MUCH ADO ABOUT SOMETHING
I don't propose to start many posts with a picture of Saddam Hussein, but I have a reason for this one. Look at it for a minute, if you would, please. With the knowledge that he died a few minutes later. I'll get back to it in a minute.
Jeff Richard Young has an excellent post (but then I love satire) about a seemingly common approach to evangelism. I'd like to take a look at the same issue, from a little different angle.
Since I'm old and don't have a lot to do ... when someone asks me how my schedule looks for some possible meeting, my usual response is that I don't have a schedule ... I watch a fair amount of TV news. Thus, I've seen a number of spots about Saddam Hussein, and his final journey to the gallows. NOTE: I'm assuming he was not saved; more about that later.
I was struck by the utter sadness of the photo of his being fitted for the noose; here was a man about to die. Condemned. Hopeless. Not even knowing what he was about to experience, eternally. Sure, I was in favor of his demise, but it's just sad, regardless of how evil he may have been.
Let's switch to evangelism. The first plan I ever learned was the Four Spiritual Laws. That starts with the premise that God loves you (true enough) and has a wonderful plan for your life. True, again, but THAT cannot be understood by a lost person!
1 Corinthians 2:14: The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (NIV)
If we tell a lost person that God has a wonderful life all planned for him, what could he possibly envision? You can figure it out as well as I can!
What we frequently tell lost folks is that sin is standing between them and this beautiful life promised by the Four (non-existent) Laws. Solve that by applying Jesus, and they can have this terrific life we promised. I would imagine, under those circumstances, a fair percentage of responders would opt for that terrific life, and "say the sinner's prayer". If that happens, the plain fact is that they have not chosen to follow Jesus. They've chosen a life laid out per a "wonderful plan". And that is wrong.
God doesn't offer an "upgrade to first class" in his Word. He spells out a death to self and a spiritual resurrection to newness of life, on earth. And the real reason to do that, the only one that a lost person can comprehend, is to avoid hell.
Consider this question: What "spiritual" knowledge can a lost person appropriate? What can he understand, spiritually? As I read scripture, I see only 4 things. I think it's important to keep these things in mind, when we talk to a lost person. Hence, our "presentation" should be limited to these sorts of things.
1) He can know some stuff about God, and His attitude toward sin:
Romans 1:18-20: The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-- his eternal power and divine nature-- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (NIV)
That's always been true, and when Jesus left earth, He said He'd send the Holy Ghost to convict lost mankind of some other stuff, too. Namely:
2-3-4) Sin, rignteousness and judgment.
John 16:8-11: When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (NIV)
When we're witnessing, to folks that are lost, we cannot go beyond those parameters. Unsaved folks cannot comprehend how God can be glorified through tragedy, nor what happens to babies who starve in Africa, or anything else in which the truth is spiritual in nature. To deal with those things is to confuse the non-believer.
Back to Saddam Hussein. Look at the picture above. Try to put yourself into his mind. He's about to die. He is condemned. All appeals are over. He has an appointment to die. Of course, you know that his belief was not in the only Name by which we may be saved, so know what he is presumably facing. Can you get a feel for the hopelessness and despair you'd feel, in that place?
Well, THAT is what lost people should feel. And that eternal prospect is what they need to be saved from. They do not need to be saved from a boring or frustrating life; from a lack of meaning or purpose. Yet I fear, as we too often present the gospel, that's what they're choosing to be saved from.
Side note: in my Sunday School Class, I spent a fair amount of time educating my classmembers on what they were saved from.
We do love John 3:16. Maybe even 17. But how often do we spend some time exploring 18?
John 3:18: Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. (NIV)
What really needs to happen when we talk to someone? We need to put them, in their mind, in Saddam Hussein's place. About to die. Condemned. That's not a pleasant place to be, and of course only the Holy Ghost can really do that (Jesus did say He's the Guy Who'd be doing the convicting...). But, folks need to have some gut-level knowledge of what they are being saved from, and that best comes when they face the sin, death, and righteousness that only the Holy Ghost can convict them of. But, when that does happens, they can understand and appropriate it.
If my feelings on this subject are correct, I'd envision a lot of folks who "say the sinner's prayer", who subsequently see their lives pretty much the same as before, only with the added benefit of the devil trying to keep them from becoming more dangerous to him. If that happens, it'd be just like buying some new tool that didn't work like you thought it would. You might take it back (which you can't really do with salvation), but you'd sure quit using it.
Does that seem to happen in our churches, today? Do folks "say the prayer" in our outreach activities, only never to be heard from again?
The reason to be saved is that, unsaved, we're condemned to an eternity in hell, a place of suffering of an intensity that we cannot now comprehend. Anything less, shorts the gospel and the work of Jesus.
How about the folks who "opt for the Christian life"? Are they saved? How should I know? But when you're about your evangelistic activities, ask yourself:
What are you willing to leave to chance?