Most people think of the Spirit’s empowerment in terms of boldness to speak about the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. That is true, of course, but His enablement for witness involves more than speaking boldly.
I believe the most critical issue concerning effectiveness in evangelism in the culture and climate of America today is the credibility of the messenger. The apostle Paul declared that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” (Romans 1:16, NASB). The primary power in evangelism is not in the messenger. It is in the message. Yet, the messenger can greatly help or hinder the effectiveness of that message.
Jesus clearly stated that the essential purpose of the Spirit’s empowerment is to be His witnesses. Unfortunately, many equate being a witness merely with speaking, or what has come to be termed, “witnessing.” But effectiveness in reaching the spiritually lost requires a witness beyond words.
The baptism and fullness of the Spirit brings more than a new boldness to proclaim Christ’s message and operate in the spiritual gifts. It also brings an increased capacity for the fruit of the Spirit – the character of Jesus – to be developed and evidenced in our lives.
Both the apostles Paul and Peter clearly expressed that our witness extends beyond our words. Paul wrote to the believers at Thessalonica: “Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake,” (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
Paul’s witness was not merely what he said (“not … in word only”), but also how he said it (“in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction”) and who he was (“you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake”).
The apostle Peter presents essentially the same three components of effective witness in his first epistle: “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander,” (1 Peter 3:15,16).
Notice that Peter indicates what we should say (“the reason for the hope you have”). He also emphasizes how we should say it (“with gentleness and respect”) and the importance of who we are (“keeping a clear conscience” and exhibiting “good behavior in Christ”).
Our message is a compilation of what we say, how we say it and who we are.
What We Say
Our message is Jesus. It is the Christ-centered message the Spirit will honor and use. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would glorify Him (John 16:14). After the Day of Pentecost, the first Christians boldly and clearly witnessed about Jesus as He promised they would. As a result, great numbers believed (Acts 2:41; 11:21).
Today this same message – Jesus – must be clearly communicated to the spiritually lost of this world. The life of Jesus Christ is the turning point of all history. The world’s calendar is hinged on His birth. He is thought of by many as a teacher, philosopher or even a prophet, but every person must be confronted with the reality of who He truly is: the sinless Son of God who gave His life to pay the penalty for our sins. All mankind must be given an adequate witness and opportunity to accept His offer of forgiveness and everlasting life and personally submit to His lordship.
How We Share the Message
How we say things communicates as much as what we say. Our emotions, attitudes and actions are as much a part of our message as our words. In his letter to Colossians, Paul said, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom towards outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though season with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person, (Colossians 4:5,6 NASB emphasis added).
The apostle Peter wrote:
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15,16, emphasis added).
Notice that both Paul and Peter emphasize the manner of our witness. Paul says our speech should “always be with grace.” Peter says we should speak “with gentleness and respect,” exhibiting “good behavior in Christ.”
Who We Are
The validity of our witness is related to the credibility of our lives. Effective witness depends on character. This has always been true, but in a culture that is increasingly skeptical of Christianity it is even more critical.
With so many people, especially those we know personally, our individual testimony of the difference Christ has made in our lives and its consistent proof through our actions can be what compel them most.
In a society in which people are rapidly losing faith in the integrity of government and business leaders, the personal credibility of Christians is not merely an added blessing in witness; it is an essential requirement.
In many countries, Christianity is not a predominant religion. The Christian population is small, and a Christian presence in media does not exist. This can offer a great advantage in evangelism because the first witness unbelievers in those countries receive is from someone they know personally whose life has greatly changed after receiving Christ. They do now have to overcome negative perceptions that come from knowing people who communicate a Christian message but whose lives do not affirm it.
People often think of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment only in terms of signs and wonders and spiritual gifts. But dunamis, the Greek word translated “power” in Acts 1:8, is wonderfully comprehensive. It simply means “ability” and applies in practical ways to everyday life. The power Jesus promised His followers is for every aspect of Christian living and enables us to do and be whatever our Lord has purposed in our lives.
The power of the Holy Spirit is often described in terms of visible, spectacular works. However, most of the time the kind of power we need in everyday life is neither spectacular nor sensational, but it is supernatural. Accomplishing God’s purposes in the world requires divine help beyond our natural abilities, but supernatural living is not always outwardly dramatic.
When Jesus taught His disciples about what would convince people they were His true follower, he didn’t not talk about signs and wonders but about love. He said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” (John 13:55, NASB).
The fruity of the Spirit in the believer’s life – love, joy, peace, patience and all the other characteristics Paul describes in Galatians 5 – may not seem spectacular, but they certainly can be supernatural, beyond our natural capacities. When people look at our lives and see love (especially for those who have wronged us), overflowing joy in the midst of sorrow, peace in the crises of life, patience in response to hostility, they glimpse supernatural evidences that we are not merely subject to our own natural emotions.
We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live the life which our Lord has called us. The supernatural working of the Spirit will not always be spectacular or sensational, but it will give convincing evidence of the presence and life of the Spirit within us.
As the fruit of the Spirit – the nature of Jesus Christ – becomes evident in our lives, the Holy Spirit enables our character to become what God has called us to be. The Holy Spirit baptism opens the way to a life of effective witness for Christ in what we say, how we say it and who we are.
This article originally appeared in the Pentecostal Evangel.