“How many of you brought your converts to church today as instructed?” the pastor says into the microphone. A hand goes up somewhere in the middle of the church and a pretty forty-something year old woman stands up.
“Bring your convert to the front of the church,” the pastor continued. She leads the young man who accompanied her to church that Sunday to the front of the church and presents him to the pastor. Then the pastor proceeded to scold his members. He laments about their lethargy, seeming lack of concern for the lost, and failure to obey the instruction to bring new converts to church.
Next thing I know, the pastor calls for a gift to be brought to him from the ministers’ stand. The woman receives the wrapped gift, courtesy of the church leadership. It was meant to encourage the other parishioners to win souls. The gift was supposed to make us desire to win souls. But everything disturbed me. I want the lost to be saved, of course. But not that way.
It’s not strange to see Christians who want to do something great for the Lord. After all, preachers tell us to give our lives wholeheartedly to the Lord. It’s not strange to hear words like, “Don’t waste your life. Or your cancer. Or your suffering. Or anything.” (I take a cue from John Piper here!) And we’re told to be evangelistic with our lives. Give to missions. Pray for the unreached. Tell someone about Jesus. Get the gospel across to someone.
If the gospel is good news to you, then there must be some desire to let the whole world know. If your heart is pricked by the reality of hell, then you must be bothered with the state of lost souls. If you love God, you must do something! No man can claim to love God if he doesn’t keep God’s commands (1 John 5:2-3), and God commands us to preach the gospel to the world and to give our resources to the gospel. God tells us to do something.
But it is never enough to just do something. We must ever be careful least we become zealous men and women who are consumed by a love for the lost but not according to knowledge. We must worship God in spirit and in truth—fervency must match knowledge, heart must meet mind, zeal must not be alone.
That day in church, I saw men’s zeal to do God’s will. But it was devoid of knowledge.
God nowhere commands us to save or convert other men by our power or ability. If anything, he tells us that we cannot save ourselves, let alone save other men. We preach the gospel and let the Spirit do the work in the hearts of men through the Word. When we erroneously think ourselves responsible for the salvation of other men, it becomes probable for us to run into several errors.
We attempt to employ carnal and unbiblical means to get people saved. If it’s our job to save people, then we must try to save them by all means possible. This will include preaching sermons that downplay the wrath of God in order to display a more likeable God, organizing services that are seeker friendly so we can show sinners that our religion is not as boring (or as bad) as they think, and getting men to pray a magic prayer to invite Jesus into their hearts. In our zeal to present souls on the Last Day to the Master—souls that we can call our own converts and gifts to God—we dishonor God by going against His very Word!
We distort the gospel. The greatest distortion of the gospel is that any man can save himself. The belief that any man—by a miracle at some point in his life—can somehow choose to believe outside the supernatural work of God is a distortion of the gospel. By trying to win converts by our own efforts, we often tell people that they can will themselves to receive spiritual sight (2 Corinthians 4:4,6), transfer themselves from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13), compel themselves to repent of their sins (2 Timothy 2:25), and raise themselves from death to life (Ephesians 2:4-5). The Bible tells us that God gives sight to the blind, raises the dead and grants men faith. While that may puncture the pride in a man’s heart, it’s the only way God saves.
Unregenerate men think themselves saved. There is hardly a greater trend in evangelicalism today than false conversions. Churches are full of professors who have never met Christ! When you burden yourself with the task of saving people, you will most likely run into the error of declaring men saved when they are not. Men brought into the church through carnal, unbiblical means and taught a man-centered gospel may think themselves saved while they are not. But no man can guarantee the salvation of another—men are saved when they believe in the Lord Jesus (Acts 16:30-31) and receive the salvation that is freely given (Ephesians 2:8-9). You can’t guarantee that.
It can be difficult for some believers to look at the spiritual blindness in the world and realize that they cannot save everyone in it. But God doesn’t require you to save them all. We are to live God-honoring lives, present the gospel exactly as it is, and let the Spirit and the Word do the work. Do not bother yourself with the number of souls that will be credited to your soul-winning account in Heaven. Because there is no such account.