being extremely kind and loving, for no one can be saved from sin who has not counted the cost and forsaken everything for the cause of Christ.
Though we must stress that following Christ is costly, we must also present the Gospel as worth the cost. Eternal, abundant life with freedom from all guilt and shame of sin before God is worth everything that we might lose for the sake of Jesus' name.
Trust in the sovereignty of God, faithfulness to His Word, love for Him and for our fellow man, and a desire to magnify God's glory in all things should provide our foundational convictions in evangelism. The proclamation of Law to the proud and God's grace through the perfect work of Jesus Christ to those who have been humbled should be the content of our evangelism. Urgency, costliness, and worth- these are the impressions concerning the Gospel that we should leave with anyone with whom we have the priviledge to speak concerning eternal things. I pray that you who are reading these words- whoever you may be- will think on these things and that God would ignite in your heart a passion for proclaiming His Gospel.