True Evangelism, True Conversion (Acts 8:26-40) | Jared Betts

Christ’s Commission to His Church

Within our portion of Scripture this morning we see Jesus Christ’s commission to His church being carried out. As nearly all of us are aware, the commission is for Christians to go into all the world “and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that” Christ has “commanded.”[1] This is a commission, not to manipulate people into making a “decision”, but rather to make Christ worshippers.

It is imperative we grasp that the paramount purpose of evangelism is ultimately not so people may experience eternal security in Christ. This is certainly an aspect of why we evangelize and a result of it, but the paramount purpose of evangelism is so that God may be forever worshipped and glorified for who He is and what He has done for us in His Son, who vicariously died for the sins of His people and victoriously rose again on their behalf and ascended to the right hand of God vindicating Himself as the Christ, the Son of the Living God who alone is worthy of all honor, glory, and praise. Evangelism is a temporary act. Meaning there will be a time when evangelism will not be necessary. Worship of the living God, however, is an eternal one. The very means through which Jesus Christ, the One who possesses all power and authority in heaven and on earth, gathers worshippers for Himself is through the work of evangelism.

An important question to ask is to whom does this responsibility fall? Many rightly understand that pastors and church leaders are tasked with such a duty. We see this in Paul’s second letter to young Timothy, who was pastoring the church in Ephesus, when he says to him in 2 Timothy 4:5, “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” It is clear from this portion of Scripture that a fundamental duty of pastors is to evangelize the lost.

Pastors, however, are not the only persons responsible for evangelism. Christ’s commission to His church was given to just that, His church. This encompasses the totality of His body and not merely a select few within it. In fact, it is the duty of Pastors, as the book of Ephesians teaches, to equip “the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”[2] We should realize that evangelism is a key work the church body as a whole is to be equipped to engage in.

The Apostle Peter says of the church:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

Peter tells us as believing individuals that we are to:

15 Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”[3]

Consider Paul’s words to the Philippians believers in Philippians 2:1-2:

“Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”

The critical question at this point is, what is that one purpose the church is to be intent on? May we see that Paul has already defined what that one purpose is in verse 27 of chapter 1. He says:

27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”

What is it? The one purpose is working together to contend for the gospel. This is working together not only to preserve its contents, but to proclaim its truth.

All genuine Christians are ambassadors for Christ, who have been given the message of reconciliation through which we are to plead for people to be reconciled to the One who was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against Him, because He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.[4]

Again, Christ has commissioned His church with the ministry of reconciliation. There is no believer exempt from this command. Within the matter of who is to be both evangelistically minded and active, age is irrelevant, gender is inconsequential, social status is immaterial, and occupation is insignificant. There is not a creature of Christ absolved from this duty of making Him known. As one person said:

“The God who is worthy to be known and served for who He is, is Himself the answer to this world’s longings. And those who know Him best are best equipped to serve Him. He is their message. If we have discovered the glory of God in the face of Christ, we must not hold back. The God of glory must be made known.”

Luke’s account of Philip evangelizing the Ethiopian Eunuch presents us with a wonderful opportunity to explore the topic of evangelism and expound upon what it truly is and looks like in the life of a believer. We not only see it exemplified here in the life of Philip, but we also see ways to evaluate whether or not someone has truly been evangelized.

Since this is a matter in which we are all to be engaged in our everyday affairs as believers, and intentionally going out of our way to accomplish, let us strive to understand it, not according to our tradition or own understanding, but according to the very Word’s that have proceeded from the breath of God. May His Word alone reform both our thinking and practice.

Evangelism Defined

As I have said in the past, there is much confusion over the subject of evangelism. We, therefore, need to biblically define what evangelism is and what it looks like, and I believe one of the greatest ways to begin to do this is by first establishing what evangelism is not.

I would like to provide you with three things that are not Evangelism. This is certainly not going to be an exhaustive list, but I believe it deals with the three most common misconceptions.

Evangelism is not:

  1. Doing good deeds for others.

It is not buying a coffee for the person behind you in line at the coffee shop or seeking to alleviate someone’s temporal need.

