The emphasis in most of our soul-winning presentations is God’s love for mankind in general and for the individual in particular. I spent an evening looking at Independent Baptist websites to see what they were telling the lost about salvation. The two most common first statements were something like “realize that God loves you” and “realize or admit that you are a sinner,” in that order.
While it is true that God loves mankind and the individual, and that we must first realize that we are sinners, this is not the approach used in Scripture. In the book of Acts we see the Gospel taken to all of the Middle East and then into Europe. This is the greatest spreading of the Gospel of all time. I want to look at three sermons from this book that will show us the biblical approach to reaching a lost world.
The first sermon is found in Acts 2:14-36. I am not going to put the texts of these sermons in this article so you will have to read them for yourselves. I recommend you read them and not depend on your memory. You might miss or forget something.
The first part of this first sermon shows how what they were witnessing on the day of Pentecost was a partial fulfillment of Bible prophecy and the second part is the lifting up of Jesus as Lord and Christ. The conclusion of this message is that Jesus is both Lord and Christ and that they, by wicked hands, had crucified Him.
To the Jew, those to whom this message was preached, there is but one Lord and that is Jehovah God. They knew that Christ (Messiah) was to be sent by God as Saviour and King. Can you imagine the fear in the hearts of those who truly understood what had just happened?
We don’t have to imagine because Acts 2:37 tells us the response of those who heard. They were pricked in their hearts. Pricked, as used here, means they suffered a sharp pain and anguish caused by a sense of guilt for the crime they had committed. In other words there was a conviction of their sin and godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10) which caused them to seek what they should do to be right with God. Then Peter gave them the Gospel by telling them to repent and be and to be baptized. (Acts 2:38)
Some clarification is necessary concerning repentance and baptism in this verse. The Scriptures are clear that we are saved when we believe, not when we are baptized. Salvation is necessary for baptism, not the other way around. (Acts 8:37) Those who asked what they should do had obviously believed what had been preached or they would not have been pricked in their hearts. Repent means to turn from their dead works (Hebrews 6:4) which were their efforts at keeping the law for salvation, and to turn to God for mercy (Acts 20:21). The word “for” in this verse means “because of” not “in order to obtain.” This is the only interpretation that does not conflict with the rest of what the New Testament teaches concerning baptism. Their belief is confirmed to the world by their baptism. Their baptism does not bring remission of sin, it testifies to the fact of it.
You will notice that there is no mention of the love of God in this message. You will also notice that the goal is not to get the hearers to admit or acknowledge their sin, but to bring them to “godly sorrow” that will cause true repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10).
The next sermon come in Acts 10:34-43. Cornelius, a Gentile Roman centurion, was a man who feared God. He was a man that tried his best to be godly and to do what was right (Acts 10:2). God, in a vision, told him to send for Peter so he could learn how to be accepted of God. Let’s take a look at what Peter had to say.
The first part of the sermon is Peter’s realization that the Gospel was not only for the Jews. He says that God accepts those from any nation based upon two things; 1) the fear of God, 2) working righteousness. We know that we are not saved by our works, and that our righteousness is but filthy rags in the sight of God. What we learn in this message on that subject is that the fear of God will cause one to do righteous works. If righteous works could save God would not have had Cornelius send for Peter.
He points out that Jesus Christ is Lord of all and that He is the One by whom all will be judged. He preached Christs death and resurrection. He closed the message with the Gospel.
Here was a man who feared God and led his family to also fear God. Peter showed the justification for that fear in that Jesus Christ is Lord of all and Judge of all. He gave the basis of forgiveness of sin as the death and resurrection of Christ. He then told them that all who believe in him shall receive remission of sins.
Remember, this man and his household were seeking God and already had the fear of God. Peter confirmed the importance of this to be sure there was proper understanding and then gave the Gospel. He did this without and mention of the love of God. He also did not mention the need to acknowledge they were sinners because the fear of God was already in their hearts.
The third sermon I want to look at is in Acts 17:22-31. In this sermon Paul is speaking to the philosophers of Athens. They worshipped every god they knew of and, in case they missed one, they had an altar to the unknown god.
Paul’s message starts by introducing them to the God they did not know. He introduced Him as the Creator of all things. He pointed out that this God could not be contained in anything made by the hands of man. He pointed out that God needs nothing from man, but all that man has, he receives from God. He tells them that this God is in control of everything. He tells them that they should seek this God and that He is not far from them. He also tells them that even some of their own poets know these things.
After describing God, Paul tells them of their responsibility before this God who was unknown to them. He says that all men everywhere are to repent because they will one day face this God in judgment.
Everything seem to go well until Paul mentioned the resurrection (Acts 17:32). At this point the mocking started. There were a few who believed (Acts 17:34).
Again you will notice that there is no mention of the love of God in this message. There is no attempt to get the hearers to admit their sin. There is a warning about coming judgment and an attempt to, because of coming judgment, get the hearers to fear God.
In the first message Peter was dealing with a people who knew the Scriptures and believed in the God of the Bible. They had rebelled against this God and thought their personal righteousness was sufficient to make them right with God. Peter aroused the fear of God in at lest 3,000 of the hearers by showing their wickedness before a holy God.
In the second message Peter was dealing with people who really sought the true God and had a proper fear of Him. Peter only had to show them the way to be right with Him.
In the third message Paul is dealing with a very superstitious people, a people who tried to satisfy every god imaginable. The idea of there being one God to whom they must give account was totally foreign to their way of thinking. They had no fear of this God and no desire to learn of Him They used the resurrection as an excuse to reject Him.
Again, you will notice that there is no mention of the love of God in this message. Paul did not try to get them to realize that they were sinners. He did try to get them to fear this God who was unknown to them.
Why do you think that the Gospel presentations in the New Testament dealt with the fear of God instead of the love of God which is central to modern presentations? The answer is simple, it is the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7) and wisdom (Proverbs 9:10), The love of God is not what brings someone to Christ, it is the fear of God.
When we preach the love of God before there is conviction of sin and a repentant heart we lead people to believe that God loves them so much that they can say they believe in Jesus and live without any concern for His precepts. This explains the lack of change in so many who have made a profession of faith in Christ.
When we tell people that they must simply acknowledge or admit their sin we make it too easy. Only a fool would not admit that he is a sinner. There is a big step from admitting one is a sinner and one being convicted of sin. One girl, admitting she had told lies and stolen things, put it this way; “But that doesn’t make me a bad person.” Admission of sin does not equal conviction of sin.
God does love us and we cannot be saved until we acknowledge and admit our sin. While this is true, it is not the central message we must communicate. Everything, including the salvation of the lost, is about God and His glory.
We live in a selfish world where everything is about three people, me, myself, and I. We will have success in getting people to profess faith in Jesus as long as we appeal to one of these three people. If, on the other hand, we want to see real changed lives instead of simple professions, we will have to make salvation about our having offended a holy God and deserving His condemnation.
The fear of God will result in godly sorrow which works repentance and brings people to true salvation. Isn’t that what we really want?
Copyright 2017 Pierre Coovert, All rights reserved