Soulwinning as a Requirement
Redeeming the time
In the early days of manufacturing, each worker started with raw materials and went through all the steps necessary to create a finished product. The assembly line, introduced by Henry Ford for the manufacture of cars, greatly increased worker productivity. The gains were so dramatic that other industries followed his lead. Greater efficiency soon became necessary to survive in the world of business and industry. Many companies hired so-called time-study experts to discover and eliminate wasteful procedures.
What would happen if a time-study expert assessed our lives? If his aim was to determine our efficiency as workers for God, what would he find? He would observe that in a normal week, besides the time we give to rest, meals, and self-maintenance, we devote maybe forty hours to work, another six or seven to travel, several more to shopping, and about five to church (if we are faithful). But what about the remaining forty to fifty hours out of the 168 at our disposal? Do we give more than a few minutes to any spiritually profitable exercise—to prayer, Bible reading, singing hymns, witnessing, visiting, helping the weak, or preparing gifts? How many of these exercises do we neglect altogether? But by comparison, how much time do we spend on pleasing ourselves? How many hours do we waste before the TV or on the phone or on Facebook? If our use of time and other personal resources were subjected to a thorough review, would it show that we are living in obedience to Ephesians 5:16?
What the Bible commands
The Lord commanded us to carry the gospel to the whole world (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). Yet the wording of the Great Commission in its various forms makes it clear that no individual can fulfill it. No single Christian can take the gospel everywhere, even to the uttermost parts of the earth. We must conclude that the Great Commission is addressed to the whole church. Evangelizing the world is a corporate responsibility.
Yet the only way the church as a whole can fulfill its mandate is by the work of individuals. It can succeed only if its members faithfully use their opportunities to share the gospel with lost people. Some in the church may have many opportunities. Some may have few or none. But if the gospel is to go everywhere as rapidly as possible, every believer must do whatever soulwinning he can. Thus, although the Great Commission is a corporate responsibility, it will be accomplished only if we view it as a personal responsibility. Yes, Jesus’ command to go was issued to the church, but the church can obey only by sending out an army of individuals who will take the gospel along different roads to different places.
So then, does Scripture ever command individual believers to engage in personal soulwinning? Never explicitly. Even if we scoured the Bible from cover to cover, we would not find such a requirement. Yet, as we have pointed out, it would be wrong to think that no such requirement exists. What Scripture says about soulwinning rests on two considerations.
- Not everyone can do personal soulwinning. A bedridden person with Christian care-givers may never have a chance to share the gospel with an unconverted person. We could imagine a multitude of other circumstances, whether in our day or in days past, that could prevent a Christian from being a soulwinner for Christ. Since the Bible never gives a command to individuals that everyone cannot keep, it omits any command to do soulwinning.
- The New Testament is reticent to command any specific form of work for Christ. The reason is simple. God prefers that we serve Him gladly by choice rather than by compulsion (Ps. 100:2).
What the Bible commends
Although the Bible raises no stick to make us do soulwinning, it encourages us to do it by offering many incentives.
- According to Proverbs 11:30, it is wise to win souls. Why? The answer is not stated, but merely implied. It is wise because it earns rewards.
- According to Daniel 12:3, the reward for any believer who is zealous in the business of bringing others to the truth will be to shine with eternal glory in measure comparable to a star’s. Their glory is set in contrast to the glory of the wise, who will shine like the firmament. Since the glory of those who turn many to righteousness appears at the climax of the promise, it must be the greater glory. The writer obviously means that although the wise will be radiant, the soulwinners will be dazzling. But how did a writer in antiquity know that a star is brighter than the firmament (that is, the sky)? As far as the ancients were concerned, a star was just a pinprick of light in the shroud of night—a remote gleam much less glorious than the whole sky during the day. Only from a modern scientific perspective do we understand that the direct light of a star is far brighter than the scattered solar light which illuminates the atmosphere. The writer’s precision was of course the result of divine revelation.