Now, there is nothing wrong with doing these things, in fact we should be kind and generous to those around us. We should do as the Scripture teaches and do good to all people while we have the opportunity to do so.[5] What we should not do, however, is delude ourselves into thinking we are evangelizing a person when we do things like this. If this is all we do, we are simply loving people straight to hell.

  • Sharing your own personal testimony or God’s providential provision in your life.

In other words, it is not telling people how God sovereignly worked in your life to draw you to repentance and faith in Him, or how He has been proving Himself strong in your life by caring for you as you seek His kingdom and righteousness.

Now, like the first example, there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing this. We should be people who bear witness to the goodness of God in our lives. We should be people who continually tell others about the excellencies of His mercy toward us in Christ, and the greatness of His care and concern for His people.

Truly, these are all ways in which we act as witnesses to the vitality of the One who died, but now forever lives. There is, however, a difference between witnessing and evangelizing, and giving a testimony about your salvation or God’s gracious provision, though good, is not evangelism. If this is all we do, then we have not done our duty.

  • Enticing people to come among the church by establishing events that utilizes various forms of entertainment or enjoyment such as music, programs, personalities, etc., and then sneaking the gospel into it somehow.

Abraham Lincoln was apparently fond of asking the question, “How many legs does a horse have, if you call its tail a leg?” His answer was always, “Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.” Similarly, you can call this sort of thing evangelism all you want but know that you will have deluded yourself into thinking it is something that it is not.

Now let me just say that it is not wrong for a church to host events, so long as the purpose of said events is theologically driven and Christ-centered. The problem, however, is that most events these days are not Christ-centered but man-centered with merely the appearance of being for Christ. They are designed to appeal to people’s self-interest. They do not call people to a greater love and understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done, but rather cater to peoples wants and desires in an attempt to get them through the door. This is not evangelism. It is called deception, and it is a subtle form of manipulation.

The Apostle Paul tells us exactly what this is through his writings. It is peddling the word of God. It is a solicitation of self. The worst part is that it is all done under the impression of doing evangelism and bringing glory to Christ when in reality it does neither.

What was it that Paul passionately declared? He said:

“For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.”[6]

He said:

            “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord.”[7]

He said:

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”

20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

Unlike the other two points, there is absolutely no place within either the church, or the life of the believer, for such pragmatic foolishness as this third point. The church is not responsible for building the church. Jesus Christ is.[8] To say it another way, we are not responsible for adding people to the body of Christ, He is the One who does this.[9] Now, the church is certainly the means by which He builds His church, however, it only functions as the means through which He builds when it in turn employs the very means He has given to it to function as His body building tool. In other words, in order for the church to be an effective tool through which Christ builds His church, it must use the instrument necessary for the job. The church, therefore, is only responsible for faithfully utilizing the exclusive tool Christ has given for the task and it is not responsible for how people respond to it, which is an extremely freeing thing. We should realize by now that enticing people to come among the church by establishing events that utilizes various forms of entertainment or enjoyment such as music, programs, personalities, etc., and then sneaking the gospel into it somehow is not the means He has given to do His work.

Do we have any idea what the church is saying to the world when it employs pragmatic events that seek to entice people with their selfish desires in an attempt to garner numbers? It is essentially saying:

“Christ is not as great and wonderful as we make Him out to be, for if He were truly worthy of all honor, glory, and praise we would not need these gimmicks to attract you.”

A peddler on the street that is trying to sell you something knows that what they are attempting to sell you is a small, worthless, trifle. They, therefore, labor to get you to buy something they know is valueless. Realize that every time we attempt to utilize means other than God Himself to entice people, we are declaring Him worthless. We inadvertently show what we think of God and His gospel when we mingle His Word with worldliness in an attempt to attract people. Relying upon music, programs, personalities, or any other forms of entertainment and enjoyment to draw people in is not evangelism. It is an afront to Christ and His gospel. We are to appeal to the conscience of people, not their flesh, and we appeal to their conscience with the message of the cross.

I cannot help but think of the words of the man who has been deemed the father of modern missions, William Carry. It was he that said:

“I’m not afraid of failure. I’m afraid of succeeding at things that do not matter.”

