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In a previous post, I identified the primary purpose of evangelism as the glory of God. However, to say that it is the primary or ultimate purpose is not to say that it is the only purpose. There are lots of reasons why Christians should be active in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others. In this post, I want to focus my thoughts on how one goal of evangelism is the salvation of lost souls.

Evangelism seeks to save sinners from condemnation

Evangelism should never be a mere intellectual exercises. There is too much at stake. Those who have not believed the gospel, those who have not entrusted themselves to Christ, are perishing (John 3:18, 2 Corinthians 4:3). Everyone by nature is a child of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). We cannot miss this. Peoples souls are at stake. While we cannot force results, we should never the less desire to see people respond to the message in saving faith.

We cannot afford to miss the clear reality that evangelism is a rescue mission. However, we cannot thing of this rescue mission like those we have seen in the movies. What makes this rescue mission different is that the power to rescue lies not in the evangelist or in the person being evangelized, but in the message of the gospel itself. It is God who must use the gospel to open the eyes of the unbeliever (John 3:7; 2 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Peter 1:23-25).

Evangelism seeks to save sinners from enslavement

However, in our contemporary understanding of man’s condition, it appears that man’s greatest problem is God’s wrath in the form or hell (i.e. eternal punishment). Yet this seems to miss the total implication of what it means to be under the wrath of God. Read Romans 1 for example. There we find that the “wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18). But what does it look like to be under the wrath of God? As we continue to read, we see that God gives these people over “to the lusts of their hearts” (Romans 1:24), “to dishonorable passions” (Romans 1:26), and “to a debased mind” (Romans 1:28). God’s wrath does not just have eternal consequences, but has a direct bearing on the present.

In fact, later in Romans we read about how apart from Christ we are slaves to sin (Romans 6:17-18). This means evangelism is not just about seeing people saved from God’s future wrath, but from sins present enslavement. Realizing this will help guard us from trying to sell the gospel as “fire insurance,” because it will help us convey the entirety of the sinners need. They need to be saved not just from hell, but from the sin that currently enslaves them.  A message that calls for liberation from hell without liberation from the enslavement of sin is like calling for and end to the death penalty, but leaving the person in prison. They are still condemned, but the punishment is not as harsh.

Evangelism seeks to save sinners from being estrangement

Now lets take the previous point a little further. What is the ultimate cost of sin? Is it merely that we as sentenced to condemnation in hell? Does it included being enslaved by it? The answer to these questions comes back to what we establish as the greatest good. If a life free from punishment and free from sin is ultimately the goal, then their is no greater cost, but what if those things existed without God? I believe if we think rightly about these things we will realize the greatest consequence of sin is not eternal punishment or present enslavement to sin, but the breach it causes in our relationship to God.

But the great news of the gospel is that it resolves this problem as well. “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12-13). This I believe is the greatest blessing of the gospel…it brings us to God (1 Peter 3:18) and makes us His adopted children (Ephesians 1:5; 1 John 3:1).

So when we are telling others of the good news of Jesus Christ, let us not loose sight of the fact that it is for their good. We want to see them reconciled to God, so that they are no longer under condemnation, are freed from the enslavement of sin, and are brought back into a proper relationship with their creator.

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There may be no more unpopular response to the question about how many gods exist than the Christian response that there is one true God. In a culture that screams for tolerance and inclusiveness that idea of someone claiming that there is only one true God and all others are false gods is likely to upset people. But the bible is clear that there is only one true God, Yahweh. Consider the passages below:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)

But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation. (Jeremiah 10:10)

For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the Lord made the heavens. (Psalm 96:4-5)

Now let me identify three ways in which the Christian claim of monotheism makes people uncomfortable.

