Gospel-motivated evangelism (Acts 4)

Sometimes evangelism feels a bit like a diet—most of us shift nervously because we know we haven’t been “sticking to it” as much as we should have been.  Throughout this series we’ve been focusing on the various “myths” that prevent us from making radical followers of Jesus, but for some this one is the biggest.  Understandably so, because sharing our faith can often result in friends and family rejecting the gospel message—making us feel rejected along with it.

This was essentially the experience of Jesus’ first evangelists, whose community leaders responded to the spread of Christianity not with enthusiasm but with open threats.  But did they respond with anger?  Frustration?  Did they circulate petitions?  Stage boycotts?  No; they had a worship service:

23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,

and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

 

27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness,30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:23-31)

Love is what separates boldness from the “clanging gong” Paul warns the church of Corinth against (1 Corinthians 13).  Too often it’s tempting to become the “clanging gong”—reacting to “the world” as though we could neatly divide it into “us” and “them.”  It’s equally tempting to respond to “them” with snarky remarks, anger over peripheral issues, or rallying behind fashionable causes that do more to galvanize the faithful than to reach the faithless.  Today’s rising generations are sick to death with forms of Christianity that “fights the wrong battles,” that is more inclined to rally behind a chicken sandwich than to love our neighbor.

In this setting, then, worship is the most culturally subversive thing there is.  Why?  Because it is in worship that we proclaim our allegiance not to the systems of this world—success, relationships, etc.—but to Jesus and His Kingdom.  This was the pattern of life for the early Church, and it may—nay, must—be reclaimed by the church of today if we are to find traction in the world we inhabit.

This also means that the gospel changes my entire motivation for evangelism.  We see this in several ways:

  • The gospel says I am accepted by grace, not performance. This means that when I approach others, my top priority is not a lifestyle issue or matters of politics.  Too often we think people need to “get their act together” before they can come to Jesus.  This emerges in subtle ways—such as the way we tend to think of some people as “closer” to Jesus than others, or we dismiss some as “never going to darken the door of a church.”  The gospel shatters our traditional categories of “hard cases,” and prompts us to see everyone as being within the reach of God’s grace.

 

  • Because of the gospel, I have the approval of my Heavenly Father. So who else’s approval do I need?  The gospel tells me that I don’t need to fear rejection by man if I have the acceptance of God.  The gospel therefore sets me free to offend my neighbor—that is, if that’s the consequence of sharing the truth in love.
  • If I am reluctant to share my faith, what do I really believe about the character of God? If God exists to fulfill my dreams, then why would I worry about my neighbors who seem to be getting on just fine without him?  But if my only hope is Christ, it impels me to share my faith boldly—and publicly.

In the eighteenth century, a prominent evangelist named Jonathan Edwards wrote a book called The Surprising Work of God.  Drawing from an image Jesus used in John 3, Edwards said that like the unpredictable blowing of the wind, we are surprised at the ways God draws men and women to Himself.  With all the wildness of the wind, the gospel takes the human heart by storm.  Our task is to be faithful, and to pray that God’s Spirit would continue to mightily work in the hearts of men and women He longs to call His own.

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