You can listen to the audio lesson here.
You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.
PART II – THE MESSENGERS AND THE RECIPIENTS
Lesson Five: The Recipients of the Gospel
“So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” (Philippians 2:15; NASB).
In the world. When Christians in the West consider the work of evangelism, we often think of it in terms of outreach and church growth. As such, the primary focus is often placed upon getting youth and young adults through the doors of the church. We think of the man-on-the-street style of evangelism that most of us have seen on YouTube and other places. We think of knocking on doors, asking our waiters and waitresses how we might pray for them and leaving them a gospel tract with their tip, and having smoke break, coffee break, and water cooler conversations at work. In other words, our focus in much of our talk of evangelism is outward focused.
Today, I’d like to make the argument that evangelism rightly understood ought to be focused both outside the walls of the church and inside them. First, let us consider those outside the church. These are the most obvious recipients of our evangelistic efforts. It is most clearly modeled for us by the apostles in the Acts of the Apostles. We see not long after Pentecost and the gospel being brought to the Jews that it was soon brought to the Samaritans (Acts 8:1,4-25) and the Gentiles as well (Acts 8:26-38; Acts 10:9-48). This expansion of the kingdom of God beyond the borders of Judea was in keeping with Christ’s words:
“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come,” (Mt. 24:14; NASB).
“The gospel must first be preached to all the nations,” (Mk. 13:10; NASB).
As Gentiles living in a predominantly Gentile nation, we must recognize that our mere presence in this land is a fulfillment of Christ’s commission to take the gospel to the nations. When we leave our gatherings on the Lord’s Day and go into our homes, the marketplace, and our workplaces, we are going into the kingdom of man. We are entering the nations and bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations. We are on mission, witnesses of Christ Jesus in our own context.
We see this idea expressed in Luke’s account of the Great Commission. Matthew is not the only apostle to have recorded the Great Commission for us. In Luke’s account, we see a bit more of Christ’s intent for the gospel. In Matthew’s account, Matthew highlights Christ’s command that we go into all nations in order to make disciples. In Luke’s account in Acts, we get a little more specificity.
“7He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8but you will 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 1:7-8; NASB).
The church was commissioned not merely to go into every nation, but into “even the remotest part of the earth” in order to make disciples. We see in some denominations today a push to plant churches only in urban centers like Dallas, Chicago, New York, Paris, London, etc. Jesus did not only command that the gospel penetrate the urban centers of the nations in which we sojourn, but that it should be taken even to the remote pioneer locations like West Texas, rural China, the mountains of Chile, and even to tribes whose languages we’ve yet to learn.
Christ taught not to forbid even little children from coming to Him. He likened forbidding a child from coming to Him to forbidding every citizen of His kingdom from doing so, because “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it,” (Mark 10:15; NKJV). All who come to Christ are to believe in Him and trust in Him just like a little child. This is one reason we should not be opposed to properly ordered children’s ministries, like catechism classes, as are some in the church. We must labor to minister the gospel to the children in our midst. This is also why fathers and mothers must preach the gospel to and catechize their children. Do you have children at home? There should be no space in your home where the gospel is not being preached.
Are you the only true Christian, or one of only a few true Christians, in your workplace? You have an opportunity there to help your coworkers to understand the lordship of Jesus Christ over their lives and to, Lord-willing, be used of Him to make disciples in that very particular context. What other contexts might lend themselves to the making of disciples? Local political organizations, college classes, sports teams, scout troops, home school communities, etc. For our context, these are our “remotest parts.” Should the gospel have no representation in them? Should these be considered “safe spaces” from our witness to Christ?
In our midst. Certainly, we are called to make disciples of those who are outside of the church. Our gospel ministry does not stop there, though. We are also called to minister the gospel in our midst. Consider the words of Paul as he instructed the church at Corinth on the topic of Christian liberty.
“19For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you,” (1Cor. 9:19-23; NKJV).
Paul did not merely assume that all of his readers, by virtue of the fact that they were members of a local church, were necessarily saved. This is a common mistake we often make in Reformed churches today. We just assume that everyone is already a believer merely because they profess to be so. On the contrary, Paul encouraged the church at Corinth: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified,” (2 Corinthians 13:5; NKJV). He didn’t just assume that they must necessarily be in the faith.
This is the reason why he wrote three entire chapters on the church’s use of Christian liberty. We are to practice our liberty in Christ with joy and liberality, but also with love toward our weaker brothers. If by our lack of caution and concern for our weaker brothers we cause them to stumble, we might also by the same act prove that we were never truly saved. “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified,” (1 Corinthians 9:27; NKJV). Therefore, all of us—teachers and disciples—are called to self-examination. We’re all called to make our calling and election sure.
Knowing that many within the church may not truly be saved, it is incumbent upon the church to minister the gospel on a regular basis. This is also why weekly attendance to the preached word is also important. As we sit under the preached word, we get more and more of a full picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is one of the main reasons why I am no longer convinced that we must have a cookie-cutter, five-minute gospel presentation that we preach every time we talk to our lost friends, acquaintances, and coworkers. Our job is to make disciples (learners), not converts. Whether someone is yet saved or not, if they are regularly sitting under the preaching of Christ, there is a very real, practical sense in which they are disciples. As these disciples sit and add weekly to their understanding of the gospel of Christ, they are also weekly subjecting themselves to the power of God unto salvation.
It’s not just the lost, though, who need to hear the gospel on a regular basis. We each need to be regularly reminded of the law of God, the gospel of Christ, and our need for continued repentance and belief in Him. So the weekly reinforcement of the gospel through the preaching of the word is not just for the benefit of the lost. It is also for the benefit of the saints. Consider the fact that Paul himself calls the Roman church saints (Romans 1:7). It was only a few short sentences later that he tells them that he is “eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome,” (Rom. 1:15; NASB).
Was this because he thought them not to be saved? Surely, based on what we’ve already observed from his letters to the Corinthians, he knew that not all of them were necessarily saved. That was not his primary concern, though. Paul recognized the duel effect of the gospel when preached in the assembly. For the lost, it is the power of God unto regeneration, justification, and adoption into the family of God. For the saints, though, it is the power of God unto sanctification, edification, admonition, and preservation. In both cases, it is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16).
Also, where the gospel is not regularly preached in the midst of the saints, there is a great danger of a false gospel creeping in. Paul recognized this when he wrote to the churches of Galatia. He assumed that there were faithful ministers still preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, though there were some who were already trying to still them away with a false gospel.
“8But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed,” (Gal. 1:8-9; NKJV).
Let us be careful, then, to preach the gospel to all. Whether we are in the church or outside of the church, whether we are talking to a professing Christian or a raging atheist, let us ever have the gospel of Jesus Christ on our lips. Preaching the gospel to all people in all places, then, we will by exhausting all means at our disposal save some.