Since early in the first century salvation has been the promise and goal of Christianity. Jesus came preaching a Gospel built on the Hebrew Scriptures and following the ministry of John the Baptist with a short period of overlapping ministries. Over the centuries there have been many ideas about the way to salvation. Many of these ideas do not square with the Biblical Gospels.
There are many groups that have faulty conclusions about salvation- faults that will lead to damnation for the deceived and the deceivers alike. However, there are also groups with Biblically orthodox views despite a great difference on many issues. Groups such as Calvinists and Arminians form the Evangelical and Fundamentalist movements. However, the core beliefs remain the same in each group. Arguments about predestination and limited atonement should not compromise the fact that each Christian is called to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to bring some to faith in Christ. Groups and denominations such as Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans (among others) have at least a number of those who believe in Christ as the only way to salvation.
It is the duty of these believers, across denominational lines and theological groups, to reach unbelievers with the Gospel of Christ. The believers in these groups actually comprise the one True Church. It is the mission of these brothers and sisters in the family of God to put their disagreements aside and share the message that is foundational to the Christian faith, namely that it is, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.1” Salvation through Christ is a message believers must declare, it should be a common practice in their lives.
With this being said, however, it is clear that many believers either do not share their faith, or do so with little effect. The question is not who should be a witness for Christ, but how should we be a witness for Christ. What makes a person more effective in leading people into the Christian faith- into a real communion with God?
When building a house you begin by laying a foundation. The foundation to evangelism is recognizing that those without Christ are lost. They are not “okay.” If they die they will face their Maker for judgment- a judgment for which they will not be prepared. When the realization is that the penalty for this lack of preparation is eternity in torment, this no longer resembles a game. We can no longer argue between predestination and limited atonement. Whether we sing hymns or praise choruses, whether we use the “Authorized” King James Version or the New International Version of the Bible, whether the church's carpet is blue or gray, our preferences are irrelevant. Souls will be sacrificed without a fight if we fail to share the Gospel.
The Bible is clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God2” and that such sin has a disastrous price tag: “the wages of sin is death.3” In John, Jesus says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.4” These verses serve as a sample of how the Bible describes those who have not come to Christ in faith and repentance. They are sinners, condemned already and will receive the just reward for their rejection of the Gospel and the sin they have committed: eternal separation from God.
The unbelieving person, in rejecting the Gospel of God, lives out what in Calvinism is called Total Depravity. This does not mean that people are totally evil and unable to do anything “good,” rather it means that sin has reached every part of the being of man. It is this depravity that will not allow a person to turn to God in light of His obvious goodness and mercy. When the evidence would rightly lead to conversion, the unbeliever, in his depravity, rejects God. Calvin explained such an illogical ability to reject God this way:
You cannot behold Him clearly unless you acknowledge Him to be the fountainhead and source of every good. From this too would arise the desire to cleave to Him and trust in Him, but for the fact that man's depravity seduces his mind from rightly seeking Him.5
The Bible further describes people as unable to understand or seek God on their own6. It is to this mind-set that Christians bring a message of hope and salvation. The odds of conversion seem long, but the Gospel that comes with it is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.7”
With this foundation (of understanding the “lostness” and depravity of the unbeliever) the Christian can understand that this mission is serious and he must fully rely on God for the strength and power to succeed in leading souls from sin into salvation.
To rely on God, a Christian must allow the Holy Spirit to work in their lives and transform them into the likeness of Christ. In John 8.12, Jesus calls Himself the light of the world saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.8” However, Jesus also calls His followers the light of the world: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.9” To be the light, is to be a reflection of the true light: Jesus. We are to live reflecting the Son of God much as the moon reflects the light of the sun onto the dark part of the Earth. The only way for unbelievers to see the light of Christ is to see Him “reflecting” through those He has saved.
Ideally, a Christian will live up to the holiness that he has been called to when God said in I Peter 1.16, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.10” Of course, this is a goal that Christians strive for while locked into a fleshly existence that rebels against obedience toward God. Jesus is what Carl F.H. Henry described in these terms: “The magnificent feature of Jesus Christ is that He not only proclaimed a superlative ethic, but He lived it out to the full.11” He also said that “He was more than the great Teacher of ethics. He was its great Liver,12” meaning that Jesus lived out the Gospel message. He practiced what He preached. As Christians, for our message to be effective, we must practice what we preach. If an unbeliever sees a Christian standing for righteousness one moment and treating someone poorly the next, the Gospel message has been compromised. The follower of Christ has done the work of the devil. He, in not reflecting Jesus in living the message, has become a hypocrite and a liar in the eyes of those around him that do not believe. However, in our imperfections, we can point to the perfection of the One whom we follow. The leaders of world religions have all espoused teachings that were beyond what they were able to attain. Jesus did not. He was perfectly in tune with His message.
Related to our life reflecting the goodness of Christ, we must be focused and separated. We are called to be “good soldiers of Christ Jesus,13” not being tied up by the cares and entanglements of the world. If the goal of our mission is to bring the unbelieving world the message of the Gospel, we are required to take the work seriously. We must focus on the task at hand. An army that does not take engagement with the enemy seriously will face certain defeat.
This focus should encourage a Christian to grow in the faith and share the Gospel with those who do not believe.
Also, the Christian should be separated from those things that would ensnare him. The message should be consistent with the lifestyle. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 6.9-11 that many things- lifestyles- exist that are incompatible with being a Christian. These are those things that will keep a person from entering Heaven. In II Corinthians 6.14-7.1 Paul calls Christians to separate themselves, contrasting the things of God against those that oppose Him, for example: “what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?14” The separation is called for in verses 17 and 18: “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.15” For unbelievers to have a reason to believe the life-changing message there must be a consistency between a believer's life and the message. There must be a separation from things that oppose God or Biblical ideas. Smoking marijuana and preaching the Gospel message, for example, creates confusion and does not demonstrate any reason for an unbeliever to take the message seriously.
