What Evangelism is and is not
Evangelism is good news. The word “evangelism” means “telling good news.” It is a specific good news: “Jesus is God in the flesh who brought about reconciliation with God by his death and resurrection.” (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Colossians 1:19-23). The English word for this “good news” is “gospel.” As recorded in the book of Acts, when the apostles shared the gospel, they often did so in the context of a longer message that I will term the “salvation message.” This message first reminded people of their sin, then showed how Jesus died as a sacrifice for their sin (gospel part), then explained the response of repentance faith, and finally enumerated some of the benefits, such as forgiveness and eternal life. While we share gospel with both believers and unbelievers, the process called “evangelism” generally refers to sharing the complete “salvation message” with unbelievers. The content of “evangelism” thus is simpler than the more complex “Christian nurture of those who are already believers.” However, even the daily nurture of believers is essentially going back to those same four basic elements of recognizing the problem (sin), recalling Christ’s sacrifice as the guarantee and basis for acceptance by God, repenting of the sin, and living in the promises of God.
Evangelism and God’s law. The gospel as such does not include any “you should”. If any “law” is mixed into the gospel, the truth of “salvation by grace alone” is clouded. It is true that a person needs to hear the law, that is, the “you should” of God’s expectation, so the Holy Spirit can convict him of sin. That is the function of God’s law (Romans 3:20). That is why the apostles’ messages in the book of Acts first include accusation of sin before proclaiming gospel. The gospel part itself though is all “good news”. Gospel sentences start with the words “Jesus has”, not “you should” or “you need to.”
Evangelism and testimony. Testimony tells what God has done in your life, and evangelism tells what God did at the cross. Testimony is useful during pre-evangelism, to show a person why it is worth it to examine the gospel message, and after conversion, as an encouragement to fellow believers.
Evangelism and other religions. Evangelism is not belittling the other person’s religion. As you explain Christ, the person will see for himself the areas in which Christianity is different from his present religion. The evangelist can learn to transform arguing back to a discussion of Jesus. I don’t think that non-Christians reject their religion because someone else shows up inconsistencies in it. That may even put them on the defensive. As the Spirit shows them the benefits of believing in Jesus, they are then able to set aside their previous religion. I concede that the person may be “bound” in his false religion. The “unbinding” though is done by God as you pray and share the gospel, not by ridiculing. Your purpose is not to criticize someone’s religions, but to talk about Jesus. The link Sensitive Sharing helps you to Avoid Misunderstandings, Avoid Cut-offs, use Bridges, and Use Handles.
Evangelism and apologetics. Evangelism is the proclamation of good news, while apologetics is the rational and historic defense of that which is proclaimed. Apologetics is useful in in “pre-evangelism”, to allay misunderstanding, during evangelism, to show reasons for the assertions of the salvation message, and in “post-evangelism”, to help the new Christian withstand intellectual doubts and answer detractors. Evangelists can learn enough apologetics to reply to common misunderstandings which those in other religions may have about Christianity, and can learn to move on from intellectual argument to proclamation of God’s love for them shown in Christ’s work. Evangelism has not taken place until someone hears and understands the good news that the work of Jesus is “for him”. If a person’s intellectual arguments against Christianity have been exhausted, and he assents to the propositions of Christianity, that does not mean he has become born again. Only the Holy Spirit can do that to him, and our role in this process is to share the gospel. (Acts 10:44 — the Holy Spirit fell as Peter was sharing the gospel.) For more on apologetics, link to the section “meeting objections.”
Evangelism and faith. Gospel is not telling someone that he must have faith. Faith is a response to gospel. That is why the apostles in the book of Acts, first shared the gospel, and then invited people to believe. I don’t think we can “make ourselves” have faith in something. What happens is that we “find” that we are trusting something. This happens as we get to realize that the object of our faith is trustworthy. In secular life, we find that we start to trust someone after we get to know him and experience examples of his good intentions toward us. I think saying “So-and-so is trustworthy, so I trust him” is more common than saying “I am going to decide to trust so-and-so”. It’s true that many examples in the Book of Acts do include an explanation that “believing on Jesus results in salvation”. This does not mean that the exhortation to believe produces faith. The message which the Holy Spirit uses to create faith in someone is the gospel message (God’s work on the cross), not the message “you should believe.” Another way to say this is that the Holy Spirit changes a person’s faith from whatever it was that he was trusting in to reliance on God, and this happens as the Holy Spirit reveals God’s greatness and love as shown in Jesus’ dying and rising, as you explain it by sharing the gospel. More
Evangelism and conversion. Biblical evidences that the Holy Spirit has worked to bring someone to faith include conviction of sin, recognition of who Jesus is, and calling Jesus Lord. After sharing the salvation message, if someone seems receptive, I ordinarily ask questions to give that person a chance to show any of those evidences of the Spirit’s work. Another way to say this is that I give them an opportunity to openly repent of sins and confess faith. If they do so, I cannot but assume that the Holy Spirit has made them into Christians. If they do not do so, I do not have any basis for knowing whether the Holy Spirit has not made them into Christians, so I have no basis on which to proceed with “post-evangelism” type sharing. Until I hear a response, I have no choice but to continue with “pre-evangelism” and “evangelism” conversations. More
Evangelism and behavior. Evangelism is not telling people they must change their behavior (although the salvation message does include explaining that God expects us to repent of sin). If we emphasize behavior change before the person is converted, we are asking him to do things he does not yet have the power to do. This is likely either to discourage him or to give him the wrong impression that changing his life style makes him into a Christian, or that God’s love is somehow conditional on the person changing himself first. Behavior change does take place, but it happens after a person is converted. The person’s “new life” wants to show love in obedience, and the Holy Spirit will bring about behavior change, as He convicts the person of various sins (it may not be done in the order or at the pace that fits your standard). At this point the importance of teaching comes in to play, as indicated in the last line of the Great Commission, “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” But the purpose of teaching God’s commands to Christians is not to goad them into obedience, but to show them what it is they need to repent of, so that in the renewed reliance on Christ which follows repentance, God Himself can make them become obedient. See Nurturing Faith.
Evangelism and scolding. If you hear someone use Jesus’ name in cursing, and you say, “that offends me,” or “please do not say that in my presence,” that is not evangelism. You may very well be offended, and you may very well tell the person that you are offended, but do not think that you have engaged in evangelism. Rather, these symptoms are motives for us to build a relationship with the person with the hope that we someday may share the gospel.