Evangelism is how we take part in God’s work of filling the earth with His image on this earth. People have sinned and have fallen short of God’s glory, so people need the message of the God who has forgiven that sin through the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.
So often, we try to hammer the idea into our people that they must share the Gospel and they must do it a certain way. We make people feel as though if they are not verbally sharing the Gospel every day, somehow Jesus does not love them. If they aren’t leading people to Christ on a regular basis, then God’s work is not being done. While sharing the Gospel is a necessary part of the Christian life, I fear we have forgotten who the power in evangelism comes from. Why aren’t churches that believe evangelism to be so necessary effective when it comes to practicing evangelism? Why aren’t we seeing explosions in number like we read about in the book of Acts? Is God not doing the same work now that He was?
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
He also said to them, “This is what is written: The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And look, I am sending you what My Father promised. As for you, stay in the city until you are empowered from on high.”
As a Baptist, I am a member of a group that is often fearful to talk about the empowering of the Holy Spirit in many things, but that empowering is impossible to escape as we read through the text. We will often talk about the leading of the Holy Spirit or the work of the Holy Spirit, but rarely do we hear about the empowering of the Spirit.
Above are two verses in which the empowering of the Holy Spirit is listed as a prerequisite for the task of evangelism. In Acts 1:8, the Spirit comes upon the people of God and they become God’s witnesses. In Luke 24, the disciples were instructed to wait until they are empowered from on high before going and proclaiming Christ’s name to all the nations, being witnesses. The truth, here, is simple. Without the empowering of the Holy Spirit, we are unable to be witnesses or to practice fruitful evangelism. This, I think, is the reason most churches and most people are ineffective when practicing evangelism. They have relegated God’s power to an event or rely too heavily on human-centered strategies when, all along, it is the Spirit who empowers us to participate in God’s work.
If God’s people are placed where and when they are by God’s sovereign hand and the Holy Spirit indwells the believer. Then, we are always witnesses. We are the missionaries that God has in place to be witnesses before our coworkers, family members, schoolmates, and friends. We are to be a light in every arena on this earth, whether we are going door-to-door or are engaging others on social media.
Paul had a warning for the church regarding the work of the Holy Spirit, and I want to consider that warning.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-24
Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, and to regard them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we exhort you, brothers: warn those who are irresponsible, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.
Give thanks in everything,
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Don’t stifle the Spirit.
Don’t despise prophecies,
but test all things.
Hold on to what is good.
Stay away from every kind of evil.
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely. And may your spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.
Don’t stifle (or quench) the Spirit? Do we discover, here, that even in regard to God’s sovereignty it is possible for us to quench His Spirit? If we read verse 24, we know that we will not stop God from completing everything that He has set forth to accomplish especially concerning His call, because He is faithful. The quenching of the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with whether or not God’s work will be accomplished. Look at the context, “Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything… Don’t despise prophecies (or the proclamation of God’s Word). Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil.”
To quench the Spirit, then, is to not trust the empowering of the Holy Spirit in our own lives or in the lives of others. The Spirit is empowering, but we choose to operate by our own power instead, and we can do this in a number of ways. When we reject the empowering of the Holy Spirit, we smother our own ability to practice effective evangelism and, according to the context of 1 Thessalonians, operate effectively as a local church. We sabotage our ministry (not God’s) by quenching the Spirit in this way.
How do we keep from quenching the Holy Spirit? Paul instructs the church to always rejoice. Rejoicing and celebrating can often be difficult for any number of reasons. God is always doing something good, so there is always reason for us to rejoice. This helps us to keep our attention on God and what God is doing. Paul also instructs the church to pray constantly. When we pray, our hearts are being conformed to the heart of God. We are encouraged to give thanks in everything. Yes, even in our trials. If we believe that Jesus is Lord, then even our trials are serving a good purpose. This is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.
We are also instructed not to despise prophecies, but to test all things. If I am in the habit of despising what is said when the word of God is proclaimed, then I am not growing. So, I test what is said according to the Scriptures and hold on to what is good according to the Scriptures. I stay away from every kind of evil. All of this works toward my sanctification. If I am not resisting sanctification, then I am likely being empowered by the Holy Spirit and able to both do effective evangelism and be a valuable member of the local church.