What Is Evangelism?
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What Is Evangelism?

Selected Scriptures  (ID: 1495)

Although some people are peculiarly gifted in evangelism, the Bible is clear that all Christians are called to share their faith. For many of us, this can be a daunting prospect—but Alistair Begg assures us that it is actually a supreme privilege whereby God allows us the opportunity to work with Him in the lives of others. The key is knowing that the power is in the Gospel, not in our ability to articulate its great truths.

Series Containing This Sermon

Crossing the Barriers

A 12-Lesson Study on Evangelism Selected Scriptures Series ID: 23101

Sermon Transcript: Print

Lord, we can’t do anything the way we ought to do it unless you help us. And so we pray that you will tonight—that this might be a time of instruction, the beginning of a time of training; that it will be a reminder to many, news to some, life changing to others. And we pray that not one of us will find ourselves to be on the outside looking in before we’ve gone very far into this whole question. Help us, we pray. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

What is evangelism? You can’t have any more basic beginning than that. And in seeking to address it, I want us to begin by looking at a number of biblical words. And the first word is the word to evangelize, which is euangelizomai. The verb to evangelize is used fifty-two times in the New Testament, and twenty-five of those usages are by Luke, not only in his Gospel but also in Acts, and twenty-one times it’s used by the apostle Paul. And its essential meaning is simply to proclaim good news or to announce good news.

We’ve already looked at Luke chapter 4; Bob read it for us a moment or two ago. But what I’d like to do is just to turn to each of these references that you’ll find noted there. Chapter 8 and verse 1, and we’re looking for the use of this verb to evangelize, and I think it won’t be difficult for you to pick it out. Luke 8:1: “After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.” And the word “proclaiming” there is the word which emerges from this root verb, to evangelize.

If you go, then, following Luke’s path, into the Acts and to chapter 8 in the Acts of the Apostles and in verse 12, you’ll find the word coming again. Obviously, these are just four out of fifty-two references. Acts 8:12, the story of Philip’s proclamation. And it reads, “But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” And the word that is translated there “preached” is once again our word.

Acts 10:36, you’ll find it once again: this is “the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” So we have preaching, proclaiming, announcing, telling, or, if you like, evangelizing. And if you want to just take a Greek concordance, you can look it up, and I think you’ll find that I’m telling you accurately that it is there some fifty-two times.

The second word that we want to notice is the noun which emerges from this, euangelion, which simply means the gospel or the good news. And the noun occurs seventy-two times in the New Testament, fifty-four of which are in Paul’s writings. So if you take fifty-four away from seventy-two, you’ll discover how many other times it comes in the New Testament. I don’t know how many that is; you’ll have to do it yourself. But as we think about the gospel or the good news or the euangelion, I want us to notice some—a, b, c, d, e—five things about this gospel.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

First of all, it is the gospel of the kingdom. Now, if we were in a smaller group and everybody could be heard, what I would do is ask people to be putting their fingers into these verses here and just reading them for us. The gospel of the kingdom of God. Turn to Matthew 4:23 and then 9:35, and let’s just look at how we find this stated.

Matthew 4:23: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom.” Whose kingdom? God’s kingdom. Who reigns in it? Christ reigns as King in the kingdom. And the announcement of the kingdom rule of Christ is there in the midst of the phenomenal display of his rule as you read on in verse 24 and 25.

When you turn to Matthew chapter 9, you’ll find the same thing. Matthew 9:35: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues” and “preaching the good news of the kingdom” and, once again, “healing every [kind of] disease and sickness.” So Jesus went around to say, “My kingly rule is here. It is reigning now, as people’s lives are touched.” And when we think about evangelizing and proclaiming the euangelion, the euangelion, the gospel we are proclaiming, is the gospel, first of all, of the kingdom.

The Gospel of God

Secondly, it is the gospel of God. Now, that might seem very straightforward, but it is important for us just to underscore it.

Mark chapter 1—you’ll find the verse, I think, if you look—and in verse 14: “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” So obviously, these phrases are used interchangeably.

In 1 Thessalonians in Paul’s writings, 1 Thessalonians chapter 2—Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians—1 Thessalonians 2:2: “We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.” It is “his gospel.” It is God’s gospel.

