Evangelism and Proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a Fallen World
Kelly Malone Contributorm2020 1 July Crosswalk.com
While I was a seminary student, I was pastor of a small rural church. I struggled each week to prepare and deliver sermons that would provide spiritual nourishment for that little congregation. At the time, I attributed this struggle to a number of factors: lack of experience, the 75-mile commute that began early each Sunday morning, lack of time — I was a pastor, a student, and also worked another job to make ends meet. Since that time, while serving for over eighteen years, as a pastor, a missionary, and a professor, I have come to recognize that the source of this struggle is spiritual rather than circumstantial. In this article, I would like to present four guiding principles that can help us deal with this spiritual struggle that we find ourselves involved in during the process of preparing and preaching the gospel.
1. We are to proclaim the Word of God in the power of the Spirit.
In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul contrasts eloquence and superior wisdom (1 Cor. 2:1) of human teaching which shows itself in wise and persuasive words (1 Cor. 2:4) with his own preaching which is a demonstration of the power of God (1 Cor. 2:5). The issue here is, “Which is more important in preaching, form or content?” There are those in Corinth who believe that the form of the message, “eloquence and persuasive words,” reflect the endowment of God’s wisdom on the speaker through the work of the Spirit (Davis 1984, 78-81). In Paul’s preaching, however, the power of the Spirit comes through the contents of the message, “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (v. 2). The real contrast here is between two kinds of power.
Paul refrains from any technique of communication that, on its own merit, might elicit a response from his listeners. The implication is obvious: a response drawn out by anything other than the Gospel simply proclaimed will more often than not prove to be something less than a saving response. . . . Where the affections of people are at stake, there must be no competitors allowed. The Gospel must capture their hearts, not the genius of those who communicate it (Azurdia 1998, 198).
One Sunday just after I finished preaching, a young woman in my church in Tokyo said to me, “There was power in your message.” I thanked her for her compliment. It occurred to me however, that a message’s immediate impression is not nearly as important as its power to incite change in the lives of those who hear it.
When the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, it does “not come by itself,” that is “simply with words.” Rather, when God’s Word is preached it is accompanied by work of the Holy Spirit. According to John Stott, it is through the work of the Spirit that the power of the Word “penetrates” the “mind, heart, conscience and will” of both the speaker and the listener, bringing with it “deep conviction” of the “truth and relevance of the message” (1991, 33-35). The Holy Spirit teaches people that the Word of God is true and calls for their response. Without this inner-working of God’s Spirit, no amount of clarity or persuasion on the part of the speaker is adequate to call men and women to repentance and eternal life. So we must always keep in mind that the sword we bear is the Spirit’s sword. As Bernard Ramm writes,
“There are two hands on the sword: for we take the sword, and yet, since it is the Sword of the Spirit, his hand is also on the hilt. We are not to use this sword by ourselves, on our own authority, and by our own sovereignty. We are to be completely sensitive to the pressure of the Spirit’s hand in ours. Unless the Spirit wields the sword, we shall use it to no avail (1959, 58-59).”
2. We are to proclaim God’s Word purely, without adulterating or defiling it.
As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:2, “We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly, we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” The implication here is that we must put aside behavior that is shameful because it distorts and falsifies the Word of God. This means, above all else, getting ourselves out of the way so that the good news of Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God are free to do their work. Jesus is the light of the world. We are, at best, only a reflection of that light. The light of Christ only shines clearly through those who not only preach but also live the gospel. So often the message of the gospel is clouded for our hearers by what we do as much as by what we say. They hear us speak about the power of the gospel to bring personal transformation, but then see us live totally untransformed lives. If what we say about the power of the gospel is true, that truth must be enfleshed in us.
3. We are to have the purpose of bringing men and women under the authority of Jesus Christ.
In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul writes that the spiritual battle that we are engaged in is something very different from the warfare that human beings wage against one another (2 Cor. 10:3). For one thing, “the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world” (2 Cor. 10:4). When we think of warfare our immediate thought is that of a conflict waged with guns, missiles, and bombs. Yet we also realize that in our modern world conflict between nations is just as likely to be political and economic as military. On both a national and a personal level the primary weapons are not those that shoot bullets. They are, rather, “human ingenuity, rhetoric, showmanship, a certain splashiness and forwardness in spiritual pretensions, charm, powerful personal charisma” (Carson 1984, 46).
The most recent war in Iraq is a case in point. While the battle in Baghdad was waged with guns, tanks, airplanes and missiles, a warfare of words was waged on the airwaves, in the newspapers, and in the hearts of people around the world in cities as diverse as Atlanta, Cairo, and Tokyo. In Tokyo, we have often found the perception of the struggle in Iraq hinders reception to the gospel among the Japanese.
