New Testament churches are commanded to be preaching the Gospel “to every creature” (Mark 16:15), with the goal of seeing men and women become genuine disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19,20). Souls are won to the Lord by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit of God as the Gospel is proclaimed by the Lord’s churches in the power of God. Did you get that part about “won to the Lord”? If it is true that they are “won to the Lord,” then their life will be characterized by learning and obeying the will of the Lord. Otherwise, they will find themselves in the unhappy throng that will be crying “Lord, Lord . . .” only to have Him reply, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23). After all, “Lord” means Lord! So, if lost men, women, boys, and girls are truly won in soul-winning, then they are won to a life of loving and serving the Lord. What a wonderful work to be involved in!
While soul-winning is a sacred and holy responsibility, much of what is called soul-winning today is actually nothing more than fleshly salesmanship. At the root of the error of un-Biblical attempts at soul-winning is the ungodly imagination that man can somehow improve on the motives, the methods, and the message that the Lord has given His churches Who are to be His faithful “ambassadors “ (2 Corinthians 6:20). Many who are attempting to be witnesses for the Lord Jesus have either forgotten or ignored the reality that “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8,9). Though many who are involved in a carnal salesmanship style of soul-winning may be very sincere in their desire to please the Lord and see souls won to Him, their desire does not negate the fact that they are yielding to the philosophies of men rather than the mind of the Lord in this matter.
A simple approach could be to understand that there exists a God-Centered Soul-winning and a Man-Centered Soul-winning (salesmanship). The difference can be seen in the motivation of the witness. The man-centered salesman type makes much of the excitement that abounds in a church when lost people are drawn into their net. Oftentimes the consistent emphasis is “people need to go to heaven.” Of course, any servant of the Lord wants people to have Heaven as their eternal destiny, but what about them being regenerated so that they can glorify the Lord in this present world? Another message often hammered by the man-centered evangelist is that people are on the way to hell and that is the great motive for soul-winning. Again, the Lord’s people do want people delivered from Hell, but that is not the main motive for witnessing. It is not the continual thrust found in the New Testament.
Curtis Hutson, a master of the carnal salesmanship style, gave some motives for his brand of evangelism. They are increased attendance to church services, church growth, joyful church members, loving church members, increased finances, and clean-living members. He wrote, “But if there is such a thing as a cure-all, it is soul winning. It solves more problems in the local church than anything I know of” (See: Great Preaching On Soulwinning, Sword of the Lord publishers, page 19-21, 1989).
The motive for Biblical soul-winning is very simple: the Glory of God. The first century believers went preaching “for his name’s sake” (3 John 7). Psalm 113:3 declares, “From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the LORD’S name is to be praised.” Biblical soul-winners have been saved “to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:12) and they desire that others be saved to the glory of God. All of ministry, all the Christian life, all New Testament church life has one over-riding purpose or motivation—the glory of God. Revelation 4:11: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” Yes, I want people saved from sin, but why? To glorify the Lord! We want people delivered from hell so that they will worship and serve the Lord for ever. As we preach the Gospel, even if the overwhelming majority of those we attempt to reach are never saved we still can glorify the Lord by obeying His command to evangelize. God is to be glorified and he is glorified by His people obeying Him.
To drift from this Biblical understanding of soul-winning, witnessing for the glory of God by obeying Him, can quickly carry a believer, or an entire church, into pragmatism. “Whatever it takes to keep people out of Hell” or “whatever it takes to get folks into heaven” becomes the cry from the imagination. It is then very easy for the flesh to yield to unbiblical methodology and an unbiblical message for the sake of seeing more results, even though the results will be no more than “wood, hay, and stubble” if we don’t serve the Lord His way. Biblical soul-winners are firmly committed to obeying the Lord and leaving the results up to Him.