Missing the Mission Part 2: Preach the Gospel, Use Words When Necessary?

Jesus’ left the church with one clear mission: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15 NIV). But how closely have modern Christians kept this command? Have we made it our life’s great aim to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ — and to preach it accurately and powerfully? Tragically, most professing Christians have not. 

Professing Christians: Not Professing So Much?

In fact, most professing Christians do not preach at all, let alone preach the true gospel. According to the American Faith and Culture Institute, a whopping 27% of conservative Protestant pastors flatly deny their responsibility to evangelize. Perhaps more frightening, only 25% of professing Christians* affirm their evangelistic responsibility. If these statistics were not meager enough, we must remember that not all who hear the call heed it. In a Barna Poll, 31% of respondents who affirmed their calling to evangelize had not done so in the previous twelve months. How can professing Christians be so cold in their calling when Jesus was so clear in His command? Simply put: we have believed a lie. Here’s what I mean.

Truth unobeyed stings the conscience. To escape the convicting sting of truth, the conscience must find refuge in a believable lie (see Isaiah 28:17). The modern church has found comfortable refuge in a belief that we can preach without really preaching; that is, that we can save souls without speaking of Christ. We have not denied the Great Commission, only defined it away; and that with a popular quote: “preach the gospel, use words when necessary.” This harvest-killing lie has infiltrated the church’s beliefs, literature, and practice, resulting in a generation who feels no responsibility to preach the gospel.

If you stay with me, I’ll explain why this is a lie, and what will happen if the church keeps believing it.

Preach the Gospel, Use Words When Necessary?

I’ve heard it so many times. A young woman asks if they should share their faith with a friend. “I am loving them and waiting for the right moment [which never seems to come]. Preach the gospel, use words when necessary, right?” Another justifies their refusal to preach to their friends: “I am preaching the gospel by being their friend. Preach the gospel, use words when necessary!” Another Christian angrily shuts down an earnest evangelist: “Hey, you’re doing it wrong! Go ahead and preach the gospel, but only use words when necessary!” The stories are nauseating; the results are tragic; and the quote, sweet as it sounds, is not biblical.

The Biblical Case for Preaching with Words

As Christians, we have only one tool to measure truth: the Word of God. Therefore, to evaluate this saying, we must test it against scripture. How does the Bible define preaching? What does Jesus mean when He commands: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15 NASB)?

The Greek word Mark 16:15 translates preach is kēryxate. Two things stick out about this Greek word.

First, the verb is stated as a command. Whatever Jesus means by the word preach, he commands us to do. In other words, contrary to the opinion of 75% of professing Christians, Jesus has given us a responsibility to “preach.” No honest Christian can deny this much.

Second, kēryxate means “to proclaim after the manner of a herald” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). In ancient times, political officials called heralds would travel to populated areas to loudly announce news about their Kingdoms. They did not merely live the King’s laws; they spoke the King’s message just as He directed.  When Jesus commands us to preach, he refers to this particular word picture. He meant to communicate that we have a royal duty to speak the gospel to the unbelieving world.

The passage’s context further proves this point. Only a few verses later, Jesus says, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16 NASB). When Jesus commanded us to preach, He foresaw that the world would respond with either belief or disbelief. Belief or disbelief in what — the good nature of Christians? No, but the gospel which Jesus commands us to verbally communicate in verse 15. No one can believe the gospel unless someone speaks it to them.

This statement may shock you, but according to the Bible, words save us. I don’t mean that words died on the cross for us, but that they point us directly to the One who did. For this reason, in Acts 11:14, an angel promised a man that a preacher would “speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and your household.” In Iconium, “Paul and Barnabas spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks” (Acts 14:1 NASB). And John 8:31 says, “As [Jesus] spoke these things, many came to believe in Him” (NASB).

Why do words save us? Because salvation comes “by grace…through faith” (Ephesians 2:8 NASB) and “faith [only] comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17 NASB). As Paul declared, “the gospel…is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16 NASB). When we preach God’s gospel, the message gives birth to faith in Christ, which leads to God’s powerful salvation. But we must face a tragic reality: if we do not preach God’s gospel, the message cannot give birth to faith in Christ, so the people cannot receive God’s powerful salvation. You see, when saints exercise evangelistic silence, sinners experience eternal separation from God.

The Tragic Result of Evangelistic Silence

Paul mourns this thought in Romans 10:13-15. After rejoicing in God’s universal mercy to all who call on Jesus’ name for salvation (v. 13), he dwells upon the tragic result of evangelistic silence. He asks the Romans,

How then can they call on the One in whom they have not believed?

And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard?

And how can they hear without someone to preach? 

And how can they preach unless they are sent? (v. 14-15 NASB)

Paul mourned the thought that many alive in his day had still not heard the gospel. They may live a life of peace, plenty and prosperity, but without hearing of Jesus, they would eternally perish. With eternity stamped on His eyes, He reminded the Romans of their calling to preach God’s Word that the lost might hear, believe and be saved. There was no other way.

I pray that Paul’s words ring in your heart like a warning alarm; I pray they sound out the reality of eternity in your soul. Today, 151,600 people will die — 105 this very minute. The sands of time are winding down, and you have the only message that leads to salvation. Will you reach out with “the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17 NIV)? Or will you find comfortable refuge in the lie: “I’ll preach the gospel — and use words when necessary”?

I trust you will make the right choice.

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

(Romans 10:15 NASB)
 
 
* All professing Christians includes a survey of Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox etc.
 
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