Tomorrow at 3:00 P.M. is your annual review. Sweat pops out on your forehead. Will you be able to sleep tonight? What’s your boss going to say? Is he pleased or disappointed? There’s reason for concern. Your first year hasn’t been as productive as he expected. You think, I wish I were giving the evaluation, instead of the one being evaluated.What does a boss look for in an employee? Results. Employees have to be worth their salaries. Otherwise, the people on the payroll cost more than they produce. Stated or unstated, the employer is saying, “I want to see results.”Many think that God says the same thing about evangelism. The number of people whom we share Christ with doesn’t matter because we think that God expects us to lead others to Him, not just tell about Him.
As a result, several things happen. Our approach becomes more high pressure. It doesn’t matter whether non-Christians come to Christ of their own will or ours, just as long as they make the list. We can’t afford the wasted time of sharing the gospel if we don’t see a response. We think that God is keeping records. We need a yes from the lost, so we pressure and manipulate to get it. The problem is, that’s not a Holy Spirit produced convert. It’s a human spirit produced one, which is no convert at all.
The second thing that happens is we get discouraged. If we have few results, we think we haven’t merited anything with God, so why keep trying? We’re doomed to fail in evangelism, we think we’re a disappointment to God, and we fear seeing Him face to face.
What’s the error in this thinking? Why is it a misconception?
Where do we get the idea that we’re responsible for winning the lost? No such verse exists. Nor is there a hint that when we stand before God to be rewarded, He will ask, “How many have you led to Me?” He wouldn’t have to ask such a question—He already knows.
But what about 1 Corinthians 9:19-23?
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.
Paul uses the term win five times here. Closing the paragraph, he says, “That I might by all means save some.” Wasn’t it Paul’s thinking that God expected him to save people, not just witness to them?
The context, though, clears up any confusion. “Those … under the law” refers to Jews; “those … without law” refers to Gentiles. Coming to Christ, Paul, as a Jew, recognized that he wasn’t under the Old Testament law. He also recognized some Jews would feel scandalized if he didn’t observe the law. Because he loved them, he accommodated them, observing many of their feasts and festivals. In doing so, he led Jews and Gentiles to Christ.
When Paul speaks of liberties he’s willing to forfeit in order to “win the more,” he’s actually talking about the winning of a hearing. One commentator makes the point, “He was willing to subject himself to the scruples of the Jews in order to gain a hearing for the gospel and to win them to Christ. Yet he never compromised the essence of the gospel, at the heart of which was salvation by faith, not works and freedom from legalism.”‘ Win and save refer to gaining acceptance and a hearing; nothing indicates that God held Paul responsible for the salvation of any Jew or Gentile.
Another might ask, what about Proverbs 11:30? “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.” Isn’t the emphasis on winning not sharing? This verse isn’t about evangelism. The phrase “fruit of the righteous” refers to the good a righteous man does for others. His words, actions, instruction, and example uplift others. Thus, the good he does is a “tree of life.” The phrase “he who wins souls is wise” means that a wise man wins people to him. This can be done for sinister reasons, such as using others for selfish gain, but here it’s meant in a good sense. The wise man captivates people, having a good influence upon them.
Proverbs 11:30 teaches that righteousness produces fruit, wisdom produces influence. A righteous person produces fruit that has a positive effect upon others. He then uses his influence to win people to him. Although the verse is not talking about evangelism, there could be an application. People often are drawn to Christ because a believer’s life attracts them. Consequently, we ought to be “living epistles” to non-Christians. The verse, though, isn’t speaking of God’s expectation for us to win the lost.
God holds us responsible for contact, not conversion.
What did Jesus commission His disciples to do? Acts 1:8 says, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
A witness tells what he or she knows. The disciples were to tell what they knew, starting at Jerusalem, the local city—the very city where Christ was rejected and crucified. They were to go from there to the local area of Judea. With Samaria mentioned and Galilee implied, this meant the outer area of Palestine. They were then to go to “the end of the earth,” which to the apostles likely would have been Rome, the capital of the empire and the place where people congregated from every quarter. A direct line drawn from Judea to Rome would have been more than fourteen hundred miles long. The book of Acts records the progress of the gospel, first in Jerusalem (chaps. 1-7), then in all Judea and Samaria (chaps. 8-12), and finally to the worldwide Gentile sphere (chaps. 13-28).
