What is Evangelism?
What exactly is evangelism? What involvement must we as individual Christians have, if any, with regards to evangelism? It is the purpose of this brief lecture to define what evangelism is and how it applies to our individual Christ lives. Also we will examine God’s plan, purpose and power for evangelism and the personal response toward evangelism.
The English word “evangelism” is simply a transliteration of the Koine Greek word euangelo. It is the conjunction of the prefix eu (yoo) which means: “to be well off, fare well, prosper”; or in some instances; “acting well” and the word angelo means to deliver a message. (Vine’s Expository Dictionary) Therefore, euangelo (i.e. evangelism) is related to the delivery of a good message.
To what good message is evangelism related? The gospel. The word “gospel” comes from the Greek word euangelion which literally means “good news” or “glad tidings.” In its spiritual sense, evangelism is closely related to and intimately connected with the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact evangelism is the preaching or spreading of the gospel. This would include things such as mission work, preaching, gospel meeting work, door knocking campaigns and internet evangelistic efforts. In reality, anything we do to further the spread of the gospel falls under evangelism.
There are two Greek words that are predominantly used with regards to the preaching of the gospel, kerusso and euangelizo. The word kerusso defined simply, means “to proclaim.” It is defined by Thayer in this manner: “to be a herald, to officiate as a herald. to proclaim after the manner of a herald. to publish, proclaim openly: something which has been done. used of the public proclamation of the gospel and matters pertaining to it, made by John the Baptist, by Jesus, by the apostles and other Christian teachers.”
The word euangelizo literally means, “I preach the gospel.” Thayer’s defines it as, “to bring good news, to announce glad tidings. “Euangelizo” is found fifty-five times in the New Testament, in one form or another. It is first used by Jesus to describe the results of His work to the followers of John the Baptizer. “The blind receive their sight, 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.” (Matthew 11:5) We find it used to describe the work of the apostles in Acts 5:42 “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” And in Acts 8:4 “euangelizo” is used to describe the work of the Christians who were scattered out of Jerusalem, “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.” In these three examples we see: Jesus preaching the gospel; the apostles preaching the gospel; and ordinary Christians preaching the gospel.
One form or another of “kerusso” is found sixty-one times in the New Testament. It is used in connection with the Great Commission in Mark 16:16 and Luke 24:47. For all practical purposes the two words are interchangeable in their meaning as they pertain to the gospel.
The English word “preacher”, as used in the Bible originates from either Greek word. Specifically though, an evangelist is one who preaches or spreads the gospel. This comes from the Greek word euangelistes or “bringer of good tidings.” Philip, one of the seven chosen in Acts chapter 6, is called “Philip, the evangelist…” (Acts 21:8) and Paul exhorted Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist…” (2 Timothy 4:5). Simply put, an evangelist is one who does the work of spreading the gospel. Any Christian, male or female, young or old, who is involved in evangelism can be called an evangelist.
Personal Evangelism Defined
Thus far we have discussed evangelism in its general sense. As we have noted that anything that we do in connection with spreading the gospel is evangelism. Supporting missionaries, promoting gospel meetings, handing out tracts, gospel preaching, etc. are all included under what we will refer to as general evangelism. There is a difference, however, between general evangelism and personal evangelism. Personal evangelism is an evangelistic effort that involves direct gospel teaching on an individual basis. In a sermon preached to a general audience, an evangelist will strive to make a broader application of the gospel – to appeal to a wider range of individual needs. With personal evangelism, the evangelist strives to make a direct application of the gospel – based upon the individual spiritual needs of the person involved in the study. That is why in the New Testament we have instances where individual people received diverse instructions regarding salvation.
We will observe two instances when people were given slightly different answers to the question of salvation.
“Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:37-38)
“And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (Acts 16:30-31)
In Acts 2, Peter had been preaching to a multitude of Jews, many of whom had witnessed and had even been involved in the crucifixion of Jesus. They had been witnesses to many of the miracles and teachings of Christ. Peter had previously said to them in Acts 2:22, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know.” From this we see that those Jews present had knowledge of Jesus – they at least knew who He was and what He had done. Peter then went on to tell them in verse 36, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” When they heard these words, they were “pricked in their heart.” In other words, each individual conscience was convicted of sin in rejecting the Messiah. Based upon that conviction and their evident belief that Jesus was the Son of God they needed to know what to do to be saved.
