We turn to John Stott for a timeless simple definition: “Evangelism is to preach the gospel.” The word “evangelism” derives from the Greek word euangelizō, which means “to announce good news.” The verb and noun forms of this word—translated “gospel”—appear 125 times in the New Testament.
Clearly, evangelism involves a verbal proclamation and pronouncement of “good news.” But first, we MUST genuinely, personally believe that.
One who has deeply experienced a powerful, robust, transformational gospel will overflow with the “good news” of what Christ has done on the cross outside the city gates of Jerusalem. This is precisely the two-thousand-year-old history of Christianity—where God makes ordinary people responsible for its very future. Where a diverse group of people are to hand down the story of a Savior and a resurrection, and that story will spread like wild-fire across cultures and continents.
How? By people who have tasted and seen the beautiful work of the gospel. These were not people who had benign spiritual experiences or contained a life-less, dispassionate faith. These are people who received the unmerited favor of God that was earned not by their words but by the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.
Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.”
Paul said the reason he was not ashamed of the “gospel of Christ” was because “it is the POWER OF GOD for salvation to everyone who believes.” Paul was not ashamed of the gospel because he had seen its incredible power first hand. How? Was it in his dramatic experience on the road to Damascus? Or was it in its continuous work in his soul? (Spoiler alert: both!)
Paul is a prototype of boldness and courage concerning the transformational power in his life. Look at Paul’s boldness with this statement: the gospel “is the power of God for salvation” (emphasis mine). Salvation is the Greek word soteria, which means “to save or rescue—deliver”.
Rescue from what? Salvation has both a negative and a positive side:
- Negatively – We are rescued from something. We are rescued from the wrath and punishment of God because of our SIN, of which Paul is not afraid to discuss. A topic that may be difficult to discuss in our culture but nonetheless a Biblical truth.
- Positively – We are rescued to something. Sin destroyed the relationship we once had with God, and we are restored or rescued for that. We are rescued for the ONLY relationship we will have that will completely satisfy. NO physical possession, person, or experience will satisfy us. The human heart won’t be satisfied until it is satisfied in Him.
Genuinely experiencing the reality of the combination of this rescue should make us the most satisfied customers on the planet, sharing the news of our supernatural rescue and restoration. And yet, we really don’t see much evidence of that as evangelism has fallen off dramatically in American Christianity.
Let’s return to John Stott: “The greatest single hindrance to personal evangelism today is the secret poverty of our own spiritual experience.”
Has he diagnosed why evangelism is on such steep decline among us?
Is a personal gospel experience weak or even completely missing in his church? Yes, this lack may mark many who claim to be Christians. Those who are truly un-regenerated by the power of the gospel need a genuine, personal salvation experience.
So why might genuine believers lack a personal passion for the gospel and gospel sharing? Jonathan Dodson offers insight that might answer that question with these helpful words: “Christians who internalize the gospel of grace more and more are compelled to spread that gospel more and more.”
After being saved as eight-year-old girl, I unfortunately subtly acquired a spirit of self-righteousness in my twenties, all the while being a pastor’s wife and visible church leader. Self-righteousness is a poison. It poisoned my view of myself. I failed to see myself as in desperate need of rescue—replacing desperation with the attitude that I had “done my part.” Even worse was an unconscious spirit that God had gotten a “good deal” when He got me. That attitude diminished the power of the gospel in my life. Which ironically, is easy to do for those of us in the church.
In time, God brought me through a season of brokenness which proved to be—aside from my salvation—my greatest season of personal transformation. What Jesus came to purchase for me on the cross became profoundly real to me. In fact, this discovery sustained me through the darkest season of my life. The power of the gospel captivated my heart with awe, freedom, peace, and clarity—BUT also created a new urgency about sharing that gospel. As I “internalized the gospel more and more” I felt “compelled to spread that gospel more and more.” It truly was good news.
The gospel is NOT a truth or experience we move on from to deeper things of God; we just move more deeply into our understanding of it.
A more powerful personal gospel experience brought me a new boldness. Where does boldness come from?
- Boldness comes with a greater confidence in Christ. A compulsion is demonstrated by the apostles: “Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:19-20).
- Boldness is empowered by the Holy Spirit. “When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31).
“Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19).
Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my boldness to declare the gospel to everyone You put in my path.
Kathy Litton lives in Mobile, AL with her husband Dr. Ed Litton who is the pastor of Redemption Church. Both had their lives take unexpected twists and turns as they lost their former spouses in car accidents. Kathy knows the sting of death, the journey of loss and grief, all against a backdrop of a loving Savior and Lord who proved to be faithful, good, and ever-present. Ed and Kathy share six grown children and ten grandchildren. She has been a pastor’s wife twice and has worked for the North American Mission Board for eight years. She is the Director of Planter Spouse Development at the Send Network.