The Power of Evangelism: The Holy Spirit
from Invitation to Evangelism: Sharing the Gospel with Compassion and Conviction
by Timothy K. Beougher
In Acts 1:8, Jesus encouraged a rather discouraged band of disciples with the words, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has co me upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Often when I hear someone reference Acts 1:8 they focus on the strategy for evangelism contained within that verse. This strategy reflects concentric circles, beginning where you are (your Jerusalem) and continuing outwardly to “the uttermost parts of the earth.” Certainly that strategy is found there, and we see it enacted throughout the remainder of the book of Acts. But too often we focus on the strategy and forget the power. Jesus didn’t tell the disciples, “Here is your strategy, now do the best you can in your own strength.” No, the strategy is impotent without the power! Jesus told them to tarry until they received the empowerment of the Holy Spirit because their ministry (and ours as well) would be worthless without the power.
I have adopted 2 Corinthians 4:7 as my life verse (my translation): “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power might be from God and not from we ourselves.” Periodically I’ll have someone say to me, “I just don’t feel adequate to do evangelism.” Do you know how I reply? I grab their shoulders and exclaim, “That’s great! That’s wonderful! You are exactly where God wants you to be! God doesn’t work through people who feel they are adequate, but through those who acknowledge their weakness and need for God’s empowering strength.” If you feel inadequate to do evangelism, then you are a perfect candidate for God’s power.
Reflect on what the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2. He reminisced about his first visit there and recalled that he was with them “in weakness and fear and much trembling.” Think about who wrote those words! Not a brand-new believer or a backslidden Christian, but the apostle Paul! Paul affirms that when he was in Corinth, he was shaking in his sandals with fear, but he goes on to testify that his ministry among them was a demonstration of the Spirit in power. Even the great apostle Paul had to learn the lesson that he could not do ministry in his own strength but only in the Spirit’s empowering.
We see a similar lesson learned by the apostle Peter. In Matthew 26 when Jesus told the disciples they would fall away due to persecution, Peter protested Jesus’s words: “Peter said to Him, ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You’” (v. 35). But if we fast-forward to Jesus’s trial, we see Peter identified by a servant girl as one of Jesus’s followers. How does Peter respond to this accusation? He told her, “I do not even know the man.” Luke tells us at that moment Jesus turned around and looked right into Peter’s eyes. What was Peter’s response? He went out and “wept bitterly.” Those tears were bitter because he had denied his Lord and Master, even after vowing he would do no such thing.
But now let’s fast-forward to Acts chapter 4. Peter is not being questioned by a servant girl; now he’s standing before the top civic and religious authorities of the land. They ordered him to stop talking about Jesus, and how does Peter reply? “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (vv. 19–20). The authorities threatened Peter and John and then let them go. After being dismissed by the authorities, Peter and John called a prayer meeting. Every time I read this account at the end of Acts 4, I feel convicted. If I had called that prayer meeting, I suspect the main request would have been different. I would have been praying for safety. I would have been asking God to build a hedge of protection around me and the other believers in Jerusalem. Yet at that prayer meeting, they were not praying for safety; they were praying for boldness. While it is not wrong for a believer to pray for safety (as in the Psalms), what strikes me is that their own personal safety wasn’t what was uppermost in their minds (and in their prayers). Instead of praying for safety, they prayed for boldness.
That raises a key question. Why did they pray for boldness? The answer is simple yet profound. They prayed for boldness because they needed boldness! We don’t normally pray for things we already have. We may thank God for them, but we don’t ask him for them if we already have them. Why did they pray for boldness? Because they lacked it—they were scared. They didn’t want to allow their fears to keep them from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, so they prayed for boldness.
How did God choose to answer that prayer? Well, this prayer meeting witnessed phenomenal results! When they prayed, the place they were in was shaken. Wouldn’t it be great if in every prayer meeting when you prayed, God would shake the building you were in as a testimony that your prayers had been heard and would be answered? I currently serve as pastor of West Broadway Baptist Church. The church building is located on the east side of Louisville, right across the road from railroad tracks. Occasionally a train rumbles by and shakes the building as we are praying during our Wednesday night prayer meetings. But in Acts 4, there was no locomotive; the place was shaken by the power of God.
God answered their prayers for boldness, and they continued to share the good news of Christ. In Acts 5 the authorities dragged Peter and John back in and said, “We gave you strict orders not to talk about Jesus and you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching” (v. 28, my translation). Reflect on that assertion for a moment: “you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching.” That wasn’t a report in a denominational newsletter (“we have reached our city for Christ!”) but the testimony of their enemies! The authorities were basically saying, “We told you guys to shut up, but you obviously didn’t because everywhere we turn, we find new followers of Christ.” So this time they didn’t just threaten them with words, they beat them with rods.
How did Peter and John respond to this persecution? It says they “left the presence of the council rejoicing that they have been considered worthy to suffer for Christ’s name” (v. 41). Where in the world would they have gotten the idea that the way that you respond to persecution is by rejoicing? It appears in that moment they reflected back to some three years earlier when they heard Jesus utter what we know as the Beatitudes: “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of falsehood against you on account of me; in that day rejoice and be glad because your reward in heaven is great” (Matt. 5:11–12, my translation). So as Peter and John were limping down the street, they were rejoicing; they were celebrating.
So here is an important question for us to answer. What made the difference between Peter cowering in fear before a servant girl and Peter boldly standing up to the top authorities in the land? What made the difference between Peter’s response in Matthew 26 and his response in Acts 4 and 5? The answer is simple: Acts 2! The coming of the Holy Spirit and his empowering ministry at Pentecost. The Peter who boasted he was willing to die for Jesus was Peter boasting in his own strength that “I’ve got this.” Well, he didn’t have it. The Peter in Acts chapter 4 and 5 and beyond is a Peter who is filled with the Holy Spirit. The power for evangelism is the Holy Spirit. We must be filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit as we witness.
This post is an excerpt from the recently released Invitation to Evangelism: Sharing the Gospel with Compassion and Conviction, the newest addition to our Invitation to Theological Studies series by Timothy K. Beougher. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.
Essential guidance for a lifestyle of sharing God’s good news with a lost world.
What exactly does it mean to “evangelize” in a Christian sense? And how is such evangelizing supposed to be done? Longtime pastor, evangelist, and professor of evangelism Timothy K. Beougher answers these questions and more from theological, historical, and practical perspectives. Beougher demonstrates God’s goodness in evangelism through relatable anecdotes, Bible teaching, and encouraging instruction. Invitation to Evangelism welcomes believers into the experience of stepping out in faith of behalf of people God loves.
Most Christians know that they should be sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with nonbelievers, and most also know they aren’t witnessing very well, or even at all. They need help internalizing the content of gospel proclamation and identifying the best way to go about making evangelism a natural part of their lives. Invitation to Evangelism guides readers through the essential issues of the gospel message, evangelism methods, and witnessing models so they are ready and excited to move out in faith as everyday evangelists.
Beougher’s biblical, theological, historical, and practical teaching revolves around following essential aspects of being an evangelist:
- Having compassion as the motivation for evangelism
- Understanding the good news of Jesus Christ
- Seeing lost people as persons God loves
- Relying on the power of the Holy Spirit
- Paving the way for new believers to share their faith eagerly with others