Definition of Evangelism in the Bible
Evangelism. Noun. A word that scares Christians. Most Christians live as if this definition of evangelism is true. But this is not the definition of evangelism in the Bible!
Why is it that Christians get scared when they hear the word evangelism? It’s probably because they associate certain images or definitions with the word. Even if you know in your head what evangelism is, you might believe at a gut level that evangelism is something that you should be afraid of.
What kind of “gut definitions” (or “heart definitions”) of evangelism do people have? Unearthing these and realizing how silly they are can be a surprisingly helpful exercise to become better at sharing our faith with others. So have a little fun and see if any of these “gut definitions” have been messing with your head.
Incorrect Definitions of Evangelism
- Evangelism: the process of telling people everything they believe is wrong. Synonym: being rude to your friends.
- Evangelism: awkwardly trying to sneak a Bible verse into a conversation. Synonym: being a poor conversationalist.
- Evangelism: knocking on doors, holding the largest Bible you can find, and being told to leave. Synonym: feeling like a salesman.
- Evangelism: talking to every single person you ever meet about Jesus. Synonym: having unrealistic expectations for yourself.
- Evangelism: God expecting you to convert people every time you talk to them. Synonym: having a savior complex.
- Evangelism: going through the Romans Road. Synonym: confusing a method for a message.
- Evangelism: something that other people do by their words, and which I can do by my actions. Synonym: not doing evangelism.
I can promise you that none of these definitions of evangelism are true! And when you talk to people about spiritual things, your life does not need to look like any of the above descriptions.
So have you gotten these silly ideas out of your head? Good! Now that we have gotten rid of all the clutter in our brains, let’s replace it with a proper definition.
Definition of Evangelism in the Bible
It should be clear that the above definitions fall short. So what is evangelism? It is connected in Greek to the word for Gospel. The word for Gospel is euangelion, and the word for evangelism is euangelizo. It simply means to tell someone the Gospel. What is the Gospel? The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus died and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins. That’s it!
Evangelism is using words to communicate the Gospel message to a non-Christian.
This is a very broad definition of evangelism. This means that evangelism can be ten seconds long, or a five hour conversation; with a friend, or with a stranger; on a bus, in your house, or on a street corner. You can have them read Bible passages themselves, or you can quote or paraphrase them in a conversation. You can emphasize different aspects of how the Gospel saves: you might emphasize how He made us clean through His blood, or how He paid our legal debt, or how He defeated the power of death.
In short, sharing the Gospel does not require a certain method. It only requires that the message be conveyed.
Different Styles, One Gospel
We see this in the book of Acts: the one Gospel is preached in many different ways. This reflects the definition of evangelism in the Bible: it’s simply communicating the Gospel. In Acts 2, Peter is preaching to Jews, and quotes from the Old Testament many different times. In Acts 17, Paul is preaching to philosophers, and he quotes multiple poets to communicate biblical ideas.
Yet here is the crucial thing:
Even though they preached the Gospel differently, they didn’t preach different Gospels. It was the one Gospel.
Each has the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection for our salvation:
- Acts 2:23–24 “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.” In verse 38, Peter calls for repentance and baptism as a response to the message.
- Acts 17:30–31 “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man Whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.”
Why Are the Styles Different?
Paul and Peter preached different ways because they are different people! Don’t try to share the Gospel like me, your pastor, or anyone else. Learn how to talk about Jesus in a similar style that you talk about other important people in your life.
Your Friend’s Personality and Background
Not only were Paul and Peter different people, but their audiences were very different. If you were talking to a lady who grew up Catholic in Idaho who is now vaguely spiritual, you would probably talk to her a bit differently than a man from Cuba who has been an ardent atheist his whole life. In the same way, Paul and Peter preached the Gospel differently because the Jews in Acts 2 had a different perspective on life and the world than the philosophers in Acts 17.
Remember that there are no magic words to sharing the Gospel that will make it click for the other person every time. The only “magic words” are the ones that help the other person actually make sense and understand the Gospel! If an analogy from Spider-Man will help your friend, then those are the right words for that person in that context.
Example: Setting the Stage for the Gospel
Imagine being a Jew in the first century who had never heard about Jesus. One day, some energetic Christians tell you “Jesus died and rose from the dead so you can be forgiven of your sin!” — and then they walk away.
- Question: did they share the Gospel with you?
- Answer: yes.
- Question: did you understand the Gospel?
- Answer: no.
Why not? Because you have no clue who Jesus is, you have no idea why He died, and you have no idea how that impacts your life!
Sometimes we just try to get the one or two sentences about Jesus’ death and resurrection out of our mouths, perhaps so we can pat ourselves on our back and say “See? I shared the Gospel!” And who knows? Maybe that person will come to know who Jesus is through someone else, then the dots will begin to connect. But whenever we can, our goal should be to not only present the Gospel in our evangelism, but also to set the stage for the Gospel to make sense. This involves explaining not only the Gospel, but the context of the Gospel.
The Point: Start Where They Are, Move to the Gospel
So when you share the Gospel, you want to be doing two things:
First, you want to be gauging where the other person is at. Do they understand who God is? Do they believe God even exists? If not, you should probably spend a good amount of time talking there. What do they think the meaning of life is? What do they know about Jesus? Do they think He was even a real person? Again, if they don’t believe Jesus was a real person, you should talk about it. What good is it if an imaginary person died and rose from the dead?
Second, you want to move to the simple message of the Gospel: that Jesus died and rose again so they can be saved from their sin. How quickly should you move? Are we talking about trying to come up with a clever segue? Absolutely not. You take as long as it takes. Again, the point is not to simply say the Gospel, but for the other person to understand the Gospel.
So go into the world and do the glorious task of evangelism! Tell people the wonderful news about Jesus, with whatever sentences and metaphors and examples best fit you, your friend, and the context of the conversation you get into!
Also, if you think that any of your friends would benefit from thinking about the definition of evangelism in the Bible, please share this article over social media.