Calvinistic Evangelism–Chapter Six–Examples of Apostolic Proclamation

It is my purpose in this chapter to examine the apostolic message in three different gospel presentations to demonstrate how the apostles themselves brought these themes together. It should be evident that though the same basic themes emerge in all their proclamations, they did not preach a “one size fits all” message. Though the most basic needs of their hearers were universal, they altered the emphases of their messages to fit the specific needs of their hearers. We will consider three gospel presentations: 1. Peter’s somewhat impromptu sermon on the occasion of the Spirit’s outpouring (Acts 2). Paul’s passionate plea to his brothers according to the flesh in which he expressed his “heart’s desire for Israel . . . that they might be saved” (Rom. 10), and 3. Paul’s address to the pagan philosophers on Mars Hill (Acts 17:31).

Peter’s Pentecost Sermon

We should keep in mind that much of what we find recorded of apostolic preaching in the New Testament Scriptures was not scripted or planned. Often their messages were unrehearsed responses to situations that had arisen. Peter did not arrive at the Feast of Pentecost with a prepared text. There is little question he had given some thought to the Old Testament prophesies about the Spirit’s outpouring in “the last days,” as a result of Jesus’ promises to send the Spirit after he “went away,” but he was not on the roster as an invited guest speaker on the day of Pentecost. Instead, he stood with the other apostles to explain the phenomena that accompanied the Spirit’s torrential effusion.


As we have seen, fulfillment is a strong theme in apostolic preaching. Peter began his message by saying, “This is what the prophet Joel was writing about” (v. 16). He was announcing that “the last days” have come. That age which all other ages were anticipating has dawned (cf. 1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 1:1; 9:26). “This is that. . . .” The accomplishment of that work without which the inheritance could not be granted has been accomplished and the “first-fruit” of that inheritance has been granted. Peter continued to expound the prophetic Scripture to show that this one whom they had crucified must have been the Messiah and that God has exalted this very Jesus whom they crucified to the throne of glory. He shows that David could not have been referring to himself in Psalm sixteen, since his body has been buried and has decomposed. He must ultimately have been referring to God’s Anointed One. He reasoned that the Messiah was to have been resurrected. This Jesus whom you crucified has been resurrected; therefore, Jesus must be God’s Anointed One (see vv. 29-32). Finally, he shows that Psalm two has been fulfilled in Jesus’ exaltation to the throne. Peter must have remembered the words Jesus had spoken on the last day, the great day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Additionally, he must have shared John’s understanding of those words. Jesus had stood up and cried out saying, “If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink. He that believes on me, as the Scriptures have said, out of his inner-most being shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38). John’s editorial comment in verse thirty-nine is quite instructive. He wrote, “Now this he spoke about the Spirit, whom those who believed on him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Peter, understanding this truth, reasoned that since the Spirit had been given, Jesus must have been glorified (see verse 33). It should not escape our notice that when the Spirit was given, Peter did not preach about the Spirit but about Jesus. Jesus had told his disciples that when the Spirit of truth came, he would glorify him (see John 16: 14). If our preaching is guided by the Spirit, we will also seek to glorify Jesus.

Preaching Jesus’ Death

As we have observed, instead of proclaiming to sinners that God loved them so much he sent Jesus to save them, they spoke about Jesus’ death in an entirely different way.* They spoke of his death in terms of the sinner’s culpability in rejecting and crucifying him. Consider, for example, Acts 2:22-23: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know-this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” See also Acts 3:13-15; 4:10-12; 5:30-31; 10:36-43; 13:27-32. Of course, we must keep in mind that Luke did not necessarily record everything the apostles proclaimed in their messages. For example, he informs us in Acts 2:40, “. . . and with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them. . . .” Still, Luke has more than likely recorded for us the more salient features of Peter’s message in an abbreviated form. What is clear from all these examples is that the apostles began by charging their hearers with high treason against the God of heaven in crucifying the Lord of glory. The emphasis of their proclamation was on the resurrection and enthronement of Christ that resulted from his finished redemptive work rather than on the death of Christ’s itself. These verses also clearly imply that this one who was lately in their wicked hands to treat as they wished had now been exalted to the throne to be their judge. They were now in his hands and at his mercy. We must never forget that those wicked men who crucified Jesus acted no differently than we would have acted, apart from God’s restraining grace, had we stood in their place. We must be ever mindful that we are of such a nature that, if we could, we would drag God from his throne and trample him under our feet. When the psalmist penned the second Psalm, he was describing all of us. He wrote, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’” (Psalms 2:1-3). We would have cried out, “Crucify him, Crucify him. We will not have this man to rule over us.” We must be ever mindful that, as sinners, we are not neutral toward God. We were not waiting eagerly and with open hearts to hear our gospel. By nature, we are not lovers of God but hostile toward him (see–Rom. 8:7). Apart from God’s restraining grace, we would have been among those who nailed him to the cross. Bethany Dillon and Matt Hammitt wrote, Behold the Man upon a cross, My sin upon his shoulders Ashamed I hear my mocking voice, Call out among the scoffers.