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were speaking with the Philippian jailor. He asked them what he needed in order to be saved and they told him what he most needed to hear, “believe on the Lord Jesus.” He was not told to repent or be baptized initially. Unlike the Jews on Pentecost, this man had not witnessed for himself the works of Jesus; he had not heard Jesus’ sermons; likely he had not even heard of Jesus before this instance. Therefore, Paul had to start at the beginning – believe in Jesus. What did they tell him after that? Acts 16:32 says, “And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.” They taught him the gospel, beginning with faith in Jesus and from there they taught him the entire plan of salvation. That they taught him about repentance and baptism is evident from what happened in the next verse, “And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway” (Acts 16:33). He demonstrated his penitent attitude in the cleaning of their wounds and he was immediately baptized. He was eventually taught the same thing that the Jews on Pentecost were taught, but with him, Paul and Silas had to begin that teaching based upon his special circumstance. What he needed foremost was knowledge of who Jesus so that he could develop faith in Him and learn how to be saved based upon that knowledge.
Plan For Evangelism
God has a plan for reaching the lost and bringing them to Christ. This plan calls for preaching and teaching the gospel. “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” (John 6:44-45)
In this passage Jesus tells us that those who are taught the gospel and make a personal application of it to their lives come to Him. Similarly Paul said, “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17). God’s plan to save mankind involves His children going out and teaching the gospel to the lost. God has given each of us a Great Commission to do that very thing.
The command to spread the gospel applies to all Christians – not just “paid” ministers. Notice the context of Matthew 28:19-20 “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” The apostles were given the command to teach the gospel and thereby convert people to Christ. They were also to continue teaching those converts to “observe all things” (verse 20) that He had commanded them. One of those commands was to “teach all nations”, (verse 19). It should be plain to see from this passage that if those converted were to “observe [Defined by Thayer: “to attend to carefully, take care of”] all things” which Christ had commanded them – then they were to carry on the work of the apostles in teaching / preaching the Gospel. The Bible teaches that we must “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15). It has been well said, “Go ye means go me!” Every Christian needs to realize that they must take part in the Great Commission.
Purpose In Evangelism
The primary purpose in evangelism is to persuade men. Persuade them of what? First, they need to be persuaded of truth of God’s Word. Jesus said, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32) He also said, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Once a person believes in the truth of God’s Word, they are ready to begin making a personal application of it. Second, they need to be persuaded of the fact that they are in need of salvation. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Along with this, they need to understand the consequences of their sins. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and the remedy for that sin.
How do we persuade them? Teach them about heaven and the promise of Jesus, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.” (John 14:1-4)
Teach them about the terror of the Lord, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…” (2 Corinthians 5:11) Lovingly warn them of coming judgment when God, “in flaming fire” will take “vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess.1:8) Teach them about the love of Christ, “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” (2 Cor. 5:14-15)
The purpose in preaching or evangelism is to prepare souls (including our own) for the coming Day of Judgment. “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” (2 Tim. 4:1-2)
What must we teach the lost? The Word. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
When do we teach the lost? When do we evangelize? Paul told Timothy to “be instant”, to be always ready to seize an opportunity to lead others to Christ. Peter adds, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15)
Under what circumstances should we practice evangelism? Paul said, “In season, out of season.” In other words, no matter what the circumstance we may find ourselves in we can use that opportunity for evangelism.
In what manner should we conduct ourselves with regard to evangelism? 1 Tim. 4:2 reads, “with all longsuffering…” Longsuffering implies that we have to have patience, endurance, and perseverance when we study the God’s Word with an individual. Along with teaching “with all longsuffering”, we must remember that we are to be, “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Love for the lost has to be our motivation for evangelism and we must help them in a loving manner.
Also we must teach them “with all longsuffering and doctrine.” This does not mean that we must teach a person everything there is to know about the Bible before they can be converted. However, it does imply that we must teach them God’s entire plan of salvation. We cannot leave out any part of God’s plan.
