Today we come to the end of our new year sermon series ‘Unprogrammed.’ Recall that during this series we’ve been aiming at the many habits, realities, disciplines, etc. at SonRise we expect from each other but do not program. We are largely an unprogrammed congregation that doesn’t seek to fill your schedules to the brim, but prefer to leave some room for the best things to grow naturally. We’ve looked at how this effects our nearness to the Bible, our heart and habit of prayer, our relationship to the Church, our disciplines of holiness, and this morning we wrap it all up with the theme of evangelism.

So, what do you think of when you hear the word ‘evangelism?’ Do you think of evangelists, like Billy Graham leading a large revival or someone like him? Do you think of John Bunyan’s noble character named Evangelist in The Pilgrim’s Progress? Or do you think of the hucksters on TV trying to sell you a bill of goods wrapped in Christian garb to fill their own pockets with money and grow their own kingdoms as large as they can?

Maybe it’s not these things that come to mind when you hear the word evangelism, maybe it’s questions. “Shouldn’t evangelism be left to the professionals? Why should I attempt to do it when there are people truly gifted by God to do it? I mean, I don’t know enough to do it, I don’t even know where I would begin. Why would God expect me to do this if I’d just fail? After all, I’m not even really sure what evangelism means. I know the world hates it and views it as if we’re convincing people that we’re right and they’re wrong?”

Because of questions and concerns like these about evangelism many Christians shrink back from doing evangelism. For feelings of guilt, or fear, or inexperience, or perhaps even a feeling that by evangelizing you’re joining hands with the likes of those who led the inquisitions of Church history. Well, whatever you may think about evangelism one thing is clear: we need help with evangelism.

In order to find the help we need let’s go to the Scriptures. Specifically, let’s look at Luke 19 and the wee little man Zacchaeus, and use that as our launching off point for our time this morning.


Luke 19:1-10, “Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received Him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Why was Zacchaeus up in that tree?[1] Many know the Sunday school answer: “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little was he. He climbed up in the sycamore tree, the Lord he wanted to see.” But there’s a deeper answer many don’t know. Zacchaeus was up in the tree because that’s exactly where God wanted him to be. Of course he didn’t know this, but God had known him from before the foundation of the world, and God was setting up the situation exactly how He wanted, so that Zacchaeus would meet Jesus. And as Jesus passed by, He looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” Notice Jesus didn’t ask to stay with him, Jesus said “I must stay at your house today.” Why did He put it like that? It’s simple really, the answer is found in v10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” So, Jesus must stay with the wee little man, because Jesus intends to not only seek him out but to save him as well. And even though the onlookers grumbled at Jesus going into the home of a chief tax collector, Zacchaeus joyfully welcomed Jesus. And the result is beautiful, “Today salvation has come to this house…”

Do not overlook how Jesus describes Himself at the end of v10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” This is one of the reasons the Son of God came and dwelled among us, to seek and save the lost. This describes both who Jesus is and what He’s all about. And think of it Church. If this is part of who Jesus is, and if we’re growing in the image of Christ day by day, shouldn’t a desire for and a participation in Jesus’ work of seeking and saving the lost be active in us? Isn’t this what evangelism is? Indeed it is. This ought to be a part of who we are, part of our DNA as Christians. But, we here at SonRise, don’t program evangelism for you. Meaning, we don’t plan evangelistic outings or many kinds of outreach. Does this mean we don’t care about evangelism? Or are we hyper Calvinistic, believing that God will save the lost without our help because He’s the Sovereign One? Clearly we would reject both of these things, we do care about evangelism and we are hyper Calvinists. So, what is this thing called evangelism, how ought it look for us as a church?

To those questions we now turn…

The What

What is evangelism? In a very real sense defining evangelism is very simple. Evangelism is simply sharing the gospel, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. This is how Christians once received the label ‘evangelical,’ because we are a gospel proclaiming people. Sadly now it’s mainly a political term stripped of much of its gospel identity. But the term is a good one and the older definition describes who are well. We are a people who bank on the gospel for ourselves and a people eager to share the gospel to others so they can be saved as well! We are in this since, evangelical. And in that frame we evangelize, we share the gospel. 

As clear as this is, many confuse evangelism with things it is not. For example…

Evangelism is not coercion. Many think this today, that by evangelism is an imposing of our beliefs on others. To be honest, the way evangelism is done by some we can understand why people think like this. The Bible presents a different view.

Evangelism is a sharing of the gospel in a truthful and gracious manner understanding that God is the only One who can change someone through the gospel. So, evangelism shouldn’t be confused with the results of evangelism. Meaning that, too often we believe we’ve only evangelized faithfully when someone responds positively, by repenting from sin and believing in Jesus. This can not only lead to an immobilizing guilt thinking the reason so-and-so hasn’t believed in the gospel yet is because I haven’t been clear enough or persuasive enough or smart enough when talking with them, but it can lead to us being overly coercive in our message to make sure we get the result we desire. Yes, we’re called to be faithful in evangelism, and we ought to be, but we must leave the fruit of our evangelism to God. Evangelism is not coercion.

Also, evangelism is not personal testimony. Every Christian has a personal testimony. A story of how God intervened in our lives, leading us through certain events that ultimately led to our salvation. Every Christian could speak of how much God means to them, and how much God has done for them. And in sharing our testimony we may actually include the gospel, but often we do not. Rarely do our testimonies include the essentials of the gospel and what can often end up happening is we share our testimony and someone believes in Jesus for reasons rooted in our testimony rather than reasons rooted in the gospel. Many people today would be eager and glad to hear of how much God has changed our lives for the better, but watch how quickly that gladness will turn to gloom if you start talking about sin, about forsaking it, and about leaving it behind. Yet, the gospel we share must include what repentance is. So, while evangelism can include our testimony, evangelism is not personal testimony alone.

