Evangelism and salvation are supremely God’s work. God created the world out of nothing; similarly, He is the one who gives us faith. And although we can imagine Him doing this with a simple “Let there be…” as in Genesis 1, that is not how He has chosen to work.
Instead, God has commissioned His people to do the work of evangelism, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with a world that needs to hear it. We have no right to lay the task aside simply because God bears the ultimate responsibility for saving souls. There is a part which God alone can do; therefore, we ought not to try to do it. But the fact that God has a part which is not ours does not negate the part which is ours. So, who does what?
If you feel that evangelism is too big a task for you, that’s because it is! No one can come to saving faith if God is not at work in his or her life and heart. We can bow our knees before we go to bed and say, “God, we’ve got a big day tomorrow. And frankly, You’ve got a bigger one than me. But I’m going to go and be what You want me to be, and I’m going to trust that You will do what You alone can do.”
So, what does He do?
First, God the Holy Spirit convicts people of sin. Jesus said as much in John 16:8: “When he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” You do not have the power to make people feel godly sorrow over their sin—but the Holy Spirit does. Only God can use this remorse to lead people to genuine repentance.
The same God who turned the lights on in the natural order is the one who turns the lights on, so to speak, in the spiritual order.
How in the world do upright, dignified, well-meaning members of society get down on their knees and acknowledge that they’re helpless, hopeless sinners before God? How is the conscience of an unscrupulous reprobate going to soften to the point that it feels something? When somebody says, “I’m not a sinner,” or “Who cares what I am?” it will be no help for you to launch into a catalogue of their faults and inconsistencies as you see them. That’s not likely to make them open up to you! But God is able to prick the conscience, and He lays a burden on the hearts of those He calls.
Second, only God can draw men and women to Jesus Christ. Again, this is what Jesus Himself said: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). Paul assumes this as well when he says, “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 Cor. 4:6). The same God who turned the lights on in the natural order is the one who turns the lights on, so to speak, in the spiritual order.
People may ponder God, and they may admire Jesus, but they will never come to saving faith until God turns the lights on in their hearts. We can tell people who Jesus is and what He’s done for them, but we cannot force, entice, or even persuade someone to love Jesus and to draw near to Him. But we do find that when we share the Gospel, God is perfectly able to do as He did with Lydia (Acts 16:14–15). That is, He can take hold of a heart and cement it to Christ in a way that you couldn’t have imagined.
Finally, it is God’s unique prerogative to bring about new birth. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). When you were born physically, you didn’t have anything to do with it. You didn’t create it. You didn’t engineer it. You didn’t ask for it. You had no part in it. Likewise, Jesus says, spiritual birth is something that happens to a person—they are “born … of God” (John 1:13).
Evangelism is not a numbers game. You can shuffle a hundred people looking for reassurance about life after death through a prayer at the end of a tract, but if the Spirit doesn’t convict them, draw them, and regenerate them, they will be no closer to God than they ever were. Only when men and women are born again of the Holy Spirit do they become children of God. Only then do they have true hope for eternity.
While the work of conversion is God’s work, He calls us to work with Him in achieving it. If we are to share the kingdom of God with others, then we must live in the fullness of that kingdom ourselves. This may seem like a tall order, but it doesn’t mean perfection; it means “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). We can no more save ourselves than we can save others.
So, what do we do?
First, we must understand the human predicament without Christ. Some understand this implicitly, but for those who were converted at a young age, for example, the danger of life apart from God may not be so vivid. You mustn’t forget that your friends and your neighbors are, as Jesus says in Matthew 9:36, “like sheep without a shepherd.” They are, as Paul says, “dead in … trespasses and sins” and “having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:1, 12). People truly need the Gospel.
If we are to share the kingdom of God with others, then we must live in the fullness of that kingdom ourselves.
Second, we must be aware of our dependence on the Lord Jesus for salvation. Lest we go out smug, self-satisfied, and opinionated, we need to remember that we are beggars leading other beggars to a treasure we did not earn. Just as we cannot draw others to Christ, we did not draw ourselves when we came to know Him: “It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9).
Third, we must walk in the power of the Spirit. Jesus commissioned His disciples to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18–20), but then “he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4)—that is, the Holy Spirit. And part of our dependence on God means “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:18). Evangelism without dependence on the Spirit is like trying to cut the grass with the mower motor turned off: it’s exhausting, and it’s ineffective. But walking with the Spirit makes evangelism possible.
Fourth, we must prepare for the work of evangelism by growing in holiness. A doctor doesn’t use dirty instruments, and, as Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:20–21, no one sets a formal dinner with cheap dishes: “If anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” God will not use us vitally if we’re living dirty lives—if there’s known sin in our lives, if there are areas unconsecrated to God. We must live out our own fruitful repentance in the Spirit’s power before we can ever expect to lead others to it.
Fifth, we must know the Scriptures. We need to know the Scriptures so as to be able to share the Scriptures with people who don’t know the Scriptures. One of the most embarrassing things for any Christian—especially those who have been Christians for some time—is ignorance of the Bible. When someone asks a simple question, we do not want to have to say, “I’m sorry. It’s in here somewhere, but I don’t know where it is.” So we read our Bibles each day with a desire to know, to learn, to understand, and then to communicate.
We are beggars leading other beggars to a treasure we did not earn.
And finally, we must pray for and bring the Gospel message to the lost. We must urge people to seek God. We must urge them to repent. We must urge them to be converted. We must urge them to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. And we must pray every step of the way. As we pray for those to whom we will bring the Gospel, we will surely be more eager to share God’s heart for them, and we can trust that God will hear our prayers and act according to His will.
We can recognize that only God convicts, only God draws, and only God converts—but we are the tools by which He has determined to make Himself known in the world. “How then,” Paul asks, “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?” (Rom. 10:14).
Evangelism is a costly task, but it need not be a burden. It will take time and effort. Your reputation with the world will likely suffer, and you may see more scorn than fruit. But as you consider what you can do and what God alone can do, it ought to renew a sense of dependence on God and confidence in Him. God will not fail in calling people to Himself, and He will not hold you accountable for the tasks that only He can accomplish. He only asks that you be faithful as His messenger.
This article was adapted from the sermon “Evangelism: God’s Part, Our Part” by Alistair Begg.