Evangelism: the Message


Evangelism is the human means by which God brings men out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son (Col. 1:13). People in sin are lovers of darkness, and dig deeper and deeper. How is he to be lifted up and translated into the light? It’s by evangelism. That’s the divinely appointed device.

—John Gerstner

To evangelize is to present Christ Jesus to sinful men in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His Church.

J.I. Packer, Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God

Packer makes an important point: we cannot define evangelism based on effect. Are we not evangelizing unless someone converts? We can’t define evangelism based on the desired effect, solely because we cannot guarantee the effect. Packer says, “Evangelism is man’s work, but the giving of faith is God’s.”

Anyone who delivers God’s message of mercy to sinners, under any circumstance, is evangelizing.

Doctrine and Content of Evangelism:

The theology is at the same time the message of evangelism.

You must get the message right. That’s why we start with the message. I’m not going to assume you actually know the Gospel; that you actually know correct doctrine.

We think it doesn’t really matter if we don’t get all the details right, as long as we are zealous. It is easy to subordinate the message to the mission, the evangel to evangelism, as if being busy with outreach could trump the content of what we have been given to communicate.

—Horton, Michael. The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples (p. 23). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The Message of Evangelism is Not . . .

Michael Horton says ours is “an age of “mission creep”—that is, a tendency to expand the church’s calling beyond its original mandate.”

—Horton, Michael. The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples (p. 16). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The message is not your story. (AKA “personal testimony”)

A lot of our talk about “getting saved” in evangelical circles focuses on the day that we did something: we invited Jesus into our heart, said a prayer, went forward, or otherwise evidenced a decisive conversion experience. However, this shifts the concentration from the gospel itself (Christ’s saving work) to our experience of the gospel. We are commanded to believe the gospel, but the gospel itself is an announcement concerning Christ’s all-sufficient achievement for us.

—Horton, Michael. The Gospel Commission: Recovering God’s Strategy for Making Disciples (pp. 29-30). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The message is not “Jesus wants to be your friend.” No joke, I actually heard an “evangelistic message” where the person said “Jesus is sending you a friend request.” Appalling.

The message is not “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” First, God doesn’t love everybody. And you’ll only know if God loves you if he grants you repentance and faith. The Apostles in Scripture never said this to people, by the way (that should give us a hint). Secondly, his plan is wonderful, but your experience of it might not be wonderful. If you become a Christian, you may have to suffer or even die (case in point: the Apostles). Or, if you remain an unbeliever, God’s plan for you is that you suffer eternal punishment, to the praise of his glorious justice. It’s a “wonderful plan for your life”, just not wonderful to you.

The message is not “God will make you successful, rich, and healthy.” Jesus is not the answer to your financial problems. That’s called the “prosperity gospel”, and it is a false gospel. The good news of Jesus Christ is not health, wealth, and prosperity. The message of the gospel is not that you’ll have a “better” life. It is better, but not by the world’s standards.

The message is not even “God wants you to be happy.” True happiness is certainly a by-product of salvation in Christ, but not what we pursue. As C.S. Lewis said, I didn’t need God to make me happy, I always knew a bottle of port would do that. . . If you seek happiness you won’t find it, but if you seek God, you’ll get God and happiness included.

The message is not love God and love your neighbor. That’s the Law, not the Gospel. It’s nothing less than a summary of the moral law, comprehended in the Ten Commandments. That Law, according to the Apostle Paul, shows us our need for a Savior. Christ did not come merely to repeat the law’s demand to us, but to fulfill it and obey it, in our place, and die for our transgression of it.

The message is not liberation from oppressive social systems. This means that “evangelism” is not community service, social work, political activism, or humanitarian activities (as practiced by Liberals and confused Presbyterians). Each time you are preaching social work or community service, you are not preaching the only news that saves. Those other things aren’t even news, anyway. Jesus didn’t need to die and resurrect to summarize the moral law, or to tell people to love each other. The “social gospel” is a false gospel. And Liberation theology is a false theology.

On one hand, liberals see evangelism as only social work. On the other, fundamentalists see it as only saving souls.

—Joe Morecraft

When you hear people speak well of Jesus, listen carefully to see what they say about him. Many speak well of Jesus as a good man and say we should follow his example. But that’s not enough, and that’s not the gospel. Many speak well of Jesus as a holy teacher and say we should pay attention to him. But that’s not enough, and that’s not the gospel. Jesus came to meet our need. If he had left us only a good example, we could never have followed it. If he had left us only his holy teaching, we could never have lived by it. We are sinners who need a Savior. Jesus came to be that Savior. He is the Son of God who became man to die for the sins of his people and rise again.