The Spirit’s Reproving Ministry and Peter’s Preaching

There are few biblical doctrines that have been misunderstood so badly as the doctrine of the Spirit’s work of “conviction.” Usually, when people talk about “being under conviction by the Spirit” they are referring to a feeling of guilt that is produced by the Holy Spirit. In reality, this work does not refer to a feeling at all. It is an objective work of the Holy Spirit in which he presses the evidence of a sinner’s guilt against him. Jesus used the word translated “convict” or “reprove” in John 8:46. He said, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” He clearly did not mean, “Which one of you makes me feel guilty for sin?” Instead, he meant, “Which of you can produce sufficient evidence to prove me guilty of sin.” A sociopath or a psychopath may sit in a courtroom as the accused. He may sit quietly as he listens to the damning evidence against him and yet feel not the slightest pang of conscience. The work of the prosecutor is not to make the defendant feel guilty but to prove him guilty by a cogent presentation of the facts of the case. This is the work of the Spirit in conjunction with the proclamation of the gospel. It should not escape our attention that the proclamation of the New Testament evangelists followed the pattern Jesus set forth in describing the Holy Spirit’s ministry in John 16: 8-11. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. Consider how these three aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work are reflected in Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2.

“He will reprove the world of sin, because they do not believe on me” (John 16:9).

God Approved Jesus—You Crucified Him (Acts 2:22-23).

Peter’s message began with a denunciation of sin. His message is not a condemnation of sins in general but of the crowning sin from which all other sin flows and of which every other sin gives evidence. The Spirit presses on sinners the evidence of their guilt for the greatest possible sin. If the greatest commandment in the Law is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37), the greatest sin must be our failure to love God. These words in John 16:8-11 about the Holy Spirit’s ministry occur immediately following Jesus’ prophecy to his disciples about the world’s hatred for them and their message (John 15:18). He has told them the world’s hatred for them is not a personal matter. The world hates them because it hated him first. If the world rejects our message, it is because it has rejected him and his message and this in the face of clear revelation. Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. . .If I had not done among them the words that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father” (vv. 22-24). He does not mean they would not have been sinners in the absolute sense had they not seen and heard him. It was because they were sinners that they reacted to him as they did. What he intends to say is that their reaction to him and to his message and miracles gives evidence that they hate God. He said, “Whoever hates me, hates my Father also” (v. 23). This concept of sinning with full knowledge against clear revelation is another theme we see repeated in the proclamation of Jesus and the Apostles. Consider a few examples: “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep” (John 10:24-26). “Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me’” (John 10:32). “When Jesus said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still not believe in him” (John 12: 36-37). “. . .Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22).” “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For the invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God. . . .” (Romans 1:19-21). I would like to examine this in greater detail in the next chapter in relation to the sinner’s reaction to the universal benevolence and common grace of God.

“. . .concerning righteousness, because I go to my Father and you see me no more” (John 16:10). You Crucified Him–God Raised Him ( see-Acts 2:23-24).

D. A. Carson has suggested that these words refer to the Spirit’s continuation of Jesus’ earthly ministry in which he exposed the true character and expounded the true nature of righteousness. (see–Carson, 1991, p. 538). Since Jesus was going to the Father and they would see him no more, the Spirit would continue this ministry that Jesus had begun. Peter, under the guidance of the Spirit, makes it clear that whatever their views of righteousness may be, they did not possess it. Thus, he continues Jesus’ ministry of correcting false views about righteousness.

This is without a doubt true, but I believe there is more in the text than that. The Spirit bears witness to Jesus’ righteousness as evidenced by the resurrection. We should not in any way depreciate the importance of the cross in obtaining our redemption, but the cross would be absolutely meaningless apart from the resurrection. If Jesus is still in the tomb, ours is an empty message that is void of reality and ours is a groundless faith that will leave us hopeless (see—1 Cor. 15:14). Peter said, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24). It is in statements like this that the Holy Spirit presses the evidence of Christ’s righteousness. Implicit in this statement is the idea that Jesus’ redemptive work has satisfied all the righteous demands of God’s law so that death could not hold him. In 1 Corinthians 15:56, the apostle Paul wrote, “The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law.” Death has no sting (pains or pangs) apart from sin and sin has no strength apart from law. If law has been satisfied, sin loses its power; if sin has been conquered death loses its sting. Jesus’ resurrection is his vindication. It declares that he has fully satisfied the demands of that Law under which he was born. In full identification with his chosen people, Jesus had come under the power of sin, not in the sense that he ever succumbed to its temptation, but in the sense that he who knew no sin was made sin for them (see Rom. 6:8-10; 2 Cor. 5:21). He has exhausted God’s penal demands for sin. In union with him, the believer stands vindicated before the law. Our future hope is secure because he has risen. It is not simply that his resurrection guarantees ours, but that he and his people are all part of the same resurrection. He is the first-fruits, we are the full harvest.

“of judgment because the prince of this world is judged” (John 16:11).

