“It’s the whole business of the whole church to preach the whole gospel to the whole world.” – Charles H. Spurgeon
The Great Commission is accomplished through worship, evangelism and disciple-making (Rev 12:11). Rather than being a special task for those specifically gifted, evangelism is the Church’s task. Afterall, disciple-making is evangelism. The word evangelism comes to us from the Latin evangelium, itself derived from the Greek εὐαγγελίζω euaggelizo which means “I bring good news.” The derivation of “gospel” is the old English godspel from gōd good + spell tale = good news. Evangelism is therefore the proclamation of the good news. It involves displaying Christ and explaining man’s need of Him, Christ’s power to save all who truly turn to Him.
In the Book of Acts, we have the history of how the Church began with 120 disciples, and through the Spirit’s power, expand beyond its exclusive Jewish viewpoint in Jerusalem, to encompass the Gentiles and spread the message of Christ throughout the Roman Empire, to the ends of the earth. The Book of Acts shows us the apostles faithfully discharging their divine mission to declare the whole council of God and, amongst other things, provides us with a blueprint for biblical evangelism. In this chapter, our goal will be to outline seven principles of evangelism that we have from the Book of Acts:
- Providence – As the Bible teaches, God upholds, directs, disposes and govern all creatures, actions, and things by His providence for His glory and the good of His Church (Rom 8:28). God’s providence is the working out of His own plan through the ordinary circumstances of life. God acts in time and space to bring about the plan He has decreed.
In our evangelistic efforts, we can trust God’s providence and His Word. God has a specific number of people who will be His. This is precisely the point the Apostle Paul’s makes when he tells Timothy, “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Tim 2:19).
Some may object to this and reason that such thinking reduces people to robots, circumventing man’s will. However, the Bible speaks in terms that God is sovereign and mankind is responsible. Man is a responsible moral agent, though he is also spiritually dead and completely dependent upon God to save him.
The Bible’s mathematics is 200%. God is 100% sovereign. Job says: “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You” (Job 42:2). And yet man is 100% responsible. Ezekiel declares: “The soul that sins shall die” (Ezek 18:20). Some may object and say why evangelize at all? Rather than think this way, God’s sovereignty gives us confidence that our labor in the Lord is not in vain, and that as we proclaim the gospel, Christ’s sheep will be saved.
In evangelism, as J.I. Packer observes, “God’s way of saving men is to send out His servants to tell them the gospel, and the Church has been charged to go into all the world for that very purpose.”
The Book of Acts demonstrates the principle of providence from the very beginning. Following His resurrection, the Apostles spent forty days with Jesus being instructed by Him regarding “the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Then, before He ascended into heaven, Jesus told them not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait for the Promise of the Father, for they would be baptized in the Holy Spirit, and “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The apostles weren’t told to devise a strategy for world evangelism, they were told to wait. They were told to wait to receive power for service. They were told to wait to receive direction. In light of God’s providence, and the fact that the church is God’s instrument of evangelism, this first principle of evangelism would have us trust in God’s divine orchestration. We are to be confident as we step out in faith to see the lost come to Christ. And the reason we can be confident is, all of Christ’s sheep will come to Him. Jesus declared in no uncertain terms: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me” (Jn 6:37).
- Prayer – What the Book of Acts shows is the Early Church didn’t form plans as to how they should appear in public, rather they “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication” (Acts 1:14). Our purpose in prayer is not to inform God or change His plan in some way, rather prayer is a channel through which His ordained plan comes to pass. This is precisely the situation in Acts chapter one. The disciples all prayed for God to do what He had promised. What we learn from this is, we pray to align ourselves with God’s will and we pray because God has ordained prayer as one of the means by which He will accomplish His plan.
The Early Church knew they were God’s instrument. They were praying for God to use them according to His plan. As Doug Kelly observes, “When we are stuck in some hard situation and are begging God for His revealed will to be brought to pass, we are actually praying that way because God has put us in the position where we will feel the need to pray! Our praying is, in fact, a preparation for the release of the blessings of God.”
As we pray in Jesus’ name, God receives these prayers and meets with divine acceptance and power (Rev 5:8-11; 8:1-5). God orchestrates His divine appointments and desires for us to have a heart like His for the lost; He wants us to treasure what He treasures. Prayer is a way this takes place. It’s God’s way of stirring up the hearts of His people.
