To evangelize is to take the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to each and every lost soul. In order to accomplish such an enormous and difficult task, the presence and help of the Holy Spirit are essential. Without me, says the Lord, you can do nothing. Propaganda efforts, material investments, gifted preachers, stirring speeches, even the response of the masses, are nothing without the effective intervention of the Spirit of God.
Having entrusted the great commission to His disciples, Jesus tells them not to leave Jerusalem before receiving the power of the Holy Spirit, through whom they will be His witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:4, 8). Had He not already told them in the upper room: "The Spirit of truth ... will bear witness to me; and you, too, will be my witnesses" (Jn. 15:26-27)?
Let us see why the action of the Spirit is so necessary.
1. The Holy Spirit convinces of sin. God has promised to speak to each man's heart and conscience. We work from without, while He works from within. Jesus promises that the Comforter will convict the world of sin because people do not believe in Him (Jn. 16:8-9). we can accuse a man in the name of the law and produce a feeling of terror in him, but this is not true repentance. Only the Comforter, without hardening a manes heart, can make him aware of his faults, and of the sin he has committed against the love of the Saviour whom he has rejected and grieved.
After his speech on the day of Pentecost, Peter's listeners, being "cut to the heart," repent and are saved (Acts 2:37-41). Lydia listens to Paul's words because the Lord has "opened her heart" (Acts 16:14). This kind of response is the first thing we want to see in our evangelistic efforts.
2. Only the Spirit can regenerate. "The Spirit alone gives life; the flesh is of no avail" (Jn. 6:63). We can try to speak, to convince, to exhort, and to give the appearance of godliness, but we can never achieve the miracle of spiritual resurrection. There will perhaps be decisions and encouraging statistics, but if the Spirit does not bring each person to the new birth, without which no one can enter into the kingdom of God, there will also be much falling away. in keeping with the Lord's command, we say like Ezekiel: "Come from the four winds, 0 breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live" (37:9).
3. The Holy Spirit baptizes and adds believers to the Church. One of the greatest weaknesses in evangelism is that too many converts want to remain totally independent. Unable to find the perfect local church, they refuse to join any at all. We read that each day the Lord adds to the Church those who are saved (Acts 2:47). All believers have been "by one Spirit... baptized into one body (I Cor. 12:13). Formerly separated from God and man, they die with Christ in order to live again with Him. Being in Christ, they are united with the head, and at the same time, with all other members of the body, which is the Church. If converts go their own way, our evangelistic work will be lost. We must help to set them together on the same foundation as living stones, reborn by the Word, united one with another and sealed by the Holy Spirit.
4. The gift of the Spirit is given to each born-again person. We have just mentioned the staggering mortality that hits the converts we claim at our evangelistic campaigns. This situation can be attributed only to the fact that these people had nothing more than a partial spiritual experience. Perhaps instead of giving them the whole counsel of God, and keeping back nothing (Acts 20:27), we gave them merely an elementary message. Immediately upon rebirth into the faith, a newborn soul, undergoes the terrible attacks of Satan and the world, which try to regain him. The new believer will never have the strength to resist them if he is not convinced that He who is in him is stronger than he who is in the world (I in. 4:4). How will he live the Christian life if he has not by faith received the gift of the Holy Spiritg promised to all who repent and believe (Acts 2:38-39; 5:32; Gal. 3:14)? To omit these truths in the evangelistic message is to lead those who are ready to hear into a life of legalism and failure.
5. The Spirit engages each believer in the Lord's service. The advance of the Gospel will follow a geometric progression if each new convert himself becomes a soul-winner. On the other hand, if this does not occur, we will continue to have Especial evangelists" who in the face of the gigantic task work themselves to death. The few people who are "won" will make no progress and will soon be lost to God's work.
In actual fact, the Holy Spirit makes each and all of us witnesses of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8). To set out without being clothed with power from on high would be senseless (Luke 24:49); not to open one's mouth in witness after having claimed faith in Christ would raise questions about the truth of one's salvation (Rom. 10:10).
If a country mobilizes all its men, none has the right to shirk his duty. Similarly, no Christian can neglect his contribution to the evangelization of the world. We are, in fact, a royal priesthood, God's own people, entrusted and privileged to proclaim the wonderful deeds of Him Who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (I Pet. 2:9).
Paul exclaimed: "Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel!" (I Cor. 9:16). This pressing compulsion we must instill into all whom we lead to Christ. With them, let us be filled to overflowing with the wonderful and glorious joy that comes in serving the King of kings. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love, and of practical wisdom (II Tim. 1:7).