God Has Made Him Both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36)

Jesus had promised his disciples that the Spirit, as part of his ministry of reproof, would press the evidence of coming judgment on sinners and this “because the ruler of this world is judged.” It is interesting that in the Fourth Gospel, the crushing of the prince of darkness is associated with Jesus’ being “lifted up.” Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:31-32). Jesus employs deliberate ambiguity in regard to this term “lifted up.” He uses it to mean not only to be lifted up on the cross but also, by means of cross, to be lifted up to glory. In this sermon, Peter has argued that David could not have been speaking of himself as the ultimate fulfillment of his words in Psalm sixteen. God had promised to raise up one his descendants to sit on his throne (see 2 Sam. 7:12-16; 1 Chron. 17:11-14). He, along with those of his regal line, were “anointed ones,” but his prophesy looked forward to one who would be the fulfillment of what these kings were as shadows or types of the Anointed One. This Messiah was to be recognized by his resurrection from the dead. He now completes his argument by identifying this “Anointed One” [Messiah/Christ] as “this Jesus whom you crucified.” He was lately in their wicked hands to do with as they wished; they are now in his hands to dispose of as he pleases. God has exalted to the throne as sovereign Lord and Christ this Jesus you crucified. The gospel is a proclamation that Jesus is King. He has sovereign authority to bring his foes into judgment. Peter clearly seemed to see a connection between Jesus’ exaltation as a result of his humiliation (also see this teaching in Phil. 2:5-11), and the certainty of coming judgment. It seems clear that his hearers understood this connection as well since when they heard these words they cried out, “Brothers, what shall the law. What a terrifying prospect it must have been when it came home to them with force that they had crucified their Messiah.

A Message of Repentance and Pardon

It should not escape our attention that Peter’s first mention of pardon came in conjunction with God’s demand for their repentance. He could well have said, “There is no hope for you. Since you have sinned against clear light and acted wickedly in crucifying Jesus, you are doomed.” Instead, he proclaimed to them God’s promise of pardon upon their repentance [change of mind] and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. His proclamation does not attach any saving efficacy to the rite of baptism; it was simply to be an outward profession of their inward change of mind and their reliance on God’s promise. It was to be in Jesus’ name. J. A. Alexander explained the phrase “in the name of Jesus Christ” as follows, “i.e., by his authority, acknowledging his claims, subscribing to his doctrines, engaging in his service, and relying on his merits” (Alexander, 1857, p. 85).

A Universal Proclamation and Promise

Peter closed his message by reminding his hearers that God’s promise was universal in the true, biblical sense of that term. God’s promise had been that he would pour out his Spirit “on all flesh” (v. 17). By this we should not understand that every human being would receive the Spirit, but that people from every nation would receive the promised Spirit. Peter now reminds them that the promise is to all whom the Lord our God shall call, even extending to “those who are far off,” namely, the Gentiles (v. 39). Both Peter and Paul followed this same general outline in all their proclamations (see Acts 3:17-26; 4:10-12; 5:30-32; 10:36-43; 13:26-39). * In noting the absence of any statement in apostolic preaching that Jesus died for you or even that he died for sinners, I am not suggesting that we should not proclaim the good news that Jesus died as a substitute for sinners who will believe the gospel. In the doctrinal expositions of the great truth of justification, the apostles made it clear that the believer’s acceptance before God’s throne is based on Jesus’ substitutionary work. It is God’s good news that we are “justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). But, the message of the gospel we preach to sinners indiscriminately is not that Jesus died for them, but that God has promised to forgive repenting sinners. The message that Jesus died as a satisfaction of God’s wrath toward sinners is not intended to be among the first items of information we give to sinners in evangelism. Instead it is the good news we are to proclaim to believers to explain how God can be just and at the same time justify sinners who trust in Jesus (see–Rom. 3:25-26). As an aside, the question of whether Jesus redemptive work was universal or limited should never have become an issue relative to evangelism. If those who have proclaimed God’s message had simply followed the apostolic pattern, no one would have ever felt the need to tell sinners indiscriminately “Jesus died for you.” Many could not imagine being able to proclaim their gospel unless they could tell every sinner “Jesus died for you.” Yet, there is not a single apostolic message in which the preacher offered sinners this assurance. Every passage that states that Jesus died for our sins or that Christ died for us is addressed to believers. Robert Haldane wisely remarked, “It is the gospel, that Jesus died for the most guilty sinner who will believe, not that he died for every sinner whether he will believe or not.” The gospel is not an appeal to sinners to make the work of Christ effectual for them by letting Jesus come into their hearts. It is a proclamation that his work was effectual and has been accepted as a satisfaction of divine wrath for every sinner who will repent and believe. We do not proclaim the possibility of salvation; we proclaim an accomplished work. In the gospel, God summons sinners to bow before his sovereign throne and promises to pardon them when they repent.

If we have adequately explained to sinners God’s truth about his own character and about their guilt and depravity, their question will be, “How can such a God forgive such a sinner and remain just himself?” C. H. Spurgeon wrote,

When I was in the hands of the Holy Spirit, under conviction of sin, I had a clear and sharp sense of the justice of God. Sin, whatever it might be to other people, became to me an intolerable burden. It was not so much that I feared hell as that I feared sin; and all the while I had upon my mind a deep concern for the honour of God’s name and the integrity of His moral government. I felt that it would not satisfy my conscience if I could be forgiven unjustly (Spurgeon, All of Grace).

