The Proper Approach to Biblical Evangelism – Acts 17:16-34

I attended a Bible school which was highly evangelistic. There was another Bible school across town that was the leading school for the Assemblies of God. There were some teachers in that school which believed that if its students didn’t speak in tongues once in a while, they probably shouldn’t have enrolled there. Not all Assembly of God people believe that glossolalia is a mandatory proof of salvation, but many do. What is “glossaolalia”? Baptist Bible College believed that such an idea was heresy. However, there were professors at BBC that believed that if its own students weren’t “winning souls,” they, like the Pentecostal kids, shouldn’t have enrolled at their school, because leading souls to Christ is the PRIMARY proof of – and PURPOSE for – being Christians. As a result of this evangelistic attitude, during my three years at BBC, I heard every kind of argument for “soul-winning” imaginable. Some were Biblical, some were para-Biblical, and some were thoroughly un-Biblical. What does “para-Biblical” mean?

One argument that we’d hear from time to time was that the heathen are hungering & thirsting for the gospel. I can’t tell you how many times visiting missionaries would tell us how they traveled for 16 hours or 16 days over mountain passes on foot to visit remote native villages. And when they arrived they were told that the villagers had been praying that a representative of the White God, would come to tell them about the Way of Eternal Life. And the application was that the heathen are yearning, praying, pleading for someone to come and tell them about the Lord Jesus Christ and His death on the cross. Therefore, we needed to finish our studies and get to the mission field as soon as possible. As a general rule are the heathen hungering for THE gospel? Could God put in the heart of some ancestor-worshiping pagan a desire for the true and living Christ? Can anyone say that the Lord has NEVER done that? No man as the right to restrict the sovereign grace of God by denying that possibility. Does anyone here know for sure that the Lord has ACTUALLY done that?

It is highly unlikely that the heathen long for the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. But has a pioneer missionary ever found a remote native hungering for the peace that the forgiveness of sins might bring? Have missionaries ever found remote tribes who were interested in a change of religion? Do pagans have consciences, or is that restricted to semi-moralistic white people? Why is it that nearly every tribe of people has some sort of religion? Do the heathen ever desire a peaceable relationship with their concept of god? Reconciliation? Why have some Hindu mothers tossed their babies into the currents and waves of the Ganges? Why have the people of Central and South America, and the South Pacific thrown their young people into the vents of volcanos? Don’t even the most backward and simple people have a desire for salvation of some kind?

What those off-track-Christians forget – those who say that the pagan are longing for the gospel – is that the heathen, by nature, have no desire to be saved on God’s terms as laid down in the gospel. Is there anyone in the world, civilized or uncivilized, who really wants the Lord? It is only by grace that sinners are willing to be saved by grace. All others find the message of salvation by sovereign grace offensive. What, in I Corinthians 2 did Paul say the Jews thought about the preaching of the cross? (Stumbling.) What did he say that the Greeks thought about the cross? (Foolishness.) So great is the depravity of the unregenerated sinner that, although there is nothing that he needs more than the gospel, there is nothing that he desires less. What is necessary before the seed of the gospel can germinate in the soul of the lost man?

Our lesson this morning deals with things to which the ambassador of God can Biblically appeal in sharing the gospel with the lost.

First there is the RELIGIOUS NATURE of people in general.

What are some of the most important differences between human beings and the animals? How is it that humans have souls and animals do not? (Made in the likeness of God.) I have tried to learn what man’s likeness to God entails, but I’m not sure that I’ll ever really know. What unknowable information would be necessary to answer that question? (God.) One of the things which we do know that results from that likeness is a sense that God exists. The only way that human beings can become truly atheistic, if there is such a thing, is through hypnosis. They have to constantly tell themselves, “There is no god, there is no God, there is no God.” Not only does the creation witness to a Creator, so does every human heart, until it is silenced. Someone has said that man is incurably religious – well, it’s not exactly a disease, but I basically agree. It is in the nature or constitution of man to be religious and to believe in some sort of deity.

When our first human father chose sin, what happened to the image of God within him? (Corrupted.) That which may be known of God is manifest to everyone; “for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God……. ” Briefly put, what doctrine do those verses summarize? (Total Depravity.) What explanation is there for the fact that the heathen have “changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things”? Generally speaking, is the average atheist really an atheist? Who is the god of the average atheist? During the two World Wars, a saying sprang up: “There are no atheists in foxholes.” What does that mean?

