Exactly what is the gospel message that a faithful witness or pastor must pass on to the lost soul?
What an unsaved man has not been able to satisfactorily comprehend is generally threefold. First, the glorious nature of God is incomprehensible to the natural man. A man's sinful nature limits him to a weak view of God. He usually believes God is transcendent, but does not understand that He is immanent, as well. A man has a sense that God created everything, or at least began the process of creation, but he does not understand the providence of God.
The natural man has heard of the Bible, but he does not understand that it is the actual word of God. Neither does the natural man comprehend the Trinity or the work and nature of Jesus Christ. The pastor and witness should begin instructing the seeker in this area. Systematic training on the nature of God is recommended early in a seeker's journey.
Second, God's absolute hatred of sin is underestimated by the natural man. The holiness of God is not grasped by the unregenerate mind. Paul says in Romans 10:3-4 that the Israelites are "ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God."
The lost man cannot conceive of an omni-perfect Being with a moral standard of conduct by which He holds all culpable creatures accountable. He does not know that God is angry with sin, that He is jealous of all other gods and idols, and that His wrath will eventually fall upon all the guilty. The sheer magnitude of the consequences of his personal sins does not yet weigh heavily upon his soul. Yes, he has the moral code innately written upon his heart by God, but the biblical details have not been taught to him, or if taught, not understood by him.
His self-righteous character makes him feel that since his sin is like anyone else's, and not as bad as most, he will receive a free pass into eternal bliss. This faulty thinking must be repented of. Walk him through the Ten Commandments to show him his unrighteousness. Tell him that breaking only one of these commands is sufficient grounds for keeping him out of heaven.
He must be told of the approaching Judgment Day awaiting him, as well. The man's guilty conscience will be seared by holy fire, alarming him to the fact that his sin is eternally offensive to his Creator. Understanding the seriousness of a fatal disease leads one to quickly seek the cure. If God has him prepared, he will fall down to his knees in repentance and faith.
As Paul was in the midst of instructing Timothy in what should be taught to men, he said, "with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil" (2 Tim. 2:25-26). J.I.Packer understands true conviction and saving repentance very well:
Unless we see our shortcomings in the light of the law and holiness of God, we do not see them as sin at all. . . . We never know what sin really is till we have learned to think of it in terms of God, and to measure it, not by human standards, but by the yardstick of His total demand on our lives. . . . It does not, therefore, follow that a man is convicted of sin when he is distressed about his weaknesses and the wrong things he has done, it is not conviction of sin just to feel miserable about yourself and your failures and your inadequacy to meet life's demands. . . .To be convicted of sin means, not just to feel that one is an all-around flop, but to realize that one has offended God, and flouted His authority, and defied Him, and gone against Him, and put oneself in the wrong with Him (1961, p.61).
To know God is to fear His wrath, and to fear His wrath is to repent of one's flippant view of his sins. To flee the coming judgment, one must only run towards the mercy seat of Christ and fall at His feet in remorse and utter humility.
Finally, the horrors of hell and the magnificence of heaven have escaped the faculties of the natural man. Preach Revelation 21 and describe the indescribable; fathom the unfathomable; take the person on an incredible journey to the New Jerusalem showing them what awaits those who are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ. Teach this passage literally and passionately, and rejoice as hope enlightens their countenance.
Solemn teaching on hell must balance heaven-speak. They must know of the hellish fate that awaits them, unless they bow the knee. Jesus Christ described hell much more than he taught heaven, so take a cue from the God-man. To deny the lost person information on hell is to deny them the full gospel of grace. Do not be a cowardly witness.
The person must be encouraged to count the cost of a commitment to God through Jesus Christ. Discipleship requires giving up one's current life to begin a new life in Christ. R.B. Kuiper says, "Trusting Christ as Savior and acknowledging Him as Lord are inseparable. The latter is the acid test of the former. That should be made clear to the sinner before he makes a decision in response to the gospel" (1966, p170).
Any talk from the person not wanting to give something specific up for Christ shows a still rebellious heart which is not ready to repent. Do not lead this person in a sinner's prayer presuming that God will save him in spite of his attitude (Luke 14:33).
Christian witnesses must teach the lost of these matters. The natural man must hear these essentials preached. God will bless preaching which addresses these areas by sending those He is in the process of gathering to those that are faithful witnesses. In His perfect timing, He will impute the sins of the repentant sinner who trusts Him to the cross of Christ (Col. 2:13-14); and He will impute Christ's perfect life and resurrection to the life of the sinner (2 Cor. 5:21).
God will let the person experience His loving presence, thereby confirming his salvation. This concerted effort by God and His witnesses manifests itself in a new Christian who loves Scripture and lets God transform his life. A person who has never had an experience with God has never truly met Him, and must be evangelized.
Remember that God is providential in the cases of all men. For instance, a man with a far-eastern worldview steeped in Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, or the like, is in his predicament because that is where he was raised and trained, and it is part of God's design - no one dare question that. He is born into a family whom he loves in that culture, he enjoys worshiping his gods, and he would not leave his life for anything. A Christian must not feel too badly for him, because more than likely, if given the gospel he would spit in disgust.
However, occasionally God will call one of the deceived to His kingdom, usually by working through a missionary, or by transplanting them in a Christian culture where he will eventually hear the gospel. Apologetics are a useful tool when the person is open to listen, and open to obtaining a new worldview. Conversions seem rare, but it happens, so always be prepared to share the gospel with people who come from a false religion.
Christians must pray for the harvest. An example is given by Paul to pray for the lost (Romans 10:1-2). We are also to pray for workers for the harvest. Many churches are full of workers, but the failure to teach lay people the truths of the gospel and proper evangelism methods brings shame upon the pastoral profession. Equip them to win souls and bring them into the house of the Lord.
Hold revivals, but teach the crucial truths that were offered in this study. Kuiper says, "Jesus would have converts unite with the church. The aim of evangelism is not merely the salvation of individual souls, but the addition of saved souls to the church" (1966, p.187).
Make sure faith-building discipleship classes are available for the new converts, helping them to reach Christian maturity. Most importantly, train children in the way they should go. Paul tells Timothy the importance of this command in 2 Timothy 3:15, "and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." This study literally shouts the eternal value of this command. Love God and His word with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Love His people, and love the lost and God will use you to bring His lost sheep home to the green pastures.
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