By asking a what Question, our blog hosts have narrowed my subject to a definitional issue. Let’s then pursue a definition of evangelistic preaching. Such a definition certainly includes the evangelistic message and purpose, but it also emulates the activity of the early church in both public stance and desired response.
First of all, evangelistic preaching is preaching. It is not sharing, discussing or displaying the gospel, but preaching in a technical sense—public proclamation with a view to change values, beliefs, attitudes, or conduct.
Next, it is evangelistic. It is not preaching to equip or edify believers, but proclaiming the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ in reference to unbelievers’ lack of God’s salvation.
Put those two statements together and we get a simple and sound definition of evangelistic preaching:
Evangelistic preaching is the public proclamation of the Good News of eternal salvation found in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ so that any unbeliever may welcome Him as the only God who saves sinners.
This definition is rather simple, but its scope is large and intense. Let’s unpack it to gain a working understanding of evangelistic preaching.
Like all preaching, evangelistic preaching will engage an audience in a public situation. The group, however, will include individuals who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ in personal salvation.
The word is rich in both biblical and homiletical history. Check its meaning and its synonym “preaching,” in an English dictionary or thesaurus, Bible dictionary or lexicon, and you’ll read a broad range of nuances. It’s easier to define expository preaching, topical preaching, or evangelistic preaching than preaching per se! The adjectives generate the definition. So neither you nor I are the only ones hard-pressed to state the obvious: “To preach is to proclaim and to proclaim is to preach.” Its core content, distinguishes evangelistic preaching, whether textually based or topically developed, from other kinds of preaching.
The Good News of Eternal Salvation
The evangelistic news is good in itself and good for those who believe, that eternal salvation is immediately available to those who receive the Lord Jesus as their Savior from sin’s lasting condemnation.
Found in the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ
While the amount of time spent on the death and resurrection of Jesus doesn’t make a sermon more or less evangelistic, the content of the gospel must undergird the evangelistic sermon. The person of the Lord Jesus Christ is wider and deeper than his work in human salvation, but evangelistic preaching centers on his person as the Chosen God-Man; and on his substitutionary work in his death and resurrection for human salvation. Those two aspects cover the Gospel—in technical (1 Cor. 15:3-4); canonical (Rom. 1:1-4); and theological definition: “The Gospel of Jesus Christ is news, good news: the best and most important news that any human being ever hears. This Gospel declares the only way to know God in peace, love, and joy is through the reconciling death of Jesus Christ the risen Lord.” This gospel is the only message you can preach that has God power to accomplish the salvation of sinner (Rom. 1:16).
Evangelistic preaching carries a particular purpose and anticipated result along with its unique content. Your call to unbelievers in the evangelistic sermon continues God’s call in their hearts to believe on the Lord Jesus. In atmosphere, an evangelistic sermon facilitates the hearer’s saving response to Christ. In spirit and words, it invites the unbeliever to transfer his trust to the Lord Jesus Christ as his only God and savior. Evangelistic preaching carries a mood of entreaty, implements a rhetorical strategy of appeal and persuasion, weaves the sermon around an evangelistic purpose, and expects an evangelistic result, throughout the whole sermon—so that unbelievers come to the Lord Jesus.
If there are no unbelievers present, your evangelistic preaching will be like performing a wedding of those already married. Since there’s no evangelistic preaching without unbelievers, we may need to consider a change in mindset and execute strategy to have unbelievers present at these occasions. Yet the success ratio of human response doesn’t make a sermon evangelistic, for it is possible that no one responds to your presentation. Instead, the spotlight of the evangelistic sermon will, discernibly but not embarrassingly, focus on the unbeliever.
The phrasing refers to “any” unbeliever. The focus is on the individual, but there is no limitation of any kind that we can humanly discern. “Whosoever will may come” and of course, “whoever the Father draws will come.” There is no arbitrary or prior exclusion of any person in the audience from receiving Jesus’ salvation. No language, ethnicity, caste, class, color, creed, or religion is barred from the evangelistic focus.
Even with unbelievers present at the event, we cannot guarantee a single person’s transfer from death to life. We can certainly look forward to their conversion in our purposeful preaching. We can carefully prepare evangelistic content for clarity. We can think about how to overcome communication blocks and personal objections in putting together our rhetorical strategy. There is the petition that accompanies the evangelistic invitation, but there exists no guarantee of spiritual conversions every time.