- Power – The Church in Acts chapter one constituted the renewed people of God. They had one Lord, one faith and one baptism but they needed power for service (Eph 4:5). They needed God’s power to be enabled to bear witness to Christ and his gospel.
When I was a boy, I was glued to the TV set watching the series “Mission Impossible.” In that series, a small team of secret agents conducted covert missions against evil organizations. The episodes began when an assignment from a hidden tape recorder said something like: “Your mission, should you decide to accept it” is to save the entire world though the chance you’ll survive is one in a million. Then it said: “As always, should you or any of your impossible mission force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” Then the tape went up and smoke.
Likewise, the mission of the Church seems an impossible mission. Jesus said “Now go out now and change the world and turn it upside down.” Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptize them, and teach them everything I have commanded you” (Mt 28:18-20). And as you do, Jesus said, you will be hated by everyone, and those who kill you, will do so thinking they offer God service. And the people Jesus sends out to accomplish this mission are simple people, without money, without political power or influence.
Adding to the difficulty, the message they are to bear witness to is about how Yahweh the Creator, the transcendent God of the universe, Who gives us every breath, left the courts of heaven to become a penniless preacher, die for our sins by being crucified naked. Not only that, but these disciples have to go to the Greek and Romans who believe as Plato and Aristotle taught that truth, beauty and justice were cosmic ideals that exist in the immaterial world, they have to go to them and say: Truth exists in a Person whose name is Jesus Christ. And who is Jesus? He’s an executed Person who lived in a backwater part of the world in the Roman colony of Judea.
Now from that perspective, that is truly mission impossible. But Jesus said there is going to be Someone with you on this mission and that makes all the difference in the world. The disciples were already saved and regenerated by the Holy Spirit prior to the “coming” of the Spirit at Pentecost. But they needed the gifts of the Spirit to qualify them for the work they were to do. Christ’s gifts are supernatural abilities granted by God for gathering and strengthening the church so that the saints can minister (Acts 2:33).
They also needed power which would enable them to do the mission. In the Greek, the word for power is δύναμις dunamis, the root of the word dynamite. They needed the power of the Spirit to move them in the work. Jesus told us, there is going to be Someone who comes along side you to accomplish this mission, Who will in fact, do the mission through you (John 16). And before they were to go out on this mission, Jesus said to them:
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8, emphasis added).
Jesus didn’t say wait in Jerusalem until you are born again. Jesus didn’t say wait in Jerusalem until you’ve been converted, or wait until you are united to the body of Christ universal, etc. Rather, Jesus said wait until you are clothed with power. Power for service. Power for extraordinary prophetic empowerment! And the Holy Spirit in and through the Church began to turn the world upside down.
In the power of the Holy Spirit, mission impossible became mission unstoppable. On the Day of Pentecost, the disciples received spiritual gifts and power for service. Peter preached the gospel and 3,000 people became disciples (Acts 2:41). Now that’s power!
Likewise, we are on the same mission and through the power of the Spirit, mission impossible becomes “mission unstoppable.” Christ’s promise is: I will always be with you and nothing can separate us (Mt 28:18-20; Jn 16:33). We are therefore called to go along with Jesus in His mission to transform the world with the gospel; nothing less than the renewing of humanity (2 Cor 5:7).
- Proclamation – In the Book of Acts we observe the Church being moved along by the Holy Spirit in such a way that the Book is often rightly referred to as “the Acts of the Holy Spirit.” Through the power of the Spirit, the church was carried as it were from the Upper Room to the very edge of the known world. And as the apostles declared the gospel, their message didn’t consist of arguments for the existence of God, or easy messages carefully crafted so as not to wound anyone’s conscience. The preaching of the early church consisted of “a simple recital of the great events connected with the historical appearance of Jesus Christ” and the testimony to His saving work in their lives.
In John chapter 16, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the “Helper.” In the Greek, Helper is Παράκλητος paracletos. As Jesus told us, the Holy Spirit, as the Paraclete, took the place Christ’s bodily presence. It is therefore by the indwelling Spirit that believers can experience Christ’s presence. As Jesus teaches us, the Holy Spirit does His work in and through the Church to accomplish namely four principle tasks: (1) convict the world of sin (Jn 16:8); (2) guide believers into all truth (Jn 16:13); (3) declare things that are to come (Jn 16:13); and (4) glorify Christ (Jn 16:14).