6. The Spirit singles out each member of Christ's body for a particular task. Even if the call to service is general, yet each person is entrusted with a particular task. That task the Holy Spirit clearly reveals to the individual and to the Church. At Antioch He declared: "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" (Acts 13:2). At Ephesus, Paul himself tells the elders: "Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians" (Acts 20:28).
The work of God is extremely difficult and formidable. in ourselves we have not the slightest ability to accomplish it. But, says Paul, our ability comes from God. It is He who equips us to be ministers of the new covenant of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives a spiritual gift to each one whom He has baptized into the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:7-11). As far as our subject of discussion is concerned, the most precious gift is obviously that of evangelist, a gift which God gives not only to an individual, but also to His Church (Eph. 4:11). "He gave some...evangelists.” How rare that gift is; yet how necessary Religious groups have their leaders and their preachers, but often they die because they lack men able to lead souls to rebirth. For every Moody, Spurgeon or Billy Graham, how countless many we have who are not gifted, speaking not so much from a human as from a spiritual point of view! There are few, very few workers able to evangelize. Let us, therefore, beseech the Master to raise up such people, to qualify them by His Spirit, and to grant them a rich harvest of souls. As for us, let us humbly make up the team that will back them up, and let us resolve to play our part -- perhaps a hidden one -- in this wonderful work. "One sows, and another reaps" (Jn. 4:37). "He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive wages according to his labor. For we are workers together with God" (I Cor. 3:8-9). It goes without saying that to share in any way in such a work is possible only through the spiritual gift granted to each one.
Let us add, too, that whatever our particular part in the work, the supreme gift which gives all others their value is that of love. We do not evangelize enough, we win few souls, we hardly reach our generation, because we do not know how to love. All the great evangelists were possessed by a burning love for lost souls. Listen to what the apostle Paul has to say: "The love of Christ constrains us ... I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears ... to let you know that abundant love that I have for you. I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved" (11 Cor. 5:14, 2:4; 12:15)
This is the supreme way! For us who are so far from it, the only solution is that the love of God be poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom. 5:5).
7. The Holy Spirit directs all missionary strategy. The Comforter who guides us into all the truth, does so not only where doctrine is concerned; He wants to direct us in everything according to the divine will. He reveals His plans of attack to the Church, and holds His submissive servants firmly in His hand. First of all, as we have seen, it is the Spirit who sets aside chosen people, like Barnabas and Saul, calls them and causes the Church to recognize their calling (Acts 13:2-3). When masses of Gentiles begin to be converted, it is necessary to know on what conditions they will be admitted into the Church: will they become Jews and keep the law of Moses, or will they simply receive the grace of God by faith? After some discussion, the Church says to these converted Gentiles: "It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things" (15:28). Then, guided step by step by the Lord, Paul and his companions go off on their second missionary journey: the Holy Spirit forbids them to announce the Word in Asia, for example, and the Spirit of Jesus does not allow them to go into Bithynia (16:6-7). We cannot quote in detail all the references to God's direct intervention in sending Paul to Europe, in encouraging him at Corinth, confirming His will to send him to Rome, promising him escape from shipwreck and appearance before Caesar. Paul sums everything up by saying that he goes bound in the Spirit (20:22), and also warned by the Spirit of what will happen to him in each place (v. 23).
What a lesson for us! We are shortsighted in our vision, we mark time, we fall short of strategic objectives, we lack long-term policies, we are thwarted by the first obstacle that comes our way: and all because we fail to let the Holy Spirit be our one and only strategist and instructor. If henceforth we would only let Him bind us and lead us to complete victory wherever He wishes in the pathways of the Cross!
8. The Spirit helps the evangelist give his message. Speaking not of preaching, but of witness in time of persecution, our Lord said to His disciples, "When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say: for what you are to say will be given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you" (Matt. 10:19-20). Certain groups have misquoted this verse and imply that the preacher has no need to prepare his sermon in advance, but should count entirely on the instantaneous help of the Spirit, Nevertheless let us not forget that the Lord will and does indeed give his faithful servants the help of His Spirit to proclaim the Gospel. The men who disputed with Stephen "could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke" (Acts 6:9-10).