It is to explain how God can be just and at the same time the one who justifies the ungodly that we must proclaim that believers are “. . . justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

Paul’s Passionate Plea Concerning His Jewish Brothers (Romans 10: 1-13)

The Context

Romans 10:1-13 is helpful in that it provides some insight into the theological foundation that undergirded Paul’s gospel appeal. This passage occurs in a larger context in which the apostle is dealing with the issue of God’s promises to his blood relatives according to the flesh. He has begun by showing that God’s ultimate design in making promises to Abraham and his offspring did not concern Abraham’s natural offspring but his spiritual offspring. Not everyone who is Jacob’s [of Israel] offspring is of Israel—“For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, . . .” (Rom. 9:6-7). His argument then turns to the prerogative of the sovereign potter to condemn whom he wills and save whom he wills. God chose We must never forget that God is not unjust in granting to some and withholding from others what no one deserves. In chapter ten, he turns from his emphasis on God’s sovereign design in the sinner’s salvation to the sinner’s responsibility to respond rightly to the gospel’s demands. It should not escape our attention that he has placed these two emphases side by side. We should never think of divine sovereignty and human responsibility as contradictory doctrines. Additionally, it should be clear that Paul’s strong predestinarian understanding of God’s ways with men did nothing to deter him from an unfettered proclamation of God’s good news to recalcitrant sinners. In verse one, he has stated his heart’s desire that his brothers according to the flesh be saved. It seems only reasonable that this expressed desire reflected the desire of the God who had sent him and the Spirit who had inspired him to write these words. Interestingly, this chapter closes with the reminder that God has, throughout Israel’s long history, persisted in stretching out his arms to a disobedient and rebellious people. If they perish, it is not his fault but theirs. God had every right to demand that sinner’s go somewhere and do something to atone for their guilt. He could have demanded that we endure years [indeed an eternity] of pain and suffering to satisfy his righteous wrath. In reality, sinners would be more prone to embark on such a course of agonizing obedience than to submit to the terms of the gospel. The Jewish people were quite zealous in their attempts to assuage God’s anger and merit his favor, but all such attempts fall short of obtaining his saving approbation. Paul wrote, “I bear them witness that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Rom. 10: 2-3).

The Message Itself

These efforts on the part of Paul’s Hebrew brethren gave evidence that they had misunderstood God’s design in giving them his law. His intention was not to secure their obedience to a long list of rules. I am not suggesting there was anything wrong with a godly Hebrew endeavoring to be obedient to the God he or she loved. The evidence of their God-given love was to be obedience to his covenant. What I am suggesting is that seeking to obtain God’s favor through legal obedience indicates a total misunderstanding of the Old Testament Scriptures. Law-keeping was not the goal of the law for righteousness; Christ was the goal of the law for righteousness. This verse does not merely inform us that Jesus has brought the law, the old covenant, to an end but that he has done so by fulfilling all its types and promises. During his earthly ministry he often reminded his hearers that the Scriptures are about him (See e.g., Luke 24:25-27, 44-45; John 5:39). Our evangelistic message must not only call sinners away from their ungodly path; it must also call them away from all their vain efforts to justify themselves by their own works of obedience. The apostolic message did not call sinners to obey the law that they might live before God. Its principle was not “do this and live.” Instead, its message was embodied in Jesus words on the cross when he cried out, “it is finished [stands accomplished].” The gospel never requires sinners to go somewhere and do something. One does not need to ascend into the heavens to bring the Christ down from above or descend into Hades to bring him up from the abyss. The gospel simply calls on sinners to account God faithful to fulfill his promises and acknowledge that he has finished the work of salvation for all who will believe. The message Paul articulated in these verses is particularly aimed at the objections raised by his Hebrew brothers. They had denied and continued to deny two basic truths. They had denied that their Messiah had become incarnate in this man named Jesus and that this Jesus had been raised from the dead. He tells them these are the two basic truths they must believe if they wish for God to accept them as righteous in his sight. You do not need to ascend into heaven to bring the Messiah down from above. God has already sent him. The emphasis of this confession is not that “Jesus is Lord” but that “Jesus is Lord.” This one whom you denied and crucified is the sovereign Messiah. One does not need to descend into Hades to resurrect him. God has resurrected him already. One must but trust God’s declaration of truth.

The True Universality of God’s Purpose

There is a true universality to the gospel message. The message is not that God loves everyone equally and in the same way but that he has chosen to show his saving mercy to people of every nation. This was a recurring theme in apostolic preaching. Though the principle theme of this passage concerns the issue of God’s saving purpose regarding Israel, the apostle reminds his readers that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile (v. 11). Everyone who calls on the Lord’s name will be saved (v. 13). This message that we seem to take for granted was revolutionary during the first century. Even Peter needed to be convinced that Gentiles, as Gentile, were to be admitted to the assembly of God´s people (see Acts 10). This idea has been obscured by the Arminian insistence that the words “all” and “world” are primarily intended to refer to every individual on the face of the earth. The true force of these terms was intended to emphasize the true universality of God’s purpose. There is now no distinction between Jew and Gentile. God has concluded all in unbelief that he might have mercy on all, i.e., on both Jews and Gentiles who trust his promise.

