Over the years I have taught classes on evangelism and apologetics. I have always stated that Christians will only get motivated to learn and apply apologetics into their lives when they start to engage the culture for the faith. I am troubled by what seems to be an obsession with ‘lifestyle evangelism’ in the churches. Sadly, for many this can lead one to assume that a silent witness is the best witness.
It is as if many Christians assume if they live a certain way, many people will automatically ask “What makes you tick?” Now don’t get me wrong. I know our actions matter. I do know we need to live what we profess. But how many of us ever meet the standard that will cause people to ask us about what we believe? Also, what if a Mormon or a Muslim is an outstanding moral person who feeds the poor and goes out of their way to love others? The point is that we need to remember something: The Apostles weren’t martyred for lifestyle evangelism. Instead, they were martyred for proclaiming the Lord. If you want to see the evangelistic vocabulary in Acts, one of my former professors (Barry Leventhal) wrote about this in his article In Search of That Elusive Jewish Evangelist. Note: there is no direct link, but you can type in the article title and read it online. I have also written a post called “Who Were The First Apologists?” Anyway, here is some of the verbage of Acts:
5. “spoke boldly”
11. “disputed against”
15. “bore witness”
16. “spoke loudly”
17. “cried out”
18. “reasoned daily from
the Scriptures in the synagogue”
22. “vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ”
23. “reasoned daily”
25. “begged to listen patiently”
26. “solemnly testified”
27. “persuading them con-erning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets from morning until evening”
28. “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the hings which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him”
It is clear that we are living in a day of religious pluralism and theological illiteracy. On a very general level many Christians have been told they need to share the Gospel with people. But why? What is it that motivates you to even engage the culture for the Christian faith? Or maybe you just don’t engage it all. Overseas, Christians are being persecuted and killed for their beliefs. So don’t take it for granted that we have the freedom to share what we believe with others. I have come up with SOME reasons as to why we should desire to give a verbal witness for our faith.
1. The Starting Point
If you don’t agree with the following syllogism, it makes it hard to want to share your faith:
1. The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence.
2. The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate. This claim to divinity was proven by His miracles/His speaking authority, His actions, and His resurrection.
3. Therefore, there is reliable historical evidence that Jesus is God incarnate.
So if this syllogism is correct, it leads to the next syllogism:
The Command to Make Disciples: Matt 28:19
1. Whatever Jesus teaches is true.
2. Jesus taught that we are to “Go and make disciples of the nations” (Matt 28:19).
3. Therefore, Christians should desire to “Go and make disciples of the nations” (Matt 28:19).
This command does not mean we need to be sent to some far distant land to preach the Gospel. The command applies to every Christian no matter where they are located. God uses us wherever we are.
It is true that much of the Church has focused on the “go” part of this command. But we need to remember that The Great Commission is accomplished while we “go” about living our daily lives.
The context of Matt 28:19 is that in fulfillment of the Great Commission, we are to make disciples. We are to baptize new believers and we are to teach them. Unless there has been teaching and instruction about the commands of Jesus, there has not been any discipleship. So it is clear that people can’t enter into the process of discipleship without hearing about the Gospel.
2. Do people need to HEAR about the NAME?
Acts 10: The context of this chapter is Peter’s encounter with Cornelius. The normative way God reveals Himself to all humans is through the proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah by a specific individual who takes the initiative to explain the message of salvation to another. This matches up with the biblical data. There are cases in the Bible where people are sincerely religious but still had to have explicit faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. For example, in this chapter, Cornelius is shown to be a God fearer. He worshiped the correct God. However, he received a vision with instructions to send for Peter and awaited his message (Acts 10: 1-6, 22, 33; 11: 14). Because Cornelius ended up responding to special revelation concerning Jesus the Messiah, he attained salvation. In the Bible, people do experience salvation by the explicit preaching of the gospel (Luke 24:46-47; John 3:15-16;20-21; Acts 4:12; 11:14; 16:31; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Heb. 4:2; 1 Pet.1:3-25; 1 John 2:23; 5:12).
In Acts 10:43 Peter says that “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his NAME.”
There is a similar theme in Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
What is the significance of this verse in relation to the name of Jesus?
How could Jesus be declared as the only one whom God’s salvation is effected? In the ancient world, a name was not merely what someone was called, but rather the identification of the being and essence of its bearer.
We see that just as in the Hebrew Bible where the name of God represents the person of God and all that he is, so in the New Testament “the Name” represents all who Jesus is as Lord and Savior. James Edwards sums it up:
” In the ancient world, a name was not merely what someone was called, but rather the identifi cation of the being and essence of its bearer. To the Jewish people, an idol could not properly have a “name” because it has no being represented by the name (Is. 44:9-21). The “name” to which the apostles refer does not signify an event, but a person, in whom the authority and power of God was active in salvation. The saving activity of God was and is expressed in the name of Jesus Christ.The name of Jesus is thereby linked in the closest possible way to the name of God. “No other name” does not refer to a second name of God, but to the unity of God with Jesus, signifying one name, one nature, one saving activity. The shared nature of God and Jesus is signaled in the most striking way by the custom of the early church to pray to God in the name of Jesus” (1)
3. God has given the world more revelation of Himself in the person of Jesus the Messiah:
Historical verification is a way to test religious claims. We can detect God’s work in human history and apply historical tests to the Bible or any other religious book. The late Anthony Flew said the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen. Perhaps the most reasonable expectation is to ask WHERE and WHEN God has broken through into human history.
