In many of God’s commands He gives His children freedom in the mechanics of obedience. For example, in marriage, a man and woman are to commit for a lifetime, but we are not told how that marriage is to be established day by day. Pastors are to preach the Word, but many methods are biblical, and the preacher is given freedom to choose. In only a few instances does the Lord prescribe both the action and the method. Evangelism is one of those cases, and the biblical method for evangelism is boldness.
Acts 3-4 details the church’s earliest efforts in evangelism as the disciples begin getting out the Good News post Pentecost. After a man has been healed, Peter boldly proclaims the Gospel in Solomon’s porch and he and John are arrested for their presentation of Christ. The next day the two apostles are called to answer to the religious leaders for their actions. Peter does not dial back the boldness in any way, choosing instead to proclaim the Good News again. Acts 4:13 records the council’s response: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” In verse 18 Peter and John are warned not to speak in Jesus’ name. They both answer that they cannot stop speaking about their personal experience with Christ.
As soon as they are released, Peter and John run straight to their friends and start a prayer meeting, pleading with God to prevent the threats they have heard from diminishing their boldness. The Holy Spirit responds by filling each person, so that they “continued to speak the word with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
Was this one of those “for them and not for us” things? In Ephesians, the Apostle Paul settles that question with his request, “Pray for me that I would speak boldly as I ought to speak” (Cf. Ephesians 6:19).
Boldness is the biblical manner in which God wants the Gospel given. We are not to develop our own methods based upon personality or passion. We are to open our mouths and unapologetically testify to the saving power of Jesus Christ. Is it possible that the commonly reported frustrations in personal evangelism and our epidemic failure to evangelize at all is rooted in our failure to embrace the biblical method of boldness?
The Greek term translated bold or boldly or boldness, means “candor in the face of opposition.” We should give a candid, clear, compassionate, compelling witness to the news of how sins can be forgiven in Jesus Christ and how we have experienced that reality personally. Boldness isn’t being obnoxious–I’m gonna shove this down your throat whether you want to hear it or not. Boldness can be very gentle, kind and from a loving heart. It’s not mean or pushy; it’s just convinced. Boldness does not adjust the presentation to avoid a negative response. Paul said, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2). Boldness knows that salvation is of the Lord, “and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). Boldness is the Spirit-given conviction that we must speak about what we have seen and heard in Christ.
In Acts 4:1–3 the disciples were boldly “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” and the opposition didn’t believe in much except being in charge so “they arrested them.”
In much of today’s church this would have signaled the need for some consultants: “Guys, if you’re going to win friends and influence people, you’re going to have to tone it down a little. Round off the edges, make the Gospel more appealing, more acceptable, less offensive to the modern mind-set.”
But that’s not how it happened in Acts. Instead “many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to be about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). Though arrested for their witness, the apostles’ boldness was being blessed! The problem today is that we want the fruit without the fallout. We want to see people converted but don’t want any feathers ruffled or anyone to get upset when they reject the Gospel. Today we want to be the aroma of life to those who are being saved without being the aroma of death to those who are perishing (Cf. 2 Corinthians 2:15). Pursuit of that impossibility has led to a suppression of the biblical model for boldness in most places. Peter and John were imprisoned, Paul and Steven were stoned, and Christ Himself was crucified for the offense created in speaking the truth.
If you start talking freely, openly and authentically about Jesus Christ, you must anticipate some of the same–count on it. Regardless of what the strategists say, negative reaction is not always reflective of poor presentation. If you give witness to Jesus Christ and people get upset, you’re not necessarily doing it wrong. We should not be seeking a way to evangelize where everyone likes us and no one ever gets upset. I wish I could hear some of our modern strategists explaining their plans to the evangelists in the early church. “Hey Peter and John, if you just round off the corners a bit, you can reach a lot of people and avoid jail time.”
Biblical boldness for Christ is a fountain that bursts forth from a satisfied soul. Even when facing the authorities, Peter overflows with the Gospel, referring to Jesus seven times in Acts 4:10-12 concluding with, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Boldness springs from something that is happening deep inside. Jesus Christ has changed my life. Everything that I was looking for and longing for, I found in Him. I have the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. I have a peace that passes understanding. I have a love for people whom I should hate. I have joy and a strength I knew nothing about, so how could I not try to tell others that they can have it, too? That is boldness!
In regard to evangelism, God has not just told us what to do, He has told us how to do it. Embrace afresh the biblical method: clear, concise, unwavering witness for Christ–even in the face of opposition. The bold way is the biblical way. Testify boldly and without fear, regardless of the response, and you will know God’s favor upon your witness for Christ. D ©2011 James McDonald
James McDonald is senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, in suburban Chicago, and his teaching can be heard on Walk in the Word, a daily radio program heard on more than 1,000 radio outlets in North America, including BGEA stations WMIT 106.9 The Light and WFGW 1010 Faith and Freedom.
All Scripture quotations taken by permission from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.