God’s Sincere Offer of Grace

As we have seen, the emphasis of this chapter is on the sinner’s responsibility to respond rightly to the gospel call. It is not necessary for us to go anywhere or do anything to be justified before God. We only need to call on the Lord’s name. If anyone is saved, it will be owing to the free grace of God; if anyone is lost it will be due to his sinful rebellion against God. Paul makes this clear in the final verse of this chapter when he quotes Isaiah and reminds us that God has continually held out his hands to a disobedient and contrary people. The problem of sinners remaining unpardoned is not God’s unwillingness to save but our unwillingness to repent. In Acts thirteen, forty-eight, Luke does not shy away from stating that those who believed had been disposed to do so by God’s sovereign grace. They had not disposed themselves to do so by the power of autonomous sinful nature. Nevertheless, he is quite bold in recording the words of Paul and Barnabas words in regard to the sinner’s culpability in unbelief. “And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, ‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. . .(Acts 13:46). If sinners are lost, it is though their own fault; if they are saved, to God be the glory.

Paul’s Message on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31)

There are several lessons we can learn from reading Luke’s account of Paul’s preaching in Athens. Though there are several elements this proclamation of the gospel shares with other examples we have examined, there are some aspects of this gospel presentation that are absent in most of those examples. I would like to examine those elements of Paul’s message to the philosophers in the Areopagus and suggest why they are not a part of his gospel presentation to other groups of people. Additionally, I would like to consider how our understanding of this passage should impact our proclamation of the gospel. Before we consider the aspects of this message that we have not found in many of the other gospel presentations in the book of Acts, I would like to make what I think is an extremely important observation relative to our gospel preaching. This observation can be drawn not only from this passage but also from several others. There is probably no single factor that has inhibited evangelism as much as the modern idea of toleration. I am not suggesting that we consider intolerance a virtue, but that we be careful how we define “toleration” and how our understanding of it works out in our lives. If by “toleration” we mean that we grant to every individual the right to hold his own views and express his own opinions and we have no right to try to “convert” him at the point of a sword, we clearly believe in toleration. If by this term we mean that everyone has his or her own “truth” and that even if “your truth” is completely contradictory to “my truth,” both may be equally valid. If we should grant such a proposition that flies in the face of clearly established and widely accepted canons of logic, all efforts at evangelism must be considered unloving and indeed futile. If the apostle Paul had been infected with this erroneous idea, Luke’s account of his early missionary activities would have read quite differently. Imagine reading the following in Acts seventeen, “And while Paul waited in Athens he saw all the idols the pagans were worshiping and was happy that at least these were religious people. He understood that they had just as much right to their religious views as he had to his. For this reason, he decided to remain quiet and keep his views to himself.” If he had thought this way, he would never have preached the good news to anyone. Instead of this, he was deeply disturbed and irritated when he saw the city completely given over to the worship of idols (Acts 17:16). We will never become biblical evangelists until we are so convinced of Christian truth that we are deeply disturbed by any contradictory teaching or practice.

Truths in Common with Other Gospel Presentations

There are several truths in this gospel presentation that we have found in other such proclamations. For example, Paul was preaching “Jesus and the resurrection” (vv. 18, 31-32). He proclaimed God’s common grace in making himself known to people of every nation. We do not need to go anywhere to seek after God. He has revealed himself so clearly that only the willingly blind and ignorant could fail to see him and know him (vv. 26-28). What Paul preached to these philosophers is parallel to what he wrote in Romans one. The reason sinners are under God’s wrath is not that God has hidden himself from them; it is because they have willfully rejected his clear revelation of himself wherever that revelation may be found. Additionally, as in other gospel presentations, repentance and judgment are central themes in this passage (vv. 30-31).

The Unknown God

There is one aspect of Paul’s message in Athens that we do not find in most of his other messages. We find Barnabas and Paul preaching a similar message in Lystra (Acts 14:15). In that passage as well, their declaration about the living God is made in contrast to what these people knew about the pagan gods they worshiped. We could cite such a contrast as the reason we find this teaching in these gospel presentations and not in others in the book of Acts. It seems to me, a more compelling reason is that, unlike the Jewish audiences to which Paul and others preached, these people had little if any understanding of God’s attributes and of his true nature. For them, Jehovah was “an unknown God.” I have been exposed to many “soul-winning” courses over the years, but I have yet to find one that suggests we should begin our gospel presentations with careful instruction about the nature and character of God. We must not assume that our hearers know anything about God. We are living in a day in which even the average Evangelical “Christian” is woefully ignorant of God’s nature and character. This is true to such an extent that if they are introduced to the God who has revealed himself in the Scriptures, they do not like him very much. If this is true of the average church member, what would we have to say about the raw pagan? When we speak to him about God, we may as well be speaking a foreign language. I believe this passage teaches us how we should begin our gospel presentations to those who are ignorant of God’s attributes. We need to begin by teaching them about “the unknown God.” Consider the basic truths Paul sets before them.