I’ve looked for, thought through, and prefer the word welcome (or embrace, cf. Jonathan Edwards) as my catch-all term to explain the faith-response that consents to a God-initiated salvation. Welcome clarifies biblical concepts such as believing and receiving that go beyond the intellectual component of belief to elucidate a volitional response in acceptance of God’s Savior. It comprises a whole person embrace of God’s offer of the gift of salvation. It does not easily permit substitutes to Jesus as Savior, or additions to faith or grace. Preserving the prepositional specificity and gender description in Ephesians 2:8-9, this “by-grace-through-faith” salvation is entirely the gift of God. And such gift is to be simply received rather than achieved so that no man can boast.
As the Only God
Jesus is not just the very God, but the only God who saves. That means the unbeliever cannot rely on any other way or interpretation of salvation. Alternate gods, substitute ways, and additional hedges for salvation made up of idols, concepts, or practices that provide any meaning to eternal salvation must yield to Jesus as the Only God who saves.
And it is God who saves. Salvation is the work of God, orchestrated, engineered, sequenced, and implemented by God. Unbelievers cannot work his way up, out, or toward God’s salvation. He calls on Jesus as the only God who can save him.
Evangelistic preaching communicates Jesus as Savior. The saving provision of Christ dominates the evangelistic sermon, in substitutionary content, focus, offer and invitation. He is the Savior of humanity from their present spiritual deprivation and their eternally disastrous future. He is much more than Savior, but the specific purpose and central proposition of the evangelistic sermon preaches the Lord Jesus as Savior.
As unpopular as this word may be, humanity’s fundamental problem within a theistic framework is moral rebellion against God. We had fallen into sin. Adam’s sin is imputed to us as members of humanity (Rom. 5:12). We are born with a sin nature inherited through our parents (Ps. 51:5). We live under the ruling kingdom of sin (Rom. 3:9) and commit personal acts of sin (Rom. 3:23). Biblically, we can’t get away from our status as sinners, even if we badly want to avoid being called sinners. We may need to use synonyms to communicate sinfulness, but we can’t get away from our basic standing with God as sinners.
Portraying sinfulness, sin and sinners allows the preacher to focus on the saving, substitutionary meaning and function of the Lord Jesus. We must distinguish the content of the gospel (justification before God) without concealing the scope of the gospel (living as a Christian) in evangelistic preaching. That distinction keeps us from seducing any one into the Christian faith, promising too much, or adding to the grace means of salvation.
Further, we use the plural sinners in our definition to reinforce biblical truth. While we proclaim that God can save the individual unbeliever, we do know that He does saves sinners. The fact that he can save the unbeliever motivates us to authentically invite any unbeliever to embrace him. The fact that he saves sinners allows us to genuinely offer his salvation to all unbelievers. So our offer is to all sinners (and that includes individuals), and our invitation is to the one who would embrace Jesus (and that does not include all sinners). Jesus came to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15), but the individual must admit that he himself is a sinner needing God’s salvation. Paul recognized that he was “chief of sinners,” and the publican cried for mercy of God on him, the sinner (Luke 18:13 NASB).
The crux of the gospel, the center of evangelistic preaching, and the core of the final invitation to the unbeliever revolve around one declaration: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as the Only God who saves,” framed by the theological atmosphere of “God, Humanity, Jesus and Faith.” When the unbeliever transfers his trust to Jesus, he immediately receives and possesses eternal salvation.
About Dr. Ramesh Richard: A theologian-evangelist, philosopher-expositor, educator and author, Dr. Richard holds a ThD (in Systematic Theology) from Dallas Theological Seminary and PhD (in Philosophy) from the University of Delhi. He serves as president of RREACH, a global proclamation ministry, evangelizing leaders and strengthening pastors where humanity and the Church are rapidly growing. He served as the General Convener of the 2016 Global Proclamation Congress for Pastoral Trainers where more than 2500 trainers of pastors from over 100 countries. A four-year follow-up to connect, unite and strengthen 100,000 undertrained in 200 nations by 2020 continues for the health of the Church worldwide. He also serves as Professor of Global Theological Engagement and Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary. Please feel free to reach him via firstname.lastname@example.org.