Reflect for a moment on the following anecdote, which will serve to illustrate an important lesson regarding evangelism.
A traveller came upon three men working in a large open quarry—nothing but boulders, rocks and pebbles. The traveller observed these men breathing hard, wet with sweat as they swung their sledge hammers again and again in order to slowly pulverize the granite hunks.
The traveller then asked these men what they were doing. The first man quickly and harshly barked that he was “breaking his back.” The second man matter-of-factly quipped that he was “making a living.” The third man however, paused, pondered, and with a glint in his eye answered: “Me? I’m building a glorious cathedral.”1
The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is called to aggressive evangelism. The Lord in His grace has recently started to stir our church in this regard. He has graciously begun another work of reformation.
In recent studies I have asserted what I believe to be the biblical teaching regarding the conversion of culture through the conversion of its citizens. That is, as souls are converted then society is impacted. Clearly this was the Lord’s intention when He used the metaphors of salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16).
As more and more people are regenerated and then increasingly converted in their worldview, society will consequently be influenced for good. This consequence is not the driving factor but it is an important factor. We would argue from Scripture that the glory of God as displayed through the supremacy of His Son is our primary motive for the Great Commission (see Ps 67), and yet I fail to see how this can be separated from the cultural consequences of a converted people. Of course what I am describing here is the work of the Great Commission: making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Believers prove their faith by submission to the Lordship of the risen Christ—in all areas of life. Such disciples will be growing in embracing and displaying of the biblical worldview. But, of course, for one to become a disciple they must be evangelised. And that is what we are called to begin with. Evangelism is but the first step in making disciples; it is, nevertheless, the beginning. In this study I want to challenge you to do it!
One means towards our involvement in evangelism is the development of a biblical vision. “Where there is no revelation,” wrote Solomon, “the people cast off restraint” (Proverbs 29:18). Or, in slightly older language, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (AV).
We need to see our lives in the story of those three men who were working in the quarry. With which of the three do you most identify?
We need to see ourselves in the work of building a cathedral, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to see ourselves building this cathedral in everything we do. Specifically, we need to see ourselves building this cathedral as we carry out our vocation. That is, when you go to work realise that you are neither “breaking your back” nor “making a living” but are instead being used of God to “build a glorious cathedral.” Note: not merely a “cathedral” but rather a “glorious cathedral”!
Let me summarise the above by saying that everyone of us who has been born again is responsible (indeed, privileged!) before God to evangelise. Proclaiming the good news of the grace of God to sinners in Jesus Christ is our privileged duty. And we are to do so everywhere that God places us. Further, we are to seek to share this with everyone whom we can. In a nutshell, our churches should become increasingly committed to the mindset of everyone evangelising everyone everywhere.
Let me try to flesh this out.
What does it mean to “evangelise”?
The word “evangelise” literally means “to proclaim good news” or “to preach the gospel.” Simply stated, to evangelise is to proclaim the good news of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. We will develop the actual task of evangelism below, but let us first note—biblically speaking—who is responsible to evangelise.
This is not an unimportant question, for there is one theory that states that Jesus gave the Great Commission only to the apostles, and that the assignment ended with them.
But I am convinced that a survey of the New Testament reveals a very different picture. The actual word “evangelise” seems very much to have been a word favoured by Luke, who used it some 25 times in Luke and Acts. Matthew is the only other Gospel writer to have used the word, and he did so but once. Paul uses it some 20 times in six of his epistles, the writer of Hebrews uses it twice, Peter uses it three times in his first epistle, and John uses it twice in Revelation.
Let’s take a brief survey of evangelism as it is seen in the New Testament and see what we can learn about our responsibility in the matter.
First, we notice that Jesus was involved in evangelism. Consider:
- Matthew 11:5—“The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”
- Luke 4:18—“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”
- Luke 4:43—“But He said to them, ‘I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.’”
- Luke 8:1—“Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him.”
Gabriel “evangelised” when he said to Zacharias, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings” (Luke 1:19). And when the angel of the Lord spoke to the shepherds, Luke uses the same term:
And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.”
John the Baptist “preached” (“evangelised”) to the people (Luke 3:18). The apostles evangelised after the ascension.
- Acts 5:42—“And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”
- Acts 8:25—“So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.”
- Acts 13:32—“And we declare to you glad tidings—that promise which was made to the fathers.”
Philip, a deacon in the early church, was involved in evangelism (Acts 8:12, 35, 40). Paul spoke of unnamed messengers who might “preach” to the Galatians (Galatians 1:8-9). In this context, Paul warns the Galatians to be discerning about the message that is “evangelised” to them. He does not forbid listening to the evangelism of non-apostles, only of doing so without discernment. There is surely an inference here that the responsibility to evangelise was not merely the domain of the apostolic band. This serves as a death knell to the argument that the Great Commission was limited to the original apostles. And by extension, certainly the work of evangelism was never intended to be limited to the domain of a select group of preachers.
