Faithfulness to God requires proclaiming the Gospel

Confusion is widespread today over the meaning of the word “evangelism.” We would use the term in its scriptural meaning, i.e., the announcing, declaring, or bringing of good tidings, especially “the Gospel.” This announcement may be made person to person, informally or formally, by the spoken word or through the printed page, publicly or privately, in a church or a hall, in a home or in a hovel, indoors or outside, to one or more, anywhere.

It is of utmost importance that this message be announced “to every creature,” that it be accurately and clearly stated in language understandable to the hearer, and that it be proclaimed in the assurance that it is the Gospel of God and “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” This message is God’s good news; and it is God’s plan that this news be announced to every creature and God’s Spirit will quicken men by it. There is, therefore, an urgency to the Gospel beyond what most churches or individuals seem to feel.

Perhaps, before we go further, a word about what constitutes the Gospel is in order. The Gospel is not a few verses from one or another of the four Gospels. The four Gospels give us a portrait or portraits of the Saviour and record the important events that form the historical background of the evangel. But the Epistles reveal the significance of the events recorded in the Gospels.

The Gospel is not a system of religion, nor the dogmas of one or more churches. It is a divine communication, “… the gospel of God, which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures, concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom: 1:1–3a). It is beamed to sinners—not to the worthy, but to the unworthy; not to those who deserve heaven, but to the hell-deserving. It is the Gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24), because its theme is unmerited divine favor to sinners. It is the Gospel of our salvation, because it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes (Eph. 1:13; Rom. 1:16). It reveals the only remedy for sin, the only way of deliverance for the sinner. It is the Gospel of peace, because by believing it, men are reconciled to God. “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).

Paul speaks of it as “my gospel” (Rom. 2:16) because he was in a special way its messenger. But it did not originate with Paul. He could say of it, “… the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11, 12).

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Since it is a communication from God to man, and since its propagation is committed to men, we have a divine mandate to give ourselves to the task.

Paul considered himself under obligation to preach the Gospel to every creature. He wrote, “I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.” “So,” he says, “as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the Gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” He said of the urgency of it, “Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” As he went up to Jerusalem, knowing that bonds and afflictions awaited him there, he said, “None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.”

There was no other course for Paul, and there is no other course for the faithful servant of God today.

The urgency of evangelism is underscored by the fact that the message of the Gospel is desperately needed by every creature, because sin is both universal and ruinous. I am one of many thousands of Africans who would all have been hopelessly lost in sin were it not for the prospect of salvation first carried into Africa by the Ethiopian eunuch in the earlier days and in more recent times by Livingstone, Miller, Bingham, and many other faithful servants of God, whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

My ancestors were Muslims and my fate would have been tragically sealed but for the grace of God, which through the written word in the Arabic script revealed the Saviour to my grandfather and some of his contemporaries. I have had the privilege of a Christian home and education in a Christian school, for which I am eternally grateful. I was moved to become a doctor by the example of a devoted Christian missionary doctor who looked after me during a period of illness. In spite of that, Satan kept me away from true faith and salvation. With my elementary knowledge of science, I thought the Scriptures could not be relied upon. I thought I could work out my own salvation by good works. God in his infinite goodness and mercy very soon showed me the utter impossibility of that course and led me to accept salvation by faith in Christ as a free gift, “not of works, lest any man should boast.”

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Regarding the universality of sin the Bible is clear. “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Ps. 14:2, 3). This includes Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 3:9–12), those under law and those without law (Rom: 2:12); for there is no difference—all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). This includes the self-righteous and religious represented by the Pharisees in Luke 18:9–14 as well as the self-condemned represented by the publican in the same passage.

As I mentioned before, sin is ruinous. Not only is it an offense against God; it is like a deep-seated dreadful disease for which there is no human remedy. Apart from the Saviour, it gets worse and worse and will result in death and the lake of fire.

The urgency of evangelism is increased by the fact that there is a sure remedy for sin offered in the Gospel, and that it is a divine remedy, purposed and provided by God himself through the sacrifice of his own Son on the cross. The suffering, and the shame, and the sorrow that the Son of God bore on the cross for our sins (John 3:14; Gal. 3:13, 14; Isa. 53:5) demand an urgency in announcing the good news of redemption for those for whom he died.

To withhold from others the benefits of redemption that Christ has provided at so great a cost shows lack of appreciation for what we have received and indifference to our role in God’s plan of redemption.

Evangelism is urgent because Christ’s command is to preach the Gospel (to announce the glad tidings) to every creature; to withhold the message from any creature by our neglect or disobedience is criminal and cruel. What would you think of a doctor who refused to sacrifice the comfort of his easy chair in order to go to minister to a patient who was distressingly ill, especially if he had a sure remedy for his condition?

It is one of my very great privileges to be a practicing medical doctor (pediatrician) in one corner of Africa. My job can be very satisfying because in such situations, humanly speaking one virtually holds the key of life and death. I recall one particular situation, a child was admitted with very high fever and convulsions due to cerebral malaria. It was the first time that a pediatrician was available in that station. The ward nursing sister said very despondently, “I have never seen anyone of them admitted that bad who had ever recovered.” The child did survive, but it meant, giving not only of skill but also of much-needed sleep for that night. I had more than an adequate excuse to give up. It was at the end of the day, and I was pretty tired. Such cases have always died before; hence no one would have blamed me. But those few hours made all the difference between life and death for that child. What would you truly have thought of me if I had not attended to the child? The most severe condemnation would not be adequate. If this is so in the physical realm, how very much more important it is in the spiritual realm! Our Lord Jesus laid aside his glory, and became man, even a lowly carpenter, and then went to the cross to make salvation possible. Should we do less to make it known?