Only One God is Worthy of Worship

First, notice the words of Psalm 96 above. “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, he is to be feared above all gods.” Words like “praised” and “feared” are words connected to worship. The psalmist is telling us that we are not entitle to respond to God is neutral. Atheism and agnostic are just as offensive to God as Buddhism or Islam. The God of the Bible, Yahweh, alone is worthy of worship. Sin is not just a matter of worshiping other things, it is also a failure to give God the worship that He is rightly due.

All Other”Gods” are Worthless Idols

If the Psalm 96:4 makes people uncomfortable or irritable, the next verse is likely provoke an argument. It is one thing to claim that your god is superior to all other gods, but to claim their gods are “worthless idols” is something else entirely. I mean think about it. If I said that my favorite sports team was better than yours, you might be a little offended. However, if I claimed that my team is not only better than yours, but all other teams are gutter trash and shouldn’t even be compare to mine, you would probably be even more offended.

Yet here the psalmist claims that other “gods” do not even deserve the title, because they are ultimately false gods or idols. Even more, while Yahweh is deserving of “great praise” these idols really do not deserve any. After all, they are “worthless.” Who in their right mind would offer worship to something that has no worth? Yet the reality is that we all do. Someone once described the heart as an idol factory. In our fallen natures, we are prone to replace God with other things. We try to replace the “great” God with things that are by comparison “worthless.” It is the height of folly to exchange the greatest treasure for junk. It would be like selling your most prized possession for counterfeit money.

Unbelief Does Not Change Reality

Finally, notice the end of Psalm 96:5 – “the Lord made the heavens.” How easily people attend to avoid the offensiveness of the first two claims (that God is superior and that their idols are worthless) by trying to make it relative. I’m sure you have heard it before: that’s your opinion, but I disagree. You can believe what you want, but I don’t believe that is true. You may believe that there is only one God, but they believe that it is okay for people for having radically divergent views about God.

Many people, at least in western cultures, have embraced the notion that we are the determiners of what is real. Like Descartes once said, “I think therefore I am.” We tend to believe that thinks are true or false because we have thought them. I have faith in one thing or believe in another and so they must be real. After all I would never place my faith in something unreal. We become the creators of reality, but the reality is that God is the creator of us. He created the heavens, and He created you and me.

While many people have convinced themselves that what they believe is simply a matter of personal choice, the reality is that it is not a neutral choice. When we choose to believe God, we give him the respect and honor, He is rightly due. However, when we choose not to believe God, when we choose to believe lie, we dishonor God and place ourselves in opposition to Him. While what people believe may ultimately be their choice, God will hold them accountable for the choices they make.

When I consider the reasons why all Christians should be engaged in evangelism, the number one reason that comes to mind is the glory of God. So let me make a few observations about how evangelism promotes the glory of God.

The Message

First, evangelism promotes the glory of God because the message itself is a proclamation of God’s glory in the gospel. Paul describes the gospel message as “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). While Paul sees gospel proclamation as proclaiming “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8), Peter describes it as proclaiming “the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). If we are faithful in proclaiming the gospel, we will be exalting the person and work of God in and through Jesus Christ rather than mans efforts. The gospel calls for us to find our hope in God, so that rather than boasting in our own efforts or accomplishments, we will “boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

The Messenger

Furthermore, the evangelism magnifies the glory of God by using underwhelming people. God does not seek the most gifted people to carry his message, but ordinary or even sub-ordinary people.”For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many powerful, not may were of noble birth” (1 Corinthians 1:26, emphasis added). God does not seek people who are great according to the worlds standards, but those who are weak by worldly standards “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Christians need to get a grasp on this concept. When we feel we and inadequate that may actual the best time to talk with others. After all “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27b)

The Church

Finally, the glory of God is on display in evangelism, because it seeks to further God’s glory in the world. While we are quick to talk about our desire that people believe the gospel, so that they may be saved from their sins, we error if we make this the final end of evangelism. We must bind together our good in salvation with God’s being glorified in it. The ultimate end of our salvation is not our salvation but “the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:12, 14). A proper response to the gospel cannot be limited to an individual in isolation, because the goal of evangelism is the building up of the church, so that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10).