Remember that God Himself is the answer to this world’s longings. He alone is to be our message! You cannot create a Christ-worshipper by using someone’s self-interest, which is sadly the purpose of many events and ministries. All you will have succeeded to do in the end is create a self-worshipper who syncretizes Christ into their self-love. You will not have made a disciple of Jesus. You will have made a self-deceived individual that thinks God loves them just as much as they love themselves. The non-believing community around us does not need us to throw together events in an attempt to entice them. They need us to take seriously the ministry of reconciliation that Christ has committed to us and devote ourselves entirely to the work of evangelism.

What then is evangelism? Evangelism is proclaiming the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. The Greek word for evangelism comes from the very same word we use for gospel, which is euangelion. To do the work of evangelizing is therefore to do the work of “gospeling”. It is to labor with people in such a way that you strive to help them understand who God is and what He has done in His Son for those who are dead in sin, cut off from His life, and utterly incapable of reconciling themselves to Him. It is eagerly and unashamedly giving people the living God as He is revealed in the gospel because it alone is the power of God for salvation for all who believe.[10]

True Evangelism and True Conversion

True evangelism is doing what Philip does in this account. Now, there is much to discuss in this portion of Scripture, and time is not going to permit me to deal with every aspect of it. All I would like us to do is to take a moment to look at evangelism being exemplified in Philip and attempt to discern what it requires of us.

We should understand that:

  1. True evangelism requires us to deny ourselves.

It calls us to sacrifice our own personal comfort and pleasures for the glory of God and the eternal well-being of others. We are the light of the world. Light is useless if it is hidden, and we should realize that darkness will never rush to the light for it hates the light. The light, however, is the very thing it needs. We, therefore, as the light of Christ, must lose sight of our own personal interests and go out into the darkness and make Him known. Acts 8:26-27 tells us:

26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) 27 So he got up and went.”

Acts 8:29-30:

29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” 30 Philip ran up…”

We too must be sensitive to the Spirit’s commission and obey. It is He who has written down for us the command to carry the gospel into the world. We must, therefore, go out into the world and make disciples, and not wait for the world to come to us.

This leads us to a second matter that true evangelism demands of us, which is that:

  • True evangelism requires us to interact with the lost.

The gospel is for the sinful and ungodly. In order for them to hear it, we must interact with them. We cannot isolate ourselves from the unbelieving world. We must engage with them. This is exactly what the Spirit called Philip to do. Acts 8:27-31 says:

27 So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” 30 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” 

May we understand that the greatest way we can interact with the non-believing community is through neither events nor programs, but the individual spheres of influence that God has placed each of us in by His providence. In other words, it is faithfully ministering to those you come into contact with on a daily basis. Just take a moment to imagine the impact the church would have if each member of this body took seriously their being ambassadors for Christ and made it their mission to go out of their way to labor over the gospel with such people.

Again, true evangelism requires us to engage with the lost, and it requires us to engage with them over the gospel. This leads us to the final matter, which is that:

  • True evangelism requires us to not only know the gospel ourselves, but also to be able to clearly explain it so that others can comprehend it.

Understand that evangelism is not some five-minute presentation of a gospel that has practically been reduced to nothing. Evangelism demands deep study and hard labor. You must be able to guide people through the truths of Scripture. As the Eunuch said to Philip when asked if he understood what he was reading, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” This is to say, “I cannot without a person showing me the way.” You must know the truth in order to lead someone in it. It is not merely quoting bible verses to a person. It is helping them to comprehend the Scriptures meaning and the implications that meaning bears upon their lives. It is not merely getting a person to believe in God, but working with them in such a way that they begin to comprehend the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Acts 8:32-35 reads:

32 Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this:

He was led as a sheep to slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He does not open His mouth.
33 “In humiliation His judgment was taken away;
Who will relate His generation?
For His life is removed from the earth.”

34 The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 

May we see here that Philip not only possessed a profound familiarity with the Scripture, but also a clear comprehension of how it spoke of Christ, and “beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.

Again, true evangelism demands that we intimately know the Scripture in order to fulfill our Christ given duty. It was Charles Spurgeon who once said:

“We might preach ‘til our tongue rotted, ‘til we exhaust our lungs and die – but never a soul would be converted unless the Holy Spirit uses the Word to convert the soul. So it is blessed to eat into the very heart of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in scriptural language and your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord, so that your blood is Bibline and the very essence of the Bible flows from you.”

