The Holy Spirit awakens sinner’s hearts to God, but he employs the righteous in bringing them to Christ. It would be easy to say God needs none of us and can save those who choose him independent of us—then sit back and do nothing. Yes, he could but he has obligated himself to need our help, to use sheep to produce new sheep.
And then I wonder… Is it possible for me to cause an awakened soul to reject God—and before you discard the notion, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic, The Cost of Discipleship, warns us about the danger of offering “cheap grace” to sinners that converts them but strands them inside salvation’s gate without suggestion of further discipleship.
If the quality of our teaching and preaching can inhibit spiritual growth, could it not also be possible that we or our presentation of Christ turn some away from Jesus except the Holy Spirit rescues them? Conceivably yes and it’s a sobering thought. We possess a grave responsibility laboring with God for the lost, and it should cause us to examine our lives, beliefs, and spiritual competence.
Jude on Evangelism
The final verses of Jude convey some remarkably rich and practical wisdom about how to approach the lost: “And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives” (vs. 22-23, NLT).
According to Jude, a one-size-fits-all evangelistic approach doesn’t work, and he’s right. Many of us grew up in the “fire and brimstone” days and in either-you’re-in-or-you’re-out folds. And I’m not knocking these people and this heritage because, well, it’s still holiness or hell.
But I also understand that times have drastically evolved. Speaking the “unchanging gospel to an ever-changing world” is different from what it was just twenty years ago, and it’s something we really need to think about more deeply, especially as it relates to our methods, involvement, creativity, and content.
Seekers and Scorners
Jude shows us three types of people we will encounter in evangelism. The first are those with doubts or whose faith wavers. I’ll call them seekers, although they may or may not be in search of God. These people will hear the gospel without resistance and may be searching for spiritual significance. They sometimes have weighty questions about life, personal significance, spirituality, and philosophy, which deserve to be heard and answered well.
Jude explains that we should be gentle and patient with this kind. In fact, some may need coaxing out of timidity and to be loved or shown truth and led away from false teaching. They are not yet entrenched in doctrine or vices that would cause them to fight the gospel or regard the church with disdain. Show these individuals compassion.
The second type of people, whom I’ll call scorners, is the opposite. Their sinful hearts are proud and resistant to the gospel, perhaps antagonistic. The patience and wooing that characterize converting the seeker is impossible with the scorner. Jude explains that this kind must be rescued from their own ignorance.
Although we must never frighten people into a decision for God (and certainly no genuine decision), scorners must be warned and shown how their sin and defiance offends the Lord. They have no clue that they are walking off a precipice into hell and must be mercifully yanked away from destruction…snatched from the fire.
Keep Yourself Untainted
The third type of people I will call the shameless. The implication from Jude is that these folk have lived in an unrestrained, or licentious, way. Jude’s instruction is to again show mercy, but he includes a warning to the laborer about the extent of the mission with these individuals. It should not involve one’s enticement to or participation in a person’s sin or with that person. We should genuinely love one while hating the ravaging effects of their sin, yet we must never cross the line and defile ourselves.
It is easiest to minister to people with whom we once associated because we understand their lifestyle and can access them. But ministry to our old friends and acquaintances is prohibited if it provokes the slightest temptation.
“Becoming all things to all people” has become cliché these days; however, we must also be careful for our own souls. Satan is devious and Christians can be taken advantage of by him. Yet we should not deceive ourselves and think we’re resistant to old habits when we’re not.
We would do well to heed Jude’s advice. Honestly, his counsel is basic and the least we must do to prove any acumen with the gospel. We can only better assist the Holy Spirit given the many tactics working to stop people’s salvation.
Read Reflections on Evangelism for a detailed treatment of the subject.