“When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
With these words, the risen Christ exhorted His disciples just before ascending to Heaven to take His seat at the right hand of the Father. In them, He told the disciples what to do after His departure, and in ,His words we find the pattern of our service for Him until He returns for us.
Both before and since my leaving the pastoral ministry to enter the work of an itinerant evangelist, I have heard a question like this asked about a set of special meetings: “Will they be evangelistic meetings or revival meetings?” Forgive me, but whenever I am asked that question I think first of all that the one asking it is trying to impress me with how smart he is. He knows the difference between revival and evangelism. My answer will normally include the assertion that if there is a real revival in the congregation of Christians, there will definitely be evangelism before we are finished.
Let me ask the reader to look again at Acts 1:8, and then to answer a question from me: “What is this verse about?” Would we expect it to be the text of a sermon on revival? Have we heard it used in a missions conference? Might a preacher speak on soul-winning from this verse? How about church planting? We can see, of course that the answer to each of these questions is, “Yes.” In Acts 1:8, the Lord Jesus speaks of revival, evangelism in all its aspects, and also missions. But importantly, we must notice, He is speaking of just one thing. The Spirit will come upon them to empower them to evangelize effectively both at home and around the world. A key to understanding the verse is the word “both.”
We Christians tend to separate Biblical concepts that ought to be kept together. The revival that is described in the New Testament as the fullness of the Holy Spirit will always result in empowered evangelistic activity which is not supposed to stop at any border or coast, but extend to the uttermost part of the earth. It’s all one thing. It is the plan of our Lord for this age, and we must keep it together.
Revival Without Evangelism is Incomplete.
Revival happens when God brings His people back to the level of submission and faith where He can bless them according to the promises He has made to them. The Old Testament gives us the promises the Lord made to Israel in His covenant with them, especially in the Book of Deuteronomy. When the nation failed to believe and obey God as they ought, the promised blessings stopped, and a revival was needed. In the New Testament in the discourse of the Lord Jesus to His disciples the night before He died, recorded in John 13 through 17, believers are given another set of promises for this era. They are related very clearly to both the intercession of Christ at the right hand of the Father and the indwelling of His Spirit. When New Testament Christians fail to experience the abundant life Jesus promised us, it is because we need to be revived. Revived Christians keep the Lord’s commandments, including His command to evangelize the world. When believers begin to obey again, we can say that a revival has begun. But we cannot say that revival has come in its fullness until the saved are actively spreading the Gospel among the lost. The excitement generated when, in answer to earnest prayer, members of a congregation start getting right with God and each other must not prompt us to stop praying too soon! Let’s not be satisfied until God grants by His Spirit a full revival, which will include renewed and empowered evangelistic activity among once-complacent and disobedient church people.
Evangelism Without Revival is Ineffective.
According to Acts 1:8, until the Spirit comes upon us, we have no power to be effective witnesses for Jesus Christ! This is why the evangelists of old times did not expect to reap a harvest among the lost until they saw a revival among the saved. The reason so few unsaved people come to evangelistic meetings these days is that so few Christians are revived enough to get them there! When a believer is brought back to New Testament Christianity, his new concern to reach those without Christ as well as the new power that the Holy Spirit brings to his witness, make him effective in evangelistic efforts. When there has been no revival among the saints, the burden of evangelists to reach the lost tends to make the efforts they do make manipulative, carnal, and self-glorifying. With little divine power behind the effort, evangelism is weak, discouraging, and frustrating. There is also the temptation to fake revival when you do not really have it. Preaching for revival naturally comes before evangelistic preaching.
Evangelism Without Missions is Shortsighted.
A God-given burden for souls will not be limited to a small group of people. We naturally have a deep concern for out relatives. Pastors and church members have a special interest in seeing people saved in their local area. American Christians want to see their country evangelized, and multitudes of Americans saved. But the God Who gave us John 3:16 loves the whole world, and would have all men to be saved. If we pray much about the salvation of the lost, our contact with the God of the Gospel will lead us eventually to pray for the whole world! An evangelistic heart must also be a missionary heart if it truly has been set aflame by God. Acts 1:8 says that we are to be His witnesses “both” at home and abroad, even to the farthest reaches of the world!
Missions Without Evangelism is Off-Track.
Early in my Christian life, I joined a Baptist church that was very impressed with the annual offering for foreign missions it took every Christmas. Both the local church and the whole denominational organization it supported sought to raise a higher amount every year. However, the truth was that the church did virtually nothing to evangelize its own community. It didn’t take me long to see the hypocrisy in this. This situation did not reflect the vision of Acts 1:8, which sends us into all the world to preach the Gospel! Unfortunately, many churches that claim to be missions-minded neglect the home field, and many churches that are active in evangelism at home care little about evangelizing the rest of the world! If we heed the heart and words of the Lord Jesus, we will give priority to the work of evangelism everywhere. Giving money does not fulfill our responsibility in obeying the Great Commission. Going overseas does not fulfill that responsibility either if when we get over their we are not actively spreading the Gospel. Mission work that is not centered around evangelism is not soundly biblical, and neither is mission support by Christians who disobey the command to be witnesses themselves.
Missions Without Revival is Dying.
Every great advance in the cause of worldwide Christian missions has risen out of a great revival movement. Revival generates the zeal for missions. Without zeal generated by revival, missions will die. The reason the number of missionary candidates is diminishing in some groups is the lack of all-out Christian discipleship among the members of their churches. With few forsaking all to follow Jesus, few engaging in Spirit-anointed evangelistic effort, and few sacrificing for the Cause of Christ, the number of missionaries coming out of the churches will be few. And the number coming home without a replacement will grow. With few seeing the big picture of Acts 1:8 and praying for the evangelization of the world in the power of the Holy Spirit, missionary activity around the world will continue to retreat as the population increases. Revival is tied directly to missions. Therefore, missionaries need to pray for revival, both in their places of service and at home, and pastors concerned for the missionary program should pray and work for revival in their churches.
Clearly, some of our biggest problems in Christian work have been caused by our not seeing the big picture, and seeking “the whole thing” commanded by our Lord in Acts 1:8. Let us ask the help of God in putting revival, evangelism, and missions back together in our work, in our churches, in our preaching, and in our vision for the days ahead.