Now, this is important, just in a moment, as an aside. Because one of the things that will happen to us as we go out to evangelize is that we will run up against people who say this: “That’s just your idea. That’s just your theory. That’s just something that you dreamt up.” And we may find ourselves unsettled by that, until we remind ourselves that the good news that we’re proclaiming we didn’t dream up. It is the good news of the kingdom, and it is the good news of God.

This is true in two senses. First of all, it is the good news about God: that God is Creator, that God has revealed himself in our world;[1] that the only way we can know God is because he has chosen to reveal himself; that it is not man’s mad scramble to try and encounter divinity and infinity, but rather, the good news is about a God who has come to us in the person of Jesus. And therefore, it follows that it is the good news not only about God, but it is the good news from God; that its origin lies there.

Consequently, it is a serious matter to distort or to fiddle with the good news in any way at all. If it’s God’s gospel, then we better tell it God’s way. That’s why Paul in Galatians 1:9 is so concerned to make sure that nobody tampers with the gospel. Look at it: “As we have already said,” says Paul, “so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than [that which] you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

Okay, so it’s the gospel of the kingdom. It is the gospel of God. And then, thirdly, it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, you say, “Well, that’s kind of straightforward again.” Yes, it is very straightforward. We’re just having a very straightforward beginning to our studies. And if we start at level four and some people haven’t even dealt with level one, then those of us who are already at level six will feel bad because we started at four, but those who are at levels one, two, and three will already be completely bamboozled by the whole subject and won’t be able to get off to a proper start at all. So I make no apology for the beginnings of it. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If men and women are spiritually blind, we do not in and of ourselves possess the ability to pull back the clouds of their darkness.

Once again you’ll find that by turning to Mark, and I’m not going to turn there again. We’ve looked. This time let’s look at 2 Corinthians 4:4. Two Corinthians 4:4:

We do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it[’s] veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the [good news] of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.[2]

Now, that is a matter for another study, but just don’t miss it going through. What Paul says is this: that if we go out to proclaim the good news, to evangelize, to present the euangelion, we need to do so realizing that it is the gospel of the kingdom, it is the gospel of God, it is the gospel of Christ, and it is a gospel which men and women do not by nature see or understand, because their eyes are blinded to spiritual truth.

So what in the world are we going to do? How can we possibly be going, then, from our discoveries of what it means to evangelize to evangelize? For we are humble enough, presumably, to recognize this: that if men and women are spiritually blind, we do not in and of ourselves possess the ability to pull back the clouds of their darkness. Who does? God, who is the originator of this gospel. And how has he pledged himself to open blind eyes? As a result of the believing prayers of his people. Hence the prayer meeting at five thirty and learning how to evangelize at six thirty. For if we don’t first learn how to pray, no amount of practical instruction in the matters of evangelism will yield anything of lasting benefit, either for us or for those to whom we go.

Two Corinthians 9:13 underpins this once again: “Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of”—notice the phrase—“the gospel of Christ.”

Now, when we said it was the gospel of God, we noted that it was true in two senses: the gospel about God, the gospel from God. It’s also true in two senses concerning the gospel as from Jesus Christ. Not only did Jesus bring the gospel by his coming, but he also embodied it. Okay? Which is the great, fantastic thing, you know: that we don’t have some gigantic computer printout that we have to go charging around offices with. You know, Mr. So-and-So comes from whatever company it is, and he has to bring all these fat wads of computer printouts, now, to try and tell us about the viability of his product. That’s not wrong. It’s a necessary part of sales. But we don’t go into men and women’s homes or invite them into ours or sit and talk with them over a cup of coffee and have to give to them some big rigamarole on a printout.