Next, evangelism is not social action. There are many problems in the world today, and when Christians want to get involved, do become involved, and watch change happen, we can often think we’re doing evangelistic work. But as great as these things are evangelism is not feeding the poor, clothing the naked, taking in the homeless, removing the strip club on the corner, or cleaning out an alcoholics liquor cabinet. Again these are good things, but they’re not evangelism. Only the gospel “…is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16), nothing else. As a young Christian I went on an evangelism trip to New Orleans before Katrina, and I felt good about myself when I gave a homeless woman my raincoat. I believed I had done gospel work. But looking back on that event afterwards I realized something. Sure she may have been the recipient of a good deed that showed the kindness of God, but I hadn’t told her anything about God or the gospel. Romans 10:14, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Evangelism can include it, but evangelism is not social action alone.

Lastly, evangelism is not apologetics. With so many varying beliefs present in our day it’s easy to believe evangelism is apologetics, or defending the Christian faith. I’ve had tons of conversations where I’ve been asked to prove God’s existence, or disprove evolution, or defend the Bible’s claims of the miraculous. Answering such objections is truly important but if it doesn’t get to the gospel it’s an exercise in futility. Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Since spiritual things are only spiritually discerned, everything I share about the Christian faith won’t be understood by someone who doesn’t have the Holy Spirit. So when I’m asked these questions, I usually say something like, “That’s a valid question, I’d love to discuss it with you but first let me tell you more about Jesus.” It’s the gospel that changes hearts, not a belief in intelligent design, or objective morality, or even God’s existence. Evangelism can include it, but evangelism is not apologetics alone.

So, we’ve now seen the Zacchaeus passage and Jesus’ great heart for seeking and saving the lost, and since Jesus is doing the work of seeking and saving, and since Jesus is the head of the Church, we His Church ought to be joining in His work of seeking and saving by actively evangelizing. We’ve seen that. And we’ve also seen asked what evangelism is and what it’s not. Now, let’s lean into the how.

The How

How ought evangelism happen among us? Some say, ‘It’s my pastors job. He’s the professional. I bring my lost family and friends to church and the pastor shares the gospel with them.’ That would be a good thing indeed, and I’m glad to do so, but it’s far too passive for everyone but the pastor, not to mention the problematic notion of the pastor as a professional. Others say evangelism is done by those called to be evangelists, pointing to Eph. 4:11-12, “And He (risen Christ) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” Certainly this proves it, right? Wrong. The reason the risen Christ gave the gift of evangelists to the Church is to equip the body, i.e., to teach the Church how to evangelize. So that can’t be it either. How then are we to do it?

I think we should think of the how in terms of two groups. The call to evangelize is given to two groups: every individual Christian and every local congregation. Every individual Christian is to bear witness to the gospel ‘as we go’ throughout our lives. And part of that individual witness is bringing those people we’re sharing the gospel with to church so that: 1) they can see the invisible gospel truths made visible in the fellowship of the local church, 2) they can meet other people who will also chase them down with the gospel, and 3) they can hear and see the preaching of the gospel in the worship of God’s people. Every individual Christian is to be active in this, yes, but our individual witness to the gospel is meant to be paired with and encouraged by the collective witness of the local church.

Now that that’s clear we can ask a different how question: how can we as individual Christians together in a congregation grow in our evangelism? Three ways:

First, remember who we are. Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:20 that “…we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.” Christians are to be a people who know who they are. We do not exist for ourselves, but for Christ. He is King and we are His ambassadors. An ambassador is one sent out with a message, so, we not only must see ourselves as this, but we must live in light of this. We are a people who’ve been sent out by the King with a message for the world. And that message is to actually get out through us.

Second, stir up a love for the lost. Speaking of the Jews, Paul says in Romans 10:1, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” Matthew 9:36-37 speaks of Jesus in a similar way saying, “When Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest in plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.’” It’s simple really, if you truly love others you’ll want to give them to greatest gift possible. What is the greatest gift possible? The gospel. Spurgeon spoke of this often saying, “Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you’re not saved yourself, be sure of that!”

Remember who we are, stir up a love for the lost, and thirdly, stir up an ever deeper love for God. One author put it like this, “Love for God is the only sufficient motive for evangelism. Self-love will give way to self-centeredness, love for the lost will fail with those whom we cannot love, and when difficulties seem insurmountable. Only a deep love for God will keep us following His way, declaring His gospel, when human resources fail. Only our love for God – and, more important, His love for us – will keep us from the dangers which beset us. When the desire for popularity with men, or for success in human terms, tempts us to water down the gospel, to make it palatable, then only if we love God will we stand fast by His truth and His ways.”[2]


Simply put, we are to be servers not the chef. God has prepared a great feast for sinners in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and our role as servers is to get that feast to the table without adding to it, subtracting from it, or changing it in any form.

This is evangelism. So Church…

Tell people honestly that if they repent and believe they will be saved.

Tell them this joyfully, because you’ve been saved yourself!

Tell people urgently, because you know the eternal inferno that awaits them if they don’t repent and believe.

Use prayer to grow in this, use the Bible to guide you in this, use the Church to aid in this.

Intentionally build relationships with unbelievers for this.

And work with other Christians to fan these embers into flame within you, so that by the grace of God, sharing the gospel with those around you…becomes normal for you.

[1] R.C. Sproul, Luke: An Expositional Commentary, 474.

[2] John Cheesman, The Grace of God in the Gospel (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1972), page 122.

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