9 truths you need for better evangelism
Depend on the Holy Spirit to empower you and to convict the lost person. Remember your role and God’s role.
The word “evangelism” provokes various responses, both outside and inside the church. When some hear the word evangelism, they equate it with hardline psychological pressure, yelling through a bullhorn, or proselytizing people against their will. Yet those negative connotations express poor stereotypes of an activity that by its very nature means the communication of “good news.”
Our word evangelism is taken from the Greek word euangelion, translated “the gospel.” Within the word evangelism we see the word evangel, meaning “good news.” The evangel which lies at the heart of the Christian faith is the good news about who God is and how he has provided reconciliation for sinful humanity.
So evangelism is to announce the euangelion, the good news. The noun form appears more than 70 times in the New Testament, while the verb form, euangelizō, appears more than 30 times. We find both the noun and the verb forms in Romans 1:15, “So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” And indeed, if you have good news, life-saving news, even eternal life-saving news, how can you not desire to share that message with others?
I define evangelism as the compassionate sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ with lost people, in the power of the Holy Spirit, for the purpose of bringing them to Christ as Savior and Lord, that they in turn might share him with others.
Following are nine key principles of evangelism, nine truths you can trust as you seek to be a faithful witness for Christ.
1. Lost people are lost.
The Bible reminds us that ultimately there are only two categories of people in the world: lost and saved. The Scriptures teach us that without Christ individuals are spiritually dead (Eph 2:1). They are alienated from the life of God (Eph 4:18) and are without hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:12). Paul describes this lostness in 2 Corinthians 4:3–4: “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Those who do not know Christ are perishing. Even John 3:16, perhaps the most widely quoted verse in the Bible, reminds us that persons will perish apart from faith in Christ. Human beings have a fatal disease: sin. The soul that sins must die (Ez 18:20). The only remedy for that fatal disease is the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Without faith in Christ we will perish in our sin. We have both an inclusive message (whosoever will may come) and an exclusive message (Jesus is the only way to God the Father).
Spiritual confusion abounds in our world today. Religious ignorance seems to be the norm. The majority of people I talk with are not so much “agnostics” as they are “ignostics” — ignorant of the basic truths of the gospel. We cannot assume that even in America — a nation filled with churches and Bibles and Christian radio stations — that persons have heard the gospel. Many have not heard the gospel and rejected it — they have never heard it. We cannot expect lost people to come to us for the gospel; we must take this good news to them.
Matthew 9:36 reminds us that when Jesus saw the multitudes, he “felt compassion for them.” How do we respond when we encounter sinful persons? Christians can develop a cold heart toward the unsaved, which can lead to a calloused heart, which can lead to a hard heart. From time to time, we may need to get on our faces before God and cry out for a heart of compassion for the lost. Luke 19:10 reminds us that “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
2. The gospel must be spoken.
Some people declare, “I’m just going to witness with my life. I’m going to let my life do the talking.” Some even misquote St. Francis of Assisi (1181/1182–1226), claiming he opined, “Preach the gospel at all times; use words if necessary.” Scholars of St. Francis assert he never said those words, but I maintain that even if he had said them they still would be wrong. Affirming “preach the gospel at all times; use words if necessary” is like saying “feed the hungry at all times; use food if necessary.”
Your life is not the gospel. The good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ must be shared verbally. Evangelism is more than mere presence. If you live a committed Christian life in front of people but never share the reason for the hope within you, they might conclude that you are a good person, or a religious person, but they still will not know the gospel. Your life is not the gospel. You must share the gospel verbally.
3. The gospel is the power of God for salvation.
Paul affirmed, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16). Do we really believe that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation? We too often settle for a religion of the “possible.” We give up on people too easily, we write them off before we even attempt to share the gospel with them.
In Mark 4, Jesus teaches what we know as the Parable of the Sower. I think we often misapply this parable. The sower went out to sow. He did not go out to inspect the soil and sow or withhold seed based on the state of the soil. No, the sower sowed the seed everywhere. In our witnessing we need to stop being soil inspectors and start being sowers of the gospel seed!
