How should the final judgment impact our evangelism? Should Christians refer to the judgment when we explain the gospel unbelievers? How can/should preachers apply this doctrine to calling people to repentance?
Some examples in Acts help us answer these questions. The Apostles exemplify how the doctrine of the final judgment can impact how we proclaim the gospel. This blog post argues that we should regularly refer to the judgment in our evangelism. This study will be limited to the Apostolic preaching and evangelism in the book of Acts.
Acts 10:34–43 provides a clear example of Apostolic preaching of the gospel. In this sermon Peter says, “And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). According to Peter, God commanded witnesses to testify to the judgment (Acts 10:41). In explaining the gospel to Gentiles, Peter describes Jesus as “judge of the living and the dead.”
Paul references the judgment when preaching to the Greeks in Athens. Paul declares, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31). This text supports the universal offer of the gospel to “all people everywhere.” It indicates the day of judgement has been fixed by God. Like Acts 10:42, Paul describes Jesus Christ as the one appointed by God to bring about this judgment.
When Paul testifies before Felix, he speaks to this notorious sinner about the judgment. Luke summarizes the discussion by writing, “And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, ‘Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you’” (Acts 24:25). Like his sermon in Athens, Paul mentions righteousness and the coming judgment.
Application to Evangelism
The Apostles consistently require repentance as a response to the Gospel (Acts 3:19; 20:21; 26:20). In evangelism, faithful Christians recognize the importance of calling people to repent. The judgment provides a sobering reason why people need to repent. Paul’s logic bears this out in Acts 17:30–31. In his sermon on the Areopagus, Paul refers to the final judgment as a reason why God commands all people to repent. We should explain the doctrine of the final judgment as a reason for repentance.
If unbelievers don’t repent, they will face the righteous judgment of God. This offers further opportunities to explain important truths like justification, propitiation, and imputation. We should not shy away from teaching biblical truths about salvation in our evangelism (See the preaching and sermons of George Whitefield for an example of teaching essential doctrine in evangelistic preaching).
Many resources on evangelism instruct people to describe Jesus as savior (which is true). Most training neglects a presentation of Jesus as judge. The judgment explains what Jesus saves people from (an important point to make in evangelism). In church-saturated places like America, many have heard about Jesus as the savior of the world. They may not have heard about God’s righteous judgment carried out by Jesus. God could use this to awaken light-hearted people entranced by the pleasures of this age.
When you talk with some people, they quickly affirm their belief in Jesus. They’ve heard it before, and they know how to get out of the conversation. Proclaiming the grave and sobering realities of the coming judgment may at least foster further thought and conversation. We shouldn’t be surprised if these realities alarm some people—that was Felix’s response in Acts 24:25. It may mean we’re faithfully sharing the Gospel if the listeners respond with alarm, shock, or surprise. Like Peter and Paul, we should press the reality of the God’s judgment on unbelievers.
When doing evangelism, consider incorporating some questions like:
Did you know Jesus is going to judge the world?
Did you know God has appointed Jesus to bring judgment?
Do you know why God commands repentance?
Do you know why people need to be saved?
Do you understand what people are saved from?
Did you realize God saves people from God?
When people complain about how bad things are, you can reply, “God has fixed a day on which he will judge the world. Are you ready to stand before God in judgment?”
A Historical Example
This was the subject matter in the most famous sermon preached in Colonial America: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards. God used Edwards’s potent language and depiction of the judgment to awaken people to their need for salvation. Historian George Marsden writes,
The very point of his preaching was to touch the affections, to bring people beyond a merely theoretical knowledge of spiritual realities. To do so, he wanted them to form “lively pictures” of the truth in their mind, so they would have to confront them and react affectively toward them. He believed it proper for people to be placed in “great terrors, through fear of hell” by impressing on their minds “lively ideas of a dreadful furnace.”1Marsden, George M. Jonathan Edwards: A Life. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003, 161.
Marsden describes this sermon by saying,
The impact on the recently lighthearted congregation was as though they suddenly realized they were horribly doomed. “Before the sermon was done, there was a great moaning and crying out throughout the whole house. What shall I do to be saved. Oh I am going to Hell. Oh what shall I do for Christ.”2Ibid., 220.
May the Lord grant us this kind of impact on our hearers when we proclaim the need for Christ’s salvation in view of the impending judgment of God.