By these means the Spirit works in and through the church to bring about the ordained plan of God (Eph 1:11). Jesus says the first thing the Holy Spirit does in a person’s life is He convicts them of sin, showing men and women their desperate state. Then Jesus says there’s three ways in which the Spirit’s convicting work takes place: The Spirit convicts the world that sin is more grievous than they had ever imagined, that righteousness is more than they ever imagined, and that judgment is real, the Cross is real, and heaven and hell are real. It’s the Holy Spirit that convicts people of all of these truths.
In John 16:12-15, Jesus describes the work that the Spirit will do “by, with, and through” the Church. In fact, the history of the Church has been the legacy of the Spirit regenerating, inspiring and guiding the Church to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth and to all the nations. By God’s design, the mission of the Church involves nothing short of the building of a house (Eph 2:19-22).
God has moved in extraordinary ways in the history of the Church, but that doesn’t mean that the Spirit’s work is all but history. Let’s not come to Acts chapter two with a mere academic interest in some distant, unrepeatable event. Regarding spiritual gifts, it’s not that the gifts are no longer needed, in many cases, the gifts are no longer desired. The Church today needs power for service. Therefore, we need all the gifts to complete our mission. Until the task of world evangelization is completed, our duty is to pray for fresh seasons of the extraordinary outpouring of God’s Spirit, to awaken us, empower us, and carry us forward until the mission is complete (Mt 28:18-20).
The point is: without the presence and power of the Holy Spirit the task of world evangelism or any evangelism is a mission impossible. We have our part to play and our part to play is dependent on the Holy Spirit’s transcendent power. In other words, the Holy Spirit accomplishes the impossible mission through us.
As the Early Church proclaimed the gospel, they did so with the conviction that there was salvation found in no other Name than the Name of Jesus, and that as many as were appointed unto eternal life would believe (Acts 4:12; 13:48). Likewise, we must be ever mindful of God’s sovereignty and His divine appointments. Often a pastor will spend more time concerned with precision in exegesis over biblical texts, which is of course very important. However, they can allow the concern for exegetical precision to blind them to those around them who haven’t heard the message of the gospel. And so, when an opportunity presents itself, though you are running late, see the opportunity for what it is, a divine appointment. Be ready to take action and be obedient by sharing the gospel with everyone you come into contact with. Even when these opportunities don’t go so well, the gospel has still done its work. And we cannot know what is going on in that person’s life. A seed is sown. In the case of rejection, the gospel has still done its work (Acts 13:46).
As we go into the enemy’s camp, Scripture is our offensive weapon. Scripture gives believers the tools necessary to harvest souls in evangelism. There are various techniques for sharing the gospel: The Roman Road, the Way of the Master, Evangelism Explosion, etc. The best technique is simply to share Jesus in your testimony with the Word of God. In this way, the person being witnessed to is being confronted with God’s Word as it is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb 4:12; cf. 2 Tim 3:16-17).
One of the reasons why many fail to witness is because when they have, it has ended in a heated disagreement. However, the results of an evangelical encounter aren’t up to us. It’s between them and God. We are simply being obedient to the gospel task. Even if you don’t have the privilege to see someone respond the first time you share your faith, you have not failed, because you were obedient. It’s not about success or failure, it’s about obedience on our part. Results are not up to us. This fact should give us more confidence as we share our faith.
- Provision – Something the Book of Acts also demonstrates for us is how we are to provide for the needs of new believers. In Acts chapter two, Peter preaches a message that ends up saving three thousand people. Then the rest of the chapter outlines how the apostles were obedient to the Great Commission. As Jesus commanded, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). Those 3,000 who gladly received Peter’s message were then baptized and brought into the community of faith. There they learned the apostle’s doctrine, and as part of the messianic community, they enjoyed Christian fellowship, prayer and partook of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:41-42).
As has been said, our shepherding care is our stewarding of those who belong to Jesus. The principle of provision therefore reminds us that as we tend Christ’s sheep, we edifying them with God’s Word and disciple them, helping them discover their gifts and step out to use them.
- Persecution – Jesus said, you will be hated by everyone, and those who kill you, will do so thinking they offer God service (Jn 15:23; 16:2). In the Bible and the history of the Church, many of God’s prophets, apostles and church leaders have been filled with the Spirit of God to convict the world of sin and draw people’s heart in repentance and faith toward God. They were filled with power and were anointed to say and do amazing and miraculous things. But at the height of what the Spirit did through them, instead of national conversion or reformation, instead there was intense enmity directed at the offending message and the messenger.
