I have a large collection of tracts, and very few of them actually give a clear evangelistic message. Today’s blog comes from my response to yet another tract that uses the Book of Romans. My thanks to Charles for sending it to me. The tract is called The Romans’ Map to Heaven (Romans’ Map). Charles attached a post-it note on which he had written, “A sad, but entertaining tract I got at a local First Baptist Church.”
Most Romans Road tracts include primarily verses from Romans, but also some verses outside Romans. Popular verses that are added from outside of Romans include John 1:12 and Rev 3:20.
Romans’ Map only has verses from Romans, making it fairly unique. It has verses from Romans 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 10 (including Rom 10:9, 10, 13).
If you read the tract up to the closing prayer, you’d think it was saying that in order to be saved from eternal condemnation you must “confess…the Lord Jesus” and believe that “Jesus alone cani save you.” Yet when you get to the end of the tract, you find a sinner’s prayer that brings in several elements that are not mentioned in any of the verses cited in the tract. I found that jarring.
Here is the suggested salvation prayer:
Dear Heavenly Father, I know I am a sinner and need your forgiveness. I believe that Jesus died for my sin. I am willing to turn from sin. I now ask Jesus Christ to come into my heart and life as my personal Saviour. I am willing, by God’s grace, to follow and obey Christ as the Lord of my heart and life. Amen.
The material in italics was not discussed in any of the verses cited in the tract. All of that is stuff they introduced out of thin air. None of the verses cited spoke of being willing to turn from sins. (And why only a willingness?) None spoke of asking Jesus Christ to come into one’s heart and life. None mentioned the idea of a personal Savior. The idea of being willing to follow and obey Christ was not in any of the verses they cited, either. (And again, why only a willingness?)
Imagine you are an unbeliever and you read this tract. If you thought about it, you’d wonder why the prayer at the end deviates so much from the verses cited. And you’d wonder why you need to pray to be saved. None of the verses quoted talk about praying some prayer in order to be saved.
The problem with a tract like this one is not simply that it adds things at the end that are not found in the verses cited. That is a bad approach. But worse is the fact that the things it adds are not accurate.
Have you ever mistakenly typed the wrong address into your GPS? If so, you were surprised when you did not end up at your intended destination. A misleading evangelistic tract is like that. It does not provide a map to heaven.
In order to be saved from eternal condemnation, one must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for the gift of God, everlasting life (John 3:16; 4:10; Eph 2:8-9). Romans’ Map says nothing about everlasting life or being saved once and for all.
Here is a suggested last paragraph: If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for what He promises, everlasting life that can never be lost, then you will be saved not just for now, but forever (John 3:16). No matter what you do or fail to do in the future, you will be saved once and for all (John 11:26). You cannot contribute to your salvation by turning from sins, committing your life to Christ, or doing good works (Eph 2:8-9). The sole condition is believing in Jesus. If that seems too simple to you, why not pray about it. Ask God to show you if that is true. You might want to read a chapter a day of John’s Gospel as you continue to pray for God’s guidance. He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6).
Note well, however. Even if that was the closing of this Romans’ Map tract, it would still be a confusing tract because none of what is said in that closing is found in the verses they cited. The Bible is our source of truth, not our words in the closing paragraph. If the closing paragraph does not convey what the Bible verses cited say, then the tract is inaccurate and confusing.
As Zane Hodges and Steve Elkins show in their respective commentaries on Romans, the words save and salvation in Romans always refer to deliverance from God’s wrath in this life, not to deliverance from eternal condemnation. They show that when Paul wishes to speak of the issue of our eternal destiny, he speaks of justification and of imputed righteousness (Rom 3:21-4:25).
So, if we wanted to write an evangelistic tract only using Romans, we would talk about justification, not salvation, and we’d focus on the justification section of the book. These three verses from Romans might be helpful in an evangelistic tract: “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to Him for righteousness.’ Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness…” (Rom 4:3-5). However, even those verses fail to mention the Lord Jesus Christ. Abraham believed God concerning the coming Messiah (John 8:56-58; Heb 11:10). So, you’d also need to include a verse like Rom 3:22, “…the righteousness of God [is] through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.”
A person can be justified by believing the justification message in Romans. But once an evangelistic tract wanders outside that section, it is in danger of confusing people. Besides, Romans is not an evangelistic book. If we want a tract that only cites verses from one book, the best choice would be the Gospel of John. We could have a tract that contained nothing but quotes from the Lord Jesus Christ.ii And John’s Gospel is evangelistic (John 20:31).
Keep It Simple, Saint!
i Notice it says that Jesus can save you, not that He guarantees to save you if you meet the condition. And it does not say that the condition is believing in Him for that guaranteed salvation.
ii We have a tract that does that. It is called You Can Be Eternally Secure, by Bob Bryant and Zane Hodges. See here to order. (A pack of 25 is $5.00.)