The Dangers of Decision-Based Evangelism

“I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the does of the field, do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases” (Song of Songs 3:5, NKJV).

Romantic love cannot be forced.  There is something almost magical, when, as one Puritan put it, God pitches the heart of a man upon a woman.  In Proverbs, the mystery of a man with a maid is likened to the movement of an eagle in the air, a serpent on a rock, and a ship in the midst of the sea–smooth, graceful, and leaving no trace–things that are “too wonderful for me, . . . which I do not understand” (Proverbs 30:18-19).  In the verse given above, the daughters of Jerusalem are charged on oath, not to “stir up nor awaken love until it pleases” (Song of Songs 3:5).  Relationships cannot be rushed.  Premature moves cause pain and problems; therefore, patience must be pursued until “nature” has run its course.  All this we often affirm in this kind of relationship, yet with regard to Christ, we somehow often act as if a person merely needs to make a decision and the relationship is set.  Is this really so?  Why should this vertical relationship be so mechanical, so different in quality than our horizontal relationship?

In light of these thoughts, consider these three assertions on evangelism and counseling others about salvation.

First, it is not a mere decision that saves us, but faith expressing itself in words. Yes, the apostle Paul affirmed, “Whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved,” but he added, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?” (Romans 10:13-14).  Saving faith must precede saving prayer.  Too often, I fear, sinners are prematurely told to pray, when they do not yet have a clear notion about the Person of the prayer, nor the reason for the prayer.  We tend to overemphasize the sinner’s prayer.  The Bible, in contrast, emphasizes faith as the key means of salvation (e.g. Romans 1:17; Ephesians 2:8; cf. Matthew 9:22).

Second, faith results from truth. The sinner must have sufficient truth in order to believe.  Again, Paul asked, “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:13).  Though at times a sinner responds to the very first hearing with saving faith, more often than not, it takes many hearings before Jesus is sufficiently seen for saving faith.  Jesus encountered many Jews who believed what they had heard about Jesus, but who nonetheless still did not “know the truth” about Him.  Their faith was not saving faith yet.  To such “believers,” Jesus once promised, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).  Please note:

1.    These “believers” were not yet “free” of their sins (cf. John 8:34).  Not all faith is saving faith.
2.    The faith of these “believers” still lacked a sufficient knowledge of “the truth.”
3.    Jesus is not shy to question the genuineness of these “believers,” but defines a true disciple by perseverance.
4.    Implied in Jesus’ words is both a process of time and a promise: If you stay in My words, you will be saved!

Do you see the need for caution?  So often, at the first positive response to our Gospel message, we are ready to pronounce the person a Christian and to guarantee him his place in heaven; yet when we ask him to explain his faith, he cannot answer our questions and we are forced to coax him along with cues.  Beware!  Ignorance is a bad sign, for Jesus said the truth sets a man free.  If a man does not know the truth, he needs to be encouraged to continue learning, not reassured that his soul is now safe.

Third, we should never force a decision. According to Jesus, a person who truly knows the gift of God and the Giver will ask Him for eternal life, and He will give it (John 4:10).  This is so reassuring for us.  We focus so much on the exhortation, which has its place (as seen in Pentecost, Acts 2:40); in reality, however, it would be better for us to focus on making Christ known in the fullness of His identity and of His gift–to make known His person and His work, which, by implication, includes a true knowledge of man’s sin and misery.

The next time God grants you an opportunity to speak about His Son–perhaps with your children, relative, coworker, or neighbor–keep in mind the nature of relationship.  Our job is to present the word about Jesus, praying for God to stir up and arouse love as He pleases.  God bless you in this pursuit.

Note: All Scripture references in this post are taken from the New King James Version.  Copyright (c) 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.  Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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