Those of us who have been Christians for many years or who have grown up in Christian homes may count the word “evangelism” a regular part of our vocabulary. We may not use it much in our daily conversations, but it’s familiar to us and we’ve heard it often among the members of our church community. Some of us may even say that evangelism is a vital part of our walk with Christ and something in which we participate on a regular to semi-regular basis.
Wherever we are at on this spectrum, it is essential for us to visit or, for some of us, revisit the topic of evangelism. Why do I say “essential?” We will discuss in more detail the reasons why we should concern ourselves with evangelism in subsequent posts. For now it is enough to say that we should reflect carefully on how to define this term for one simple reason: evangelism is the privilege and responsibility of every Christian. Whether you have been a Christian for a few months or a few years, Jesus Christ calls you, through his Word, to practice evangelism for his glory, your neighbor’s salvation, and your joy.
Toward a Definition
But what is evangelism? In order to help us navigate this important topic, we will provide a basic definition at the beginning of our discussion. We will refer to this definition throughout the subsequent posts in this series.
Evangelism is the faithful proclamation of the gospel (i.e., good news) through which we invite unbelievers to repent from their sin and believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, full pardon and justification from God, and entrance into a new life of holiness.
We will fill out this definition in more detail as we make our way through this series on evangelism. At this point we want you to notice that evangelism includes four essential components. First, evangelism is verbal proclamation. We cannot say that we have evangelized if we have not used words. Perhaps you have heard this popular quote often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” St. Francis never actually said those words, but this fact hasn’t stopped people from using this phrase or attributing it this friar from the 13th century.
Regardless of its origin, however, this statement—or, at least, the thinking reflected in this statement—can be found among many Christians today. The idea that the gospel is something we do rather than something we tell is more common among Christians than you might expect. In order to re-calibrate our thinking according to God’s Word, we must first say that true evangelism will always involve verbal proclamation. If we don’t use words, we haven’t evangelized.
Second, evangelism will always include the gospel. In the New Testament, the word translated “gospel” is the Greek word, euaggélion. To evangelize, then, is simply to proclaim the “evangel,” the good news. What is important to note here is that our conversations and proclamations must include a specific content or else we cannot call it evangelism. Understanding in greater depth the content of the gospel will be the aim of a later post.
Third, evangelism must include truth about Jesus’ death and resurrection for sin. We may talk to our friends or fellow students about the Bible or religion or important social issues, but until we have told them about Jesus’ death and resurrection for sin, we have not evangelized.
Finally, evangelism must include an invitation to repent and believe in Christ. In order to say that we have shared the gospel, we must be able to say that we have told people how to receive the riches promised in the gospel. Without inviting a person to repent of their sin and believe in Christ, we haven’t given them everything they need. What use is the best news in the universe if a person doesn’t know how to apply it to themselves?
We don’t want to press this point too far, however. In our efforts to evangelize, there may be times when we are faithfully presenting the whole gospel to someone and, because of the circumstances surrounding our conversation or a person’s responsiveness there may be times when we are unable to offer an invitation to repent and believe. Nevertheless, faithful evangelism will include, on the whole, a call to repent and believe.
In the next post, we will consider a few practices that Christians commonly mistake for evangelism.