Paul, the evangelist

There is absolutely no value in teaching about a thousand and one subjects if a person has not passed from death to life, from darkness to light, from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God's Beloved Son.

Paul knew this and it was his ambition to preach the gospel wherever he went: that was his primary and immediate purpose.

Before he shared the good news, he always made it a point to tell people the bad news of the consequences of sin and man's true condition without Christ (Eph.2:11ff.). God is holy; man is opposed to God; this antithesis was brought up by Paul as the necessary contrast so that the gospel might sound meaningful and relevant. He preached the law so that men might feel the need to turn to Christ. Paul's preaching of the bad news (first 2 and a half chapters of Romans) was as strong as the good news.

God's love and God's righteousness are at the heart of the gospel message. He cannot accept fallen mankind into His holy presence without an atonement. So He has taken the initiative in sending His Son to pay the ultimate sacrifice and bring God's elect back into relationship with Himself (Gal.4:4-7).

The gospel Paul preached is unique; it's not one of many. The gospel knows of only one way for man to be made right with God (1 Tim.2:4; cf. Acts 4:12).

According to Paul, there is nothing that man can do; religious observance and good deeds cannot earn him salvation (Gal.2:18-20), nor can righteous living and kindness to others (Tit.3:4-7). God's unique way of salvation is by grace alone (Eph.2:8,9).

It is personal repentance and faith that lead to salvation. It is not sufficient to hear the message or even to hear and to agree (Heb.4:2). To this end, Paul lovingly and eagerly pleaded and appealed to his audience to "be reconciled to God" (2 Cor.5:19).

The gospel is so simple that it is an offence to many who would like an intellectual ideology. The truth is that God has made salvation the simplest thing in the world (for us), and yet the knowledge of God will occupy all our mind and strength for an entire life-span and beyond without our ever coming near to full understanding. Offensive as it is to proud Greeks and religious Jews, Paul never compromised on the truth of the Gospel (1 Cor.1:22-24).

In spite of its simplicity the gospel works a tremendous work in the life of the believer. In fact it is the greatest supernatural act that can happen to anyone. "Therefore If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come" (2 Cor.5:17).

It is impossible for someone to have received new life in Christ and not to know it. Paul said that his own conversion to Christ is as a pattern for all who would believe on Christ.

There will be an assurance of forgiveness and cleansing. Paul asserted: "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins" (Eph.1:7). The turmoil of life and enmity with God, and guilt caused by sin, will have yielded to God's peace (Rom.5:1). The power of sin will be broken and the believer will experience victory in Christ (Rom.6:14).

To Paul, the gospel was uppermost in his mind and a priority in his busy schedule. He was convinced that people everywhere needed to hear and respond to "my gospel," or, "the gospel committed to my trust." "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel" (1 Cor.9:16). He asked for intercessory prayer on his behalf that he might proclaim it fearlessly and confidently (Eph.6:19).

He knew that the gospel would necessarily create opposition and yet he did not flinch from the task (1 Thess.2:2ff.).

Paul was a man of the gospel and he boldly declared the life-changing message. His evangelistic preaching included the following:

1. Salvation takes place at the cross of Jesus. His boast was in the cross (Gal.6:14).

2. Salvation begins with repentance (Rom.10:10).

3. Salvation leads to forgiveness, cleansing and freedom (1 John 1:9; Rom.8:1; 2 Cor.7:10; Gal.5:10.

4. The Christian experiences the life of Christ in his heart (Gal.2:20).

Paul did not use one formula; he adapted himself to the audience, yet the content of the message was the same; it was non-negotiable. Yet he was willing to become all things to all men that he might save at least some of them. He took pains to create no offense in the way of men in coming to faith in Christ.

Paul remains for us a challenge and an inspiration as we tackle the task of evangelism today.

In the light of evangelism today

Paul was direct and totally unashamed of the Gospel; he used no psychological tricks or gimmicks to attract his hearers. He trusted the Holy Spirit to work conviction in the souls of his audience. And the results were significant and enduring.

By contrast much of today's so-called evangelism is lacking in these dimensions and falls short of the standard as encapsulated within Scripture. I am aware of many Christians who desire to accomplish God's work using God's methodology (preaching primarily), so I am not saying that the church as a whole has gone astray in this regard.

But I do need to emphasize that much activity and projects and organizational outreach by the church is sadly depressing and sub-biblical. It seems that the church wants to bring itself down to the level of the world and wants to entertain the world by using skits, dramas, singing, and sports to attract people to believing the gospel. And when people do respond, it is no wonder that most of them don't persevere because their repentance was not genuine. What attracted them to Christ was not His sufficiency in Lordship and Saviourhood, but the bodily healing or fun offered.

No, we need to study the example of the apostles and the early church in general, to see where and how we are failing. Statistics indicate that evangelicals are not growing significantly. There must be a reason. I know that our sovereign God can withold or grant His blessings, but we also know that He has promised His blessing to His Word (Isa.55:8-11). As a general rule, the early church, being faithful and walking in the fear of the Lord, grew beyond human expectations. It seems to me that much of what we are seeing to be the church's gains are the work of our might and power, rather than the result of the Spirit's blessing.

A return to biblical principles and pattern is more than indicated. And a Reformed church is a reforming church; it must not fear change, if it be change for the better, in conformity to God's Word.

An exemplary evangelist

If nobody else, certainly the apostle Paul may be mentioned as one who exemplifies the various methods of evangelism, so wide and far-reaching was his ministry.

1. It was his custom to visit the Jews in the Diaspora, especially in their synagogues (Acts 14:1).

2. Whether in schools, public squares, market-places, the Aeropagus where philosophers hold their meetings, there one could find Paul, reasoning and debating and proclaiming as given the opportunity.

3. He made public defences of the Faith before accusers (Acts 22).

4. He always snatched the opportunity to share his personal testimony how the Lord brought him from darkness unto light (Acts 26).

5. Paul was found in homes, as he himself said: "Teaching you publicly and from house to house" (Acts 20:20).

6. As a master strategist for the gospel Paul set up his centre of activity in the crossroads of Greece, Asia Minor and Europe (Acts 17:1,15; 18:1,19).

7. With the heavenly vision compelling him, Paul looked to countries he had never visited; he wanted to go Spain, for instance, to preach the gospel. He wrote to the Roman church in preparation for his visit to Spain (Romans 15:23-24).

8. Paul spoke to all and sundry, but especially to governors and kings and proconsuls, as Christ himself had told him he would do. Addressing prominent people is wise and profitable; their conversion might be a big boon for the advance of the gospel (Acts 13:7; 18:8; 24:24; 25:8-9).

9. Lastly Paul was a master in the use of the pen, writing a number of inspired epistles, plus other correspondence (for instance, before writing 1 Corinthians. he had already written to the Corinthian church. He who desired to have books before his martyrdom (2 Timothy 4:13) must also have used literature in evangelism, just as John did (John 20:30-31).