Testing the Spirits in Evangelism
By Chester (Chet) M. Schmear
The most God-honoring and lasting act of kindness one person can do for another is to attempt to lead that person to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. When we share the gospel, we are engaging in spiritual warfare. Satan tries to "blind the mind" of the unbeliever; he snatches away "misunderstood" truths (Matt 13:19), which the Christian tries to implant in the unbeliever’s heart with the Sword of the Spirit, namely the Word of God.
However, in order for the unbeliever to be able to receive the gospel, he must have a prepared mind. No one receives the Savior unless he is convinced by the convicting work of the Holy Spirit that he needs a Savior.
Because of the muddied ways in which the gospel is sometimes presented, coming to faith in Christ can take years, as was my case in 1973 when I first heard the gospel at the age of 27. My heart was humbled and fearful—convinced by faithful witnesses and the Holy Spirit that I deserved the flames of hell. With tears of thankfulness streaming down my face, I knelt in front of the television as the TV evangelist had told me to do, and "asked Jesus into my heart," believing that He died for all my sins and rose from the dead. I thought I was saved. I told people I was saved. I gave my testimony in church.
But I wasn’t saved! The people in my church were not sensitive to "testing the spirits." They did not lovingly challenge me to see if I really understood the gospel. They didn’t even react to my problem when I made statements of doubt to them. Unknown to them, in my mind I still had a performance clause attached to the gospel. Since all my sin struggles had not gone away and I still failed at times, I would say, "I must not be saved." Unbiblical clichés such as, "give your life," "make a commitment," "ask Jesus into your heart," etc., also added to the confusion. Well-meaning but misguided people would tell me, "You are saved, you just don’t understand." But someone who "doesn’t understand" the gospel is not saved. As time went on (over a year), I finally understood that Jesus died for all sins—past, present, and future—not just all past sins. I also understood from Romans 7 that even Paul continued to struggle with sin and failed at times. Like Cornelius in Acts 10, I was seeking truth, walking in the light that I had. At last I had true salvation and the assurance that it always brings. I finally knew for sure that I had eternal life simply by faith in Jesus and that that life could never be lost no matter what happened in the future.
Now, almost 30 years later as a pastor, I try to make sure that everyone in our church is not only saved, but equipped to "test the spirits." Like the early church, we evangelize in the marketplace—fairs, busy street corners, parks, airports, malls, etc. We set aside Tuesday nights, Friday nights, and Saturday afternoons for evangelizing in these marketplace areas where people gather. We distribute approximately 50,000 gospel tracts a year.
But we don’t just hand out tracts. When we hand people tracts, we quickly ask them, "Are you a Christian?" This is the beginning point of "testing" the spirits. We listen carefully to their responses and then, based on those responses, continue to ask questions.
Regardless of the response (the number one answer people give is to tell us what denomination they belong to), we then ask, "If you died today, where would your soul be—heaven or hell?" If he says, "Heaven," we ask, "Why?" His answers will begin to reveal if, in fact, he is saved. (If he says "I hope to go to Heaven," then we know he lacks assurance. Still, we proceed to ask how he hopes to get there.)
He might say, "Because Jesus died for all my sins." This sounds encouraging, but because we know many people think that only those who do well ultimately get to heaven, we continue "testing." We might ask, "If you were not baptized or refused to ever take communion again, would you still go to heaven?" He may respond like some of the people we have talked to, "No, I would not go to heaven." This thorough "testing of the spirits" has uncovered a flaw in this man’s belief. Well-meaning people might think, "Sure he is saved—he just doesn’t understand or has never thought about these questions."
We might say to him, "You said you’d go to heaven because Jesus died for all your sins. But then you said that you wouldn’t go to heaven unless you also were baptized and took communion." He, like some people, may be unresponsive at this point. Or, like Cornelius, if he is walking in the light that he has, he may, after some discussion, say to us with a big smile, "You’re right; it is His death alone that pays for all sins, and all means all. It has nothing to do with my works. Salvation is Jesus’ work alone!" This man may even thank us. He wasn’t saved before because he believed a "works" gospel.
By the way, many churches today are looking at "assurance" or "eternal security" as minor doctrines not necessary for salvation. These doctrines are indeed absolutely necessary for salvation. There is a big difference between "salvation" and "probation."
God the Son did all the work for salvation. He is alive, and He gets all the glory. Now we work because we are saved, not to get saved or to stay saved, or to prove that we are saved. Always be ready to "test the spirits." An eternity may be at stake!