A lot of Evangelicals suggest that before we share the promise of everlasting life to the one who believes in Jesus (or, as the Lordship Salvation person would say, to the one who commits his life to Christ, obeys Christ, and perseveres in obedience), we must first convince the person we are talking with that he/she needs salvation.
Of course, this can be awkward. Imagine this conversation:
Dave, do you feel you need to be saved?
What do you mean, Bob? Are you saying I’m not a good person?
No, not at all. I’m asking if you sense a need to be saved from eternal condemnation in hell.
Why do you assume I’m afraid of going to hell? I’m not.
Well, Dave, do you believe in hell?
As a matter of fact, I do. However, I believe it will be unconscious torment. So, I’m fine with being unconscious for eternity. Besides, I think I have a good shot at making it to heaven.
Dave, why do you think you might make it to heaven?
Look, Bob. I know you mean well. But who appointed you my judge? This issue is between God and me.
Fifteen minutes later, the conversation ends. Badly. I never even mentioned anything about believing in Jesus or the promise of everlasting life. We were caught up in talking about hell and eternal torment. Worse, Dave thought I was being confrontational and judgmental. I probably made it difficult to talk with him again about Christ. Maybe I should have come at this from another angle. Let’s try that again.
Dave, do you know that you are sinner?
What do you mean, Bob?
Well, do you know that you violate God’s laws every day?
Really? What laws are you talking about? I know I’m not perfect, if that is what you mean. But I’m not rebelling against God.
No, Dave. I don’t mean that you are intentionally rebelling. I mean that you break God’s commands all the time. I’m talking about God’s commands against lying, stealing, cheating, immorality, drunkenness, and so forth.
So, you think I’m a liar, thief, cheat, immoral person, and alcoholic? Thanks a lot, Bob. I thought we were friends.
No. I’m not saying that you are a bad person. We are all sinners.
So, Bob, are you a liar, thief, cheat, immoral person, and alcoholic?
Well, Dave, that’s not what I mean.
Okay. Good. So, what do you mean?
Fifteen minutes later, I wish I’d not tried this approach either. Again, I never mentioned that the one who believes in Jesus has everlasting life that can never be lost.
Well, maybe I should turn to Scripture to see how the Lord and His Apostles convinced people that they needed salvation.
But wait! The Lord and His Apostles did not do that. At least not all the time. Often, they just presented the promise of eternal life to the one who believes in Jesus.
Consider Jesus’ interaction with Nic at Nite in John 3. Not once does Jesus mention Nic’s sins, or Nic’s being a sinner. Nor does He try to convince Nic that he is spiritually dead. He just starts right out and says, “You must be born again” (John 3:3, 5). That may not be the way we do it today. But maybe it should be. Jesus went on to say that whoever believes in Him will not perish but has everlasting life (John 3:14-18).
How about Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4? The Lord didn’t talk to her about hell or spiritual death either. Nor did He try to convince her she was a sinner. He did bring up the fact that she had had five husbands, and she was currently living with a man who was not her husband. But He did tell her about His promise of everlasting life which He gives to all who drink His living water. He went on to convince her that He was the Messiah who guarantees that everlasting life. Once she realized He knew all about her, she came to faith in Him.
In his Acts 13 sermons, Paul preached Christ and the promise of everlasting life to those who simply believe in Him (13:38-39, 46). He did not seek to convince his listeners that they needed salvation (though see the warning in Acts 13:41, which is really a warning that they reject Paul’s preaching of Jesus as the Messiah to their own peril). He said, “to you the word of this salvation has been sent” (Acts 13:26). If they did not realize that they needed salvation, as most of his audience did not (see Acts 13:46, “you judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life”), then that is their problem, not Paul’s.
In Paul’s interaction with the Philippian jailer, it is obvious by the jailer’s question that he recognizes his need to be saved (Acts 16:30-31). The same with Peter’s interaction with Cornelius and his household in Acts 10 (see Acts 11:14). The need was already present. But if it was not, as was often the case when they evangelized people, they did not always think it was necessary that they create that need in them.
Some might object. Didn’t Paul tell the philosophers in Athens about coming judgment in Acts 17:31? Yes, he did. But in the first place, his message there was pre-evangelism, not evangelism. Paul didn’t mention salvation or everlasting life or faith in Jesus. In the second place, he did not try to convince them that they are sinners. He assumed it when he said, “God has commanded all men everywhere to repent.” But he did not mention any of their sins, other than idolatry, which he did not specifically call a sin. Nor did Paul mention hell or eternal condemnation. In the third place, even if he was raising a need here, that was certainly not always the case.
The Lord told the disciples in the Upper Room Discourse that when He left, the Holy Spirit would “convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:7-11). Is that true? Does the Holy Spirit do that? For the whole world? Yes, yes, and yes.
Others might object that 1 Cor 15:1-11 is implicitly calling for believers to tell others of the need of salvation. But a closer look at that passage shows that the salvation in 1 Cor 15:2 would only continue if the believers in Corinth continued to hold fast to the gospel which Paul had preached to them. In other words, the salvation in 1 Cor 15:2 refers to being spiritually healthy. Compare 1 Cor 5:5. Believers are only spiritually healthy if they continue to abide in the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Salvation from eternal condemnation is not in view in 1 Cor 15:2.
Of course, it is true that Paul does mention “that Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor 15:3). But by mentioning that to the believers in Corinth, Paul is not saying that we must seek to show people that they need to be born again. Paul is not talking about the new birth in this passage. Rather, he is saying that the message of Jesus’ death for our sins and His resurrection is vital to our spiritual health. We cannot abandon gospel truth and be healthy. Paul said, “some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor 15:12). How terrible for believers to say such a thing (cf. 1 Cor 15:17-19).
God is at work in the lives of people all over the planet, convincing them of their need of everlasting life. Nowhere do we read in the Epistles that we are to try to do that. And we find examples in the evangelistic ministries of Jesus and His apostles where they did not do that.
Let’s tell people the truth: the Lord Jesus Christ freely gives everlasting life to all who believe in Him for it. That is the promise of life. It is a simple and powerful message. It is the message which the Lord and His apostles proclaimed. We should too.