Do we have any Biblical argument to use this religious nature of man as an introduction to the Gospel? What was Paul’s approach toward the religious intellectuals of Athens? Acts 17:22-23 – “Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” Every once in a while, sports announcers and interviewers point out the superstitions of the players. I heard the other day that one manager was thinking about contacting a voodoo doctor, because there is a certain pitcher that his team cannot beat. At first I thought that it was a joke, but then I heard that when he was a player somewhere in the Caribbean, someone made a voodoo doll of another player and poked a pin in its heel and the player soon had some sort of Achilles tendon problem. Do baseball players get angry when they are accused of being superstitious? (They seem to take pride.) When Paul said that the Athenians were overly superstitious, they were not made angry. They probably took it as a kind of compliment – a pointing out their over-abundance of religions and idols.

Paul then used their corrupted religious natures to try to bring them to the person of Christ.

Is there any TRUTH in false religion?

He can correct me if I’ve gotten the details wrong, but Brother Bill was telling me that when he was in Seattle for his leukemia treatment one of the people who worked on him, had been to a famous medical school back east. I don’t suppose that it was a necessary part of her medical training, but she spent some time studying religion in that secular school. I also remember when I was in University that I too was urged to take a class on world-religions.

There are various ways in which religion is approached in secular schools. There is the psychology or the philosophy of religion, and another is the history of religion. What do you suppose is the purpose of the History of Religion class? Is it possible to determine the origins of the cults, like the Mormons and the Jehovah Witnesses? How about the Protestant denominations? Catholicism? Is it possible to know the origins of the truly ancient religions without assuming the truths of the Bible? To what do the authors of the text books turn to in order to explain those origins? (Psychology.) For example, why do people worship the Nile river or a major volcano in the area?

Is it correct to say that those religions which are not Biblically Christian are utterly false? What does the word “utterly” mean? Is it correct to say that they are essentially false? What does the word “essentially” mean? Is it safe to say that nearly every false religion actually developed out of the true religion? From what did Episcopalianism begin? And where did that begin? From what did Seventh Dayism begin? If we assume that every modern day heretical religion began centuries ago in the truth, should we also assume that there could be some elements of truth still remaining in them? Don’t most religions believe in the supremacy of some kind of deity? Don’t most religions believe in the immortality of the soul in some way? Didn’t Paul use this kind of logic in his Biblical evangelism of the Athenians?

COMMON GRACE might be used as an approach to evangelism.

What do I mean by “common grace”? When Psalm 145:9 says that “God is good to all” does that mean that He’s good only to all of Israel? What were Jonah’s excuses for not evangelizing Nineveh? “I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.” What argument did the Lord Jesus use when He told His disciples to love their enemies? “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” When Paul preached to the people of Lystra and Derby, he used common grace as a door-opener. “Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”

The blessings of nature poured out on all mankind are but one evidence of God’s common grace. What is another? (The restraint of sin.) The unbeliever will always have an answer to this argument, but it is valid nevertheless.

The revelation of God in NATURE.

Do you think that Heaven has been patterned after the best that God has seen in the world? What is the likelihood that the natural world is patterned after the spiritual world? What did Jesus mean when he called himself the “true” vine? When God is called “Father” is it because He does things similar to what human father’s do? Is Christ more water of life or THE water of life? Is He another light, or is He THE light of the world?

How often did the Lord Jesus use parables of earthly things to teach spiritual things and to open doorways towards evangelism? What did He use to begin evangelizing the Samaritan woman? (Water.) What did He use to talk to Nicodemus about salvation? (Birth.) Why is it helpful to use physical things, like these to illustrated spiritual things? (Easy to understand.)

It is Biblical to make some minor ADAPTATIONS to accomplish the work of Biblical Evangelism.

When Paul chose to take Timothy with him as a missionary apprentice, why did he circumcise him? Why did Paul change his name from Saul? I Corinthians 9:19-22 – “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.”

Without a doubt, the gospel itself must not be changed or limited in any way in order to create “success.” What are some examples of unbiblical compromise or evangelical corruptions? But there are often things that we can do to make the appeal of the Gospel more appealing. And we have Biblical examples for doing so.