- The symbolism in Luke 19:12-27 is not difficult to decipher. The nobleman is obviously Christ. The far country is heaven. His going there to receive a kingdom is His ascension, and His coming back is His future return to the earth. The servants are believers during the Church Age. Investing and multiplying the master's wealth (pounds are a kind of money) represent advancing the cause of Christ.
How do we advance His cause? Chiefly by extending His rule over the hearts of men. That is, chiefly by bringing more people into His kingdom. We conclude that multiplying pounds refers primarily to soulwinning. Secondarily, it refers to anything we do that helps believers grow, promotes the ministries of the church, or brings glory to the name of Christ. The parable states that diligent work for the master brings great rewards. The servant who worked hardest is promoted to the position of highest authority, over ten cities. He also receives the ten pounds he had gained through wise dealing, plus other pounds as well. The servant who did nothing is severely rebuked and chastened. He is called a "wicked servant," and the only pound in his possession is taken away. In other words, he loses his reward.
When properly understood, this parable is a strong incentive to get busy for Christ, and we can say confidently that the work with surest reward is the winning of souls.
Two kinds of witness
We witness for Christ in two ways, through our lives and through verbal testimony. Some advocates of so-called lifestyle evangelism argue that our only duty in the world is to live a virtuous life that others can see. Simply acting and looking like a Christian are enough to make those around us curious as to why we are different. When they come with questions, we can answer with the gospel. Evangelism of this sort is certainly a useful tool, but it does not altogether fulfill the Great Commission. Besides showing a godly face to any lost people who come our way, we must seek out the lost and press the claims of the gospel upon them.
Christ said we should "compel them to come in, that my house may be filled" (Luke 14:23). To compel means that we must start conversations for the purpose of witness. We must invite people to church. We must pass out tracts. Whenever possible, without being obnoxious and without provoking a backlash that would cripple further outreach to the lost, we must share the gospel with others, so that it will reach even those who would never find it just through their own curiosity.
Witness by Our Manner of Life
Life-centered witness is of three kinds.
1. Good works (Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12, 15)
The New Testament strongly urges all believers to make their Christian faith visible through good works. Indeed, down through history Christians have been outstanding for bringing assistance to people with every kind of need. In the early centuries of the church, Christians started the first real hospitals. Even today, in most communities with a historic Christian presence, many hospitals bear the name of a Christian denomination. During the Middle Ages, Christians founded the first universities. In America, they began the first schools and colleges. Other kinds of charitable institutions, such as orphanages and asylums for the mentally disturbed, originated in the efforts of Christians. Democratic forms of government, protecting the common man from the outrages of tyranny, first appeared in nations where the gospel was deeply rooted. All the worthwhile movements for social justice that have emerged in the last three centuries—the crusades to abolish slavery and child labor, for example—have been spearheaded by Christians. As they have always been, so Christians are prominent today in every effort to fight hunger, famine, and disease and to alleviate the effects of war and natural disaster.
No one objects to receiving a kindness. Good works are therefore extremely useful for creating witness opportunities. The basis of medical missions is that people gladly seek medical attention even from Christian doctors and nurses who are outspoken about their faith.
2. Good character (Rom. 12:17)
One night some years ago, after my family and I ate supper at a local restaurant, I used my credit card to pay the bill. Imagine my surprise when my monthly statement arrived and the restaurant charge was missing. Months passed and still it did not appear. Eventually, it became clear that the restaurant had never recorded the transaction. What to do? My wife called the local headquarters of the franchise and asked where we could send payment. Their representative seemed surprised, but readily gave her the address we were seeking. Soon after I sent them a check with a tract enclosed, a letter came back, thanking me profusely for being honest. Inside the letter was a gift certificate for a greater amount than I had paid.
Here was an ideal chance for witness. Just as no one objects to receiving a kindness, likewise no one objects to receiving money, even if the gospel comes with it.