Another way to phrase this truth is that we should never say “no” for someone else. We make that mistake far too often. We decide someone is not good soil, and we say “no” for that person, withholding the seed of the gospel. Jesus is telling us we are going to receive different responses to the message, but that is not our responsibility. What is our responsibility? The sower went out to sow — we are called to be sowers, not soil inspectors!
4. Jesus Christ is the focus of evangelism.
Jesus testified, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me” (John 12:32). In our witnessing, we must point people to Jesus, not to a philosophy of life or a church or a denomination. Jesus is the Savior. Many people have rejected Christianity without ever really understanding the person and work of Christ. They have seen the bad and even the ugly from Christians and churches and have rejected Christianity.
Recently, my wife Sharon and I were able to share the gospel with our Uber driver. He told us he had rejected Christianity because of hypocritical Christians he knew. I explained to him that Sharon was a piano teacher and asked him this question: “If one of Sharon’s students plays Mozart’s ‘Sonata in C’ poorly, should we conclude that Mozart was a terrible composer?” He replied, “Of course not!” I then pointed out that just because some Christians follow Christ and his teachings poorly, we should not conclude that Jesus is not worth following.
I love the testimony of an agnostic who began reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus and told a friend, “The more I read about this Jesus, the more I like him! The more I want to follow him!” Keep the focus on Jesus Christ as you share.
5. The necessary response is repentance and faith.
Paul, in 2 Corinthians 5:20, reminds us that our role as witnesses is to be “ambassadors for Christ.” He reveals the dynamic at work in our witnessing through a key phrase in verse 20: “God making his appeal through us.” It is God’s appeal, but how does he make that appeal? Through us — through faithful ambassadors who share the message with which they have been entrusted. Faithfulness in evangelism requires not merely informing but also inviting. The invitation is clear: “Be reconciled to God.”
The promise is for all who repent and believe. Jesus declared to a group of people who thought they were not all that sinful, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). John reminds us, “But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12–13). Jesus testifies, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
6. The results belong to God.
Bill Bright shared his perspective on evangelism with this statement: “Success in witnessing is simply taking the initiative to share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, and leaving the results to God.” Paul saw his responsibility precisely this way — sharing the gospel and then leaving the results up to God. He affirms in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”
7. Witnessing is an overflow of your life with Christ.
Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:34b highlight an important principle of evangelism: “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.”Have you seen the late-night television infomercial for grandparents? The spokesperson promotes a two-DVD set for grandparents for only $99. The first DVD trains grandparents in how to overcome the fear of talking about their grandchildren. The second DVD teaches grandparents how to bring up the topic of their grandchildren in everyday conversation. Have you seen that infomercial?
No you haven’t, and you never will. Why not? Because grandparents do not need any help or training in how to talk about their grandchildren. Grandparents love to talk about their grandchildren because “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.”
When we struggle with witnessing, therefore, the issue is not a speech problem but a heart problem. When our hearts are not filled with Christ and his love, talking about him can seem forced. But when our hearts are filled to overflowing with Christ, we talk about him readily.
8. We must depend on the Holy Spirit.
When someone tells me he or she feels inadequate in evangelism, I say, “That is great! That is wonderful! God has you exactly where he wants you. God never intended for us to live the Christian life in our own power, but through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus knew his disciples would be ineffective without the power of the Holy Spirit (they had already demonstrated that truth quite convincingly!). So he told them: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit … but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:4–5, 8).
Not only does the Holy Spirit empower us, he convicts or convinces the unbeliever. Jesus teaches us, “And he, when he comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment …” (John 16:8).
Depend on the Holy Spirit to empower you and to convict the lost person. Remember your role and God’s role!
9. Our mission is to make disciples, not decisions.
“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matt 28:18–20).
In these verses, the word translated “make disciples” is the only verb. The main verb tells what is to be done: make disciples. The participles (going, baptizing, and teaching) tell how making disciples is to be done.
What is a disciple? A disciple is a learner or follower of Christ. A disciple is not someone who makes a quick “decision” but then doesn’t follow Jesus. A disciple is one who commits to follow Jesus, to learn from him. We are not called to make decisions, but disciples.
There are many more principles of evangelism than the nine listed here, but these nine will serve you well if you apply them in your witnessing.