A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism

Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever

Consequences of Neglect

To review, we have so far considered among the marks that set a healthy church apart: expositional preaching, biblical theology, and a biblical understanding of the gospel and conversion. One way we can tell how important these are is by considering the consequences for congregations that lose them. Sermons can too easily become trite repetitions of truths already known. Christianity can become indistinguishable from the surrounding secular culture. The gospel can be recast as little more than spiritual selfhelp. Conversion can degenerate from an act of God to mere human resolve. But such congregations–with shallow preaching, secular thinking, and a self-centered gospel that encourages little more than one-time verbal confessions of Christ (often by misapplying Romans 10:9)–cannot well herald the tremendous news of salvation in Christ.

Evangelism Shaped by Understanding of Conversion

For all members of the church, but particularly for leaders who have the privilege and responsibility of teaching, a biblical understanding of evangelism is crucial. How someone shares the gospel is, of course, closely related to how someone understands the gospel. If your mind has been shaped by the Bible on God and the gospel, on human need and conversion, then a right understanding of evangelism will naturally follow. We should be more concerned to know and teach the gospel itself, than simply trying to teach people methods and strategies to share it.

Definition of Evangelism

Biblically, evangelism is presenting the good news freely and trusting God to convert people (see Acts 16:14). “Salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9; cf. John 1:12- 13). Any way in which we try to force spiritual births will be as effective as Ezekiel trying to stitch the dry bones together, or Nicodemus trying to give himself the new birth. And the result will be similar.

It is God Who Converts People

If conversion is understood as merely a sincere commitment made once, then we need to get everyone to that point of verbal confession and commitment any way we can. Biblically, though, while we are to care, to plead, and to persuade, our first duty is to be faithful to the obligation we have from God, which is to present the same Good News that He’s given to us. God will bring conversions from our presenting this Good News (see John 1:13; Acts 18:9-10).

It is heartening how new Christians often seem innately aware of the gracious nature of their salvation. Probably you have heard testimonies, even in the last few weeks or months, which remind you that conversion is the work of God. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- -and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Wen Membership Outstrips Attendance

If a church’s membership is markedly larger than its attendance, the question should be asked: does that church have a biblical understanding of conversion? Furthermore, we should ask what kind of evangelism has been practiced that would result in such a large number of people who are uninvolved in the life of the church, and yet consider their membership in good standing an evidence of their own salvation? Has the church objected in any way, or has it seemed to condone this situation by silence? Biblical church discipline is part of the church’s evangelism.

Three Truths to Convey

In my own evangelism, I want to convey three things to people about the decision they must make about the Gospel:

  • first, the decision is costly (and therefore must be carefully considered, see Luke 9:62);
  • second, the decision is urgent (and therefore must be made, see John 3:18, 36);
  • third, the decision is worth it (and therefore should be made, see John 10:10).

That’s the balance we should strive for in our evangelism among our family and friends. That’s the balance we should strive for in our evangelism as a whole church.

Resources

There are some excellent resources in print about evangelism. For considering the close connection between our understanding of the gospel and the evangelistic methods we use, I recommend Will Metzger’s Tell the Truth (Inter- Varsity Press), and Iain Murray’s The Invitation System and Revival and Revivalism (Banner of Truth Trust).

Another mark of a healthy church, then, is a biblical understanding and practice of evangelism. The only true growth is the growth that comes from God.

Questions for Reflection

  1. The author defines evangelism as “presenting the good news freely and trusting God to convert people.” How is our evangelism affected by an understanding that it is God who does the work of conversion? What can happen to our evangelism if we convince ourselves that it is ultimately necessary for man to make the choice to convert himself?
  2. Is your church’s membership much larger than its attendance? If so, what do you think could be the reasons? Does your church’s evangelism present the gospel in a balanced, healthy way? What could be done to improve balance?
  3. What does the author mean when he says that the decision to follow Christ is “costly?” What does he mean when he says that it is “urgent?” What does he mean when he says that it is “worth it?” What are some scriptural passages that teach these three truths?