It is often the case that the sinner finds himself in difficulties concerning salvation without knowing precisely what they are. Just as a sick man knows that he is sick but may not know why, so the sinner may be unable to come to Christ without a true discernment of the real difficulty. The evangelist will find a prayerful study of the recorded cases of conversion helpful in this respect—who, for example, has not noticed the great difference between the upright Pharisee of John 3 and the immoral woman of John 4, and the skilful way that the Lord brought both into blessing? Is it also not instructive that those who were healed in the Gospels were suffering under a wide variety of diseases, though sin was at the root of each? Being able to ‘put one’s finger on the problem’ is what often leads to conviction, and, ultimately, conversion.
We are not left to blunder after our own fashion in dealing with interested persons. If, as every godly soul ought, we have fed upon the Word of God, then the Holy Spirit will bring to mind what is required for each situation that presents itself. We are not asked to argue with people, but to reason with them out of the Scriptures (see Acts 17: 2, 17).
If the enquirer does not believe in God, then the Bible tells us that “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Ps. 14: 1). God has not called us to prove His existence to sinners, but simply to bring to their attention what He has said.
When the enquirer says that he is an agnostic (one who says that it is impossible to know with certainty about God), the Bible replies “for from [the] world’s creation the invisible things of him are perceived, being apprehended by the mind through the things that are made, both his eternal power and divinity,—so as to render them inexcusable” (Rom. 1: 20). Neutrality has a superficial appeal in that it respects all views—apart from God’s of course.
Sometimes the enquirer denies being a sinner, or denies the existence of sin—not uncommon in the modern world, where morality is viewed as relative and not absolute, and can be adapted to ‘the times’. Scripture tells us that it is a sin not to believe on Christ (see John 16: 9).
The enquirer may claim to be moral and upright. What saith the Scripture: “For as many as are on the principle of works of law are under curse” (Gal. 3: 10). Note that it is not speaking about breaking law, but about being under law. Thus if I present myself as living up to some standard of morality, then that in itself puts me under a curse.
A great many will claim to be ‘No worse that anyone else’. They may well be right, but the Bible tells us that that is not the issue. The point is “there is not one that practices goodness, there is not so much as one” and that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3: 12, 23).
Some believe all will be saved, and thus hope that in the meantime they can live as they please. On such speculative sands will men rest their futures instead of the rock of revelation! Scripture most certainly speaks of two companies, one lost and one saved, between whom “a great chasm is fixed” (Luke 16: 26).
A great many more examples could be added, but we have also to deal not only with unbelievers but professors! In the parable of the sower (see Matt. 13:3–9; 18–23) we see a number of apparently positive responses to the Gospel, with progressively more growth in each case, but only one sort that resulted in fruit for the sower. Here again, spiritual skill is needed in discerning the real from the false, of which Acts 8: 13–24 is a sobering example. Some supposedly ‘come to Christ’ without any apparent conviction of sin, many take up Christianity merely on the back of an emotional experience, or some profess faith simply because of an intellectual conviction that the universe is designed. Great skill is needed in providing the needed word to meet each of these cases. Our reasoning, however, needs to be founded upon the Word of God, for it is only the words of that book that the Holy Spirit will use in convicting power to lead souls to Christ. Am I then, a vessel that He can use—a vessel in which Scripture already has found a lodging place?