After the resurrection of Jesus, Christ told His disciples to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15). The apostle Matthew refers to the “gospel” as the “gospel of the Kingdom” (Matt 4:23a), and the “good news of the Kingdom” (Matt 24:14a). The apostle Mark talks of the “gospel of Jesus Christ,” (Mark 1:1a) and the “gospel of the kingdom of God,” (Mark 1:14b), while the apostle Luke speaks of the “good news of the Kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43a).
While all the aforementioned phrases are slightly different, they convey the basic meaning—the gospel is the “good news” or the “good report.” To evangelize is therefore to communicate the good news of salvation to others. The word gospel is “not the message itself but rather a description of the message.” It is not just any good news, but the good news that focuses on the salvation of mankind.
Upon hearing that Christ overcame the power of the grave, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit at the “Day of Pentecost,” the disciples were excited and went, filled with the Holy Spirit, and preached the good news of salvation. The task was not easy, but the Holy Spirit enabled them to preach the good news.
The questions one would like to ask: Who brought the gospel of Jesus to you? Was it your parents, your evangelist, or perhaps it was your Sabbath School teacher? Someone had to bring the message of salvation to you. As Christians, we still need to reach out today, to take the good news of the risen Christ to those who do not know Him.
The book of Acts has been termed the “Acts of the Holy Spirit.” It tells of the witnessing activities of the Holy Spirit in the early church. The Holy Spirit was the agent of witnessing behind the first-century Christians. The Holy Spirit’s chief task is to bear witness to Christ (John 15:26–27; Acts 5:32; 1 Cor 2:14, 12:3). Without the Holy Spirit—even as John Calvin “affirmed—the Bible would be to the sinner a dead book. But in the ‘hands’ of the Spirit of God the Bible has always again and again become the unique instrument that shapes the identity of God’s people and transforms their lives.”
Someone has said that the Gospel in the first century was carried by a good system. It was called the teleperson system, and it truly got results—better than we do today with our telephones, tweets, Facebook, televisions, and so on. The woman of Samaria carried the Gospel after her meeting with Christ by the teleperson system. It is said that “many of the Samaritans . . . believed on Him for the saying of the woman” (John 4:39).
In summarizing the impact of the Holy Spirit upon the first-century church, Billy Graham observed:
They had no Bibles, no seminaries, nor Bible-schools. No radios or telephones. No printing presses. No churches. Nothing! However, they turned the world upside down in one generation. What did they have? They had an experience with the Living Christ. They had the filling of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit must be restored in our thinking to the role He filled in first-century missionary outreach.
The following diagram illustrates the role of the Holy Spirit in proclaiming the gospel:
With the coming of the Holy Spirit, He enabled the believers to witness with great power.
Harry R. Boer writes:
Pentecost made the Church a witnessing Church. Her witness was spontaneous, immediate. She did not need a basis in reflection for the discharge of her kerugmatic task, for she had been naturally constituted to be kerugmatic community.
The role of the Holy Spirit in the early church was given with boldness and obedience to the Word. Acts 4:31b tells us that “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” Peter’s sermon was preached with boldness. Stephen’s witness was borne through the power of the Holy Spirit. The coming of the Holy Spirit made a drastic change in the lives of the early church’s witnessing activities.
Proclaiming the Gospel
The Holy Spirit was behind the proclamation of the gospel. “At every point in the advance, it is the Holy Spirit of God who takes the initiative.” Philip, directed by the Holy Spirit, witnessed to the Ethiopian eunuch. While he was coming from the church service in Jerusalem, the Ethiopian (in Acts 8) did not understand the Scriptures; Philip taught him and led him to salvation (Acts 8:35–37).
Peter, instructed by the Holy Spirit, witnessed to Cornelius and his household. God used the vision of the sheet let down from heaven to prepare Peter to proclaim the gospel to Gentiles. Peter obeyed the Spirit and went to Cornelius’ household to preach the message. After he understood the vision, Peter’s message was twofold: first, there is no distinction between a Jew and a Gentile (Acts 10:34). Second, the remission of sin is promised through faith in Jesus (Acts 10:43). Consequently, Cornelius’ house believed and, like the Jews, received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44–46).
Another striking example involves the separation by the Holy Spirit of Saul (later Paul) and Barnabas to minister among the Gentiles (Acts 13:1–2). The Holy Spirit not only proclaimed the gospel but also directed the apostles in the proclamation of the gospel.
Perfecting the Saints
The phrase “perfecting the saints” is used here to show that the continuation of the growth of the believers is shaped to the likeness of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:29). The Holy Spirit was instrumental in giving the “Inspired Word.” “For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21). The process of being moved by the Holy Spirit is called inspiration. The word moved is pheromenoi in Greek, and it was used by people who worked with ships. Phero implies that the prophets were borne along by the Holy Spirit as the ship is borne along by the wind. They were entirely under the Spirit’s motivation. The most vivid descriptions recount the experiences of the prophets who spoke on God’s behalf with remarkable directness.