Revelation 14:6 speaks of an “angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people.” This angel (“messenger”) is sent with the good news to all peoples. Since we know that God has entrusted the preaching of the gospel to humans, the implication is that it is humans who will reach these peoples. It seems to imply that “unofficial” messengers will evangelise.
A case can be made that this chapter hearkens back to Revelation 7 where 144,000 servants are sealed. In that chapter the sealed servants seem to be the means of the multitude being evangelised in v. 6. As I have argued elsewhere, these 144,000 are the early primarily Jewish church, which did evangelise the known world (cf. Colossians 1:6, 23).
But perhaps, from our perspective the most significant text which speaks of believers evangelising is found in toward the middle part of the book of Acts.
Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.
Observe that it was “those who were scattered” who “went everywhere preaching the word.” But this group did not include the apostles, for believers “were scattered all throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria except the apostles.” The apostles remained in Jerusalem, but it was those who went from Jerusalem who evangelised as they went.
Later still, we read of some disciples “from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:20).
What can we conclude from this? Surely it is evident that evangelism is essential and that every believer shares the responsibility for evangelism. In other words, our mindset is to be “everyone evangelising everyone everywhere.”
What is the Gospel?
How would you answer the question, what is the gospel? I have recently given much thought to the fact that believers applying for membership of BBC should perhaps be asked this question. We do not want to intimidate anyone, but surely it is important that Christians be able to define in a succinct manner what the gospel is. Many can testify to what the gospel has done in their lives—and that is certainly important—but many of the same cannot actually define the gospel.
I would offer as a simple definition of the gospel the following: The good news of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. In biblical language, the gospel is the truth that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
According to the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelism (1974),
to evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according the Scriptures, and that a the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gift of the Spirit to all who repent and believe.
That is good news indeed. Listen to this good helpful explanation by John Cheeseman:
Evangelism is not persuading people to make a decision; it is not proving God exists, or making out a good case for the truth of Christianity; it is not inviting someone to a meeting; it is not exposing the contemporary dilemma, or arousing interest in Christianity; it is not wearing a badge saying “Jesus Saves!” Some of these things may be right and good in their place, but none of them should be confused with evangelism. 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 in the Lord Jesus Christ.2
The gospel is not potentially good news; it is particularly good news. That is, Jesus Christ died for particular sinners, and every sinner for whom He died will be saved. All those who the Father gave to the Son will come to him. He died for them and will lose none of them (John 6:37-39). Jesus did not die for all sinners to make salvation potentially possible for all. No, He died for particular sinners to purchase their certain salvation. He died for those who were “appointed to eternal life” (Acts 13:48). He died for those whom God “chose . . . in Him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:3-4). He died for “the elect’s sake” (2 Timothy 2:10).
This should give us great confidence in our evangelism. We are declaring a message that is historically valid and which will be historically victorious. It is not up to us to convince people that they must be saved. We are to preach the gospel to everyone, and trust God to save those for whom Christ died. He will do so!
We have a historically validated and victorious message that must be vocalised to everyone everywhere. Everyone is to be evangelising everyone everywhere.
Who are we to evangelise?
I trust you have the answer prepared: We are to evangelise everyone. This might seem a somewhat obvious statement, but as George Orwell once said, “we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”3 In that case, consider the obvious duly restated!
A cursory look at the ministry and words of Jesus Christ reveals that everyone is to hear this good news. I understand well that not all will be saved, but all need to hear of the Lordship of Christ. All need to hear of their obligation before Him; all need to hear that they will give an account to Him. And certainly the elect need to hear.
The “universal” language of the New Testament regarding evangelism is quite clear. Jesus said that “the field is the world” (Matthew 13:38). Again, He said of evangelism in the first-century church, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). Again, “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (Matthew 26:13).
Jesus reminded the religious of His day, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves’” (Mark 11:17).
In the Great Commission He commanded that disciples be made in “all nations” (Matthew 28:18-20). He instructed the disciples to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Again, “Repentance and remission of sins [must] be preached . . . to all nations” (Luke 24:46-47).
Or consider perhaps the most beloved verses in all Scripture: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).
Jesus further described Himself as “the living bread” available to “anyone” who would eat. His flesh (“the living bread”) was given “for the life of all the world” (John 6:51). Again, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), and “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32).
Paul warned the Athenians that “God now commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30-31). He told the Romans that God expects “obedience to the faith among all nations for His name” (Romans 1:5). “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
These are but a few samplings of the plethora of New Testament texts which suggest we must preach the gospel to everyone.
