We are not called to win souls to Christ
I received a comment on another blog post of mine with the following comment: “Our soul [sic] purpose is to spread the Gospel and win souls to Christ.”
Instead of writing a ridiculously long reply-comment (that is off topic to the point the commenter was making) to this one sentence, I decided instead to make this a blog post instead in order to 1) address this sentence and why I disagreed with it, and 2) This is a topic I think many people haven’t thought through, and I wanted to share my thoughts and get people’s feedback on it.
First, I am not sure whether this sentence is meant to say our sole purpose for existence, or our sole purpose as Christians (and I assume this person meant to type sole, as in “only”, not soul, as in “an immaterial, eternal aspect of a person” unless of course this person meant “our soul’s purpose” which would have a different statement altogether), but either way I am not sure that I can agree with this statement. If we take it as the purpose of our existence, I do not believe that this sentence describes our sole purpose. I would say that our main reason or the main purpose for our existence is to be in a loving relationship with God.
Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40 cf. Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18). This seems to me to indicate that we are created to love God and have a loving relationship with Him. Part of that loving relationship involves love others as God loves us, and I think that part of loving others as God loves us involves sharing the good news that Jesus Christ has made it possible for us to have relationship with Him and be forgiven of our sins because of his death on the cross and resurrection. Even if this sharing of the gospel is a major part of our purpose, I do not think that it is the sole purpose of our existence, because it is only one part of a loving relationship with God.
Even if it is only meant that this is our sole purpose as Christians, I still have to disagree, because I do not think it our purpose to “win souls to Christ.” I believe Oswald Chambers put this point well in My Utmost for His Highest when he said, “Jesus Christ did not say, ‘Go and save souls’ (the salvation of souls is the supernatural work of God), but He said, ‘Go . . . make disciples of all the nations . . . .’” [Chambers, Oswald, Reimann, James. My Utmost For His Highest: An Updated Edition In Today’s Language : The Golden Book Of Oswald Chambers. Grand Rapids, MI : Discovery House ; 1992. Print.]
It seems to be a common belief among many evangelical Christians that we are called to win souls to Christ, but I think it is rather the work of the Holy Spirit to bring people to belief in Christ. I believe it is our jobs to love people and share the truth with them. We are called to live like and become more like Christ, and part of living like Christ is loving others and sharing the good news of the Kingdom of God, and so we must speak the truth of Jesus Christ into their lives. It is not our job, but rather the Holy Spirit’s job, to convict them of the truth that we share with them and ultimately bring them to the point to and grant them salvation. If they accept this truth and become followers of Christ, it is then also our jobs to help them grow by discipling them, but as Oswald goes on to say, “Yet you cannot make disciples unless you are a disciple yourself.”
This mindset, that it is our job to wins souls is the same kind of mindset that has led missionaries in the past to use coercion to convert people to believe in Jesus either at sword-point, or by playing on their need for medicine or food. This is where the term “rice Christian” comes from, referring to people who are told they can get the medicine or food they need if they will only convert to Christianity. The only reason they convert to Christianity is out of a need for food or medicine, rather than out of a genuine desire to embrace the faith. If it is our goal to win them over and convert as many as possible, rather than simply trying to love and witness the truth of Jesus Christ to them, then this and many other unethical or semi-unethical means of accomplishing that end can (key word “can.” not “will”) be justified in a person’s mind.
This kind of mindset can even take place among children, where some Christian youth isolate and bully non-believers, calling them “sinners,” “heathens” and other such names while telling them they are going to burn in hell forever because they are not Christians themselves. I remember seeing this depicted on an episode of Weeds, where Shane Botwin goes to a Christian summer school and is bullied by a group of Christian children because he doesn’t believe in God. “Don’t you know you’re going to go to hell?!” yells one boy, and another punches him because he doesn’t believe in God and won’t give in to their bully tactics.
This is the kind of thing that can and does happen when kids are taught that it is their job as Christians to convert their peers, rather than to love and witness to their peers. When conversion, or “winning souls” is the goal, rather than love and truth, bully tactics can be justified because, after all, a little bullying now can save a soul from eternal hellfire later, so why not? Granted, I do not think many (if any) think this point explicitly, but the point is, these are the kinds of things that can happen when we have the wrong mindset, and children who do not know better can succumb to such otherwise unethical tactics for the “good” of their peers.
