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Reformed Language in Evangelism: What We Should and Shouldn’t Say

As Christians, the glorious purpose to which God has predestinated us is this, that we are conformed to the image of his Son. It is the prayerful desire of every believer that the Holy Spirit sanctify us in joyful submission to the will of God the Father. We pray that he do this in every area of our lives, and our understanding and application of evangelism is no exception. God has quickened us to repent and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Greek word for repent is metanoeó, literally meaning “a change of mind.” Let us pray God grant us this change of mind as we examine evangelism, so that we may not be conformed to this world, for in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know God. What should be said and not be said in evangelism? Let’s begin:

First, what is meant by “Reformed” language is that it is biblical language. Scripture is the foundation for all things, and is sufficient for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, all of which are applicable to evangelism. This is not to say that we may not use terminology outside of scripture, but that all terms, phrases, concepts, and the like must conform to the teaching of the holy Bible. Language (verbal or otherwise) communicates the message of evangelism. Hence, we see that the Reformed (biblical) language of evangelism is also inseparable from its content.

The content of evangelism must be in harmony with the meaning of the term itself. The word evangelize comes from the Greek term euangelizesthai, literally meaning “bring good news.” This good news is the gospel, which is the proclamation of who God is, and his glory in the display of all his attributes. His glory is manifest unto men by this: that the sovereign God has eternally decreed the salvation of a particular people, who by way of their sinful rebellion render themselves totally destitute, unable to submit to and believe on God; so that Christ, the Son of God, would save them wholly of his own doing by his incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and intercession for his elect, thereby purchasing for his sheep their justification, sanctification, and glorification, wherein they worship God and fellowship with him forever. To make his sovereign grace shine the brighter, God has in the same decree predestinated many unto eternal destruction by the means of their slavery and bondage to sin, from which God is under no obligation to deliver them, so that his justice might be displayed and the grossness of man’s depravity exposed.

Having established the language and content of evangelism, we must also examine how this good news is brought. The revelation of God, whether by Old Testament prophecy, apostolic epistles, or New Testament preaching, has always been delivered by God through the offices God has appointed, namely prophet, apostle, and minister, respectively. God has decreed certain means by which he gathers his elect, and it would be sinful to neglect those means.

What then of the believer not in church offices? The personal witness of a believer is certainly an aspect of God’s work in evangelism. Every Christian, as one who partakes of Christ’s anointing, shares by Christ’s imputed righteousness the office of believer, and is, in a sense, a prophet, priest, and king. I extend the term “language” to mean “conversation,” a term the King James Version uses to describe the whole life of a believer. The conversation of the Christian’s life consists of two aspects: words (what we say by what/how we speak) and deeds (what we say by how we live).

As Christians, we ought to communicate the life of a sinner saved by grace in how we live. All too often we can be orthodox in speech, but hypocritical in walk. The whole duty of man is to fear God and keep his commandments, summarized by Christ as love for God and for the neighbor. Ask yourself: what do I proclaim about God by how I live? Do I show my love for him by obeying him, or do I desecrate his holiness by relishing worldliness? A major error in the modern church today is the notion that conforming to the world will draw sinners to Christ. No. It is not friendship with the world, but spiritual antithesis that God ordains to draw sinners to the light of the gospel. By prostituting cheap grace, modern evangelicalism mistakes obedience for legalism, antithesis for self-righteousness. God forbid that we think ourselves better than others.

When God does grant us the opportunity to speak to someone, we are to speak clearly what the Holy Spirit testifies to the world: sin, righteousness, and judgment. We do not say, “Your good deeds won’t save you,” but rather, “Man can do nothing good! We are slaves to sin and worthy of God’s wrath!” We do not make the King of kings a sales pitch to be accepted or denied, but we proclaim his command, “Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved!” To the mockers, we warn that God is not mocked, and he will judge them on account of their wickedness. To the skeptics, we show them that they know God, but suppress the truth in unrighteousness. To the religiously deceived, we expose their gods as idols, and tell them that Jehovah is the one true God. To those in departing and apostate churches, we call them to join themselves to the flock of Christ in a church that preaches the whole counsel of God, of which the Protestant Reformed Churches are by God’s sovereign grace alone.

Our speech should reason from the scriptures alone, not philosophy, not fanciful words, not pretended neutrality. Personal witness is one of a quiet and peaceable life, that men may see your good works and glorify God, and speaking the truth in gentleness and reverence: always with grace, seasoned with salt.

 

Originally published July 2020, Vol 79 No 7