The believer is to be soul-conscious. That is, we must view each individual whom we encounter as one made in the image of God and therefore in need of God’s forgiveness. We must appreciate that each individual whom we encounter is one who is accountable before the Lord as one who will give an account to God on Judgement Day. Each individual whom we encounter has the potential to give glory to God. But the gospel is essential for them to fully glorify Him (cf. Romans 8:28-30). Thus, the truth of humanity created in God’s image compels us to evangelise all and sundry.
We must view each and every individual as potentially one for whom the Lord Jesus Christ died. Of course, we don’t know for sure if those whom we evangelise are elect, but as someone has wonderfully illustrated, evangelism is like screwing light bulbs into sockets: You simply screw them in and see if they light up. Some will light up immediately, others will light up over time, and still others will remain dark always. It is not our task to give light, only to screw the bulb into the socket.
And so we see that everyone is to evangelise everyone. But this leads to our next consideration.
Where are we to evangelise?
I suspect that you have latched onto the motto by now and are fully prepared to answer, everywhere!
You are to evangelise everywhere that God, in His providence, has placed you. God providentially placed Paul in Athens, perhaps the most superstitiously religious city of the day, and Paul understood it to be an opportunity for evangelism. He looked for a springboard for the gospel, and once he found it he immediately latched onto it.
Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”
God has providentially placed us geographically for the extension of His kingdom. Geography is important. It is somewhat saddening to observe the flight of South Africans from the country. There is great pessimism about the future of South Africa—based on the present political landscape—and so many citizens have opted for greener pastures in other countries. A good number of professing Christians are among those fleeing.
It is not my place to cast aspersion upon anyone’s decision to emigrate, but perhaps more careful consideration is required before making a hasty decision. The social and political future may well look bleak from our present perspective, but surely God has placed Christians in South Africa in order to reach those “who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Timothy 1:16). What are you doing in your neighbourhood and in your city to reach the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Included in this must be the matter of our vocation. Evangelism is not the exclusive domain of “professional clergy.” God has given you certain abilities and placed you within a particular vocation. Some view their vocation as back-breaking work, whilst others understand that they are just making a living. I want to suggest, in keeping with our opening illustration, that we should view our vocation as an opportunity to build a glorious cathedral. Each Christian should be a cathedral builder in the world in which God has placed us.
There are several issues here that must be addressed and perhaps in a future study we can return to this issue. But for now, let me suggest that the church must return to an appreciation that work precedes worship. God worked and then He rested; man was to follow this pattern. The implication was that after labour man was to rest for the purpose of reflecting on God’s work. The point is that work is a godly and therefore legitimate pursuit. If we are to spend the majority of our time in the workplace then I conclude that this is where we are to subdue the world for Christ. Hence the workplace becomes an important locus of evangelism.
Dorothy Sayers, in her well-known essay, “Why Work?”, wrote,
In nothing has the Church so lost Her hold on reality as in Her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation. She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as result, the secular work of the world is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends, and that the greater part of the world’s intelligent workers have become irreligious, or at least, uninterested in religion.
But is it astonishing? How can anyone remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life? The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.
Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly—but what use is all that if in the very centre of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.
I simply want to drive home the point that our workplace is a place of ministry; worship, yes, but more accurately, it is a place of service. It is the sphere in which the Lord has placed you for the purpose of evangelism and, by His grace, a place of discipleship.
Practically, this requires that Christians in the workplace be winsome. It is only by being winsome that we will have the privilege of winning some to Christ. And winsomeness is a consequence of wisdom (Proverbs 11:30).
When you are winsome in your testimony, people will be compelled to ask you for the reason for such a countercultural hope. You will then be in a position to “answer each one” (Colossians 4:5-6).
How do we evangelise?
Of course, the next major question is, how do we evangelise? This will be the subject of our next study.
As we conclude our time together, let me say that there is a requirement—a precondition—to be met before we can evangelise everyone everywhere. In order to do this, you must first be evangelised! You must not only hear the gospel but you must be regenerated through the gospel. Have you come to realise from above what God has done for you in Christ Jesus? If not, then ask the Lord to reveal this to you. And when He does, then—and only then—will you be energised and equipped to join everyone evangelising everyone everywhere.
- Jeffrey Ventrella, The Cathedral Builder: Pursuing Cultural Beauty (Powder Springs: American Vision, 2007) ↩
- John Cheeseman, Saving Grace (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1999), 113. ↩
- George Orwell, Adelphi (January 1939). Orwell made this statement in a review of Bertrand Russell’s Power: A New Social Analysis. ↩