Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Leaving 'em hanging

Part of a series on Friendship and Evangelism
[Two Ways] [Leaving 'em Hanging] [More on Friendship]

I listen to Way of the Master Radio often. It's entertaining, but the main reason I listen is to sharpen my own understanding of how to share the whole Gospel with people and how to respond to their objections. Not that I think I can talk them into being Christians: but unregenerate people (as we all were at one time) throw up all kinds of objections, and it's useful to think through in advance what they might be. I mean, like most people, although I try to practice friendship evangelism, it's a lot easier for me to do the friendship part than to do the evangelism part, so I need some extra training on the latter.

One of the things I've noticed recently, such as in Todd Friel's talking with Wilmar, is that Ray and Todd often refrain from "going for the closer": they do not end their presentations by leading the person in a sinner's prayer, they only lead them halfway down the "Romans Road." At first, this struck me as odd. Isn't the whole point of evangelization to get people saved? Why not take them through all Four Spiritual Laws? If you leave them hanging like that, they may lose the opportunity to come to faith!

But when I thought more about it, it made a whole lot of sense. Oftentimes, I know in my own life, that the Spirit of God convicts me of things in the still of the night, and when I least expect it. The choice, then, is sometimes to rush the witnessee into a too-fast profession of faith or to leave them to the Holy Spirit to convict of their sins. It seems to me wiser to trust that God knows what He is doing: that He will keep working on their conscience, using your words and half-remembered Bible verses, until they come to true repentance and faith.

In other words, if you rush them through the Four Spiritual Laws, you may get a quick profession of faith, but that apparent faith may really be a cover-up for a lack of true conviction. They may well be going through the motions to get rid of you, or worse, may actually go straight from unbeliever to unregenerate "disciple," thinking themselves followers of Jesus when their heart is not truly converted. These are exactly the kinds of "disciples" who left Jesus at the first sign of difficulty, and I believe that easy-believing "Jesus wants to be your friend, solve your marital problems, give your life 'purpose', etc." kind of "evangelism" tends to breed them. Anybody with a church history will admit in principle that we are sinners; but only actually feeling it and knowing it to your core will bring repentance and saving faith.

On the other hand, if you let them stew in their own sinfulness, they may still ignore you; however, when they least expect it, God may also bring them to that true repentance that leads to faith and conversion. "But," I can hear somebody saying (because I said it myself when I first started pondering this question) "if they don't believe now, they may never do it!" That question reveals a wrong theology, that of decisional regeneration. As that linked document says, decisional regeneration is the doctrine that "an individual is saved by a mere 'decision of the will' ... that men can be saved by merely making a conscious choice to be saved."

But it's not a matter of me making a decision for Christ, thank God (I mean that literally!): it's a matter of God making a decision for me and then replacing my heart of stone with a heart of flesh. And I believe whole-heartedly that Jesus will not let that person go; He will not lose even one the Father gives Him.

So, if the person is truly receptive, by all means lead them down the Romans Road, use all four Spiritual Laws, or whatever little method you like to use. That is valuable if God chooses you to be the one who leads that person across the last step. On the other hand, many times we are doing the "up front" work ... planting and watering rather than reaping the harvest. It may be less glamorous, but it's no less necessary. Let's not mess it up by rushing our friend past the planting and watering stages. He may not say that sinner's prayer with you standing there; but if God wants that person, his heart will whisper it, even if it's on his own with nobody around to lead him.

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