So we see that the purpose of evangelism is integrally connected to the glory of God. In one sense, evangelism is proclaiming the glory of God in a way that glorifies the need of God to act in saving a people who will glorify him.

What is it that keeps us from sharing the gospel with others? What prevents me from taking the time to meet other people who need to hear the good news of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ? With this post, I hope to begin a series looking at what keeps me (and likely you) from sharing the gospel with others…and propose a biblical solution to try and address the issue.

Barrier #1: Fear of Man

Let me start with the barrier which is probably the most common. We can be hesitant to share the good news with others because we are afraid of how they will respond. In most cases for me, I am afraid of looking “uncool” or creating some sort of awkward tension as a result of bringing up the topic. We might be afraid of losing a friend or having family members think that we have joined a cult. I extreme cases we might fear losing our job or having family members disown us. The bottom line is that we are afraid of how others will receive us or our message and how they might respond to us. This is what the bible refers to as the fear of man.

Even in the first century, there were believers who had to deal with the fear of man. John 12:42-43 tells us about religious leaders who believed in Jesus, but for fear of the Pharisees they would not make a public confession. Thankfully, John also pinpoints the problem when he adds, “for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (12:43). In other words, they cared more about what people thought about them than what God did.

Solution #1: Fear of God

So how do fight against the fear of man? Do we just have to muster up courage and try harder? No…we need to fight fear with fear. Jesus himself said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can kill both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28). In other words, if we are going to overcome our fear of man, we must have a greater fear of God. We must view God’s power and God’s approval as more important that man’s. Like David, we must remember that the battle belongs to the Lord (1 Samuel 17:47).

How foolish is it for us to fear men? They are created beings like you and me. Their strength and their wisdom are limited. Their lives are but a mere breath in eternity. Their opinions will not last forever. Any pain or suffering that they may cause us is limited to this life. On the other hand, God has no beginning and no end. His strength is unmatched and his wisdom is without limits. He alone is eternal and what He thinks will ultimately last forever. May we all long to here God say of us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I don’t know about other people, but I have found it is normally easier for me to do evangelism as an organized event, whether it is going door-to-door or walking around a public area and just talking to people, than it is to do it in my more daily interactions with people. As I have thought about this difference, I have contemplate what goes through my mind that makes evangelism so difficult for myself at times. I find so of the things that discourage me from doing evangelism are the following:

  • How do I start the conversation? Or change it to a spiritual topic?
  • What if the person asks a question I don’t know the answer to?
  • What if the person gets offended by what I say?
  • Is it worth the effort, they porbably won’t believe the gospel anyway?

Those are just some of the thoughts that run through my mind to make sharing the gospel a less desirable endeavor, so then how do you over come these things that hinder your gospel proclamation. Some people have sought to make evangelism easier for others by trying to boil the gospel down to a few essential points, such as the Four Spiritual Laws or Romans Road. Some people seek to make it easier by offering classes on the basic knowledge need to do evangelism, such as what the gospel is (kind of scary that has to be covered in an evangelism class), what are common objections to the gospel, and how to engage an unbeliever in a spiritual conversation. Yet, even these attempts to make evangelism easier, I do not think will suffice if we are to bold preach the gospel of Christ.

The most simple and fundamental way to be better in evangelism is simply this: BELIEVE. Now that probably seems like a weird assertion to some of you, because you say I do believe and yet I still struggle. My point is simply this the more convinced that you and me are in our hearts about the truths of the gospel, they more boldly we will proclaim them. Here are some things to consider so that we might be more convinced of their reality.