3. Enduring persecution (1 Pet. 3:15)
This verse is often quoted as the Biblical grounds for a ministry of apologetics (the systematic defense of the Christian faith). Apologetics certainly has an important role to play in the work of reaching an unbelieving world. But the context (v. 14) establishes the true meaning of the verse. It is talking not about defending Christian faith from the attacks of skeptics. Rather, it is talking about the questions that arise when a Christian exposes himself to persecution. In Peter's day, it was dangerous to be a Christian. Many believers suffered horrible deaths at the hands of vicious men. Yet even in a society steeped in pagan wickedness, there were many unbelievers who could not remain untouched and unmoved by pity as they watched Christians suffer. Naturally, they would ask, "What kind of faith would drive you to a martyr's death?" The question would give an opportunity for witness.
Peter urged believers to speak with "meekness and fear." He did not mean that they should fear their persecutors. He has just said not to fear them (v. 14). He meant that they should keep a fear and meekness toward God, for from these they would derive strength to stand true even when sorely pressed by a hostile world.
Witness by Verbal Testimony
There is a right way to speak for Christ as well as a wrong way. One wrong way might be called hit-and-run soulwinning.
Suppose I go up to a stranger on the street and say, "Look, if you will give me a minute of your time, I can show you how to be sure that you will spend eternity in heaven, not in hell. All you need do is ask Jesus into your heart. You can say the right prayer just by repeating after me. It only takes about ten seconds. How about it?” Suppose your appeal succeeds, and the stranger follows you in saying the ten-second prayer. Then you say, "From now on you will never have to worry about what happens after death. The Bible says you can be absolutely sure that you will go to heaven. So it has been good talking to you. I pray that your Christian life goes well. Good-bye, my new brother in Christ."
Is this legitimate soulwinning? Certainly not. Many lost people will respond to such an appeal, but although they respond exactly as required, they will probably not get saved. Why? Because salvation requires true repentance and true faith. The hit-and-run method of soulwinning produces neither. If it leads to any true conversion, the convert gets saved in spite of the method used rather than because of it. Here are its four basic flaws.
- The method does not elicit true repentance. It plays upon someone's desire to escape sin's penalty, which is hell, but fails to draw out any desire to escape sin itself. It creates no opportunity for the Spirit to bring conviction of sin and sorrow for sin.
- The method does not elicit true faith. It presents Jesus as only a name in a recited prayer. It does not introduce the needy soul to the real person of Jesus, or encourage him to view Jesus as the Lord Jesus Christ.
- The method merely offers an attractive bargain. It offers huge protection at a price next to nothing. That is, it gives assurance of heaven forever in return for saying a few words. Even someone who thought that the claims of the soulwinner were almost certainly false could not rationally refuse his offer. The method gets easy results by calling for some empty words rather than for real belief in the gospel.
- The great evil in this method is that it leaves someone with a false assurance of salvation. As a result, that person may feel no need to give the gospel further consideration.
Legitimate soulwinning takes the following measures to avoid false conversions:
- The soulwinner puts the emphasis on meaning rather than on ritual. He avoids giving the impression that salvation comes by saying a prayer. In fact, it comes by deciding to believe in Christ. The required repentance and faith are decisions in the heart, with salvation the immediate result. Therefore, the moment of salvation usually precedes any prayer the convert may say at the urging of a soulwinner.
- The soulwinner does not lead anyone in a prayer for salvation until he is satisfied that the needy soul meets the conditions of true repentance and faith. That is, the needy soul is sorry for his sins and is eager to acknowledge Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
- Since the soulwinner cannot judge the heart of anyone who outwardly appears to accept Jesus, he avoids saying that the new convert is henceforth entitled to absolute assurance of salvation.
- The soulwinner never leaves a new convert to his own devices. He does follow-up. He makes himself available for discipling, or he directs the new convert to someone else who will provide it. He attempts to put the new convert in contact with a good church. He informs the new convert of his obligation to be baptized. If possible, he gives the new convert a Bible. And by no means of least importance, he puts the new convert on his prayer list.
