19 Mar Cooperative Evangelism
There is no doubt that evangelism is a difficult task but not an impossible one and it would be fair to say that not all the difficulties come from the world but can often come from believers who have a loss of conviction about the truth of the Gospel. But whether the difficulties are external to the church, mild or aggressive opposition or internal where believers sense of conviction is dulled. God never called us to take on this role of evangelism alone.
The passage before us is a clear expression of God’s plan, that evangelism would be cooperative evangelism. That God the Holy Spirit would be with us and us with Him in this role together. The one who would be our helper, the one who would convict the world of sin, righteousness and the judgement to come. Evangelism does not rest on our shoulders alone but it does rest on us in part. We are called by God to be witnesses. Therefore it is this internal sense of what is true and the change that God has made in our lives that should be motivation enough to go and tell the Gospel.
One of the benefits that come with reading the history of the church is that you learn what the church has been through in the past and of course, come through. Some of those times were good and others bad. Christianity will survive because God is the giver of life and God is the one who leads us into all truth so that we do not fear the world or what can be done to us in the world. Rather than address all the issues which make evangelism lose its priority, we shall simply address one. It will be the loss of conviction that truth exists. This then will both apply to the church and the world because in many ways this has happened to both? Now, this needs a little explaining because not all people struggle with knowing that truth exists but they can struggle when it comes to knowing what that truth is. The church and its many denominations is an expression in many ways of our ability to not pursue the truth but our desire to agree to disagree. However is it not the point as we see all the way through the book of Acts to establish which position is right? The church has lost this conviction and in doing so finds it very difficult to tell the world what is true.
Note then what Jesus says here about the Helper, God the Holy Spirit and how the work of evangelism is a cooperative work with him in the world.
Helpers help from a position of strength and it should go without saying that the work of the Holy Spirit cannot be compared with ours. But the point being made here is that we are not alone in this task of evangelising. We do not do it alone, God the spirit here is not only our helper but by him coming to us He is with us and therefore we are not alone. You will also recognise that the Spirit here is referred to as the Spirit of truth Ch15:26. He will bear witness about Jesus and we will do the same. He will ch16:8 convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgement. He will also guide the disciple of Jesus into all truth ch16:12, He will not speak on his own authority but he will only say what he hears from the Godhead. He will be the one who will draw our attention and the attention of others to Jesus. The main point here is for us to be assured that we are not alone in our evangelism.
The power of the truth
We know that the power of truth is that it sets people free which include freedom from error, from uncertainty about the clear things of God. When somebody creates a watch, everyone calls it a watch, but you know what it is because of what it’s for. You don’t use a watch to hammer nails the wall to hang a picture. So we know what something truly is when we know what that thing is for. It is the Gospel then that tells the world what people are for.
When the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgement, they are things which bear on people. God is speaking to you telling you that sin should not be part of you but righteousness should and a final judgement on these matters is coming. The Gospel is the message of how Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, how people become a new creation in Christ Jesus. In short, the truth is deeply personal. But it is also that which has something to say about everything.
When the early church began to grow it did so through an environment where idolatry was plain to see and where cultic groups were plentiful. The Romans who tolerated many gods became completely intolerable to Christians who would only worship Jesus as Lord. The early Christians didn’t agree to disagree as if Jesus was on the same level as the idols of the time. In fact, history shows that it was the variety of belief in the many idols which lead to their end in which Christianity under the lordship of Jesus gained strength.
The message and method
The Gospel is a message and these words of God in cooperation with God the Spirit bring conviction into the world. But this doesn’t stop Paul praying for the opening of opportunities and for clarity.
He understood that while the message of the Gospel was clear it was not to come across like an answerphone message. In that when you phone up someone and it goes to the answerphone message it’s the same for every person who rings. Because the Gospel speaks into all of life it is able to address all of life from whatever point the person wants to start.
Understanding that how the Gospel applies to all of life for the whole of life you are able to address all of life and the method we use to do this is dependence of God, knowing that we are doing this is cooperation with God the Spirit and that the word of God is sufficient to accomplish the purposes of God. This may just address part of the conviction which is lost, that the word of God is sufficient; we simply cooperate with the mission of God.
Proclaiming the word of God in a world where people have lost the sense of truth and where agreeing to disagree is a preferred option so that we can all do what we want to do is not a conviction. The conviction which the Spirit brings and which believers ought to live with is truth, what is true. The spirit of God is in the world convicting it of what’s true and we speak truth to all and we are to remember that we do not do this alone.
There is tremendous comfort and encouragement here in the fact that we are told that as we evangelise that we do not do it alone, that God is with us as we do it. But there is also a great challenge as to whether we believe that the truth can be known. The message of the early church was that Jesus is Lord, raised from the dead. By telling the world that Jesus is Lord they were telling the world that it was not and the world understood this. Let me then finish with this – as proverbs say, the tender mercies of the wicked are evil.
The world has its own message and it is a tender mercy to those who seek to do their own thing but in the end, it is wickedness for it leads only to the judgement of God without redemption. Christians should consider this as fair warning to not substitute the truth for the position of agreeing to disagree, for such a substitution may appear to be tender mercy making you more acceptable in the eyes of others but in the end, it does not love the person, for it does not change their position before God.
We must do all that we can to regain that conviction of truth and that the truth can be known. For it is the truth which sets people free, it is the truth which really loves the person that it reaches. It is the truth which changes their condition before God and it will be the truth which assures them of their new found salvation in Christ.
The call to proclaim the Gospel in the knowledge that we don’t do it alone but with the helper, God himself – is a call to be truth-tellers.