I don't know anyone who sees evangelism as an easy task. For most of us, the work of declaring the gospel to our lost friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers makes us quake in our boots. If you and I are anything alike, we would have to confess that sharing the good news of Jesus makes us timid.
Maybe it’s justifiable, in a sense, given the political and moral climate of our world today. It seems that the only thing our world can be absolutely positive about is that there are positively no absolutes. Anyone who expresses a dogmatic claim to "big-T" truth is an arrogant intellectual Neanderthal of a bygone era. Expressing that a differing position, especially on religious matters, could be wrong and even subject to eternal judgment is the social faux pas of our day. It's no wonder we can be timid about sharing our faith.
I struggle with my own fearfulness about sharing the gospel along like anyone else. Yet recently, the Lord has not only placed opportunities but encouragement in front of me to be about declaring his love in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to those who don't believe. The encouragement has come through his Word, specifically Acts 4.
The passage is filled with the tension of a secular, religiously liberal leadership struggling with the exclusive claims of uneducated, common men declaring Jesus as Lord. A healed cripple stands before the midst of the forum on religious tolerance as evidence for the minority opinion. And like a blast of cold water to my face, I'm confronted with questions that give me an adrenaline shot of confidence.
Layered beneath an arrest, trial, confession, and regrouping phase are five questions for us to ask ourselves. If we answer them correctly the measure of our boldness to proclaim the gospel will only grow.
1. Will God Save?
As Peter and John declared that the resurrection of Jesus was the power source behind healing the cripple, the assault mounted. If there was ever a time to back down and disperse quietly into the streets of Jerusalem, now was the time. And yet they stayed, preached Jesus, and ended up in a holding cell for the evening. By modern standards, their work was a failure. Now they have been identified and are in the beginning phases of a lifetime of persecution. But Acts 4:4 tells us something amazing occurred in the midst of their suffering and teaching: people came to Christ. People were saved. As the gospel was under attack, it was also advancing and moving forward.
How does asking this question increase our confidence and boldness in witness? It reminds us of what and who we are not. We are not God. We can't save anyone. No matter how clear our presentation of the gospel, no matter how effective our technique or delivery of that message, we can't take the heart of a spiritually dead person and bring it back to life. Only God can do that. And God does that through the declaration of his good news of Jesus. God is the one who saves. Not us. And so boldness grows because we know the one who brings salvation.
But not only is he one who brings salvation, he is the one who promises to bring salvation. His word tells us that "faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). People will come to faith in Jesus by our declaring the good news of Jesus, even in the face of opposition and suffering. We can be bold because God has promised to save sinners and he actually does so!
Is God able to save my lost neighbor through my imperfect, inadequate, inarticulate sharing of the good news of Jesus? Yes, yes he is. So I can be supremely confident that God will do what he has promised. Will God save? Yes he will. Yes he does.
2. Has God Spoken?
The second question is a further injection of boldness into my spiritually-timid heart. A major source of fear in sharing the gospel is the fear of speech. Folks will often say, "I just don't know what to say to them." There is a fear of saying the right things (or even the wrong things), and that the message of the gospel won't be clear and straight and helpful.
As Peter and John were dragged before the Sanhedrin to testify, they were at a clear disadvantage. These two poorly educated, common, blue-collar fishermen were standing before the educated, intellectual, political influencers of their day. If they were ever going to feel over their heads, this would be that time. And yet God's promises were evident and real within them. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, opened his mouth and boldly, clearly declared the gospel. Making one of the most exclusive statements about the authority and centrality of Christ in all of the Bible, Peter told the religious pluralist of his day that there is salvation found in no one else except for Jesus (Acts 4:12).
Where did he get this confidence? It came from the emboldening reality that Christ promised to speak through them. He told them not to worry when they stood before rulers and authorities and powers because the Holy Spirit would give them the words to speak (Matt. 10:19-20).
We too can have this same confidence to speak the good news of Jesus because we too have the gospel word. We have Christ, who is the Word of God, to declare to our unbelieving friends. We don't have to invent the message or come up with clever or memorable ways of stating it; we can simply declare the Word of Christ to them. This doesn't mean the gospel is reduced to a formula or a small track of information, but that as we live life among unbelievers, we don't have to rely on a style of delivery to bring them to faith and repentance. We rest in the power that God supplies as we declare the perfect life, substitutionary sacrifice, and powerful resurrection of Jesus for us and our salvation. God speaks through his Word. He speaks today and he will speak to those who don't know him.