  • Everyone stands condemned because of their unrighteousness. You, the person standing in line with you at the store, the person sitting next to you at a little league game, the person working in the next office next door, and the person next door will die in your sins and suffer an eternity in hell at the hands of your Creator if you do not experience the grace of God.
  • The ONLY way to find the grace of God is in the gospel concerning His Son. The only hope you or anyone else has is to be declared rigtheous not on account of our own righteousness, but on account of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And to have wrath of God that our sins rightly deserve satisfied by the death of His Only Begotten Son.
  • The ONLY way to recieve the grace of God is through faith in the God of the gospel. And faith must rest upon the revelation of the one living and true God and His gospel as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. Thus faith must come from hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Rom 10).
  • Someone MUST speak. There can be no salvation if there is no word of Christ to be believed. There can be no salvation where there is no gospel message. And God has ordained that it is His peoples responsibility to proclaim that message. So by not sharing the gospel what we are really indicating is that we want the other person to go to hell. The best way to ensure that a person does not get saved is to keep them away from the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So if you want to be a better evangelist, preach the gospel to yourself until your so overhelmed by its reality that you cannot help but tell others about it. The greater the gospel, and more importantly the Jesus Christ, is to you, the more you will desire to talk to others about Him. Remember the gospel is not about calling faith in an action (the death and resurrection of Jesus), but in a person (Jesus Christ, who died for them).  I fear that there are a great number of people in this country that are confused on this very issue. They love what God has done for them, but they do not love the God who has done it.

Last night a couple of friends and I went to the local college campus and walked around sharing the gospel with those who would take the time to listen. In the meantime, I was in the middle of a conversation on another blog debating what the gospel really is. As I stop to think about why I should take the time to talk to others about the gospel and why I should be be faithful to defend the faith against those who teach a false gospel, I find it helpful to remember the purpose of doing evangelism in the first place.

  1. The Glory of God: Like the entirety of the Christian life, evangelismis ultimately about the glory of God. In the preaching of the gospel, we are to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). Evangelism should be a task that all believers are eager and excited to do, because it is the really nothing short of telling others about the glory of God as revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The gospel does not just set for the glory of God for others to behold, but it is the means by which God has chosen to bring all men to salvation (Rom. 1:16, 10:12-15). (Click here for more on how Evangelism glorifies God.)
  2. The Joy of God:  Another goal of evangelism is to call lost sinners to come to repentance and trust in Christ. And so we see that this brings God great joy, “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Lk. 15:10) Even after conversion, we know that the continued repentance brings God joy, because we are told that sin (a lack of repentance) will “grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” (Eph. 5:30)
  3. The Unity of the Church: The furtherance of the gospel is the mission for which the church exists. Thus Paul instructs the Philippians to be “with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil 1:27). Even those who are not physically present in the preaching of the gospel are exhorted, “You also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many” (2 Cor. 1:11). Ultimately the purpose and aim of all Christian ministry, including evangelism, is “the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13, cf. 4:16). This building up is not only to be qualitative as those who are part of the church grow into the image of Christ, but also quantitative as God continues to add to his church through the preaching of the gospel.
  4. The Sacrifice of the Saint: The life of the Christian is one of sacrifice, it is a life of learning to put other people before themselves, to put God’s will before their own will. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mk. 8:35). Those who are devoted to Christ must also be devote to the building of His church, to the building of His kingdom. And so the apostle Paul tells us that it is for the sake of God’s people that he is willing to endure anything. “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.” (2 Tim. 2:10, cf. Jam. 1:2-4)
  5. The Salvation of the Lost: While we as men cannot control the outcome of our evangelistic efforts, because only God can open the eyes of the heart to understand and embrace the gospel, we should none the less be deeply concerned about the salvation of those around us. Paul more than anyone understood that only God could remove the blinders that kept his fellow Israelites from believing the gospel (see 2 Cor. 4), yet Paul said, “I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:2-3). Look at what lengths Paul would have gone to see them come to faith! Here is a man who understood true humility. If it were possible he would have forsaken his own salvation if only his kinsmen could be saved. It is as though he says, “Oh, I would give all, if they might receive all.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds like something Christ Himself would say. At the same time Paul understood that ultimately their salvation was in the hands of God, so not only did he preach but he prayed (Rom. 10:1). (Click here for more on how Evangelism glorifies God.)