God is the Creator of All Things

Contrary to the doctrine of the Epicureans that matter is eternal and that all things are controlled by blind fate, the apostle presents to them a God who is the creator of all things and the controller of all things. He is the God who made the world and everything in it. We owe our very existence to him. Additionally, as Paul has shown so clearly in Romans one,, “the things that are made” bear eloquent testimony to his power and deity. He is not one of many but the one and only God.

God is Lord of Heaven and Earth—He is Sovereign

Jehovah is King. Having wisely decreed everything that will occur in human history, he now governs all his creatures and all our actions according to his wise decree. “He does according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth and none can hold back his hand or say to him, ‘what have you done’” (Dan. 4:35). The psalmist has instructed us to declare among the heathen that Jehovah reigns (Psalms 96:10). The Bible nowhere even hints at the popular idea that in his sovereignty, God has relinquished his control to the libertarian free will of the sinner. If God has relinquished his control to anyone, he has ceased to be God. The apostle continues to press this thought in verse twenty-six. He tells his hearers that it is this sovereign God who has fixed the appointed seasons and has set the bounds of their habitation. It is God who raises nations and kings to fulfill his purposes, and it is he who brings them down. Men and nations are not self-determining. In verse twenty-eight he presses on us the basic truth that we are completely dependent on God. Commenting on this verse, H. B. Hackett wrote, “We derive our existence solely from God; we depend on him every instant for life, activity, being itself. Without him we should neither continue to live, nor be such as we are, nor have been at all”(Hackett, p. 208, 1882).

God is Immense

Paul tells his hearers that God does not dwell in hand-made temples. When Stephen made a similar statement (see-Acts 7:48), he cited Isaiah 66:1 as support for it. Isaiah wrote, “Thus says the Lord: Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?” Having built the Jewish temple, Solomon said, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built” (1 Kings 8:27).

God is Self-sufficient

Additionally, Paul told these philosophers that God is not needy. He does not dwell in hand-made temples nor is he worshiped or served with men’s hands as though he needed anything. Contrary to the pagan notion that their gods were to be nourished by their worshipers, our God is in need of nothing. A. W. Pink wrote,

There was a time, if ‘time’ it could be called, when God, in the unity of this nature (though subsisting in three Divine Persons), dwelt all alone. ‘In the beginning, God.’ There was no heaven where His glory is not particularly manifested; There was no earth to engage His attention. There were no angels to hymn His praises; no universe to be upheld by the word of His power. There was nothing, no one but God; and that, not for a day, a year, or an age, but ‘from everlasting.’ During a past eternity, God was alone, self-contained, self-sufficient, self-satisfied; in need of nothing. Had a universe, had angels, had human beings been necessary to him in any way, they also had been called into existence from all eternity. The creating of them when he did, added nothing to God essentially. He changes not (Mal. 3:6), therefore his essential glory can be neither augmented nor diminished (Pink, no date, p.1-2).

In Psalms 50:9-12, God says to his people, “I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. ‘If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.’” We can only offer to God what he has first given to us. In Romans 11:35-36. Paul, echoing Job 41:11, asks, “’Who has first given him a gift, that he might be repaid?’ For from him, and through him, and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

God is a Self-disclosing God

As the apostle made clear in Acts 14, “God has not left himself without a witness.” He has revealed himself in the creation around us. His fingerprints are on everything we see. His goal in thus making himself known is that people might seek after him (see verse 27). His purpose is that sinners should seek after him and find him. The goodness of God in making himself known is intended to lead sinners to repentance.

God is Omnipresent

God is not far from any one of us. Wherever we are, God is. It is not that part of God is everywhere at once but that all of God is everywhere at once. C.H. Spurgeon stated the teaching well when he wrote, “God’s center is everywhere; his circumference is nowhere.” God is the Ever-living Source of All Life and All Good It is based on this revelation of God’s character that Paul calls on his hearers to repent of their wicked idolatry. This conclusion is introduced by the words, “Forasmuch then” (verse 29). If all that Paul has been saying is true, it is ludicrous for sinners to bow down to lifeless, helpless, motionless images of silver and gold. If we are his offspring and we are beings that live and move and have intelligent and responsible being, it would be incongruous to reason that God is inanimate, non-rational, and powerless to save. The implications of this gospel presentation should be patent to us. It is less than useless to converse with people about God and the gospel if they are ignorant of the God about whom we are speaking to them. Our evangelistic task has been made exponentially more difficult by the silence of the church regarding the attributes of God. Spooked by the specter of being “non-relevant” or “non-practical,” the false shepherds of the church have bartered the biblical message for one that was more calculated to tickle the ears of their hearers, than to pierce their hearts. Summary of Part Two Our investigation of the apostolic pattern of evangelism has led us to (or at least should have led us to) several important conclusions. It should be fairly obvious to any honest observer that most of what the evangelical church has considered sounds biblical gospel preaching and methodology cannot be found in the apostolic record. We have already considered several common evangelistic utterances that would never have passed the lips of the New Testament evangelists. Instead of focusing merely on what modern evangelists are doing wrong, I would like to conclude this section by contrasting modern evangelism with the apostolic pattern. The following are the contrasts we have observed:

1. Instead of beginning their message with the assurance of God’s universal, redeeming love for sinners, they began with the news that sinners remain under God’s wrath as long as they continue in their rebellion.