In addition, the message stands on its own. It is a message of substance. It does not need a side show. When the Gospel is preached and it is the focus, it is powerful. When the focus becomes our own prosperity, our healing (physically), or our own talents, the Gospel is neutered.
It is true that when preachers begin to preach about prosperity and other non-Biblical ideas that detract from the power of the Gospel unto salvation, when people look to what God can do for them instead of what God has called them to do for Him, there is a lack of true conversions. If someone accepts the Gospel and calls himself a Christian on the basis of what God will give him or do for him, it is a shallow faith.
There are times when the truth of the Gospel is ignored to convert a church into more of a social club. Politicians are welcomed and coddled, the doctrines are set so as not to offend those with money and the messages tend to avoid controversy.
These are just a couple of examples of ways the Gospel can be compromised and rendered ineffective.
Another key to effectively winning lost souls to the Kingdom of God is through a serious prayer effort. I Thessalonians 5.17 says to “pray without ceasing.16” In his book, Praying in the Harvest: How to Pray for the Lost, Don Walton tells the story of when Spurgeon met with a young lady who had a serious burden to pray for her mother. She was fervently praying for her mother and became concerned that her mother might not find salvation. After hearing the young woman's concern, Spurgeon inquired about her father's salvation. She related to him that her father was not saved either, but she did not have a burden for him as she did for her mother. According to Don Walton, “Spurgeon assured the young woman that she should be far more concerned about the improbability of her father's salvation than the improbability of her mother's.17” The point being that Spurgeon felt that if God puts on us a great burden to pray for someone's salvation it may well be that He intends for that person to surrender to Him in repentance and unto salvation. As we are burdened we should take it seriously. Indeed, prayer must be fervent, but it also must be focused. When God places a person on our mind as we pray, we should direct our prayers toward that person. Praying for “everyone and every thing” is not as effective. Prayer must be seen as an investment. It is not just a quick thing to do and be done with. To effectively reach unbelievers Christians must devote much time to prayer. Don Walton says, “The question is: How long and hard are you willing to battle for the lost souls of loved ones and friends?18” Again, how hard are Christians willing to battle for those that will just cross their path? Calvin encouraged patience in prayer in these words: “If, with minds composed to this obedience, we allow ourselves to be ruled by the laws of divine providence, we shall easily learn to persevere in prayer and, with desires suspended, patiently to wait for the Lord.19” Calvin's thoughts on prayer correlate with this focus in that it takes perseverance and patience in praying for the lost effectively.
Finally, to reach the lost with the life-changing message of the Gospel of Christ, we must “go.” Jesus commanded His disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...20” equipping them with the Gospel that is the power that results in salvation. Christians who wish to effectively reach the lost must leave the safety and security of the church building to bring the message to the lost. The church is a place to be built up, equipped and encouraged. It should be a place to be prepared to do the work of evangelism.
Effectively reaching the lost requires an underlying understanding that those who do not believe are in sin and in need of a Savior. They are bound for an eternity of torment. Christ is the answer to rescue them from perishing. As Christians understand the need, we must live lives that reflect Christ. We need to “walk the walk” as we “talk the talk.” Hypocrisy hinders evangelistic efforts. In living as a reflection of Christ, we should be different: separated and focused. The Apostle Paul said, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.21” Our words should reflect purity not perversion. Our lives should show a seriousness about our faith in Jesus Christ.
With all this, we must commit to prayer for the lost- especially those whom God places in our thoughts as we are praying. Investing in prayer is a definite key to effectively reaching the lost with the Gospel of Christ.
Finally, we, as Christians, must go. Go and proclaim the Gospel of salvation to those who have not yet received it. This means go out of our church, out of our comfort zones, out of our cities and even out of our countries.
A whole-life approach is the most effective way to reach the lost.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®
Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles,
a division of Good News Publishers
All rights reserved.
Henry, Carl F. H. Christian Personal Ethics. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1979, pp. 398-400.
McKim, Donald K., ed. Calvin's Institutes. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001. 4.
Walton, Don Praying in the Harvest: How to Pray for the Lost. Spring Hill, FL: Press Worthy, 2001.
1Ephesians 2.8-9 English Standard Version of the Bible, Good News Publishers, 2001
2Romans 3.23 English Standard Version of the Bible, Good News Publishers, 2001
3Romans 6.23(a) English Standard Version of the Bible, Good News Publishers, 2001
4John 3.18 English Standard Version of the Bible, Good News Publishers, 2001
5Donald K. McKim, editor, Calvin's Institutes (1.2.2), p.4
6Romans 3.10-11 (ESV) “as it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.'”
7Romans 1.16 English Standard Version of the Bible, Good News Publishers, 2001
8 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. Jn 8:12
9 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. Mt 5:14
10 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. 1 Pt 1:16
11Henry, Carl F.H., Christian Personal Ethics, 399.
12 Henry, Carl F.H., Christian Personal Ethics, 398.
13 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. 2 Tm 2:3-4
14 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. 2 Co 6:14
15 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. 2 Co 6:17-18
16 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. I Th 5:17
17Walton, Don, Praying in the Harvest: How to Pray for the Lost, 9-10.
18Walton, Don, Praying in the Harvest: How to Pray for the Lost, 142.
19Donald K. McKim, editor, Calvin's Institutes (3.20.51), p.110
20 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. Mt 28:19
21 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. Ep 5:4