Evangelism: A Practical View
The overall sweep and story of the Scriptures is of a God who graciously and generously gives of himself to his people. He draws all nations, tribes, and tongues to a redeemed fellowship with himself. The gospel is a global call to union in Christ. The Scriptures also detail that there is both an outward and inward call of the gospel. Outwardly, this message of repentance and faith is to be proclaimed universally and liberally to the world. Inwardly, the Holy Spirit will enliven and regenerate the hearts of the elect, so that the outward call will produce the fruit of the repentance. But practically speaking, what does this mean for the average church member? What are the practical out workings, the day-to-day reality, for regular folks? What does evangelism look like?
The Book of Acts provides us with some very practical and real-life instruction for how we are to be faithful in proclaiming the gospel. This book displays God’s plan of salvation for his people and God’s purposes in fulfilling his plan. God is sovereign in his election and providence. He will ordain scenarios to fulfill his purposes. His people will be in the right place at the right time to bring others to a saving knowledge of Christ. In his time, he will empower his people to take the good news of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem, all of Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). Acts 8:26-40 gives an excellent example of this theme.
As we have seen, the Scriptures from the beginning have pointed to the fact that God’s glory will be seen among the nations. Through either an inward draw or the outward push, the gospel will go out to all nations. Psalm 68 speaks of the global reign of God’s Anointed. Verse 31 points to the promise that all nations will come to know God as Savior and King. Specifically, it notes two nations. “Nobles shall come from Egypt; Cush [Ethiopia] shall hasten to stretch out her hands to God” (Ps 68:31). This promise is partially fulfilled in the scene between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8. This is the gospel going to the end of the earth. God ordained a gospel conversation so that this Ethiopian would hear the good news and be saved. We can learn a good deal about the role we are to practically play in God’s global call to the gospel.
God ordains for Philip to be in a particular time and place. He does this by sending an angel to guide Philip. And he leads him to an Ethiopian eunuch who had come to Jerusalem to worship but is now on his way back home. In our lives, we see something similar. God’s providence is at work through the myriad of choices and events that result in our being exactly where we are. It is no coincidence that you are where you are. It is no coincidence that you are in relationship with the people around you. God has you were you are supposed to be, surrounded by the people you are supposed to be surrounded with. Don’t underestimate this.
It may also be beneficial for us to realize that this story takes place in the desert. Philip was given a command by the Lord without an explanation of why. The purpose for his being in the desert was unknown to Philip. It is unlikely that Philip longed for that situation, but he was faithful to God’s leading, trusting that the Lord would fulfill his purposes through him. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that we do not prefer. Perhaps you find yourself in some situation that is unwanted. Perhaps you’re surrounded by people you assume would never be open to the gospel. But God will place you in the desert for a reason. Sometimes the door of divine opportunity opens in unlikely places. John Calvin explained that sometimes God will deal with us in this manner to prove our obedience. He will give us the command but keep the reason from us. We must, therefore, be content with the command alone. Even if the reason is not plainly expressed, all the commands of God contain a hidden promise, so that if we obey, all we do will turn out well. No matter what your current situation is, God is opening doors for gospel conversations with people around you.
The Lord instructs Philip to speak with this Ethiopian man. It so happens that the eunuch was reading from the book of Isaiah. And he had questions about it. Now this might seem remarkable to us. We might think, “No one has ever asked me what this passage from Isaiah means. If they did that, well, of course I’d be ready for a gospel conversation.” But the truth is that more often than not we are sitting at the traffic light after it has turned green. The cars behind are honking their horns. And we’re just waiting for some sign before we go. We should pay closer attention to the signs people give us. People are asking all sorts of questions, making all sorts of statements, that reveal their longing to know Jesus. We just need to pay attention.
The final practical point from Philip is seen in how he responds to his God-ordained circumstances. “Then Philip opened his mouth…” (Acts 8:35). What did he do? He simply opened his mouth. He saw the opportunity and he stepped out in faith by opening his mouth. Philip spoke about what the Bible says about Jesus. He led the Ethiopian to repentance of sin and faith in Christ. This might seem intimidating to you. But the key is to simply have the courage to open your mouth. The Holy Spirit does the work of regeneration. You’ll never persuade someone with your eloquence to believe in Jesus. But the Holy Spirit will use your semi-coherent ramblings to draw someone to faith. We give the outward call but the Spirit makes it effective by his inward call. We are simply to respond to our circumstances with obedience by opening out mouths.