2. Instead of telling sinners that Jesus died to save them, they preached the cross as the crowning evidence of the sinner’s hostility toward God. You killed the Lord of glory because you hate the Father who sent him.

3. Instead of inviting sinners to kneel at the cross, they commanded them to bow at Christ’s throne. It is to the Anointed one who has been crucified but has now been vested with sovereign authority as Lord and Messiah that we invite sinners in the gospel.

4. Instead of preaching God’s universal, redeeming love, the apostles proclaimed the universality of his self-revelation and his common benevolence that is intended to lead people to repentance.

5. Instead of telling sinners that Jesus died for all their sins but God cannot forgive them unless they believe, they proclaimed God’s promise to pardon all who repent and believe his promise to save them for Jesus’ sake.

6. They did not proclaim a Savior who is helpless to save sinners unless they “decide for him.” They never described him as a forlorn beggar knocking at the heart’s door and “waiting to see if sinners will open the door.” They proclaimed a sovereign Lord who will dash rebels in pieces like a potter’s vessel when his wrath is kindled but a little, unless they kiss the Son in faith and repentance.

7. They did not proclaim a Savior who would pardon our guilt but leave us in our sins. They proclaimed a Savior who came to turn his people from ungodliness.

The time has come for those who call themselves servants of Christ to conform our message to the biblical pattern. It is to the Lord of the Church that we must give an account. God pity us if we trifle with his message.


11 Responses to “Calvinistic Evangelism–Chapter Six–Examples of Apostolic Proclamation”

  1. June 10, 2015 at 6:41 pm


    A typo noted, a couple of requests for clarification, and some encouragement.

    In the section A Universal Proclamation and Promise, methinks you left out the word “not” in the following sentence (I inserted that word): “By this we should understand that NOT every human being would receive the Spirit”

    In the section The Message Itself, I simply do not understand this sentence; seems your thought was unfinished: “The emphasis of this confession is not that “Jesus is Lord” but that “Jesus is Lord.””

    In the section God’s Sincere Offer of Grace, you state: “The problem of sinners remaining unpardoned is not God’s unwillingness to save but our unwillingness to repent.” While I understand man’s responsibility in his rebellion against God, I would say it’s our inability to repent or believe unless God grants us new life. If sinners are lost, it is though their own fault; if they are saved, to God be the glory. If sinners are lost, it is because we are born dead in sins and we love being so, due to our nature. It’s not the sinner’s fault he does not get saved – he can’t do anything to remedy that state. God predetermined whom He would save and the sinner cannot add nor subtract from that list. Also, later section on God’s sovereignty disallows your statement quoted.

    You observations in The Spirit’s Reproving Ministry and Peter’s Preaching about the Holy Spirit’s convicting sinners is wonderful! “There are few biblical doctrines that have been misunderstood so badly as the doctrine of the Spirit’s work of “conviction.” Usually, when people talk about “being under conviction by the Spirit” they are referring to a feeling of guilt that is produced by the Holy Spirit. In reality, this work does not refer to a feeling at all. It is an objective work of the Holy Spirit in which he presses the evidence of a sinner’s guilt against him.” That bit. Needs to be preached and taught everywhere.

    Also love your explanation of particular atonement and gospel not being an appeal to sinners to allow Jesus into their hearts.

    Lastly, your summary is golden. Those seven points are most excellent stuff.

    Press on for the prize, my dear brother.

    • June 10, 2015 at 7:58 pm

      First, thank you my brother for the encouragement. I am trying to be exceedingly careful with this subject since God’s curse rests on those who don’t get it right.

      Thank you for pointing out the lack of the word NOT. I will correct that as soon as I find it. I found this sentence, but it is not exactly the same. “When Joel the prophet foretold the outpouring of God’s Spirit and prophesied that he would be poured out on “all flesh,” he did not mean that every human being would receive the Spirit. ” If you can give me more specific guidance, I will correct it. Also, thank you for asking about the emphasis issue in Jesus is Lord and Jesus is Lord. In my word document, Jesus is emphasized in one phrase and in the other Lord is emphasized. That did not come through in the formatting in wordpress. It should read “the emphasis is JESUS is Lord, not Jesus is LORD. By that I mean the gospel demanded of these Hebrews who had denied that Jesus was all that he had claimed to be acknowledge that this one they had crucified is Lord. I hope that helps.

      I understand that my statement ” “The problem of sinners remaining unpardoned is not God’s unwillingness to save but our unwillingness to repent” might raise a few Calvinistic eyebrows, but I believe it is in keeping with what the Scriptures teach. Intend to expand on this thought in Part Three–The Theological Foundation for Evangelism. In my view, we need to distinguish between the decree of God and the revealed will of God. His decree will always be accomplished. Ultimately, all that occurs, comes to pass because God has decreed it. I am not denying that. The other side of the truth is that due to God’s holy nature, he cannot but wish that all his creatures be holy as he is holy. Since his purpose in creating the world was the manifestation of his own glory, he cannot but desire that his creatures come to see that glory. This is his revealed will. As you know, there are many biblical examples of God having decreed that which is contrary to his commands. The crucifixion of Christ is perhaps the classic example.

