What is Evangelism? What does it mean to be Evangelical?

Scriptures: John 3:1-8; 14:6-7; Rom. 5:12-21

The theology of the passages today is so complex and so deep in many ways, that really you need to have a good solid Bible study, or about three weeks, at least a week on each passage, and probably something to sum it up. But what I did want to do today was to answer, hopefully, in part.

We’re going to be starting a series on evangelism. When we did surveys a few years back at both churches, and at both churches there was one question that was asked in common. So unless somebody went from both churches talking to each other and they colluded , it is something that seems to be of interest today, and that is “What is evangelism?”

Admittedly, this is a question that is frequently difficult for us as Presbyterians to answer. In part I think that it’s difficult because of the corollary question, which is “What does it mean to be evangelical?” I’m not going to give definitive answer on that, but I can say that very often today, I think being evangelical is confused with a particular political ideology, a particular theological position that is more fundamentalist in nature, or conservative.

Barna says that the way he defines evangelical is by a couple of traits, but one of them is that you must believe that you have been “born again.” And in these churches that usually means that you should be able to point to some time of conversion. There is some point where you accepted Christ as Savior in your life, deliberately and consciously.

They might say that you said a sinners prayer kind of thing, but even without that, you know when and how. So the question is, then: if you were brought up in the church and you were raised in the church and you’ve believed in God all your life, can you be evangelical?

The other part of Barna’s definition is that they’ve been baptized as believers. We have infant baptism. There are those that solidly believe that we cannot be evangelical in the Presbyterian Church or the Methodist Church or any of those who practice infant baptism.

Yet we believe that we can, and certainly historically we have been responsible, as a denomination, for spreading much of the Gospel and good news and faith of Christianity worldwide. And Jonathan Edwards – I always like to come back to him – most people don’t know it, but he was one of the primary movers of the Great Awakening. And he was a Presbyterian minister.

I digress, but one of the things that, if you ever want to read – I had to read this for an AP course in English, and that was for the test, was called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

It is said that when Jonathan Edwards preached his sermons, he didn’t look up at the audience. He looked down. He had manuscripts. But his words were so full of fire and Spirit that women would be fainting in the pews, and there would be screaming sometimes. (You all don’t need to do that for me.)

As we look at being evangelical, the first thing we need to do, I think, is understand both evangelism and evangel. (“Ism is an add-on, it’s a suffix.) What does evangel mean?

It comes from the Greek word euangelion, which is used throughout the New Testament, and it literally means “good news,” eu good and gelion message. Good message. Good news. So someone who is evangelical shares the good news. Evangelism is, at its root, the sharing of the good news.

Now that can cause its own stresses. This is one of the things that I had to come up against this week, as I studied, about which there is frequently a lot of discussion. You can share the gospel in many ways. You can share the good news in many ways. And apparently it wasn’t St Francis of Assisi necessarily, although I’ve always attributed it to him, but someone among many people given attribution, said “Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words.”

As I looked at the Scriptures for today, and studied and compared, it struck me that, if the message is good news, evangelism is sharing good news, there is only one way, really, to share that news. And that is to tell it. That means we have to speak.

And that’s the first thing that makes many of us uncomfortable. “I don’t want to talk to anybody.” On one of the future weeks, we’re going to talk about how evangelism begins in the home. I’m going to give you a little preview of that now.

One of the things I hear most often, with funerals as I talk to the families, is I ask, the loved one, did they share their faith with the family? How did they share their faith? How did they pass on the faith? “Well, it was private and he never said much” or “she never said much, but we knew.” “We knew, by the way they acted, that they believed in God.”

That’s fine if they believed in God, but what about you? What about the passing on? I don’t talk to the families about that – that would be seen as rather adversarial. But that is one of the things that we need to look at.

If we are going to be an evangelical people – and everyone in the Bible, in the New Testament, in the early church was evangelical. Forget whether or not there was baptism as adults, baptism as children when whole households were baptized. The fact is, every time, after Jesus’ resurrection, you see somebody talking to somebody else, after the church is formed, they are sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. They’re sharing the need for Jesus Christ.