No, what we present to them is the gospel of Jesus Christ, brought by Christ and embodied by him. And you will find that revealed in John 14:9. Do you remember that from your studies? Do you remember how Jesus proclaims to his followers the essence of who he was and what he was doing in these tremendous statements? And Philip, who was a little bit bamboozled by it all after Jesus had said, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” and “No one comes to the Father [but by] me”[3]—Philip, always a little slower than the rest, but the kind of guy you like to have around in your classroom when the teacher has told you something that you don’t know the answer to, but you’re too proud to mention the fact that you don’t know the answer to it, so you’re hoping that there’s a Philip around who will say, “Excuse me? Uh, I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.” You look across at him like, “Hahaha, you didn’t get that?” And in your heart you’re going, “Man, I’m glad he asked, ’cause I haven’t got a clue what’s going on here.” So you can imagine that when Philip engages in this interchange, oh, Peter’ll be going, “Hey, come on, you know. I know these things.” Philip blurts out, he says, “Okay, I think I’m following you, Jesus, but let me give you this…”

“Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, … after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”[4]

“So you want to know God?” we say to our friends. “You want to know God?”

“Oh yes,” they say, “but I know God, because I’ve been listening to some tapes on the New Age, and I’ve discovered that God is me, and I am God, and God is all, and I am part of all, and therefore, I know God.”

“Well,” you say, “let me run this one by you. The good news from God is this: brought by Jesus and embodied by Jesus. So, dear one, you don’t know nothing about God, in any ultimate sense, until you’ve discovered that his message, his good news, is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ.”

A Gospel for All Nations

So if you’re following along in your notes, you will be with me, and you will have noted that it is the gospel of the kingdom, it’s the gospel of God, it’s the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is, [fourthly], a gospel for all nations. Mark 13:10: “And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.” This is Jesus speaking about the end times and the time of his return. And he says, “My gospel is going to be proclaimed to all the nations.” Do you realize tonight there are probably two and a half billion people in the world that don’t know anything about Jesus, that remain still to be evangelized? The gospel is a gospel for all the nations. Mark 16:15: “He said to them: ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.’”

This truth helps us to realize that it is our responsibility to cross the barriers of class, to cross the barriers of creed, to cross the barriers of culture, irrespective of the cost involved. Somebody of old said, a man or a woman must give their life to that which gave them life. So if we’re going to become involved in the task of evangelism, it is about giving our lives to the message which has given us life. And it is a message for all the nations.

Turn to these important verses, in Romans chapter 10. Some of the most challenging words of the whole of the book of Romans are here in chapters 9, 10, and 11. And Romans 10:11: “As the Scripture says, ‘[Every]one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” And then Paul says, “And how can they call if they’ve never heard? And how can they hear unless someone preaches? And how can someone go and preach,” or evangelize, euangelizomai, be about the task of the euangelion, “unless they themselves are sent?”[5]

“Well, I’ve never been sent!” Oh yes, you have. You’re in Christ. You’ve been sent! Jesus said, “As the Father sent me, so send I you into the world.”[6] And he assumes the sending process as he ushers his Great Commission, which has never been rescinded and remains in effect until the day of his return. So let us notice, as I’ve said, that this truth underscores not only the privilege which is ours but also our responsibility.

A Gospel That Must Be Personally Received

And then, finally, it is a gospel not only that is for all nations, but it is a gospel that must be personally received.

Those of you who have had the benefits of going through Campus Crusade for Christ and have used the Four Spiritual Laws will know that the clincher comes in number four. Number one: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Number two: man is sinful and separated from God; therefore, he cannot know this wonderful plan for his life. Number three I can’t remember; Jesus Christ is God’s provision for man’s sin—something like this—so that you may know and discover God’s plan for your life. Number four: you must individually receive Jesus Christ; then you will discover the benefits of the gospel.

That is, incidentally, what makes an evangelical. Sometimes we have these little words that we use, buzzwords, within our community, and we even have them written about ourselves. And somebody meets us in the street and says, “Oh! You’re from an evangelical church, aren’t you?” And we say, “Well, yes,” but inside we’re hoping they won’t say, “What in the world does that mean?” At least up until tonight that was true.

And the answer, as of tonight, that we’re going to be able to give is simply this: that we’ve discovered that once having encountered Jesus Christ, we’re not supposed to sit on our tails and just wait until he wheeghs us into heaven, but we’re to be about the business of evangelizing, proclaiming the good news to others. And our message is not this: “There was a Jesus who died upon the cross; therefore, you’re automatically forgiven. Tune in, turn on, and tune out, and I’ll see you in heaven.” No. The message is “Jesus died upon the cross, making possible your salvation. Now, as you come to him in repentance and in faith, he will make it actual in your experience.” So it is a gospel which is far-reaching as it is proclaimed, and as it is proclaimed in that way, it is to be personally received.

