Evangelism study – Is sin a part of gospel proclamation? Part 1

POST OVERVIEW. A study of Acts assessing whether the sin of the hearers was a part of the gospel message proclaimed by the apostles. (There will be a subsequent study of the epistles to see if the gospel proclaimed includes a portion directed at the sin of those the evangelist is attempting to convert.) This is part 1 of the Acts investigation.


As David Bell and I were carefully going through Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, the excellent book by J I Packer that examines the task of evangelism from a theological point of view, we came to the third chapter of the book that talks in detail about what constitutes the actual message itself. That is, what is the content of the gospel message we are to proclaim? Packer states that the message of the gospel is a message about God, about sin, and about Jesus Christ, and then the hearers are summoned to faith and repentance. Packer’s four points are very similar to those of another influential evangelism book by Greg Gilbert called What Is the Gospel? In his book, Gilbert speaks of God, man, Christ, and response. In my experience, this is very typical of conservative instruction books on evangelism and it seems true to the message we should proclaim. It makes sense and holds to what I believe the apostles proclaimed. So, David and I were ready to discuss the details of how we could present this gospel message about God, about sin (or about man and his sin), and about Jesus to an audience and compel them to believe in Jesus and repent of their sin.

But we encountered a problem as we began to look at the book of Acts. The book of Acts is THE biblical book on evangelism. It is the disciple’s instruction manual for gospel proclamation, since it gives us the only examples in the Bible of people who heard and responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The context of Acts is a context like our own, meaning that the gospel proclamation in Acts is done by ordinary men and women and occurs after Pentecost (coming of the Holy Spirit) and before Jesus’ return. The preaching of the gospel in Acts is done in obedience to Christ’s Great Commission given in Matt. 28:19-20, which is exactly the same commission that we must obey. Since all this is true of Acts, I am convinced that our evangelism and gospel proclamation is to be patterned after what we see in Acts. This book of Holy-Spirit inspired Scripture is given to Jesus’ church as the instruction manual for the gospel and our evangelism must be constrained by what we find there.

And here is where we began to experience some tension. David began by saying that, as he examined Paul’s sermon on the Areopagus in Athens from Acts 17, he became aware that Paul barely mentioned sin at all. David said that he became uncomfortable the more he looked at the passage and saw that Paul almost avoided mentioning sin. Yes, he does say that “God is now declaring that all people should repent” (17:30), which hints at sin, and that “God will judge the world” (17:31), which could be understood as alluding to the punishment of sin, but as far as boldly telling these pagan philosophers that they are in peril of going to hell forever because of their sin, there is not a suggestion. So, as we discussed this and pored over the text, it became apparent that the gospel Paul proclaimed in Athens was very light on sin.

At that point, I commented to David that the other sermons and gospel proclamations in Acts might reveal the same thing. That is, as we studied the sermons and gospel proclamations in the book of Acts, we might find that the apostolic proclamations include little to nothing about sin or sins. We might find that the gospel according to the apostles, the gospel that was “fully preached from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum” (Rom. 15:19) and that saw Gentiles by the thousands come to saving faith in Jesus, included very little about sin. And if that was the case, what would we do with our evangelism books and methods that carried a large portion of teaching about sin? This investigation into Acts and what the apostles preached about sin had suddenly turned into a high-stakes event that could seriously shake up our evangelism.


Here, then, is what I am proposing as my approach to this project.

  1. Go through Acts and identify all occasions when the gospel is intentionally preached. List those occurrences by passage.
  2. Examine the text of these occurrences and note any explicit or implicit mentioning of sin.
  3. Summarize the findings and draw preliminary conclusions.

The next post in this series will give the listing of the gospel passages in Acts and will begin the examination of these passages.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 4/21/2023                   #643

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