From Peter, in Acts 2, when he talks about “Jesus of Nazareth, whom you crucified” and the need to repent, to Paul, even to Philip and the eunuch, who didn’t understand what he was reading, and it says that Philip explained to him what the interpretation of those Old Testament Scriptures were, and how they were met in the life of Jesus. And he says, “Well, why can’t I be baptized?” And Philips says, “Well, we got any water?”

We need to speak, and share the good news. There is a difference between witness and evangelism. And there is a difference between outreach and evangelism (which will be gotten into, again, in one of the later sermons).

But I’m going to quote here. Two major sources I had were from Ligonier Ministries, which was the ministry begun by R.C. Sproul, who died in the last few weeks (he’s one of the best Reformed theologians I have ever seen and known), and then the other one that I may quote is simply a blog called “What is true evangelism?”

Ligonier Ministries says “The distinction between witnessing and evangelism is important, because it is easy to think we are evangelizing when all we are doing is bearing witness to the Savior. Giving one’s testimony is a good thing, but it is not evangelism. Testifying to the work of God in our lives bears witness to what Christ has done for us. It does not by itself give the content of the Gospel. Living a righteous life manifests the work of the Holy Spirit, but we have not evangelized our neighbor if we have never shared the gospel with him. No one is converted by our kindness or honesty. They are brought into the kingdom of heaven only through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.”

For as by one man, death came into the world and sin, by one man only are we justified. (That’s a paraphrase from the Romans passage.) Jesus said, “You must be born again/” That phrase, by the way, was a play on words. It can also mean “born from above, “born from heaven,” and as the liturgist rightly and astutely noted, that means that it requires the work of the Spirit. It’s not something that can be done by us. It’s good solid Reformed theology.

So we have to have the Spirit regenerating us, We have to have the Spirit’s work. We must be born from above.

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes unto the Father except by him, and as noted in John 14, he says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” Jesus is the perfect representation of God to the world.

Now why do I go through all this? Because it’s important for us to understand, first of all, why they need Jesus. The good news is not just that God loves the world, and I’m going to touch on that here in a moment. The good news is bounded, if you will, by the fact that it comes through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And the thing that makes evangelism so difficult in many ways, the thing that makes it so hard to discuss with people, is because of what needs to be said for the fullness of the Gospel to be shared. You see, the word gospel means good news, and while many well-meaning Christians begin their evangelistic efforts with the good news of God’s love for mankind, that message is lost on unbelievers who must first come to grips with the extent of the bad news.

You’re saying to yourself, “Wait a minute – you’ve been talking about good news. Why are we shifting to bad news?” Because first, as noted in Romans, man is separated from a holy, righteous God. Second, God hates sin and is angry with the wicked every day. Third, death and judgment are inevitable. And fourth, a man is wholly incapable of doing anything about the situation on their own. Until the full extent of this bad news is presented, the good news cannot be effectively communicated.

What is missing from much of modern evangelism and evangelistic attempts today is the holiness of God. You see, when they did evangelism in the early church, they always reminded people why they needed Christ in the first place, and who God was, that He deserved to be paid attention to in that way.

John the Baptizer said repent, for the Savior is coming. Jesus himself, the first message he gave was “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand, the rule of God is at hand.” Peter, in his first sermon, when they said, “What can we do to be saved?” he says repent and believe n the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel.

How can you repent if you don’t know what you repenting of, if you don’t know why you need to repent? Repent is not a dirty word, by the way. Repent literally means to turn around, metanoia in the Greek. It means that you feel and understand that the way you’ve been going is so out of tune with God’s way – not talking about guilt and condemnation and stuff here, but it’s so out of tune with God’s way and God’s requirements, that you know you need to turn around and start following God.

We know God through His holy Word, so He requires knowing about Jesus Christ, knowing what he requires of us to do. In Isaiah’s vision of heaven, God’s holiness is being extolled by the seraphim around the throne. “Holy, holy, holy.” That’s the most holy you can be, in the Hebrew language. And of all the attributes of God they could have praised, it was his holiness, not his love, of which they sang, and then they said, “Holy is the Lord Almighty. The whole earth is full of His glory.”

We need to understand how holy God is. We need to understand the chasm between us. If sin was first caused by us wanting to be like God, the fact of the matter is, we need to come to grips with the recognition that we can’t be like God. We can’t know enough. We can’t be wise enough. We can’t be powerful enough. And we certainly can’t be holy enough. Because we’re imperfect.

