Introduction to Defining Evangelism

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.

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This course is not designed to be a practical treatment on the subject of evangelism so much as—as the title suggests—an attempt to define a doctrine of evangelism by examining key texts. There will be times when we consult church history to see how godly men of earlier ages understood these topics, but these lessons are designed primarily for the purpose of getting us into the word. As such, we hope to deeply consider several major biblical themes touching evangelism and the Great Commission, and to make practical application to our own lives.

Since this is not primarily a “how-to” on evangelism, there are some practical matters we want to consider first. Of paramount consideration is our own relationships with God and with our neighbors. We read in Matthew’s gospel:

“And He said to him, ‘‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets,’’” (Matthew 22:37-40; NASB).

Love for God. We must consider how much time we spend in the word and on our knees in communion with the God with whom we claim to have been reconciled. If I do not spend adequate time with my wife and with my kids, it will show in the way that I talk about them and converse with them in public. As I seek to give marital or parenting advice to others, they will know by their observance of my own relationships that I am disqualified to offer such counsel. The same is true for evangelism. If we are to be qualified to bring people to Christ, both in the eyes of our hearers and in reality, we must regularly strive to bring ourselves to Christ in His word and in prayer.

If we hope that others are to know Christ, we must know Him as well. We’re not called to know Him on a merely academic level. We can have a great abundance of knowledge about people. Just talk to any avid baseball fan, and they will soon be rattling off to you player stats for their favorite players. If the player has been in the game for a while and has written an autobiography, they may have even read it. However, how foolish would it seem if, by virtue of this public knowledge of a public individual alone, they were to invite you over to his house for a cookout that is not open to the public.

In the same way, we are not to so belittle a relationship with our Redeemer as to invite people into such a relationship without first being in relationship with Him ourselves. Before we explain to men and women their dreadful state before God apart from Christ, we must have first taken stock of what it means for us. If we are then to educate them on the merits of Christ through which He accomplished our redemption, we must examine ourselves to see if we are truly living according to the grace that has been given us. If we are to call them to repentance and faith, we must first examine ourselves to see if we have truly repented and believed.

Love for neighbor. Love for God is the first Great Commandment. We must labor long and labor consistently at cultivating a love for our God. As we do, we will increase in yet another love: love for neighbor. This call to love our neighbor is the second great commandment. As we come daily to the word and to our knees in prayer seeking to grow in love for Christ, we should seek also to have our hearts inclined toward our neighbors.

Have you ever been excited at the prospect of meeting with a couple for dinner for the first time only to find that they had invited the whole neighborhood to their house for dinner and a sales pitch? They recognized that hospitality can be a great way to get people through your doors and gain a listening audience, but they did not care to use their home for the purpose it was originally intended. You came in the hope of a potential new friendship and instead were treated like a potential customer. What was lacking? Love.

Dynamics change drastically when love is at the core of the relationship dynamic. Jennifer and I had some friends at our last church who had us over to their house on a couple of occasions a year. They sold products through their home for one of these companies, but by the time they actually spoke with us about the products they had, it did not come off as a sales pitch. We were friends, brothers and sisters in the Lord. There was no suspicion there. We either bought their products or we didn’t but, either way, they still loved us and we loved them.

We must cultivate the same love for our neighbors to whom we hope to bring the gospel. It does no good to tell people your message is one of love if they perceive that there is no love for them in your heart. This isn’t an evangelism method I’m proposing to you. It doesn’t matter to me if churches knock on doors, host neighborhood cookouts, organize evangelistic conferences, rent booths at local festivals, hand out gospel tracts, or preach the gospel in the open air from on top of egg crates. Each of these methods will rub wrong people of different personality types.

Each of these methods will also be met with some measure of success. The difference is not necessarily in the method. The difference is in the love that we have for our neighbors. If we do not love them, they will know. In our skeptical world, it is much easier to spot someone who is lacking in love than to discern the authenticity of actual love. Nevertheless, let us pray for our neighbors, let us ask God to grant us a heart for our neighbors, and let us regularly seek His power and wisdom in conveying that love to our neighbors.

Structure. Our approach to defining evangelism will follow the structure of the “Working Definition” above. The first two parts of our study will be preparatory, while the last three parts will be definitive, explaining what evangelism is. In the first part, we will examine the foundation for evangelism: The Great Commission. The main verb in the Great Commission is the verb make disciples. This verb is modified by three participles: going, baptizing, and teaching, so our first three lessons will center on these three modifiers.

In the second part, we will consider the messengers and the hearers of the gospel in the act of evangelism. Is every Christian meant to be engaged in evangelism in exactly the same way as all others? Is evangelism solely the work of ordained, or recognized, leaders within the church, or is it the responsibility of every member? Who are the proper recipients of the evangelism? Is it only for those outside the church, or should it be a major emphasis of the preaching and teaching within the church? Part Two will be covered in lessons four and five.

It has been well noted that the good news of Christ does not make sense apart from the bad news. The cure for a terminal disease does not become precious to the patient until the doctor issues the dismal diagnosis. In the same way, the unregenerate must understand the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man before the good news of Christ’s work of atonement makes any sense. Part Three, comprised of a lesson on God’s holiness and a lesson on the sinfulness of man, will help us to understand the importance of these truths for evangelism.

In Part Four, we will finally come to an observance of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. In lessons eight through ten, we will note three acts of Christ essential to the gospel message: His obedience in life, His obedience in death, and His resurrection. As we observe each of these doctrines, we will see how Christ accomplished for us our full and final atonement and, through union with Him, come to have reconciliation with God in heaven.

Lessons eleven and twelve will comprise the fifth and final part of our study. In them, we will observe the gospel commands that come as a result of having heard the gospel of Jesus Christ: repentance unto life and saving faith. Having explained the joyous news of our accomplished atonement in Christ Jesus, the church has one final declaration to our hearers in our work evangelism:

30Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead,” (Acts 17:30-31; NASB).

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