A famous example is Elijah and his contest with the prophets of Baal. While all the false prophets could do is wear themselves out, God answered Elijah by fire, then answered his prayer for rain. Yet at the height of what the Spirit did thru Elijah, there was no national repentance and no conversion or reformation. And because of this, Elijah said he wanted to die. But God took him on the mountain and gave him a lesson. And the lesson was this: God can move in a mighty wind, He can move in a mighty earthquake or a blazing fire. But the most penetrating revelation of God to man is a still, small voice. The still small voice is God’s chosen way of saving mankind.
Likewise, Jesus says: I am telling you this now so that when trouble comes your way on account of your witness your faith in me may not be shaken. This should be very encouraging for us. Often, we think, unless we have a big meeting with a good sound system, and the right lighting, and just the right musicians and the right preachers and teachers then it will not produce great results. The point is: God may not be working as we expect Him to, but He is working all the same. And He is working in spite of trouble, against impossible odds, and the most hardened heart.
This is what you do with soldiers you intend to send into harm’s way. You tell them, “Look, this isn’t going to be a picnic. It’s combat.” They say, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Jesus says, count on having conflict.
- Perseverance – In the Bible, God caricatures His bride, the Church, as a woman in labor giving birth to all of His people. Isn’t that amazing! In fact, this topic underscores many central texts of Scriptures, such as: Genesis 3, Isaiah 26, John 16, Romans 8, and Revelation 12. In these texts, there is a running theme:
There is a woman, an adversary, the woman’s sorrow and pain to bring forth birth, and deliverance through judgment. In John 16:20-21, Jesus gives us a parabolic expression which incorporates these main elements of thought. Jesus says:
20 Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. 21 A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.
One of the ways the Bible pictures God’s people is that of a barren woman wearied by her inability to give birth to her promised spiritual children. Though she is experiencing the pangs of childbirth, she can’t deliver.
Something this teaches us is the church has never saved anyone. We can’t give any one new birth, only the Holy Spirit can. What Jesus teaches us in John 16: 20-21 is: While I’m away, this interadvent period between My first coming and Second Coming, my messianic community will be like a woman in labor. That is, the church will be like a woman in the pangs of labor to give birth to all of God’s people. And that which is brought forth during this interadvent period is the new birth of regenerated humanity.
In other words, the mission is possible not because we have dedicated followers. There are world systems and religions that have droves of fanatics that are willing to suffer and die for what they believe. So do the cults. The Church, however, must rely on the Spirit’s presence and power to complete the Great Commission. This is the principle of perseverance.
We don’t need to rely on money, political power or influence, we have the Spirit. We can count on the Helper, the Paraclete to be with us. In this world, we will continue to suffer until all of God elect come in (2 Tim 2:10). As Paul declares: “For this light and momentary affliction is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor 4:17). In other words, our labor and pain to gather in God’s elect is light and momentary, and through the power of the Spirit, we’ll gather in all God’s people, and that’s for God’s glory; an eternal weight of glory. God, who ordained the salvation of His elect, also ordained that they would be saved through the preaching of the gospel.
The principle of perseverance is, we can count on conquest despite the appearance of defeat (Jn 16: 31-33). Jesus said, “Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone.” This is what immediately happened. The Shepherd was struck and the sheep were shattered, and they all denied ever knowing Jesus, and He went to the cross and suffered and died. All looked lost. It looked like complete defeat. But Christ conquered through defeat. He conquered through the cross.
Likewise, Jesus is telling us, My church will conquer though it looks defeated. In Jn 16:20, Jesus says: “you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.” A question we may ask is: Why does the church have to suffer? And the short answer is: God delays His final judgment until the full number of His people are saved: “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Tim 2:19).
There is a number known only to God. There is a remnant chosen by grace. Moreover, those known by God and called by God come to Christ and to His church. And this delaying of God’s final judgment is going to cause us suffering. The reason why Jesus is telling His disciples this is because the nature of His kingdom will be very different than what they’ve imagined. It will look pathetic, but it’s powerful.
