Knowing whether we have actually proclaimed the gospel is necessary if we are going to be sure that we are fulfilling Christ’s mandate to take the good news of salvation to all creation (Mark 16:15). Therefore, we have distinguished between witnessing and evangelism. Evangelism is a subset of witnessing, but it is not the only way to bear witness to Christ. Essentially, anything we can do that makes visible the invisible reign of our Savior can be classified as witnessing. When we do good works of service to God and neighbor, for example, we are providing a testimony to others by which they may be led to glorify our Lord in heaven (Matt. 5:16). But the doing of good works, however much it may reveal Christ’s reign over our hearts and minds, is not evangelism.
Why does living a good life and doing what is right not qualify as evangelism? The answer is that evangelism refers very specifically to telling people about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and calling them to faith in Him. Just consider the background of the English term evangelism. It comes from the Greek word for gospel (euangelion), or “good news.” Bringing it into English as evangelism, we get a word that literally means “gospeling,” or “good newsing.” Since gospel refers to a message of good news, if we are “gospeling”—if we are conducting evangelism—we are declaring a message. We can do so by speaking words, writing them on a piece of paper, or typing them in an e-mail, but the key point is that true evangelism means declaring content. To evangelize is to share a message with others and call them to respond.
As worthy and necessary as it is to show kindness to others, to love our neighbors and our enemies, to be honest and virtuous, and to fulfill all the other biblical commands, no one is converted by our doing such things. There is an important reason why we are ordered to proclaim a message—people are brought into the kingdom of heaven only through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and what He has done (Acts 16:25–34). As Paul tells us in today’s passage, people must call upon the name of the Lord to be saved, and the only way they can do this is if someone preaches the gospel to them.
Not all of us will have the same gift for evangelism. Though preaching the good news comes more easily to some than others, this does not excuse our silence. We must preach the gospel where we are and as we have opportunity.