Several months ago I wrote an article where I outlined the difference between evangelism and outreach. These are terms that many people treat as being synonymous, yet they are distinct and need to be treated as such. This morning I was thinking about the idea of “successful evangelism.” What makes one evangelistic effort successful and another unsuccessful? I would like to briefly examine this today. I will begin by defining “evangelism.”
The root of the word evangelism, evangel, is derived from the Greek word euangelion which is translated good news. From that same word, we derive the word gospel. We find also that many words we use in English are in reality synonymous – evangel(ism), gospel and good news all speak of the same thing and find their root in the same word. They speak of the act of spreading the gospel and to the content of the message that is given. This is an important point to note – they refer both to the method and the message.
The word euangelion is found in many places throughout the New Testament. “The term is often used to express collectively the gospel doctrines; and ‘preaching the gospel’ is often used to include not only the proclaiming of the good tidings, but the teaching men how to avail themselves of the offer of salvation, the declaring of all the truths, precepts, promises, and threatenings of Christianity.” It is termed “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23), “the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16), “the gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15), “the glorious gospel,” “the everlasting gospel,” “the gospel of salvation” (Eph. 1:13).” (Easton Illustrated Dictionary)
In the Elwell Evangelical Dictionary we read specifically about Paul’s application of the term which he used over 60 times and is found in every one of his letters except for Titus. “Paul’s ministry was distinctively that of the propagation of the gospel. Unto this gospel he was set apart (Rom. 1:1) and made a minister according to the grace of God (Eph. 3:7). His special sphere of action was the Gentile world (Rom. 16:16; Gal. 2:7). Since Paul accepted the gospel as a sacred trust (Gal. 2:7), it was necessary that in the discharge of this obligation he speak so as to please God rather than man (I Tim. 2:4). The divine commission had created a sense of urgency that made him cry out, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (I Cor. 9:16). For the sake of the gospel Paul was willing to become all things to all men (I Cor. 9:22-23). No sacrifice was too great. Eternal issues were at stake. Those whose minds were blinded and did not obey the gospel were perishing and would ultimately reap the vengeance of divine wrath (II Cor. 4:3; II Thess. 1:9). On the other hand, to those who believed, the gospel had effectively become the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).”
We can find insight into what the gospel means to Christians through the words of William Tyndale, who was a great English Reformer and Bible translator. To him it signified “good, mery, glad and ioyfull tydinge, that maketh a mannes hert glad, and maketh hym synge, daunce, and leepe for ioye.” It truly is Good News!
Evangelism is more than telling people that Jesus loves them or that He died for them. It is telling people that they have offended a Holy God and stand before Him as condemned sinners. It is sharing with them that the good news, the best news of all, is that Jesus died for that very type of person. Jesus died to reconcile those condemned individuals to this God of justice. It is sharing with people that through faith they can be saved and can avoid an eternity of suffering for their offense to God. The Good News can only be understood in context of the bad news. If people do not understand the bad, if they do not realize that they are repugnant to God, befouled by their sin, they can not understand just how good the Good News is!
In short, evangelism is nothing more and nothing less than sharing this Good News with one who so desperately needs to hear it. So now to the matter at hand: how can we evaluate if our effort in evangelizing has been successful? Some people would have us believe that it is difficult to determine whether or not evangelism is successful. More commonly people teach that it is very easy to determine if it has been successful, for if people respond to the message, we can trust that we have evangelized successfully. Yet this idea is quickly refuted by 1 Corinthians 3:5-8 where Paul writes “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.” The one who plants and the one who waters are together nothing. It is God who gives the increase. It is God who determines who will respond to the message and who will not.
So again, how can we determine when we have evangelized successfully? I contend that it is very easy to know. If we have shared the Good News, if we have shared the message of sin, death, Savior and forgiveness, we have evangelized successfully, for we have done the very thing Christ commanded. We cannot and must not evaluate our efforts in the light of who responds to the message. Don Whitney likens the evangelist to the mailman. The mailman has fulfilled the obligation of his job when he has delivered the mail to me. The measure of success in his job is to carefully and accurately deliver the message. How I respond to the letters I receive is none of his business. And the same is true of the evangelist. We can look back and, examining the words we spoke, know that we have successfully evangelized when we have shared the Gospel. When we have carefully and accurately delivered the message of God, we can trust that we have pleased our Father. And if one responds, or if one thousand respond, it is nothing, for God gives the increase. Soli deo gloria!