In a text which applies more to the compiling of the written revelation, the apostle Paul declares, concerning the deep things of the Lord: "We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths in spiritual language" (I Cor. 2:13). But is not the wisdom and personal help of the Spirit also needed if the spoken word is to be proclaimed with the right words, understanding love and inward fire? We read that Peter and John, uneducated, common men, speak with boldness because they are filled with the Spirit (Acts 4:8,13). For this reason, too, they exclaim: "We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (v. 20). After the first persecution, the disciples met together and prayed; says Luke, "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness" (v. 31). In a Church where the deacons had to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3,B), what was expected of evangelists and apostles, as well as of simple believers? Here no doubt we touch upon the early Christians' secret of an overflowing life and boundless growth and advance.
Furthermore, the one weapon of Jesus' witness is none other than "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:17). This sword he will learn to wield as the apostle's prayer, "That God ... may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him... " (Eph. 1:17-18), becomes a reality in him. May the Lord fill, first our souls, then our message, with the infinite riches of His grace and power, and thus make that message irresistible!
Like every other witness for Christ, the evangelist must be at the Spirit's disposal and ever ready to let Him take charge of and give content to the message. We can easily fall into a routine, in which we become men of one message and always repeat the same things. Or, lest we appear negative" or antagonize the masses we want to win, we may be afraid to broach certain unpopular subjects. Jesus did just the opposite; perhaps to sift out would-be true followers from mere listeners, He sometimes pronounced His most extreme demands just when great crowds followed Him (e.g. in Luke 14: 25-27).
Likewise, the Spirit expressly warns the Church and its preachers against the apostasy of the last times (I Tim. 4:1-3). In Second Timothy Paul develops this theme again (4:1-5), and announces the time when men will no longer endure sound doctrine and will turn to myths. Is it not striking that immediately afterwards the apostle should say to his young friend, "As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (II Tim. 4:3-5)?
This would indicate that in order to know how to emphasize the different truths of his message, the man of God has great need of a discerning spirit and knowledge of the needs of his day. It is clear that, if every witness and evangelistic message is thus inspired, underscored and completed by the Spirit, it will indeed spread abroad that Word of the Lord which never returns unto Him void.
9. Prayer in the Spirit is the driving power of evangelism. We constantly forget that "we are not contending against flesh and blood, but...against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12). While it is our desire to proclaim the Gospel message and to convince unbelievers, we do not know how first of all to bind the strong man in order to snatch away and rescue his victims (Matt. 12:29). After exhorting us to "take ... the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God," Paul adds. "Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication ... also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak" (Eph. 6:17-20). This is what we need to learn more and more: to intercede in behalf of those front- line warriors, the evangelists. Carefully preparing the ground by prayer, upholding the evangelistic efforts made, watering the sown seed of the Word will make the enemy shrink back and will produce an abundance of spiritual fruit.
10. There will be demonstration of the Spirit and of power. "We come therefore as Christ's ambassadors. It is as if God were appealing to you through us: in Christ's name, we implore you, be reconciled to God!" (11 Cor. 5:20-21). To bear such a responsibility means that one dare not utter platitudes, mere human words bereft of the unction that comes from on high. Although Paul came to Corinth in a state of weakness, fear, and great trembling, he could nevertheless say: "My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (I Cor. 2:4-5). @To the Thessalonians he writes: "We know, brethren beloved of God, that He has chosen you; for our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (I Thess. 1:4,5).
This is what we ardently desire for all our preaching and evangelizing efforts, as well as for this Congress. May God restrain us from empty, inflated words; may He keep us from trying to win the world through "plausible words of wisdom" or by meaningless evangelical terminology. Let us examine ourselves; let us see what may be hindering the Spirit from working mightily in us and through us. Let us acknowledge the things whereby we have grieved Him. We have used earthly means and have been moved by carnal aims in what we have dared to call evangelism; we have expended our talents and our material resources to increase the size of our constituencies, to draw attention to ourselves. God has entrusted His treasure to us in earthen vessels. So long as we bear about in our bodies the death of the Lord Jesus, so long will His life be powerfully manifested and communicated. We desire to experience like Paul: "So death is at work in us, but life in you" (11 Cor. 4:12). It is then, indeed, through faith in the Lord and through the fullness of the Holy Spirit, that rivers of living water will flow forth from each of us.
When this is a reality, we will have not only a Congress or an evangelistic campaign, but also a revival in the Church of the living God and resurrection of souls lost in sin. This will come, says the Lord of hosts, not by might, nor by power (of men), but by my Spirit... (Zech. 4:6).