The problem is that the text won’t let us get away with such a general reading of what happened at Pentecost. It goes on from there:
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.Think about this: the point of Peter’s evangelism was not simply to hand out Jesus tickets for people to now sit and wait for his return. The point of Peter’s evangelism was to get people convicted of sin and also of Jesus’ authority over them not merely to judge them, but to also forgive them and then teach them. That’s the great commission, after all, right? That’s how we can make sense of this passage – by what Jesus commanded. But look: Peter was not looking for a mere confession of sin: he was looking to cause people to be joined to the body of the church.
You know: one of the themes you will read about on the internet when it comes to evangelism is the fear of false conversions. There’s a worry that there’s a type of evangelism that will give people a false sense of security regarding their state before Christ. Let me admit that, in one sense, that talk offends me. It seems to me that the right confidence of the believer is that whatever sin there is in me, however great my sin is, Jesus Christ is greater still. Jesus Christ is greater than my greed. Jesus Christ is greater than my lies. Jesus Christ is greater than my sexual sins. Jesus Christ is greater than my anger and hatred. Jesus is overcoming all those things for me in the ultimate sense, and Jesus is overcoming them in the immediate sense – even when I am weak. This is Romans 7 and 8: Wretched man that I am, I am delivered from death by Jesus Christ – there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Amen? In one sense, because Jesus is Lord and Christ, we cannot be overconfident in his ability to overcome our sin.
But here’s the thing: Jesus himself says there are those who will cry out, “Lord! Lord!” in the final day, but he will tell them, “I never knew you.” And Peter’s hedge against that here at Pentecost is not to merely get these people to feel guilty, or to ask for forgiveness, or to write a date down in the front of their Bibles. His purpose, as commanded by Christ, was to make disciples of these people – and actually add them to the church.Let me say this as plainly as possible: as human beings, we have a great eye for the faults of other people’s way of doing things, and not much of an eye for what we ourselves are doing poorly. The challenge in the balance of our key passage from the book of Acts is to see that all kinds of evangelism falls so far short of the first act of evangelism that we ought to be embarrassed by all of them rather than justifying our way over another method which, obviously, gets so much wrong.
True evangelism is going to get people convicted of sin and get them grateful to God – and draw them into a community of believers. Let’s think about this soberly: we’re at a conference about evangelism and discernment today. Somehow our friends at Grace Family Bible church thought these two great and good ideas belong together like some kind of theological Reese’s Cup or an Oreo Cookie. I utterly agree with them. The problem we as believers face is that we don’t act like these things go together. And this contributes to the problems that exist in the church today.