Some people say, that’s just a bummer and a downer and depressing. So yeah, it might seem so. But that’s why the euangelion, the gospel, is good news. Because, as noted all, of that stuff that keeps us from being like God, that keeps us apart from God, doesn’t matter, if we know and understand the extent of God’s love for us, expressed in Jesus Christ.

Not just some good “oh everything’s OK” kind of love and “whatever” (you know, the way that’s a very common word amongst teenagers these days, “whatever,” whenever you don’t want to argue or something anymore, you really don’t care – “whatever.”)

It’s not that God doesn’t care, because He does. He’s very holy. And in fact, He cared enough that He sent His one and only begotten son, as it says a little later in the passage of John 3, so that the world might be saved, for he did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him – all who believe upon him.

There is that word “believe” again. All who trust in his ability to reconcile us through His death and resurrection, through his blood shed on the cross will be saved. So simple, and yet so hard to wrap our heads around. The cross, it says, is a stumbling block for many. It’s not just that they don’t want to be guilty of sin. They want to be fair. So they don’t want to have somebody else have to pay for their sin.

And I understand that. But it’s the only way that we can come before God. And the wonderful thing about it is, the freeing part of it is, why it’s said to be liberating, is because then it depends on Him, on God Himself, and not on me and my faltering efforts, on you and your efforts.

We have one simple task to be saved. And that is to believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord.

There’s that talking again. “Confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and you shall be saved,” Paul says. We do that in public affirmation when we become members, or when we’re baptized. But we’re supposed to be doing it all the time. Believe in your hearts, confess with your mouths, that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Now I’m not going to give the rest of the series in the rest of this sermon. That would make it kind of pointless, and take us way too long. The ways of evangelizing, the ways of telling the good news, and the methods of sharing the good news, will be discussed in the coming weeks.

But I do want to caution you that we want to be sure that we do not throw the baby out with the bath water, which is what I think some denominations and churches have done. It doesn’t mean that we don’t need to give testimony in our lives. It doesn’t mean that we don’t need to do outreach in our church and in our lives. It doesn’t mean that we don’t need to show compassion and love and care, particularly for the fellow members of the church, but also for the world at large.

But it does mean that those should be used to set up an opportunity – if it’s given. You don’t try to manipulate things, but if it’s given. We should never be afraid, as Peter says in his first letter, to defend the hope. Be prepared to defend the hope which you have been given.

And by that “defend” it doesn’t mean defend like a debate, in an adversarial way. Apologetics means to present a positive and powerful reasoning. Be prepared to tell people why you do what you do. Be prepared to tell people why you feel the need for God. Be prepared to tell.

Because at the heart, that’s the gospel. All Christians are called to evangelize. There may be different gifts, and some are better at it than others, but that does not absolve us of responsibility.

I want to touch on one more thing here with witnessing. In biblical categories, witnessing involves making visible what is otherwise invisible. That’s why it’s important to keep witnessing. We make visible what’s invisible. Then when people say “Why?” or “What?” there’s your opportunity.

The reality to which we bear witness is the invisible kingdom of God, and in witnessing, we strive to make the Lord’s reign visibly manifest. Now among the many ways we can bear witness to Jesus Christ is through loving our fellow believers. We reveal to the world that we belong to our Savior when we love other Christians. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper proclaims visibly the Lord’s death until He comes. And we will be doing that today, and we are witnessing to the good news of the gospel.

And preaching the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in our evangelism, we are also helping to make visible the invisible reality of Jesus Christ.

I would modify that statement from Ligonier Ministries in one small way, and that is to change the word “preaching” to “sharing about.” Again, preaching has taken on a connotation that deals with professionals and seminary degrees, or being up in front of a pulpit, or in a speaking to many people. But you can share that gospel one-on-one, without even raising your voice. God speaks in a whisper sometimes.

We’re going to have Communion in a few moments. And I want you to take a moment, as we begin, to reflect on the Gospel. We’re witnessing to it. To the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, as his body is broken for us. To the victory given up through Christ, as his blood was shed for us, and the fact that the grave could not hold him.

See where the Gospel touches your heart. So that you can share it with others, in an authentic and real manner.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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