I do not believe that Jesus tried to win souls over either, but rather, I believe He loved people for who (and as) they were, spoke truth into their lives, and told them about the good news of the Kingdom of God, that it was being initiated by His life, evidenced by His ministry of miracles, and fulfilled by His eventual death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Sometimes the truth that He spoke was a hard truth for those listening to hear, and some who heard it walked away rather than accept this incredible man as the Messiah. One thing we need to remember is that Jesus allowed them to walk away (Matthew 19:16-22). He did not force them to believe, and he did not pursue those who turned away from the difficult things he said.
This brings me to another problem with the mindset of “winning souls to Christ,” which is the watering down of the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news, but it is not an easy thing to hear or accept if we are truly listening to the things that Jesus is calling us to do and to be. There are a lot of hard truths recorded in the gospel accounts, and Jesus calls us to a very extreme way of living. If our goal is to win souls to Christ, we can fall into the habit of watering down what Jesus actually said in order to “win more souls” that would otherwise turn away from the gospel if it were presented the way Jesus presented it.
We tend to make the sayings and commands of Jesus simpler, easier, less confrontational towards the sins we cling to, with the hopes that those who hear a diluted version of the Gospels will come to Christ, rather than letting them understand exactly what it is they are getting themselves into. We need to let them know exactly the kind of life Jesus is calling them to up front so that they can count the cost of following Jesus. In Luke 14:25-27 we see one of those hard saying of Christ, where He tells those present that if they do not hate their family and friends, even their own children, when compared to their love for Him, they cannot follow Him, and immediately after in 28-34 we are told to count the cost before building the tower, because if we start building a tower but do not have what it takes to finish we shall be mocked and will become like the salt that loses its saltiness, useless even for the manure pile!
I once heard Francis Chan speaking of this flavorless salt, and he said, “Do you see what Jesus is saying? He’s saying you may look like salt, you may be another body in this pile, but if you don’t have the flavor to go all the way with me, to pick up your cross and follow me, …Then what use would I have for you? …Jesus is saying you would ruin crap! …cause I have use for that [crap]. At least that can fertilize the soil.” Check out the video of this at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-3EcHMLP2qE (which is the video I am quoting from) where you can hear Chan talking about this difficult passage. It is an excellent clip of Chan describing what happens when we have many in the church who did not count the cost prior to becoming Christians. We need to count the cost ourselves, and allow others to hear what it really takes to follow Christ, rather than accept a watered down gospel and become flavorless salt, so useless that they would even ruin crap!
Rather than “win souls to Christ,” I believe that our goal/purpose as Christians is to present the undiluted truth of Jesus Christ to those around us as we love them and strive to follow Christ, allowing ourselves to be molded into His image. This is why I came up with the motto/catchphrase “#SpeakTruth #SpreadLove #FollowChrist” (as I use it on Twitter) which I believe sums up our role or “job” as Christians.
We must #SpeakTruth to those around us and not try to water down the gospel so that it is easier for others to swallow, because by doing so we are not allowing them to be humbled by the words and life of Jesus Christ and presented with their own sinfulness and need for his saving grace. Instead, when we give them the simplified, or watered down version we are presenting a false gospel and not allowing them to count the cost of discipleship before they begin the journey of following Jesus Christ.
We must #SpreadLove, because this encompasses the two greatest commandments of loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. We should be speaking the truth while we share the love God has so graciously poured out onto those around us.
Finally, we must #FollowChrist because this is what Christianity is all about, and if we are not truly following Christ, not striving to be more like Him by being His disciple, surrendering our right to ourselves to Him, then we cannot expect to help others find and follow the one we are not following ourselves. As Oswald said, “you cannot make disciples unless you are a disciple yourself.”
I am sure that there are plenty of good-hearted and well-intentioned Christians out there who believe we are called to “win souls to Christ,” and maybe they do not or have not fallen into the problems as I have presented them here. I am not trying to attack anyone or their ministries/outreach, I am merely trying to say that our focus needs to be on Christ and having a loving relationship with Him (out of which will come a desire to share the good news we have and make disciples), rather than being focused on the lost, and their need for Christ. Yes, the lost do need Christ, but it is not our jobs to convert them, it is our job to #SpeakTruth and #SpreadLove as we #FollowChrist, and if we are doing that, the Holy Spirit will use us and the love and truth we share to convict the hearts of those whom He has called, and will bring them to faith in the only name with the power to save, Jesus Christ.