Suffering occurs because the judgment is delayed until the full number of God’s people come in. Evangelical missionaries entered Cambodia in the 1920s. By the time they were expelled in 1965 there were about 600 believers. Then civil war came and between 1965 and 1975 during the civil war the Christian population soared to an estimated 90,000. It was an amazing work of God. But when the Khmer Rouge took control and Pol Pot unleashed his fury on the nation, most of these Christians died or fled the country. In all, about 30 % percent of the Cambodian people and 90% of the Cambodian Church were wiped out. And yet it was like grains of seed falling into the Cambodian soil.
Suffering also affords the church an opportunity to testify. In Cambodia, this occurred in a powerful way. Pol Pot’s communist forces surrounded and laid siege to the capital of Phnom Penh. In the midst of the chaos, Cambodian Christians spread out all over the city preaching the gospel to crowds, winning souls and rescuing them from the jaws of hell. Pol Pot’ reign of terror is now gone but the Church lives on. The Church in Cambodia looked pathetic, but it was powerful.
Christ’s promise is: I will always be with you and nothing can separate us (Mt 28:20). This is the security that a perfect atonement secures. This is why Jesus teaches us not to be fooled by appearances. Jesus said: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). Understanding this verse is one of the great keys to living the Christian life.
The Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ is reigning now and is in the process of putting all His enemies under His feet. Moreover, Jesus’ words: “I have overcome the world” or I have conquered the world in is in the Greek perfect tense. The unique thing about the perfect tense is that it emphasizes the present and ongoing result of a completed action. The point is this: All things are declared subject to Christ already but somethings remain to be brought into subjection. What is Jesus is the process of doing now? He is in the process of subjecting all things under His feet.
In other words, Christ has conquered the world and is conquering the world (Jn 16:33). And the amazing thing is, that’s how God talks about His church. In the Epistle of First John, the apostle John applies this to the church and says: “I write to you, because you have overcome the wicked one” (1 Jn 2:13). This truth motivated a stanza in Luther’s hymn A Mighty Fortress is Our God: “Though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.”
As pastors, our role is to lead the Church in evangelism and disciple-making. One way we can do that is encourage our people toward personal evangelism. It is said that more than three quarters of all new believers come to Christ through a friend or acquaintance. This number far exceeds those who come to Christ through an evangelical event. This fact reminds us that Christ’s command to make disciples by evangelizing others is not merely for ordained ministers but for every believer (Mt 28:18-20). What is more often the most debilitating issue in evangelism is fear. But fear should never inhibit us from sharing the good news (1 Pet 3:15). Success in evangelism is defined as sharing your faith and living your life for Jesus Christ.
Ultimately, whether a person comes to faith in Christ or not is not up to us but rather upon God who shows mercy. God is sovereign in the salvation of sinners, and we could very well be yet another witness in a perhaps a long line of witnesses giving a particular person the gospel (Jn 6:44). Besides, the mixed reaction of the Pentecost crowd should remind us that the “miraculous is not self-authenticating, nor does it inevitably and uniformly convince.” The challenge is therefore to forego excuses and simply be faithful by sharing your faith and living your life for Jesus Christ. In the last analysis, when people reject the good news, they are rejecting God, not us, the messenger. And so, when we share our faith, we can’t fail because the results belong to God.
Looking again at the principle of prayer, we must pray that God would move upon the lost. The farmer breaks upon the ground and sows the seed but the results are of the Lord. Pray that the Lord will speak to the lost through testimony. In the last analysis, success in evangelism is sharing your faith and living your life for Jesus Christ. We can and should do this without fear. My prayer is that the Lord will stir our hearts and gives us a heart as big as His for the lost. My prayer is that we will be those who talk to the lost, rather than those who merely talk about the lost.
The mission of the Paraclete will continue while the world lasts. As we seek to fulfill the mission the Holy Spirit is doing through us, we need what every church needs: A fresh empowering in ministry, greater effectiveness in prayer and Bible study, and joy in worship. This is what the church calls revival, which is the renewal and reawakening of the church from within. We need a fresh empowering for ministry, a significant step in Christian growth. Following the pattern of the Book of Acts, we need to be filled again and again and again with the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit’s presence and power, mission impossible is mission unstoppable.
 J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010), 33.
 Doug Kelly, If God Already Knows Why Pray, 58.
 Niebuhr, The Meaning of Revelation, 23.
 William Fay and Linda Evans Shepherd, Share Jesus Without Fear (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1999), 12.
 Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Volume 10. Luke-Acts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007).