Living as a Witness: The Holy Spirit & Evangelism

September 7, 2016

On Sunday, Pastor Bryan gave us the big idea that Jesus moved for us so that his Spirit can move through us for others. The Holy Spirit empowers us to be witnesses to the world, in word and in deed. Being a witness is not something to be added on a to-do list, but it is the very identity created by the Holy Spirit in someone who has put their trust and faith in Jesus. This blog is going to examine a particular part of this: the Holy Spirit’s role in evangelism.


What Is Evangelism?

Some of us might say that evangelism is trying to get people to convert to Christianity. This is probably no more than a half-truth. Give only a quick look to the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion) and you can probably see the roots of the word evangelism. Euangelion means “good news” or “gospel.” Evangelism is simply proclaiming the good news of Jesus the Messiah and his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and lordship. What it means to be a witness is being someone who is a witness to this gospel message. As people 2000 years removed from these events, we can still be witnesses to the gospel (as it has been written about in the Scriptures) and witnesses to what Jesus has done in our life.

While the heart behind sharing the gospel may very well be seeing the lost saved, our responsibility is not to bring about saving faith. Jesus calls us in the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations and baptize them (Matthew 28:19), but he doesn’t call us to make believers. Indeed, it is not even in our power to do so. This (maybe ironically) should be a great relief to many of us. Our role as witnesses is simply to tell a story. God is the one in the heart-changing business.


The Holy Spirit’s Evangelism Work

In evangelism, the Holy Spirit works in two main ways: 1) to empower us as witnesses and 2) to use the gospel to bring about belief.

  1. To empower us as witnesses

“’But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’” (Acts 1:8). Like Pastor Bryan said on Sunday, the Holy Spirit gives us the power to be witnesses. We see the Holy Spirit performing this role in the Bible when he gives the disciples words to speak in difficult times (Luke 12:11-12; Acts 4:8) and leads them to evangelistic opportunities (Acts 8:29; Acts 10:19ff). Also, Paul gave personal prayer requests to the churches for evangelistic opportunities and clarity of speech (Colossians 4:3-4), also for the right words to be given and boldness to speak them (Ephesians 6:19-20). If God answered these prayers with a yes, he would have done so through the Holy Spirit.

When we are looking for words to say, opportunities to say them, and boldness to follow through, we can depend fully on God through his Holy Spirit.

  1. To use the gospel to bring about belief

The majority of what we know about how people come to faith is from Paul. Paul believed that the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) and the gospel (Romans 1:16) have a power that are at work together in salvation. New Testament scholar N.T. Wright in his book Paul and the Faithfulness of God says:

[Paul believes that when he tells the gospel story] God’s spirit is at work. Gospel and spirit go tightly together in his theology. Paul does not envisage a sequence of events in which he first tells people about Jesus, then they decide whether or not they are going to believe his message, and only then does the spirit descend upon those who have already believed. For Paul, belief itself is something which is effected on the one hand through the Spirit and on the other through the word of the gospel. (pg. 917)

Perhaps the clearest we see Paul phrase this is in 1 Thessalonians 1: “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (v. 4-5).


What Does this Mean for Us?

A short study on 2nd Corinthians 4 should wrap this up:

But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:2-6)

Paul is here saying that his identity as a witness is not wrapped up in the number of people he saw saved. That would have led to the deceitful ways he speaks against. He sought only to speak the truth plainly and boldly. Peoples’ blindness to the gospel is a spiritual problem that only God can address. Paul discusses this in his first letter to the Corinthian church: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:5-7). When someone comes to faith, we can only glorify the God who has saved.

We can take heart in our identity as witnesses. God is at work in our lives to empower us to be his witnesses, but he is also present in the proclamation of the gospel, crushing faithless hearts of stone and implanting faith-filled fleshy hearts in their stead. Our mission is simply to tell and to pray that God will pierce the hearts of those we have told. Certainly, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news” (Isaiah 52:7). Yet, how much more beautiful is the one who effects salvation! Let us take joy in being witnesses to our great Savior.

-Alex Nolette (Equip Associate)

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