So let us all labor to bring joy to the heart of God through the preaching of the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let our churches unite around the proclamation of the gospel. Let the sole mission of every Christian and every church be to lay down their lives in the building of the church of Jesus Christ. Let us all labor more earnestly in our prayers for those who are currently without Christ that God would give them eyes to see and ears to hear. And let us all long for the day when all those who stand in opposition to the gospel bow their knees before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

I have been reading, or should I say re-reading, Words to the Winners of Soulsby Horatius Bonar. It has been an enlightening read, at times convicting and at other times encouraging, usually the former. There is one passage I could not help but share. Bonar writes of the gospel:

“All other things are but opiates, drugs, quackeries; this is the divine medicine; this is the sole, the speedy, the eternal cure. It is not by “opinion” that we are to meet “opinion”; it is the Truth of God that we are to wield; and applying the edge of the “sword of the Spirit” to the theories of man (which he proudly calls his “opinions”), make him feel what a web of sophistry and folly he has been weaving for his own entanglement and ruin.

It is not opinions that man needs: it is Truth. It is not theology: it is God. It is not religion: it is Christ. It is not literature and science; but the knowledge of the free love of God in the gift of His only-begotten Son.” (page 7)

There are two main reasons that I like this quote. First, It draws the lines for our apologetics. The unbeliever brings to us their “opinions”, their beliefs about the world, and they expect us to give hearty approval to them. But when all is said and done, they are but mere “opinion” or should I say they are “futile speculations” (Rom. 1:21).  They are empty notions about a world in which they live, which are not just devoid of truth, but are the result of suppressing the truth (Rom. 1:18). Let us not play parlor games with the unbeliever, but rather let us speak the truth in love. When they offer their opinions, let us give them the truth.

The second thing I would like to highlight is the focal point of the gospel. Bonar reminds us that the gospel is bound in the Truth and not merely in opinion. He reminds us that at the heart of a mans need is not just a knowledge of God, but the need for God to act in their life. He reminds us that the gospel is about more that outward religious performances; it is about knowing Christ. And most importantly that the gospel is not just about stories it is about God demonstrating His love toward His people through the death of His Only-begotten Son, so that by His grace they may trust in Him.

In my reading this last week, I came upon a rather profound statement:

What a mystery, the soul and eternity of one man depends on the voice of another!”

At first thought some of you might think that is a bit of a stretch, especially if your a Calvinist. I mean after all we know that “the soul and eternity of a man” ultimately depends upon God. He is the One who predestines, who calls, who justifies, and who will finally glorify His elect (Rom. 8:28-30). But have we forgotten that God works through human means. “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20)
I think sometimes those who hold to what some would label as “Calvinistic” doctrine are more likely to fall into what could more rightly be labeled “hyper-Calvinistic.” We don’t see much of a need to act like ambassadors or to make an appeal to other men.

Have we forgotten that the God ordained means of saving people is through the preaching (or teaching) of the Word of God.

“Whosoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things! (Romans 10:13-15)

As I have thought about this the last few days, I have been increasingly aware at how self absorbed we can be (myself included). How often do we tend to our day to day affairs and never stop to consider that if the people in our lives do not know the gospel, if they do not know the God of the gospel, if they do not believe the gospel, they will perish in their sins. It is true that we do not know whom God has chosen for salvation, but should we not preach as though they all were. Or should we assume that God has chosen none and therefore keep our mouths closed.

The way I see it we really have two choices:

1) We continue to be self absorbed people who care nothing for the salvation of others and continue to keep the truth about God and His gospel to ourselves.

2) We start acting like ambassadors of the King, who love God and love others enough to declare to all men everywhere the greatness of God and the beauty of the Savior.

Oh, that God would teach us all to be the latter!