Evaluating Our Converts
- Monday, April 24, 2006
One of the great loves of my life is preaching the gospel in a variety of contexts whether it be from the pulpit, over the airwaves of Christian talk radio, or a through a multitude of other opportunities granted by God in personal evangelism. Weighty and eternal issues are at stake in this endeavor including the integrity of the message, method, and motive; the obligation placed upon us by God to evangelize and then disciple; the burning desire to see as many converted as possible; and the quality of our supposed converts.
It is this last issue that has gripped my heart for some time. If we are engaging in evangelism, it is incumbent upon us to evaluate the fruit of our witnessing efforts. Years ago I had to wrestle with the fact that most of the individuals I led to Christ never came for baptism or failed to remain committed church members. It occurred to me that the power of Christ in salvation ought to be more compelling than that. For example, those converted at Pentecost, all three-thousand of them, "continued steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine... (Acts 2:42)." They remained committed to Christ, to His church, and to His word.
A resolution on integrity in church membership is being proposed by Dr. Tom Ascol to the Southern Baptist Convention in June of this year. Ascol's rationale in such a proposal is that Southern Baptist churches boast over sixteen-million members while over half of those never participate in a meaningful way in the life of a Southern Baptist church. The primary concerns relate to Southern Baptist's historical and biblical commitments to a regenerate church membership and church discipline. Not to put words in Ascol's mouth, but it seems to me that Southern Baptists have abandoned both.
Many reasons exist as to why Southern Baptists, and indeed evangelicals at large, are failing in this area. One of those reasons is the failure to examine the quality of our supposed converts. That is, we suffer from a failure to evaluate the spiritual condition of our supposed converts and in so doing we fail to evaluate our evangelistic message, method, and motive. Questions should be raised in our own minds. Are we preaching a pure gospel or a watered-down version? Are we engaging in biblical gospel proclamation or man-centered, manipulative, powerless techniques? Are we motivated by the glory of God and the salvation of souls or the numbers that we can boast to one another?
As always, the Scriptures have an authoritative word for us. The apostle Paul evaluated the quality of his supposed converts. For example, he says to the Thessalonians, "knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God (1 Thes. 1:4)." Paul knew that God had elected them, and by inference saved them, and offered the evidence for that knowledge in vv. 5f.
As far as that evidence is concerned, he says, "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake." Paul uses the term "our gospel" not because he made it up or that it is his product in some way, but, because God had called him and the other apostles out of darkness into His marvelous light and had set them apart to preach the gospel. Indeed it was and is the gospel of God (Rom. 1:1) while being at the same time the message given to Paul and indeed to us. In that sense, it is our gospel. The gospel is the message the King has given us to deliver. Our message to a lost world is that Christ died for sinners and rose again according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3-4). We are heralds of the good news of God's salvation in Christ.
When evaluating the quality of his supposed converts, Paul points out a number of dynamics. First, he points out that this gospel came to the Thessalonians not in word only. This dynamic is the first piece of evidence pointing to their election. They did not receive the gospel in word only. They did not view it as a mere human message. They did not hear it and then discard it. The gospel was God's message to them and it changed their lives. They became doers of the word and not hearers only (Jas. 1:22).
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