Let us briefly take a moment to see that since there was true Spirit guided evangelism, there was also true Spirit wrought conversion. Acts 8:36-40 says:

36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 37 And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” 38 And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. 

A few marks of true conversion are implied among the Ethiopian Eunuch here. We can understand by what is written that true conversion occurred because he had:

  1. A clear comprehension of who Jesus is, and what He had done in the stead of sinners.

He says, ““I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”Given that Philip preached Christ to him beginning with Isaiah 53, we can easily understand that he comprehended what Christ accomplished in his stead through His life, death, burial, and resurrection since that is what that portion describes.

  • A love for Christ.

His love is seen through his heartfelt obedience. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” His obedience to Christ is seen by his going down into the water and publicly identifying with Christ through baptism. He was a Christ worshipper.

  • A heart filled with joy.

Luke says in Acts 8:39:

39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.

True joy naturally springs up among those who were dead, but had been made alive, and formerly lost, yet now found.

It should not surprise us that though Philip found himself in a different location, what did he keep doing? He faithfully continued “to preach the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea.”

Possessing Beautiful Feet

By now the application should not only be abundantly clear and straightforward, but simple; preach the good news to those whom God has providentially placed within your lives. Go to those around you and engage them with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Do the work of true evangelism so that God might bring about true conversion through His Word and gather worshippers for Himself who worship Him in spirit and in truth, “for such people the Father seeks to be His worshippers.”[11]

The Prince of Preachers, Charles Haden Spurgeon, was once asked by a student of his, “Will the heathen who have not heard the Gospel be saved?” His answer to this question was this, “It is more a question with me whether we, who have the Gospel and fail to give it to those who have not, can be saved.” As Leonard Ravenhill said many moons ago:

“Could a mariner sit idle if he heard the drowning cry? Could a doctor sit in comfort and just let his patients die? Could a fireman sit idle, let men burn and give no hand? Can you sit at ease in Zion with the world around you damned?”

As the Apostle Paul said, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.”[12] Woe are we if we do not do the same!

            May we find great encouragement and incentive to preach the gospel alone when we consider what Jesus says in John 10:14-16. He says:

14 I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd…27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”

Christ’s lost sheep are out there, and He will bring them into His fold through His voice. Do we understand the means He uses as His voice to call His lost sheep to Himself? It is His gospel! Through His church, Christ carries His gospel into the world and calls His own Himself. Incentive and encouragement are found in the fact that they will believe, because they are His sheep. We cannot fail if we are faithful with the means.

The Scripture tells us that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”[13] It tells us that “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[14] Since these things are true, the Scripture presents us with a series of logical questions pertaining to the lost:

14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

May we be possessors of beautiful feet. May we make it our mission to engage those whom God has placed in our life with the gospel. May we all do the work of an evangelist, for it is the exclusive means through which Christ gathers His worshippers! May we deny ourselves and go to them, and not wait for them to come to us. May we all have the attitude of Paul who was eager to preach the gospel and unashamed of it because he understood it was the very power of God unto salvation to all who believe. May we succeed at what matters and devote our time to understanding the gospel so that we may clearly, and accurately, and passionately proclaim it to people. With this in mind, I, therefore, end with the words of Spurgeon I so often quote:

“Avoid a sugared gospel as you would shun sugar of lead. Seek that gospel which rips up and tears and cuts and wounds and hacks and even kills, for that is the gospel that makes alive again. And when you have found it, give good heed to it. Let it enter into your inmost being. As the rain soaks into the ground, so pray the Lord to let his gospel soak into your soul.”

[1] Matthew 28:19-20

[2] Ephesians 4:11

[3] 1 Peter 3:15

[4] 2 Corinthians 5:18-21

[5] Galatians 6:10

[6] 2 Corinthians 2:17

[7] 2 Corinthians 4:5

[8] Matthew 16:18

[9] Acts 2:39,47

[10] Romans 1:15-16

[11] John 4:23

[12] 1 Corinthians 9:16

[13] Romans 10:17

[14] Romans 10:13

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: