We are all called and even commanded to share our faith in the Scriptures.
But in popular culture, “evangelism” is becoming a dirty word. A recent research study discovered that 47% of millennials believe that you shouldn’t share your faith with someone of a different faith tradition.
Both within the culture and even the church itself, Christians are bombarded with narratives claiming that sharing our faith in evangelism is either unwise, unnecessary, or even morally repugnant. We receive all kinds of messages telling us why evangelism is wrong:
- You are only trying to manipulate people for selfish purposes.
- You will corrupt or show disdain for people’s culture.
- You are being intolerant of people’s beliefs.
- You are arrogantly assuming that you are better than everyone else.
- You are not honoring individuals as unique persons.
Our culture seems fine with a Christianity in which everyone just lives a good life or does good deeds, but our modern sensibilities are easily offended by the concept of authoritatively preaching or proclaiming Jesus.
We need an evangelism reality check. We must honestly ask ourselves how much we have been influenced by the current cultural sensibilities, buying into the myth that bold, verbal, proclamational evangelism is somehow nefarious. Scripture provides us with at least four truths that counteract this myth.
1. Verbal, proclamational evangelism pulls back curtains of ignorance about our Creator.
In Acts 17:22-31, when Paul arrives at the Areopagus, he sees the Athenians’ statue “to the unknown God” and begins to tell them about the true God, rooting his argument in the idea of a Creator God and quoting Greek poets to illustrate a common thought. But he then pivots to a portrait of the living and true God—one who cannot be represented by idols or contained in temples. This God has set Jesus over all creation and will one day judge the earth.
Interestingly, according to Greek legend, when Apollos stood in the Areopagus, he proclaimed, “There is no resurrection.” Paul stands in the very same place and proclaims Jesus as risen from the dead, garnering the ire of some (v. 32).
In this instance, proclamational evangelism pulled back the curtains of ignorance so that the light of divine revelation could shine—curtains which would have remained drawn had Paul not stood publicly and said what was unpopular. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to the gospel; thus, it was necessary for Paul to peel back the blinders from the Athenians’ worldview. Paul was not guilty of corrupting their cultural tradition or exalting himself as the only source of objective knowledge; rather, he was compelled by the living Christ to speak truthfully and unashamedly.
From Paul’s example, we understand that evangelism centers on unveiling who Jesus really is and what he has really done. Concepts like atonement, guilt, forgiveness, faith, and reconciliation must be defined and propounded in the hearing of the lost. Only by doing so can the pagan, unreached peoples of the world come to know in truth the “unknown” Creator God whom they have all but forgotten.
2. Verbal, proclamational evangelism blesses hearers by igniting hope.
All image-bearers ask the big questions of life in one form or another. What happens when we die? Do I have a purpose? Why am I here? Why should I go on living? Why do I keep messing up? If the gospel answers anything, it certainly answers these questions!
Not only does Paul proclaim Jesus’ resurrection, but Jesus proclaims his own resurrection too. Jesus says to Martha after the death of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25). For Martha, there was no ground for hope in this world apart from these words.
There is a wonderful future awaiting those who know Jesus. When we share Christ, God ignites in those who believe a sense of eternal purpose and promise—the sort of hope all human beings need. To withhold the answers to life’s greatest puzzles in the name of sensitivity is not love but cowardice.
3. Verbal, proclamational evangelism demolishes distorted views of reality.
Romans 1 tells us that people are not just ignorant of God and his gospel, but that they suppress the knowledge of God in their minds, creating for themselves false, alternate realities in which to live (vv. 18-23). In these distorted realities, sin is good (Isaiah 5:20), forgiveness is optional (2 Timothy 3:3), and God is less than holy—or is at least disinterested in us (Psalm 10:13).
Apart from Christ, a person’s view of reality is so distorted that they actually take all the evidence of God that is plainly seen all around them and twist, suppress, and reject it. It is futile thinking:
“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:20-21)
The work of evangelism is to confront these false realities, undoing the futility of thought in a person’s mind by the Holy Spirit’s power. This leads us to a final implication.
4. Verbal, proclamational evangelism opens the heart for faith to flourish.
Ultimately, it is the work of the Holy Spirit that saves an individual. Our words and actions won’t save an individual, but they can plant thoughts, truths, and concerns that the Spirit can then use to quicken hearts to faith.
For those who respond in faith, God has shone in their hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6), enabling them to put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator (Colossians 3:10).
Without Christ, our minds are bent towards believing whatever most suits our selfish desires. We start to believe we are basically good, that God is not, and that we do not need any help in salvation. We love our liberty. To be free, we assume, means to be autonomous and not responsible to a Creator or Judge. And if there is a judge, we assume he must grade on a curve. After all, we convince ourselves, “I’m not as bad as that person over there.”
But when we are quiet and honest with ourselves, we intrinsically know that we are not as good as we claim. In fact, we can deeply sense our brokenness, and we know that our minds often run to very dark places. We need something, or Someone, outside of ourselves to intervene in love on our behalf—someone who sees our depravity but refuses to leave us in that state. Jesus is who we need, and only in his death and resurrection for sinners can we find peace with God and wholeness as renewed human beings made to know and love him.
To downplay the role of authentic, bold proclamation of the gospel message—whether from a pulpit, on a soapbox, by a bedside, or over coffee in the context of meaningful relationship—is to disbelieve in the power of God to change hearts using his Word. Let us turn to Christ, trust him, and be unafraid to tell others about him.