Power In Evangelism
The Power for evangelism is found in the Word. “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians1:18) In this verse, the word translated “preaching” is the Greek word logos, which is a noun meaning speech or word. In other words, the “word of the cross”, the gospel message of salvation “is the power of God.” Romans 1:16 reads, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” The Gospel is God’s power in saving men. The word “power” comes from the Greek word dunamis, from which we get words such as: dynamo, dynamic and dynamite. In other words, the gospel, or so it can be said, is dynamite! Jesus said of the church and by implication, the gospel, that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!” (Matthew 16:18). Why can’t the gates of hell prevail against the power of the gospel? Because it is dynamite! It blows away death and hell! The power of the devil is no match for God’s dynamite!
Paul described the gospel’s message as “treasure in earthen vessels.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) What he meant by this, according to the context of 2 Corinthians Chapter 4, is that the ministry of the gospel belongs to each Christian and that as ministers of the gospel (evangelists) we each have the power of God within us through that gospel to reach a lost and dying world. The reason that we have been instructed to teach God’s message to the world is so the “excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) As Christians we each have the responsibility to “sow” the Word of God like gardener plants a seed. Paul wrote, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)Truly the power to save is God’s gospel, but God’s gardeners – individual Christians – must plant the seed.
Personal Response Toward Evangelism
There will always be a response when the Word is taught or preached. One of three reactions occurs with the hearer of the Word. One such response is rejection of the word. Why do some react in this manner? Perhaps it is because they simply do not believe the Word. It may be they do not believe in God, or that Jesus is the Son of God, or that the Bible is God’s Word. Sometimes it is the case that they just do not like or agree with what it has been said. For example, when Stephen was before the Sanhedrin council in Acts chapter 7, he recited to them a brief history of how Israel had always rejected the will of God and had always rejected His prophets,“Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.” (Acts 7:51-53)
What was their reaction to this particular message? “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.” (Acts 7:54) “Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.” (Acts 7:57-58)
Another possible response to the message of the gospel is all too often the case in our society today – indifference or apathy? Why are so many apathetic with regards to the gospel? Two primary reasons are: One, perhaps they think the message does not apply to them. They may listen to the sermon or to the evangelistic teaching, showing all the outward signs that they are paying attention, yet fail to make the application to their lives. Two, they may be concerned, yet not moved to action. A good New Testament example of this is the Roman governor Felix. “And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” (Acts 24:24-25) Felix’s initial reaction was to tremble. He was a little concerned, but not enough concerned to comply with the gospel’s message.
The desired response to evangelism is conviction and obedience on the part of the hearer. Why this response? The hearer believes the Gospel and makes a personal application of the Word. Once a person believes the message and understands how it applies to them, they are convicted. Conviction leads to godly sorrow. Godly sorrow leads to repentance. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Repentance leads to obedience. Obedience leads to confession, baptism and pure Christian living. This is the only response that will lead one into the promised land of Heaven. This is the ultimate goal of evangelism – to help others get to heaven. The Devil knows he is bound for an eternity in hell and out of his hatred and spite for God and man he desires to take as many with him as he can. On the other hand, faithful Christians are those who are bound for an eternity in heaven and out of their great love for God and their fellow men desire to take as many of them to heaven with them as they can.
Evangelism is God’s plan for drawing a lost and dying world to Christ so that through Him, they can have the hope of eternal life. It is by teaching the gospel that each individual Christian can and must be involved in God’s great plan for saving man. We involve ourselves in evangelism first and foremost because we love God and appreciate all that He has done for us and because we love our fellow man and want for each of them to share God’s eternity with us. We reach out to the lost because someone reached out to us when we were lost. We strive to evangelize with the understanding that the purpose for evangelism is to save our fellow men from sin. With God’s help and His all sufficient and powerful Gospel we know that His Word, which we spread, will not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11). It is my hope that each of us will become more and more involved in personal evangelism; that through our efforts many people will be drawn to Christ. Let us each be more diligent in searching for and “sowing” to those who have an “honest and good heart” (Luke 8:15) who will hear and receive the gospel. Let us learn not to be afraid of how some will receive our attempts at evangelism and find comfort in the knowledge that it is not the messenger, but the message which saves. We each must trust in God to give the increase after we have planted and after we or another has watered.