The weapons that we use in spiritual warfare have “divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). Since the warfare that we are engaged in is spiritual, we must think about the strongholds that we are equipped to demolish spiritually as well. According to verse 5, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” The primary location of spiritual warfare is not external, but internal, in the hearts and minds of individuals. According to D. A. Carson, our spiritual “weapons destroy the way people think, demolish their sinful thought patterns, the mental structures by which they live their lives in rebellion against God” (1984, 47). There is a fierce hand-to-hand conflict being waged for belief and adherence. People will either kneel before King Jesus in obedience and call him Lord, or they will continue to let Satan have carte blanche in their lives as he leads them down the way that ends in their destruction.
The substitutes for God’s truth that Satan uses to hold people in spiritual bondage will vary from people to people and from person to person. In Japan, for example, religion, family, national identity, personal ambition, and self-indulgent immorality are all sources of spiritual bondage. The only way that we can “demolish” these spiritual strongholds is to speak the truth of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit. Men and women reject God and his Word because they, like Satan before them, want to exalt themselves. What actually holds a given Japanese person in bondage will vary with the individual. In order to deal with this situation, I must know those that I am trying to share the gospel with. I must know their personal issues and concerns, their questions, and their needs. Only then can I adequately explain how Jesus is more than adequate to meet all of their needs. Only then can I communicate clearly that Jesus has the power to transform their lives.
4. We should have confidence because victory is certain.
This does not mean that those who bear the gospel will always live without any suffering or difficulty. In fact, the opposite is true. Since we are involved in a spiritual conflict, hardship and persecution are necessary bi-products of the proclamation of the gospel. What I am saying is that no matter how much we must struggle to live in a fallen world and to get the gospel out, the final victory of the Word of God is certain.
Consider, for example, the first chapter of Paul’s letter from prison to the church at Philippi. Paul writes that although he is “in chains for Christ” (Phil. 1:13), this “has really served to advance the gospel” (Phil. 1:12). Paul contends that the gospel has actually advanced because he is in prison. First, the “whole palace guard” has been exposed to the gospel (Phil. 1:13). If Paul is to be taken literally, there are 9,000 soldiers in the Roman praetorian guard who all “know the circumstances of Paul’s imprisonment” (O’Brien 1991, 93). Paul can actually celebrate being behind locked doors because it has provided an open door for 9,000 men to be exposed to the gospel.
Paul also says that the shortcomings of the person who is preaching the gospel do not affect its advance. Whether a person preaches out of “envy and rivalry” or “good will” (Phil. 1:15), whether out of “love” (Phil. 1:16) or “selfish ambition” (Phil. 1:17), “whether from false motives or true,” it does not matter as long as “Christ is preached” (Phil. 1:17). I find here incredible reassurance of the power of the gospel. Although we would like to say that we always preach Christ from the purest of motives, if we are completely honest with ourselves we must admit that it is not so. But, when “Christ is preached” his message is stronger than any frailty or insufficiency on the part of the preacher. Although we bear the sword, it is still the Spirit’s sword. in evangelism, when the Word is proclaimed, God’s Spirit is the one who brings about its effect in the heart of the listener. The Spirit’s effectiveness more than overshadows any limitation or ineffectiveness on our part.
Kelly Malone is a missionary with the International Mission Board (SBC), Academic Dean of the Christian Leadership Training Center, and Editor of Japan Evangelism in Tokyo, Japan.
In His Service,
Night Watchman Ministries
Jesus Christ’s Offer of Salvation:
The ABCs of Salvation through Jesus Christ (the Lamb)
A. Admit/Acknowledge/Accept that you are sinner. Ask God’s forgiveness and repent of your sins.
. . . “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23).
. . . “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10).
. . . “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8).
B. Believe Jesus is Lord. Believe that Jesus Christ is who He claimed to be; that He was both fully God and fully man and that we are saved through His death, burial, and resurrection. Put your trust in Him as your only hope of salvation. Become a son or daughter of God by receiving Christ.
. . . “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:15-17). For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13).
C. Call upon His name, Confess with your heart and with your lips that Jesus is your Lord and Savior.
. . . “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10).
. . . “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (John 1:8-10).
. . . “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (John 2:2).
. . . “In this was manifested the love of god toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.” (1 John 4:9, 14-15).
. . . “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:8-10).
. . . “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23).
. . . “Jesus saith unto them, I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6).
. . . “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” (Romans 1:16).
. . . “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts: 4:12).
. . . “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth for there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:4-6).
. . . “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
. . . “But as many as received him, to them gave the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” (John 1:12).
True Church / Bride of Christ Spared from God’s Wrath:
Romans 5:8-10. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”
Romans 12:19. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 1:10. And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
1 Thessalonians 5:9. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
Romans 8:35. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
Jeremiah 30:7. Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.
Revelation 3:10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.
Categories: Forgiveness and Salvation Through Jesus Christ