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If we face the facts, we must admit with the Apostle Paul that we are debtors (Rom. 1:14); that we owe it to both Greeks and barbarians, to the learned and to the ignorant, to make known to them the glad tidings that are intended for all people (Luke 2:10). How then can we with impunity limit the announcement to the few while we pursue our own earthly comforts, or wealth, or pleasure?

The urgency of evangelism is further increased when we consider what salvation is. It is more than a fire escape, an escape from the lake of fire, though it affords that. If it were no more than that, it would demand all that we have or are to make it known to every creature, because hell is a dread reality and the Gospel reveals the only way of escape.

But the salvation that the Gospel reveals is more than that. It is a present salvation. Not only will the believer be saved at last; he is also saved now. He is forgiven, justified, accounted righteous now, “being justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). For them who are in Christ Jesus there is now no condemnation (Rom. 8:1; John 3:18).

The believer in Christ, moreover, has passed from death to life already (John 5:24). He has the very life of God in his soul now (1 John 5:11, 12). He has been born again and made a partaker of the divine nature. He is “begotten … again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven” for him (1 Peter 1:3, 4).

Furthermore, he is now no longer a stranger, or outsider, but a fellow citizen with the saints, and of the household of God.

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The proclamation of the Gospel not only affords salvation to the sinner who hears and believes it; it also glorifies God (Rom. 15:8–13). It reveals something of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. It reveals his infinite love and the glory of his matchless grace (Eph. 1:1; 2:1–10). It reaches us in the horrible pit, brings us up out of the miry clay, sets our feet upon the rock, establishes our goings, and puts a new song in our mouths of praise to our God. It turns the sinner’s night into day, his darkness into light, and his distress into unexpressible joy. When the battle is over and our race is run, the message of the Gospel will be the theme of our song in glory to the praise of the glory of God’s infinite grace.

Evangelism has all the urgency of the faithful physician when someone is desperately and dangerously ill, of the surgeon when only an emergency operation will save a patient’s life, of the fire brigade when someone is trapped in a burning building, of an army of emancipation hastening to rescue captives held by a cruel tyrant, and of someone who has news too good to keep. It must be told. Necessity is laid upon us, cost what it may.

In Second Kings chapter 7 we read how Samaria was under siege by the armies of Benhadad, king of Syria. Food supplies were cut off; the most distressing famine conditions prevailed in the city. But God’s prophet Elisha had foretold that the morrow would bring relief. That evening there were four leprous men outside the gate of the city. They reasoned that even if they were allowed to enter the city they would die of hunger. Why not go forth to the Syrians? This they decided to do. When they came to the camp, they found that the Syrians had fled, leaving their camp as it was. There was plenty of food. The lepers ate their fill. Then they thought of hoarding what they did not need. As they began to do so, they were convicted and said to one another, “We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace: if we tarry till the morning light, some mischief will come upon us: now therefore come, that we may go and tell the king’s household” (2 Kings 7:9).

Sin has brought men very low. Terrible distress is on every hand. Even in the churches there is famine, distressing famine. If God in his providence has disclosed where there is plenty, we have no right to keep this intelligence to ourselves. The good news we have in the gospel message is not meant for us alone. It is to be shared with all people. It is knowledge that is urgently needed by all classes and conditions of people everywhere.

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Dare we by our neglect keep this intelligence from those who need it so sorely, and whose right it is to have it?

Many are giving a fraction of their income, and some few a larger portion of their income; but very few indeed are giving their capital. Yet even if it costs us our position, our popularity, yea, our very lives, we will be the richer if we leave all and go forth from one person to another, or from one village or town to another, announcing with all possible urgency the good news of a Saviour come, of redemption accomplished, of forgiveness provided, of life offered, and of heaven opened.

Possibly the urgency of evangelism is greater today than at any time in history, because time is running out, people are multiplying, the world situation is worsening, and distress and unrest are increasing by the minute.

The situation in my country, Nigeria, is a particularly sad one. Here is a country of 55 million people who have been set on the road to democratic living as free men and women. Here is a country that almost holds the key to the very survival, peace, and happiness of the people of the whole African continent. While so many of the other countries of Africa one by one are embracing dictatorships, even under the guise of the so-called African Democracy of the one-party political system, Nigeria has remained one country that seems to have held to the principle of freedom for the individual. Recent events have cast doubts in many minds about the promise for peace for Africa and for the world that Nigeria epitomized. There is loss of ground on every side. Why? Is it not because we are all looking up to materialism and preaching it as the key to peace and happiness, while we deny the world around us the only hope of peace, the Prince of Peace himself, who died that we, believing in him, might have peace with God?

It has been my privilege to do a fair amount of traveling around the world; the story everywhere is the same. The situation is worsening hour by hour. We who have the good news that Christ died to save sinners, of whom I am chief—what are we doing about telling it to others? We are not responsible for results; but we are responsible for announcing the glad tidings, and we are responsible for being accurate and clear in making the message known.

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