Let’s look at what Paul preached in Acts 17. It details Paul’s mission efforts to two synagogues and then his journey into Athens. As he is speaking to his audience towards the end of the chapter he says the following:
“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31).
What stands out here:
(1) Paul is urgent in his appeal for repentance
(2) According to Acts 14: 26, Paul states there was “a time in which God allowed the nations to walk in their own ways,” but now Paul states in Acts 17: 30, “The times of ignorance is over” – God has given man more revelation in the person of Jesus the Messiah
(3) Paul uses the same language as is used in the Jewish Scriptures about judgment (Psalm 9:9)
(4) The judgment will be conducted by an agent, a man who God has appointed
(5) Paul treats the resurrection as an historical fact and he uses it as a proof of God’s appointment as Jesus as the judge of the living and the dead! (2)
4. The Reign of God has broken into the world
In the New Testament, the Greek word for kingdom is “basileia,” which denotes “sovereignty,” “royal power,” and “dominion.” Biblical scholar J. Julius Scott Jr. has noted that in the ancient world, “kingdom” referred to “lordship,” “rule,” “reign,” or “sovereignty,” rather than simply a geographical location. Scott asserts “sovereignty (or rule) of God” would be a better translation than “kingdom of God,” since such a translation denotes God’s sphere or influence or control and includes any person or group who, regardless of their location, acknowledge His sovereignty. (3)
There is no kingdom without a King. In observing the ministry of Jesus, He demonstrated one of the visible signs of His inauguration of the kingdom of God would not only be the dispensing of the Holy Spirit (John 7: 39), but also the ability to perform miracles. If the reign of God is breaking into human history, then the King has come. If the Messianic age has arrived, then the Messiah must be present.
As Paul states in Colossians 1:13-14, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
There is a relationship between Paul’s commission in Acts 26:16-18 and 2 Corinthians 4:4-6:
“I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:15-18)
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Christ’s sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,“ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
(2 Corinthians 4: 4-6).
We see the relationship between these two passages:
(1) Paul’s commission;
(2) Vision of God
(3) Existence under Satan
(5) Turning to God
(6) From darkness to light
2 Corinthians 4:4-6:
(1) Paul’s commission
(2) Vision of God
(3) Under “god of this age”
(5) Implied: Turning to God
(6) From Darkness to Light
Source: Data adopted from Seyoom Kim, Paul and the NewPerspective: Second Thoughts on the Origin of Paul’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 102; cited in John Piper’s God is the Gospel.
5. All of us miss the mark!
Imagine someone with a bow and arrow who is trying to hit the bullseye on a target but they keep missing. This is a picture of what sin is. The Greek word for sin is “harmatia” which means “to miss the mark.” Sin is missing the mark, falling short of God’s absolute standard of perfection. Sin is going astray, being in autonomy of God. Because of sin, humans have an ALIENATION problem. ALIENATION means to be estranged or split apart from someone or even a community, etc. ALIENTATION does not allow us to have the harmony and proper relationship with God that he intended.
There is a Hebrew word called “Shalom” which means peace, completeness, or wholeness. It can it can refer to either peace between two entities (especially between man and God or between two countries). Why do we lack this wholeness? Sadly, sin causes us to be fragmented. Jesus is the one who offers reconcilation and shalom with our Creator.
6. We share our faith because we think Christianity is true
Guess what? We are living in a day where there is a loss of objective truth. I hope we all know that our faith doesn’t make Christianity true. My faith won’t change the fact that objectively speaking, God exists or doesn’t exist or that Jesus rose from the dead in the past. The proposition “God exists” means that there really is a God outside the universe. Likewise, the claim that “God raised Christ from the dead” means that the dead corpse of Jesus of Nazareth factually rose from the dead in the context of real time, space, and history.
What about the person who says, “If Jesus works for you, that is great, but it is not my thing.” This is what is called “The Felt Needs Gospel.” It is true that the Gospel does meet a variety of needs in people’s lives. But I still concur that we need to present our faith as something that is true and reasonable. As J.P. Moreland says:
“ Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus.” (4)
It is my hope that when it comes to communicating the Good News, we will use both words and actions. Given we live in a day of religious pluralism and a world where people have so many spiritual options, to assume people will pick our faith over another because of our lifestyle is assuming too much.
1. Edwards, J.R., Is Jesus the Only Savior? Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Group, 2005, 106.
2. Marshall. I.H., The Acts of the Apostles. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids: MI: Intervarsity Press. 1980, 288-290.
3. Scott Jr, J.J., Customs and Controversies: Intertestamental Jewish Backgrounds of the New
Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995, 297.
4. Moreland, J.P. Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress. 1997, 25.