What is Evangelism and What is the Gospel?

December 9, 2008

One of the things we did in our time together in The Gospel Course was wrestle with the question: what is evangelism? Our answer was drawn from reflection on a definition that J.I. Packer draws his reader’s attention to in his chapter on evangelism in A Quest for Godliness (and elsewhere in his writings). Here’s how it goes.

Evangelism is – To bear witness to Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that [1] people may come to put their trust in God, through Christ; [2] to acknowledge Him as their Savior; and [3] to serve Him as their King, [4] in the fellowship of His Church.

That definition of evangelism helps us in at least six ways. First, it makes clear that evangelism is about pointing people to the objective reality of the person of Jesus Christ, his claims and his work. Evangelism is first and foremost about telling his story, not our story. Second, it makes clear that we are utterly powerless to bring about the conversion, the transformed life, that we long to see in the lives of those with whom we share the truth of the marvelous grace of our loving Lord. No, for that result, we are entirely (and deliberately) dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit. Only he can raise the dead and give new life. Third, this definition of evangelism expects the response of genuine faith, saving trust, receiving and resting on Christ alone for salvation as he is offered in the Gospel – in all who are awakened to new life. Fourth, it reminds us of the uniqueness of Christ. He is the only savior, and so, for salvation, people must put their trust in him and in him alone. Fifth, embracing Christ as Lord and King is a sine qua non for every true convert and disciple. Just as their is no such thing as justification without sanctification, so also there is no embracing Jesus as savior without embracing him as master. He is, after all, the Lord Jesus Messiah. Sixth, to be a disciple of Jesus means to be a part of his people and to be nurtured and to serve in the midst of the assembly of the saints. When we are united to him, we are united to his people. We cannot be united to him and indifferent to his people, or deliberately detached from them.

We also spent several weeks considering and elaborating on the question: What is the Gospel?

Here’s one thing we observed. "The Gospel, the  euangelion, ‘the joyful tidings’, ‘the good news’, (has an OT background in Is. 40–66, where the verb euangelizomai, ‘bring good news’, is used in the LXX) of God the Father’s costly and loving bestowal of saving mercy on the undeserving and rebellious, through the death of his Son, it is thus a gift of grace alone, the need for which salvation is manifested in repentance and received by faith." This reminded us that the Gospel is a message. I love what Tim Keller (following Martyn Lloyd-Jones) says. The Gospel is good news, not good advice. It is about what God has done, not what we need to do to help ourselves. This also means that the Gospel has to be spoken, proclaimed. When people say: "Preach the Gospel daily – Use words if necessary," Tim provocatively but rightly says: they may not understand the Gospel. The Gospel must be shared with words. It is a message. We can’t tell it with our deeds (though our lives must reveal it effects). There is no such thing as wordless evangelism.

We also observed that in the book of Acts, the basic elements of the Gospel message in the preaching of the Apostles (to both the Jews and Gentiles) are: 1. the prophecies have been fulfilled and the new age inaugurated by the coming of Christ; 2. he was born into the family of David; 3. he died according to the Scriptures, to deliver his people from this evil age; 4. he was buried, and raised again the third day, according to the Scriptures; 5. he is exalted at God’s right hand as Son of God, Lord of living and dead; 6. he will come again to judge the world and consummate his saving work.

We listened to John Piper tell us how, 1. The Gospel is a plan, 2. The Gospel is an event, 3. The Gospel is an achievement (through that event), 4. The Gospel is freely offered, 5. The Gospel is applied, 6. The Gospel brings us to God as our treasure, and 7. The Gospel has one hope. [Okay, okay, I added the seventh point, because of the eschatological focus and context of the Christian life].

We’ll continue on this theme in the next post.