The emphasis of the commission is on the disciples’ responsibility to bring Christ to non-Christians, not to bring non-Christians to Christ. Proclamation was the issue, not results. Beginning at home, they were to tell what they knew unto the ends of the earth.
Personal evangelism is impossible without personal contact. That’s why Christ’s own example stressed the need to be a friend of sinners (Luke 15:2). We can’t speak to those whom we haven’t contacted. We must go to them. We must be witnesses. What results from that contact is never the issue. Rather, the biblical emphasis is contact, not conversion.
God holds us responsible for faithfulness, not fruit.
Notice Paul’s response when mistreated by the Corinthians who showed partiality toward certain teachers. He said,
Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. (1 Cor. 4:1-4)
Ministers are servants of Christ. As stewards of His truth, they dispense what they are given. What is their responsibility as they dispense truth? It is as Paul explained, “That one be found faithful.” He didn’t say “That one be found fruitful.” Only when we stand before the Lord will we find out how faithful we’ve been. No one else can make the final prognosis. Instead, Paul said, “He who judges me is the Lord.”
That the Lord judges one’s level of faithfulness gives meaning to Paul’s words one chapter earlier when he rebuked the Corinthian’s partisan spirit. He reminded them that he and Apollos were both used of the Lord in starting and growing the church:
Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. (1 Cor. 3:5-8)
Paul planted the church. Apollos ministered after Paul left. Both were used of the Lord. Our responsibility is to be faithful in whatever we’re doing, and God rewards our labors. Fruitfulness is God’s responsibility.
Consider the principle of sowing and reaping.
Why is it important to understand that faithfulness is the issue? As noted in a previous chapter, at times we will sow the seeds of the gospel, and someone else may reap the seeds we’ve sown. During His visit to Samaria, Christ said, ‘”One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors” (John 4:37-38). Although He was only in Samaria two days and did no miracles, Christ found a field ripe unto harvest. Apparently, the ministry of the Old Testament prophets and John the Baptist had their results. Christ assured His disciples that both the sower and the reaper will have their reward.
Our office received a call from a woman in Pennsylvania. She told us that a person had just dropped one of our “May I Ask You a Question?” tracts by her house. As a result of reading it, she trusted Christ. Since Evan Tell’s name and phone number were on the back, she wanted to know how to get more copies. She was thrilled with what she now understood and wanted others to know. I thought, I’m certain the person who left the tract along with any others who witnessed to her don’t even know what their efforts accomplished. Her receptivity indicated that months and perhaps years earlier someone had sown the seed of the gospel. Now, it had born fruit. The “end” person may not even know what his or her efforts accomplished. Everyone who had a part in her coming to Christ will be rewarded.
Christ taught that only He could bring the lost to Himself.
The responsibility of bringing the lost to Christ is on God’s shoulders. It is not on the shoulders of His servants. Jesus explains in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” Christ repeats that emphasis when He says, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father” (v.65). People are so ensnared in sin that unless God draws them, they’re hopeless.
Why? Because they are blinded. Second Corinthians 4:4 described them as people “whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.” God has to remove the veil from their eyes. Unless He does, it will never be removed. He may use a human instrument to do so, whether a preacher or someone witnessing one on one. Ultimately, though, it is Christ working. The instrument is only the means of removing the blindness; the instrument is not the power by which the blindness is removed. The power belongs to Him.
Clarity—that’s the pressure we ought to feel.
The pressure of bringing people to Christ is God’s. We can only bring Christ to people. The only pressure we ought to feel is the pressure to make the gospel clear.
As Christ hung on the cross, He declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Before a holy God He did everything that could be done to satisfy the anger of God against sin. His payment for our sin was complete and final. He and He alone atoned for our sins. To get to heaven, we cannot trust Christ plus something (such as our good deeds and religious efforts). Christ alone saves.
When we make the gospel clear, only Christ through His Holy Spirit can bring about an understanding of the gospel. But God uses the clarity of our presentation to show the unsaved their condition, His remedy, and their need to trust Christ. As you evangelize, say to yourself, “I must be clear, be clear, be clear.”
Remember, God holds us responsible for contact, not conversion. We have the privilege of introducing the lost to Christ, but the pressure for them to trust the Savior is upon Him, not us.
As we improve our skills we increase our effectiveness in reaching the lost. But even when multitudes respond, God brings them, not us. Any pressure we should feel is that of making the gospel clear to lost people with the intent of them trusting Christ. Whether or not they do is God’s responsibility.