First Corinthians 15—the great chapter on the resurrection—and verses 1 and 2: “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” So what does it mean to come to a knowledge of the reception of the gospel? It means the hearing of it, the receiving of it, the living of it, in holding firmly to it—not simply a superficial, casual, hand-holding response to the truth about Jesus but a life-transforming evidence which comes to us.

Now, we are just going through these words. And we’ve noted, too, and finally, the notion that since Jesus died upon the cross, all men are automatically forgiven cannot be squared with the biblical insistence upon a whole-hearted personal response to the gospel.

Proclaiming the Message

Now, the next two words I’m not going to spend time on in the same way, but the verb to proclaim, which is the verb kerussein—not kerosene that you put in your lamps, but it sounds a bit like that; it might help you to remember it. But you will find this verb—which is commonly used, again, and translated “to evangelize”—you’ll find that it comes sixty-one times in the New Testament. It’s also translated “to preach.” But it doesn’t mean simply a man who gets a group of people in a room and drones on for a long time, but rather, the underlying picture is that of a herald or of a town crier who often would take a trumpet with him or would bang a drum or make some amazing noise before he said what he said, not because he thought he was a very important person but because he knew he had a very important message.

And that’s one of the things about our responsibility in evangelism: that sometimes we intrude upon our message, and we make people back off from us because we seem to be presenting ourselves rather than presenting the Lord Jesus. A herald was not in that position in order to express his opinion or ideas, but he was there to deliver a message with the humility of heart which accompanies the authority of his word. And so it is that we consider that word.

The other, once again, is the noun, the message, or the proclamation, which is the kērugma. And those of you who read theological books from time to time will have found the word kērugma coming, and it is a word which is used interchangeably with the phrase “the gospel” or “the good news.” You can find it, for example, if you were looking for it, in Romans 16:25: “Now to him who is able to establish you by my [kērugma] and the proclamation of Jesus Christ…”

When Paul addressed the Corinthians, he distinguished himself from the flowery rhetoric that marked out many of the teachers of his day, as he says in 1 Corinthians 2:4. He said, “My message,” which is his kerygma, “and [his] preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but [were] with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.”

Let me just say this to you: until this truth grips us, many of us will be paralyzed in endeavoring to be about the business of personal evangelism. Until the truth grips us that the power is in the kērugma and not in our ability to communicate the kērugma, we’ll never get going; when we realize that the great steps forward will be made when we just allow somebody to read the Bible for themselves, perhaps as we read along with them—that the greatest step forward will be by letting, as it were, the wonderful power of the gospel reach into people’s lives, rather than thinking that the key to effective evangelism lies in our ability to articulate these great truths.

Now, we must move along quickly from this point by noticing that ultimately, as we consider these things, we become aware of the fact that in fulfilling the commission given by Jesus, the apostles were not simply declaring Bible words or some kind of gospel formula but were proclaiming Jesus Christ himself.

Evangelism is the normal life of the healthy church and can never be regarded as an optional extra.

I came across a great quote from Wesley’s journal. July 17, 1739, Wesley writes, “I rode to Bradford, five miles from Bath …. Some persons [had] pitched on a convenient place … on the top of [a] hill under which the town lies; [there I] offered Christ to about a thousand people, for ‘wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption.’”[7] It’s a great phrase: “There I offered Christ.” To evangelize is essentially that.

So, having looked at the words, let’s set down a working definition of what it means to evangelize. And here it is. This comes from the early twentieth century and a commission that was put together by bishops in the Church of England. Its theology has been cleaned up just a little bit by J. I. Packer, who wrote Knowing God. So if you’re wondering where this comes from, that is its source. “To evangelize is to present Christ Jesus to sinful people in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come to put their trust in God through him.”[8] Now, since you have that written down, I’ll leave it at that and keep going on. You’ve got it to take away with you.

Key Statements Concerning Evangelism

I want, finally, just to notice with you a number of key statements concerning evangelism. We’ll go through these, and we’ll be returning to them as our studies go on on Sunday evenings, but I’m not going to spend time on them this evening.

