“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke19:10
Have you ever tried to get somebody saved who just did not see the urgency of making an immediate decision? Have you ever had anyone pray the sinner’s prayer and just couldn’t seem to get assurance after it? Or worse than that, after praying, they still talked about how they “still would have gone to Heaven anyway, even before praying ‘that prayer.’” What’s the problem? We did not get them lost before we got them saved. In the fifteenth chapter of Luke we have the key phrase—“that which was lost.” Three lost objects are the center of attention—a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. One of the big mistakes of some soulwinners is trying to get a sinner saved before he thoroughly realizes that he is lost.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus tried to reveal man’s lost condition before He revealed God’s salvation. Do you remember Nicodemus, the Pharisee, coming to Jesus by night? Jesus kept pounding away at the truth—“Ye must be born again.” Nicodemus was a good man who needed salvation. The more moral or religious a person is, the more we must emphasize the depravity of man. You don’t have to prove to a drug addict, gang member, or prostitute that they are lost and deserve Hell—they already know it. Pride stands in the way of people admitting their lost condition. Do you remember the woman at the well? She said, “Give me this water.” Jesus did not say, “Okay, here it is.” He said, “Go, call thy husband.” Jesus knew He had to deal first with the sin issue. Romans 3:23 and 6:23 must come before 10:13! We have idolized Romans 10:13 to the point that it is often taken out of context. It is only applicable when the truth of sin (Romans 3:23 and 6:23) is understood first. A prayer by a person who does not think he needs saving does nothing but waste words.
Salvation is not a prayer. Salvation is from the heart! (See Romans 10:10.) When unsaved people in a church service hear a clear presentation of the Gospel with an appeal to get saved, sometimes they are saved the moment they step into the aisle. The “prayer of salvation” simply confirms their decision. Why pray then? The prayer is claiming the promise of Romans 10:13! It also “nails down” the moment of salvation to keep the devil and doubts away.
Years ago two ladies were out soulwinning. The trainer knocked on a door where a lady answered, “I’m an atheist and don’t believe the Bible,” and then shut the door. They went to the next door. The trainer began witnessing to the next person and realized her “trainee” was missing. A few moments later the sincere, zealous trainee who was unknowledgeable about the Bible doctrine of salvation, returned saying, “She just got saved. I got the atheist to put her hand on the Bible and repeat the sinner’s prayer.” She showed her no Scripture. The atheist didn’t believe the Bible. Words were simply repeated. No salvation took place. Now don’t get me wrong. “I’d rather a Christian do that than not try to witness at all, but better yet is the soulwinner who works at getting them lost so they can clearly be saved!
Scripture says, “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ” (Galatians 3:24). Why is the Law in both Exodus and Deuteronomy? God wanted to emphasize and define the penalty of sin. D.L. Moody had a favorite sermon with four parts:
1. Man is lost and going to Hell.
2. Man can do nothing to save himself.
3. God does not require man to save himself.
4. Jesus did it all.
In years gone by, before the media and modern transportation, the average family farmed and stayed near home. Revivals were a big thing where entire communities came. They had much time to think about the sermons they heard. That is why Jonathan Edwards, Billy Sunday, George Whitefield, John Wesley, and others saw so much conviction with people weeping and crying aloud for mercy! The people realized they were totally lost—then totally saved.
We live in a day in which there’s little guilt for sin and little repentance. Jesus is thought of as someone who simply “brings happiness.” He is treated as an “additive to your life.”
Jesus was very gentle in leading openly wicked sinners to Himself (the woman caught in adultery, the Maniac of Gadara, etc.). But He was very hard on the Pharisees, scribes, and hypocrites. Do you remember the rich young ruler who came to Jesus? He said he had kept all the commandments (he lied). Jesus then put His finger on the idolatry in this man’s life—his riches. Did Jesus want him to be saved? Oh, yes! But He had to first get him lost. The rich ruler would not admit his lost condition and left sorrowfully.
How would a grown man in a four foot swimming pool feel about you diving in and dragging him to shore so he wouldn’t drown? He could resent it. But take the same man in treacherous rapids going under for the third time and he will welcome the rescue. We’re in no race to run people through the Gospel verses. Take your time to get them lost first!
Do you remember when Felix trembled as Paul witnessed to him? He realized his lost condition. The thief on the cross knew he was lost and was easily won to the Saviour. Can you imagine boarding a jet and the stewardess requiring you to put on a big back pack parachute? People would complain and be irritated. Why? Because planes rarely crash. When we get on, we don’t believe it is going to crash.
Now, take the same group of people after the pilot notifies them of engine trouble and a possible crash and see how easily received the parachutes are! There will be no complaining about how they look, their weight, or discomfort. So it is with the lost—once they realize their lost condition and danger of Hell, they easily take the parachute of salvation. By the way, once a person has the chute on, if the stewardess spills coffee on them it’s no reason to try to take the chute off! Salvation cures our biggest problem and dwarfs our other trials.