We’ve been learning from Paul’s example how to witness well when our faith is on trial, which raises a question for us to consider today: How does evangelism actually work? How much of evangelism is the work of God, and how much is the work of God’s people? The issue has long been a tension in church history. This is understandable, considering the paradox of human and divine involvement. It is easy to get carried away with one aspect of this paradox to the exclusion of the other.
For example, some Christians object to praying for the conversion of the lost, saying that human prayers cannot influence God on this matter, for God has sovereignly decreed who is elected to salvation and who is not. At a meeting of Baptist leaders in the late 1700s, newly ordained minister William Carey stood to argue for the value of overseas missions. He was abruptly interrupted by an older minister who said, “Young man, sit down! When God pleases to convert the heathen, he'll do it without consulting you or me.” Such Christians may pray to be faithful witnesses, but they do not think it biblical to pray for the conversion of the lost. Yet as we’ll see, Paul clearly prays for the salvation of those whom he encounters. Our friends from the Reformed tradition should see that God uses prayers and persuasion to bring people into his kingdom.
On the other hand, some Christians place so much value on how the gospel is presented, as if it were all a big sales pitch, that they lose sight of the necessary work of the Holy Spirit. One gentleman once took me out to breakfast to explain to me how I needed to give more altar calls in church in order to “close the sale” (his exact words). If only ...
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