Instruction from the Book of Acts for Sharing the Gospel

In the book of Acts, we find a treasure of information concerning the foundation and operation of Christ’s Church. As recipients of this revealed Word, we do not only receive historical facts, but we also receive a model for ecclesiology, fellowship, and, among other things, strategy for evangelism.  Given the broad range of audiences that hear an evangelistic message from the early Church, we would expect to see a diversity in approaches and strategies—and that is exactly what we find.  With that said, we (maybe predictably) find this in common for every attempt at evangelism in Acts: the top priority is always to proclaim Christ as savior (Acts 4:12 and Acts 17:2-3).

1. Sharing the Gospel with Those Who Have a Biblical Foundation

The first instance of evangelism in Acts is at Pentecost before the start of the Church in Acts 2. Peter’s sermon addressed the Jews living in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, Jews scattered abroad coming to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, and people who are not ethnically Jewish but have converted to the Jewish religion. Although they were from many different geographical regions, they shared an Old Testament background and understanding. They believed in the same God and they believed Him to be Creator and ruler.  They knew that God had a claim on morality and they knew what His law demanded.  They knew about the sin and death they see in the world and how it is a consequence of the first man’s sin.  They were familiar with the “copies” or images (Hebrews 9:23) that point to Christ’s sacrifice, atonement, and mediation.[1]  They had a shared expectation of the Messiah from Old Testament prophecy. They also had a shared expectation of a dispensation of the Holy Spirit (as veiled as that might have been to them) from Ezekiel 36 and 37. Peter’s address starts in verse 14 of Acts 2 and he immediately moves to referencing the outpouring of the Spirit from Joel 2:28-32; he is simply pointing out that these events are what they—as people of the Word—were anticipating.  Peter references David’s prophecies about the expectation for Christ’s resurrection in verses 26-28 and again in verse 35 (about the reign of David’s throne on the Kingdom with no end).  The entire message is geared toward proclaiming that this Jesus is indeed the Messiah foretold in Scripture. Peter’s evangelistic sermon addresses those who have a biblical foundation. Or, to borrow the symbolism of the Parable of the Soils of Mark 4, he is preaching to a culture that has been plowed by the Word and is ready for the seed of the gospel.

Another example of evangelism to someone with a biblical foundation occurs in Acts 8:26-37.  Here Philip encounters—under the direction of the Holy Spirit—the Ethiopian eunuch. Now, it is unclear, to me at least, whether the eunuch was a Jew of the dispersion serving in Ethiopia or if he was a Gentile convert. For the sake of this topic, that is of little importance; we can conclude that the eunuch believed in God and felt that Isaiah (chapter 53, specifically) had information that was instructive and worth effort to learn and understand.  Philip didn’t need to go back to establishing a biblical foundation; from Isaiah 53:7 “he told [the eunuch] the good news about Jesus. (v. 34)”

2. Sharing the Gospel with Those Who Do Not Have a Biblical Foundation

However, in Acts 17:18ff, we find a different situation.  Paul is not dealing with Hellenistic Jews as in the beginning of Acts 17.  The Athenian Epicureans and Stoics did not have a biblical foundation and predictably, they considered his message foolishness (“What does this babbler wish to say?”).  This is a Greek audience that doesn’t have Old Testament Scripture and they had no concept of the first man and the consequences of the Fall.  The one blood argument is a means to have a conversation about Adam and original sin—and ultimately, to communicate the truth about God the Creator.[2]  It was necessary to communicate the truth about God the Creator to before having a meaningful conversation about the gospel. As Rev. Jimmy Stallard states, Paul “declared three basic truths about the one true God who he declared to be the Unknown God: God is the Creator (Acts 17:24-29), God is the Redeemer (Acts 17:28), and God is the Coming Judge (Acts 17:29-31).”[3]

Conclusion

Comparing the Acts 2 and Acts 17 audiences combined with the comparison of the Acts 2 and Acts 17 approaches reveals this instruction: sharing the gospel requires that we make sure the audience has enough of a biblical foundation to appreciate the good news of Jesus Christ. When sharing the gospel, it is a good idea to evaluate the biblical foundation the audience (whether one person or many) and attempt to address any foundation that is lacking.

Use a Loose Mental Checklist

Here are examples of the basic type of questions you might ask:

  • Do they understand that God created everything we see ex nihilo, that he has ordered and rules all of life, and that we are accountable to him?
  • Do they see that because of the Fall we are spiritually dead, separated from God, and incapable of any action to set things right?
  • Do they realize that all of humanity sins and we all deserve God’s wrath in hell?
  • Have they made the connection that Christ is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham to be a blessing to all the nations?
  • Do they understand that Christ—both God and man—came and lived a perfect, sinless life of obedience to God the Father?
  • Do they know that he died to be propitiation for our sin, that he was raised as David prophesied in order to show that it was truly an accepted sacrifice?
  • Do they understand that salvation by grace through faith in Christ is the only means available for man to be reconciled to God?

Recommended Reading Track to Quickly Provide a Biblical Foundation for Hearing the Gospel

If you have the opportunity to meet with someone regularly to explain the salvation that is in Jesus, you can use the reading list below to quickly provide a biblical foundation before reading with them through the Gospel of John (or something similar):

  • Genesis 1-3 (Creation and The Fall)
  • Genesis 6:5-7:24 (The Flood)
  • Genesis 8:1-9:17 (God’s Covenant with Noah)
  • Genesis 11:1-9 (Tower of Babel)
  • Genesis 12:1-20 (The Call of Abraham)
  • Genesis 15:1-21 (God’s Covenant with Abraham)

While this reading list doesn’t provide a thorough history or survey of the Old Testament, it does help someone who is unfamiliar with the Bible make sense of the gospel. For more information on how to define the gospel when witnessing, go here. For an overview of the entire Bible, Matthias Media has a good resource here.[4]


Footnotes:

  1. The last few sentences are heavily influenced by Ken Ham, Why Won’t They Listen?, Master Books, Inc., 2002, pp 41-42.
  2. Ken Ham, Why Won’t They Listen?, Master Books, Inc., 2002, pp 41-42.
  3. Jimmy Stallard, Notes for Evangelism in a Postmodern Era.
  4. I am in no way affiliated with Matthias Media and I am not compensated for recommending their resources.

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