By Dr. Stephen Kim
All Christians are left on earth to glorify God through evangelism. But what exactly is evangelism?
If evangelism is our chief task, it then goes without saying that we need to know what the word means. Our current culture’s confusion regarding the word is largely due to the desire within many church leaders to draw a crowd and please the palates of many church-hopping “consumers.” Ironically, a stay-at-home mom sharing the gospel with a cashier at the local supermarket could be evangelizing; whereas a world renowned apologist defending theism in front of a packed university auditorium could not be evangelizing. How so? Let’s find out.
WHAT EVANGELISM IS NOT
Let’s get a few things straight. Evangelism is not:
• Homeless Outreach. Or any other mercy ministry, for that matter. Giving a single mom a pack of diapers “in the name of Jesus” is a good act, but it is not evangelism. Feeding a homeless man with a sandwich “in the name of Jesus” is a good act, but it is not evangelism.
• Painting Schools. Going on missions and painting a local school or church is not evangelism. It’s a good work (and by all means do it!), but it is not evangelism. Setting up a medical or dental clinic “in the name of Jesus” is a good act, but it is not evangelism. In fact, unless you preached the gospel on the missions trip—the truth is—you did not go on a missions trip. You might have been on a humanitarian-aid trip or a personal-growth vacation, but it was not a missions trip.
• Apologetics. Apologetics (the use of reason and proofs to defend the Christian faith) is a good thing. I firmly believe that the Church needs solid apologists. However, spending 3 hours on the cosmological proof for the existence of God is not—by itself—evangelism. Truth be told, God has wired the world in such a way that no philosophical/intellectual/evidentialistic argument will ever convert a human soul (1 Cor 1:21).
• Talking About Jesus. Just because the name of God (or Jesus) came up in a conversation does not mean that you evangelized. Telling someone about a famous athlete’s Christian faith is not evangelism. Telling someone who’s going through a tough time, “Hang in there, God loves you” is not evangelism.
• Wearing a Cross Necklace. Or putting on a “Jesus” bumper sticker, or any other form of Christian identification. The topic of wearing a cross as jewelry is debatable, but I have no issues with “Jesus” bumper stickers, “Jesus” fish, upside-down Darwin fish, or Christian t-shirts. However, having “Jesus” emblazoned across your shirt is not evangelism. It could lead to evangelism, but it—by itself—is not evangelism.
• Holding up John 3:16. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great verse! But it’s not evangelism. By itself, John 3:16 cannot save anyone. Just because you string together a couple of Bible verses does not mean that you’re evangelizing. The right verses must be used if we are to evangelize.
• Fighting Social Issues. We all need to fight against racism, poverty, illiteracy, marijuana usage, abortion, and homosexuality. Yet, let’s not equate those fights to evangelism. A mother that we convince to choose life instead of an abortion is to be celebrated, but without the gospel, she is still a mother who is headed towards the wrath of God in Hell.
• Living a Christian Ethos. “Always preach the gospel, and when necessary, use words” is one of the most ridiculous mantras of our day. It’s synonymous to asking a news anchor to “act out the news” instead of “tell us the news.” It makes no sense whatsoever. It’s like saying, “Always quench the thirst of the thirsty, and when necessary, use liquids.” There are tons of Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and atheists who are far more philanthropic than Christians. Merely going about “doing good” and wearing a smile is not evangelism. Evangelism is not occurring if words are not being used.
WHAT EVANGELISM IS
Evangelism is the communication of the gospel (1 Cor 15:1-4).
The word “evangelism” comes from the Greek word euaggelion. The word euaggelion is a noun which means “good message” or “good news.” The English word “gospel” means “good news.” Essentially therefore, evangelism is the communication of a message. The message contains information in the form of words. Therefore, in order for this information to be transferred, it must be communicated either verbally, in sign-language, or in written form. There is no other way to evangelize. The verb form of euaggelion is the word euaggelizesthai and it simply means to “announce good news.” The various forms of this Greek word appear fifty-five times in the New Testament. Simply put, the early Christians did it, we are called to do it, and God is glorified through it.
Evangelism is the communication of this message with other people:
The Gospel (1 Corinthians 15: 1-4)
1. God is holy, loving, and just. He therefore, must condemn all sinners to punishment in the flames of eternal hell; 2. You and I are all sinners who deserve nothing but God’s wrath in hell after our deaths; 3. God loved humanity so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus (who was fully God and fully man), to die on the cross for your sins. Jesus paid the debt for your sins and absorbed God’s wrath on your behalf. 3 days later, Jesus resurrected from the dead; 4. If you repent (turn from) all your sins and personally put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord, God and Savior, then you will have eternal life. (For more information on the saving message of the gospel, click here.)
WHAT SUCCESSFUL EVANGELISM IS
I once heard of a pastor who went around making this audacious claim: “Give me 15 minutes with anyone and I’ll guarantee you a convert!” Such statements are not only erroneous, but they’re full of pride. Successful evangelism is not measured by the number of conversions.
As Christians, we are obligated to evangelize. Jesus commanded it (Mark 16:15) and we dare not disobey. A Christian, however, is not responsible for conversions. Our job is to simply preach the gospel. God is responsible for conversions. Successful evangelism is the faithful preaching of the gospel. That’s it. It is incredibly humbling to know that we cannot coerce a soul into the Kingdom of Heaven. It is not about altar calls or fancy sales pitches. It is about prayerfully preaching the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. If one person comes to Christ, or one thousand persons come to Christ, God receives all the glory. We are simply farmers who throw seed (the gospel). God is the one who gives life (1 Cor 3:7).
I guess that’s what makes evangelism so liberating and difficult at the same time. Liberating, because we know that all we have to do is share the gospel with people. Difficult, because we want people to be saved but all we can do is share the gospel with people. But like the rest of Christian living, evangelism requires faith. Faith that we’re not the ones giving people life. Faith that the gospel actually has the power to save people from Hell (Rom 1:16). Faith that even if we give out a thousand gospel tracts but fail to see a single convert—that God is pleased with our obedience. Faith that it’s not about our persuasive abilities, intellectual prowess, or charming eloquence; but that it’s about the power of God contained in a seemingly foolish message called “the gospel”:
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. (1 Cor 1:21)
We desperately want to see results, but God wants to see us have faith and obey. Ultimately, evangelism is about faithful obedience. So obey despite hardships. Obey even if you don’t “feel like it.” Obey even if you don’t see many conversions. Obey because one day (God being trustworthy) you will receive a wage. Obey because you love and believe in Jesus.
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.” (1 Cor 3:5-8)