      You have made two statements the seem contradictory to me. One seems to agree with my statement and the other seems to disagree with it. First, you stated “If sinners are lost, it is though their own fault; if they are saved, to God be the glory.” Then you stated, “It’s not the sinner’s fault he does not get saved – he can’t do anything to remedy that state. ”

      My point is that the sinner’s inability does not arise from some incapacity for which he is not responsible. It is not that he cannot see God’s revelation all around him. “It is clearly seen, being understood from the things that are made.” God has made himself known so that people might seek after him and find him (Acts 17). Why would he do that if he were not willing to save them if they repent? His goodness or kindness is intended to lead them to repentance (Rom 2). All of the fault is ours if we perish. People don’t perish because Christ didn’t die for them or because God doesn’t call them etc. The end result will be the same as it would have been if election, redemption, calling etc. did not exist. Apart from these, recalcitrant rebels would perish in sin because they are rebels. Why would sinners perish if God chose no one, redeemed no one, called no one? They would perish because they are guilty rebels. That God has chosen some, redeemed some, called some, does not change the base cause of the sinner’s damnation. I hope this helps to clarify my point. If not, I would love to discuss the matter further.

      I always appreciate your input. Thank you again for your encouraging words.

      • June 12, 2015 at 6:48 pm


        When I stated “If sinners are lost, it is though their own fault; if they are saved, to God be the glory” I must have been thinking about something else. That sentence doesn’t make sense. I was trying, in that section of my reply, to explain why I do not line up with your statement that the sinner bears responsibility for his damnation – his unwillingness to repent. Sinners are unwilling to repent because they are captive to their sin and don’t want to, much less are they able to repent.

        I value your exegesis, though we may disagree from time to time.

      • June 12, 2015 at 7:51 pm

        Just so I can understand your position, can you tell me if you hold to a supra or an infra-lapsarian position?

      • June 12, 2015 at 7:55 pm

        Considering Rev 13:8 and other Scriptures which tell us the nature of God and the order of creation, I believe the supra-lapsarian is the only valid perspective. Since God does not learn as time unfolds, since He does not choose one man because of any good in the creature, I cannot see any reason to think the election of the saints took place after Creation.

      • June 12, 2015 at 9:04 pm

        My understanding of lapsarian views is different from yours. My understanding is that what is in view is not the order in which God executed his decrees, but the logical and theological order of the decrees. It seems the pertinent question is whether God decreed to Elect and Reprobate before or after he decreed to create and to permit the fall. To state the matter differently, in God’s decrees, did he decree to elect and reprobate from a fallen or an unfallen mass (in his decree)?

      • June 12, 2015 at 9:53 pm

        Randy, I believe God decreed and predestined and chose those whom He would save before He created anything – including those whom He would save. By choosing some, He left unchosen others. There is not adding, subtracting, or substitution to the list written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

      • June 12, 2015 at 11:13 pm


        I hope you understand that I would not disagree with a word of that statement. I am sure you and I agree on a multitude of issues. Additionally, I want you to know I am grateful that you have broached this issues, since it clearly concerns an area in which I should be more clear. I think perhaps the third part of the book on the theological foundation for evangelism might be a good place for such clarification. I believe I can demonstrate from the quite a number of Scriptures that sinners are responsible to repent and believe even though they are unable, because unwilling to do so. I would fully agree with the statement that you disavowed, “If sinners are lost it is their own fault; if anyone is saved it is all to the glory of God.” In agreeing with that statement, I am in no way denying that sinners are unable to come to Christ unless the Father should draw them. I am simply affirming that they are willingly unable to come. Jesus said, “you wish not to come to me that you might have life.” The natural man does not see God in the creation though “the invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood from the things that are made. . .” Rom. 1. The issue is not that the sinners is unable to see and understand the glory of God. The issue is that, seeing God and knowing God as the Creator, he suppresses this knowledge in unrighteousness and refuses to glorify him, thank him and worship him. The sinner is without excuse [to me this seems to clearly imply that he is responsible] for his sinful reaction to God’s self-revelation. Since he is without excuse because he doesn’t glorify, thank, and worship God, he must not be without responsibility even though he is stubbornly without ability.

        Thank you for your responses. I think it is important to discuss the issues you have raised.

      • June 12, 2015 at 11:31 pm

        Randy – the more I understand how you see theological issues, the more thankful to God I am that we have “met.” I agree – reprobates and “good men” who are non-elect ARE responsible for their rebellion, even though they cannot fail to rebel. Phil Johnson has a good look at this topic, though he falls into the infra camp: http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/articles/sup_infr.htm

        Press on for the glory of our Lord.

    • June 10, 2015 at 11:45 pm


      I found the typo and corrected it. Thanks for pointing it out.

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