—Starr Meade, Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds loc. 766

What is the Message?

“The message of evangelism is the whole counsel of God as revealed in His Word, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.” (Biblical Evangelism: A Symposium; OPC)

Quick Application: if this is true, then evangelism should happen every Lord’s Day, in every sermon. There is no need to organize a special “evangelistic” service or “evangelistic” message in order to evangelize.

“All that is Promised Us in the Gospel”

The Heidelberg Catechism says,

21. Q. What is true faith?

A. True faith is a sure knowledge

whereby I accept as true

all that God has revealed to us in his Word. 1

At the same time it is a firm confidence 2

that not only to others, but also to me, 3

God has granted forgiveness of sins,

everlasting righteousness, and salvation, 4

out of mere grace,

only for the sake of Christ’s merits. 5

This faith the Holy Spirit works in my heart

by the gospel. 6

1.Jn 17:3, 17; Heb 11:1-3; Jas 2:19.

2.Rom 4:18-21; 5:1; 10:10; Heb 4:16.

3.Gal 2:20.

4.Rom 1:17; Heb 10:10.

5.Rom 3:20-26; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-10.

6.Acts 16:14; Rom 1:16; 10:17; 1 Cor 1:21.

(Notice our favorite word: all that God has revealed in his Word)

The first part of the “true faith” we must have is faith that the Bible is God’s Word and is true in every detail. We must know and believe that the Bible is not just any book, but the revelation of God’s truth.

—Starr Meade, Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds loc. 606

People want to believe that God loves and accepts everyone. This is not what the Bible teaches. The only people who are right with God are those who have faith in Jesus Christ, who is the only Savior God has given.

—Starr Meade, Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds loc. 566


22. Q. What, then, must a Christian believe?

A. All that is promised us in the gospel, 1

which the articles of our

catholic and undoubted Christian faith

teach us in a summary.

1.Mt 28:19; Jn 20:30, 31.

(What is the message of evangelism, that people are commanded to believe?)

23. Q. What are these articles?

A. I.

1. I believe in God the Father almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth.


2. I believe in Jesus Christ,

his only-begotten Son, our Lord;

3. he was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the virgin Mary;

4. suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, dead, and buried;

he descended into hell.

5. On the third day he arose from the dead;

6. he ascended into heaven,

and sits at the right hand

of God the Father almighty;

7. from there he will come to judge

the living and the dead.


8. I believe in the Holy Spirit;

9. I believe a holy catholic Christian church,

the communion of saints;

10. the forgiveness of sins;

11. the resurrection of the body;

12. and the life everlasting.

24. Q. How are these articles divided?

A. Into three parts:

the first is about God the Father and our creation;

the second about God the Son and our redemption;

the third about God the Holy Spirit

and our sanctification.

That’s what one must believe. That is the message of evangelism. This is the content that we are proclaiming. It’s the Gospel, but it contains what the whole Word of God teaches. The Heidelberg Catechism then continues to expound on each article in the Apostles’ Creed.

For example:

26. Q. What do you believe when you say:

I believe in God the Father almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth?

A. That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who out of nothing created heaven and earth

and all that is in them, 1

and who still upholds and governs them

by his eternal counsel and providence, 2

is, for the sake of Christ his Son,

my God and my Father. 3

In him I trust so completely

as to have no doubt

that he will provide me

with all things necessary for body and soul, 4

and will also turn to my good

whatever adversity he sends me

in this life of sorrow. 5

He is able to do so as almighty God, 6

and willing also as a faithful Father. 7

1. Gen 1 and 2; Ex 20:11; Job 38 and 39; Ps 33:6; Is 44:24; Acts 4:24; 14:15.

2.Ps 104:27-30; Mt 6:30; 10:29; Eph 1:11.

3.Jn 1:12, 13; Rom 8:15, 16; Gal 4:4-7; Eph 1:5.

4.Ps 55:22; Mt 6:25, 26; Lk 12:22-31.

5.Rom 8:28.

6.Gen 18:14; Rom 8:31-39.

7.Mt 6:32, 33; 7:9-11.

That’s an evangelistic tool! In fact, teaching the Apostle’s Creed has always been the practice of the church in making disciples. It’s one of the things you were required to learn before you could profess faith in Christ and received baptism, in the early church.

We’ll get more into that later in the class.

We will now survey these Christian doctrines that are both the basis for evangelism and the content of evangelism.

Reading Assignment: Reformed Evangelism” by Morton Smith

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