Jesus' soulwinning practice
In John 3 and 4, we see how Jesus Himself brought men to the truth. John 3 shows Him instructing the man Nicodemus, a religious leader of the Jews. The person Jesus reaches in John 4 is the diametrical opposite. She is a woman, a Samaritan, and a great sinner. In His dealings with these two, Jesus did not use the same approach. Nicodemus was a highly esteemed rabbi who considered himself an authority on the law and the prophets. His root sin was pride. Therefore, to humble him, Jesus pointed out his ignorance of a basic truth taught in the Scriptures. But in our wanderings through today's degenerate world, we will find few, if any, like Nicodemus. Most of the lost we will meet will bear a much closer resemblance to the Samaritan woman. Therefore, it will be more profitable for us to examine how Jesus witnessed to her.
The encounters recorded in John 3 and 4 had very different beginnings. Whereas Nicodemus visited Jesus to learn more about Him, the woman made no overture to Jesus. He came into her world as a stranger with no business requiring that they talk, yet He found a way of starting a serious conversation. We may therefore view His tactics in the second encounter as an authoritative example of the hardest kind of soulwinning. Jesus used the five-step method.
- He started a conversation by building on the immediate situation (vv. 5-7). They had both come to a well for water. Jesus started talking with the woman by simply asking her for something to drink (v. 7). It was a natural, nonthreatening question.
- As quickly as possible, He found a bridge to spiritual matters (vv. 8-10). After the woman responded to His question, He shifted the subject by offering her living water (v. 10). He used the concept of water to create a transition from mundane matters to spiritual matters.
- He offered the hope of the gospel first (vv. 11-14). The woman already sensed the despair that eventually poisons a life estranged from God. Any method of dealing with her that aroused further despair before it offered hope might have turned her away. So, Jesus did not begin by attacking her life and character, or by pointing out her eternal peril. Rather, He told her that she could live forever (v. 14). He gave her hope.
- He brought her to confess that she was a sinner (vv. 15-19). No one can be saved just by choosing eternal life through Jesus. It is necessary to embrace Him as the Savior from sin. Jesus brought the woman to a conviction of sin by very gently probing her past (v. 16). Again, He refrained from attacking her, lest she be antagonized. Instead, He merely inquired about her husband. With the Holy Spirit at work in her heart, this simple question was enough to remind her of her confused marital situation and to evoke shame. She responded by telling the truth about herself, that she had no husband (v. 17). Here was a difficult admission, for it hinted of disgrace. Every respectable older woman in her culture normally could claim a husband, living or dead. Jesus commended her for being honest and, to her astonishment, filled in all the details (vv. 17-18). Again, she responded correctly. She was not angry or defensive. Rather, by declaring Him to be a prophet, she confessed that God was in Jesus (v. 19).
- He presented Himself as the Savior (vv. 20-29). The woman was now ready for some instruction. Before presenting Himself as the Savior, Jesus cleared away some of the woman's false religious notions based on Samaritan traditions. He affirmed that "salvation is of the Jews" (v. 22). Again, she was receptive to what He said, for she positioned herself with the Jews in their hope for the Messiah (v. 25). Finally, the time having arrived for Jesus to speak plainly, He revealed who He was. He let her know that He was the Messiah—the man "of the Jews" who provides salvation (v. 26). The woman believed and was saved (v. 29).
We are wise to pattern our soulwinning after Jesus' example. In our conversations with the lost, we should look for ways of bridging from the natural to the spiritual. We should be positive and loving rather than threatening and accusing. As shrewd fishermen, we should use hope as our bait. We should not neglect to deal with sin, but neither should we impose conviction from the outside, when the Spirit can arouse it from the inside. Finally, we should never stop short of giving Christ as the remedy for sin.