3. Has God Sent?
As Peter and John confidently proclaim Christ as Lord to the religious liberals of their day, the basis of their authority was called into question yet again. These powerful, political Jewish leaders could not understand how common, uneducated men could teach with such authority and conviction. They were frustrated that the apostles were without credentialed papers or authorization to preach such a message. If the lowest form of leadership influence is to stoop to a title earned or positional posture, then the Sanhedrin had only one card left.
After hearing the testimony of Peter and John, the Sanhedrin sent them away and deliberated how to stop this Spirit-led movement. They decided to tell the apostles to stop declaring their bold, exclusive message of Christ. Once again, the opportunity to capitulate to the religious leadership was there. Peter and John could have backed off and said, "They just want us to stop talking about Jesus. Okay, be we can still tell them God did it." And yet, Peter and John knew where their authority was derived. They were authorized and sent by Christ himself to witness about him. They knew they had a mission and that they had two options: either be faithful to the one who sent them, or disobey and disregard the authority of Jesus who sent them.
Boldness grows within our own lives when we see that we too have been sent by Christ for the exact same mission. Just as Jesus sent his first disciples to go and make more disciples, this mission still stands for us today. We are called to obedience and faithfulness in the work of that mission. As a prominent pastor used to say, "We are either missionaries or impostors." We have a mandate to take the word of Christ and witness to his resurrection to the world in which we live.
How can I be confident or bold in sharing the gospel with those around me? It stems from knowing the one who sent me and knowing his call on my life to witness to his grace, power, and love. Peter and John declared, "We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). Why? Because they had been sent.
Where do you live today? Where are you at right now? Do you see that God has sent you to that place? Do you understand that Christ has, by his authority, placed you in that specific place and within those specific relationships with the mission of sharing about him? Boldness can grow when we see our calling and our mission in this light. We are sent to these people at this specific point in human history to declare to them the cross and resurrection of Jesus on their behalf.
4. Will God Supply?
With a healed man who had been a cripple for over forty years of his life standing before them and two men boldly proclaiming Christ, this council had no way of outright punishing Peter and John. All they could do is send them away with greater threats and a promise of greater persecution. Again, this was another opportunity to cower in fear, to back off the message, or to bow out altogether.
As they went home to their family and friends, the adrenaline rush of being in prison and before a council that could call for your death began to wear off. Maybe this was too risky of a move. Maybe the church should drop down undercover for a while. Maybe the cost is too high. As they gathered the church together, the threats could become deafening, forcing them to press pause on the movement. And yet the calling stood before them. So they asked a fourth question. Will God supply the very thing we need, namely boldness, to continue witnessing to the gospel of Jesus in the face of persecution?
Will God supply what we need? The early church assembled together and prayed and asked for that very thing in Acts 4:24-30: "God supply what we need. Give us more boldness." How do you increase in boldness? You ask for more of it. To be bold declaring the gospel, we need to ask for God to supply the boldness we lack.
Maybe we are so nervous about sharing the gospel because we haven't asked for the Spirit to empower us in the mission. We haven't asked for God to make us bold. Even in the face of the threats, whether real or imagined, we have simply forgotten the one who has all authority and power and the one who will accomplish his mission (Matt. 28:18). Boldness comes if we ask for it.
I love verse 31 of Acts 4: "And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness." They prayed and God gave them the very thing they asked for.
Will God supply what we need to be faithful in the mission he has given us? If it really is his mission, then how can he deny us what we need? We just have to ask.
5. Do I Trust God?
This brings me back to asking one all-encompassing question to increase my boldness. Do I trust God? Will he do what he has promised (save) by the means he has ordained (speaking) to the people he has placed before me (sent) in the power he gives (supply)? If I can answer yes to that one question, then I am emboldened to do what he calls me to do.
This isn't a matter of conjuring up my own faith and motivation. It's the question of my heart saying, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24). Do we trust God to do what he has promised to do? Then let us with courageous boldness ask him to continue saving, speaking, sending and supplying us with boldness for his glory.