First of all, evangelism is the normal life of the healthy church and can never be regarded as an optional extra. Consider the absence of appeals made by the apostles to the churches in the matter of evangelism. Have you ever thought about that? I confess, I hadn’t thought much about it till this week—the absence of how many times you find the apostles saying to the churches to whom they write and to whom they go, “Go on, evangelize!” It’s almost nonexistent. Why is that? It seems that evangelism was assumed, and it operated without special techniques or programs.

Now, I want you to compare Genesis 1:28 and Matthew 28:19 and 20. And when you do, we can talk about why you think I wrote those two verses there in juxtaposition. Genesis 1:28 is where God says, “Be fruitful, and multiply,”[9] and Matthew 28 is the Great Commission. I’ll let you into a secret. Has mankind had much difficulty in responding to Genesis 1:28? The greatest problem with Genesis 1:28 is trying to get mankind to stop making Genesis 1:28 happen to such a phenomenal degree. And the Great Commission was not some optional extra for a bunch of crazy zealots. It is assumed that reproduction on a spiritual level will be the overflow of healthy Christians who are members of healthy churches. So, evangelism is the normal life of the healthy church, not an optional extra.

Secondly, evangelism is the privilege and responsibility of every member of Christ’s body. You can’t say, “This is an elective course,” can’t say, “That’s not a course I’m taking.” We’re all in it. You’re in the body? There you go.

Evangelism is supremely God’s work in people, in which he enlists human cooperation.

While the gift of evangelism is unique to some… There are some people who are gifted as evangelists. You read that in Ephesians 4: that God gave gifts to the church, of evangelists.[10] Some people think that that was only in the first century and that he no longer gifts the church with evangelists. I would find that hard to substantiate, wouldn’t you, when you just read the history of the church and realize how God has raised up people who are uniquely gifted as evangelists? They have a special ability in communicating the truth and, as it were, putting in the line to draw out and hook the fish.

So, without negating the special gift of evangelism, we recognize at the same time that the responsibility of witnessing falls to all, without exception. Just in case any of us are saying, “Well, that’s not my gift, you see? I’m not an evangelist.” No, I recognize that. I’m not sure that I’m an evangelist either. I’m responding to what Paul said to Timothy when he urged him as a pastor to “do the work of an evangelist.”[11] Part of the gospel proclamation must be that. But I haven’t been called to be “an evangelist,” and many of us probably haven’t. But we have all been called to the task of witnessing.

Fourth, and penultimate thing, is that evangelism is supremely God’s work in people, in which he enlists human cooperation. That is, that God by his Spirit is working in people’s lives; he could do it all on his own if he chose, and sometimes has; but he enlists us with the opportunity of being a part of what he is doing in the life of another.

And then, finally, evangelism is essentially a process rather than a program. I’m not going to make application of it, ’cause that’d take me another half an hour, and you’d be really ticked off. I don’t want you to feel that you’ve been shortchanged. Many of the questions that will be in your mind we’re going to come back to as we go through.

For your homework, I’d like you to do two things. One, reread all the Scripture references. Two, memorize two of them which hit you most forcibly. Three, make a commitment to speak to somebody else who’s been at this study, at some point this week, about what you learned from it or what you didn’t understand about it and what you hope to gain from it. One, reread the references. Two, memorize a couple of them. And three, get together with one other person, and talk about the potential implications for this first study on the question of evangelism.

[1] See Romans 1:20.

[2] 2 Corinthians 4:2–4 (NIV 1984).

[3] John 14:6 (NIV 1984).

[4] John 14:8–9 (NIV 1984).

[5] Romans 10:14–15 (paraphrased).

[6] John 17:18 (paraphrased).

[7] The Journal of John Wesley, ed. Percy Livingstone Parker (Chicago: Moody, 1951), https://ccel.org/ccel/wesley/journal/journal.vi.iii.vii.html.

[8] J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1961), 37–38, 40. This definition is derived from Packer’s language and comments throughout the cited pages.

[9] Genesis 1:28 (KJV).

[10] See Ephesians 4:11.

[11] 2 Timothy 4:5 (NIV 1984).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.