Evangelism lies at the heart of the mission of the church. Even when we use the language of the Great Commission and talk about making disciples of all nations, we mean more than simply taking existing Christian believers and helping them deepen in their spiritual maturity. The Bible clearly teaches that every person on earth is a sinner who justly stands condemned before the righteous judgment of God. Because God is holy, he rightly hates all form of evil, including the evil of human sin.
The greatest need of everyone on earth is to hear the amazing news that God loved this rebellious, undeserving world so much that he sent his son, Jesus Christ, who lived the life we should have lived, died the death we deserved to die because of our sin, and then rose again from the dead. Everyone who repents of their sin and trusts in Jesus will be pardoned and reconciled to God forever. This one surpassing need is why evangelism is essential to biblical mission. We define evangelism simply, as follows:
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.
First, notice that evangelism always means proclamation. The example of our lives is important but never enough. Deeds of compassion and mercy are good but not sufficient. Communicating the gospel always involves words, and it must involve words that the hearer can understand. We must speak, write, or sign the gospel in order for our actions to qualify as biblical evangelism.
Furthermore, our desire is effective communication, so we must know the language of those whom we are trying to reach. A famous church leader in the Middle Ages is reported to have said, “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” This statement has no place among us. It is always necessary to use words to preach the gospel.
Second, evangelism is the proclamation of the gospel. Our testimonies are useful entry points to sharing the gospel, but unless we are intentional, our testimonies may not actually contain the full message of the good news. General statements about the love of God may be true, but they don’t tell people how to be saved. Biblical evangelism requires the full message of the gospel. Furthermore, we cannot dilute or change the message. We can’t take out or soften those parts that offend people. Every element of the gospel is essential.
Biblical evangelism requires the full message of the gospel.
Third, evangelism is the proclamation of the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. We don’t convert anyone. Only God can make a dead person alive. To be effective evangelists, we must walk in step with the Holy Spirit. Although it’s true that God can (and does) use anyone to share the good news, we will be much more effective in evangelism if we are pursuing holiness through intimate fellowship with Christ.
If God is the one who makes dead people alive, we must pray fervently for him to do what only he can do. Effective evangelism requires earnest, urgent prayer. We also must never rely on our own cleverness or resources. On our own, we can stir up a crowd and get big numbers, but we can never make genuine disciples. Apart from him, we can do nothing.
Fourth, evangelism has the aim of persuading people to repent and believe in Christ. There is such a thing as persuasion without manipulation. We must challenge people to respond to the message we proclaim. The apostle Paul warned against human cunning or underhanded methods (2 Cor. 4:2), but he also said, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11).
Heaven and hell are at stake in the presentation of the gospel. There must be a strong note of urgency in our gospel persuasion, or else we have miscommunicated the seriousness of the message. Biblical evangelism contains both content and command, and the command must be pressed upon people. The consequences are infinite and eternal.
There are a variety of tools and methods for evangelism, and many of them are good and useful. All of them must be evaluated by these essential points. Furthermore, even the very best tool is useless if it isn’t used. Each of us must be in the regular practice of proclaiming the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit with the aim of persuading people to repent and believe in Christ.
Zane Pratt is the vice president of training at IMB.