The Holy Spirit aided the believers to “understand the Scriptures.” Thus, the Holy Spirit enlightened the early apostles. Paul writes:
Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord, I had no rest in my spirit, because I did not find Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I departed for Macedonia (2 Cor 2:12–13).
The Bible is the only source of absolute truth. The Holy Spirit enlightens and assists us in understanding what was written in the Bible. The Spirit opened many opportunities for Paul to preach the gospel. Troas was one exception; he could not tarry to preach there. His message to the Corinthians was not from man but from God. The Holy Spirit was given to them so that they could understand the truth. Likewise, the Holy Spirit today waits to enlighten the diligent seeker.
The Holy Spirit is the “indwelling helper” (Greek parakletos or paraclete) the best meaning of paraclete is an advocate, an intercessor, a counselor, or helper. The Holy Spirit is the indwelling comforter or helper in the task of world mission. The Christian today is not only dependent on the Holy Spirit for living a Christ-centered life, but also for sharing and making Him known in the age in which we live. We depend on the Holy Spirit to help us understand the Scriptures, to be the indwelling helper, and to perfect our characters.
The third phase that the Holy Spirit played in the early church was planting of churches. When the Holy Spirit separated Saul and Barnabas, their missionary efforts resulted in planting of churches. It can be said at this point that one of the purposes of the Holy Spirit is to plant churches. The establishment of churches for missionary outreach was under the direction of the Spirit and according to God’s will. Dr. Luke reports: “Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied” (Acts 9:31). During these times, the churches in Judea grew rapidly, spiritually and numerically.
G. Campbell Morgan said: “If the church is to be missionary, she must be spiritual; and if the church is to be spiritual, she must be missionary.” The Spirit also directed the decision making of the early church (cf. Acts 15:28) and appointed church leaders (cf. Acts 13:1–2; 20:28).
Just as the Holy Spirit is an active agent in witnessing, He is also equally vibrant in transforming people’s lives. He is a dynamic force in bringing people to faith in Jesus. The ministry of the Christian church today is to witness, and the fruit of conversion belongs to the Holy Spirit. Faith belongs to humans, while works belong to God. For the Holy Spirit’s role is to fill:
What God chooses, He cleanses.
What God cleanses, He molds.
What God molds, He fills.
What God fills, He uses.
David Watson, in his book, Called & Committed: World-Changing Discipleship, gives “the Marks of the Witness,” which are listed below:
A witness must have a first-hand experience of Christ. Hearsay is not acceptable in a court of law, nor in the court of this world’s opinion. People will listen only to what we have personally seen and heard.
A witness must be able to express himself verbally. We may witness effectively through our lives, our work, our relationships, our attitudes, our suffering and even our death, yet we must still “be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you” (1 Pet 3:15). We must do so “with gentleness and respect,” and with the integrity of our lives demonstrating the truth of our words.
A witness will have confidence in the power of God. He relies on the power of the message of Christ and him crucified, and the power of the Holy Spirit. He knows that God can break through any defenses, and change any heart. This confidence will not be brash, but humble and sensitive, marked by much prayer. He knows that without God, he can do nothing, but that “with God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26).
A witness will have compassion for the spiritually lost. He will care for them as individuals who matter deeply to God: made in His image, redeemed by His Son, and to be indwelt by His Spirit.
May the Holy Spirit empower us this week to witness for Him wherever we are. When we witness, we are joining God the Holy Spirit in His work of saving souls. As we do witness, let us remember that the Holy Spirit is there before us and is there with us. He admonishes us, encourages us, and restores hope and faith in our lives
Notes & References:
Myles Munroe, Rediscovering the Kingdom: Ancient Hope for our 21st Century World (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2004), 146.
Roger E. Olson, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 108.
Ivan M. Satyavrata, The Holy Spirit: Lord and Life-giver (Cumbria, CA: Langham Global Library, 2012), 11.
Harry R. Boer, Pentecost and Missions (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1961), 45.
Paul A. Beals, A People for His Name: A Church Based Missions Strategy (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1995), 220.
Robert Dolman, How Does Your Garden Grow? A Fresh Look at the Spiritual Gardening of Christian Growth (Raleigh, NC: Lulu, 2005), 84.
David Watson, Called & Committed: World-Changing Discipleship (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1982), 142–143.
Youssry Guirguis currently serves as a full-time Lecturer at Asia-Pacific International University (AIU), Muak Lek, Thailand and also as an adjunct professor at the Adventist Institute for Islamic & Arabic Studies at Middle East University (MEU), Beirut, Lebanon.
Photo courtesy of Pexels.
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