The Greatest Work In The World!

By Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe | 1972

There are many good things that a man can do in the world today. But I have a conviction that the greatest work any of us can do is to help lead people to Jesus Christ. You do not have to be a “full-time Christian worker” to be a soul-winner. In fact, many of our greatest soul-winners are dedicated men and women who hold “ordinary” occupations, but who use every opportunity to witness for Christ.

We use the word “soul-winner” so often, and yet I wonder if we really know what it means? Perhaps it would be helpful to us if we discovered from the Bible just what a soul-winner is and what he is supposed to do. As I was studying this subject, I was interested to find many pictures of the soul-winner in the Bible; and I want to share some of these pictures with you.

The soul-winner is a shepherd.

“Let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).

James is speaking particularly about Christians who may stray from the truth, but his words also apply to the lost. If it is important for us to guide wandering believers back into God’s way, how much more important it is to guide unbelievers! We are shepherds, out seeking the wandering sheep. “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). If the lost sheep is left to himself, he will die; and if the lost soul is left to himself, he will perish forever.

Here is one reason society is in a mess: people have strayed from the truth. It was a gradual thing. First men questioned God’s truth; then they criticized it; then they ignored it; then they laughed at it. The world would rather believe lies than face God’s truth, in spite of the fact that these lies are leading men to death.

Jesus told the story about the shepherd who went out into the wilderness to find the lost sheep. What a beautiful picture of the soul-winner!

“But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed,
Nor how black was the night that the Lord went through,
E’er He found His sheep that was lost.”

The most important characteristic for a shepherd is love. The Good Shepherd so loved us that He laid down His life for the sheep. Do we love lost souls enough to search them out and share the Good News with them? Or are we so wrapped up in our own plans that we do not have time to think about the other person? We are supposed to be shepherds who help to guide the wandering back into the fold.

The soul-winner is a hunter.

Proverbs 11:30 says, “He that winneth souls is wise.” That word “winneth” has the idea of “catching, as a hunter catches an animal.” We are supposed to “capture” souls!

In many ways, the lost sinner is just like an animal. Jesus said to Saul of Tarsus, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 9:5). What is a goad? It is the sharp stick that the farmer uses to prod his lazy animals. God was “prodding” Saul; He was treating Saul like a stubborn animal! The lost sinner is just like a stubborn animal: he wants his own way, and yet he does not realize that his own way leads to death.

Just as it takes love to be a shepherd, so it takes skill to be a hunter. It takes skill to “capture” lost souls. The hunter is careful not to frighten the animal. He is very careful not to permit his scent to be carried to the animal. I wish more Christians were that wise! Too often unsaved people “get the scent” from the church and know all the things that are going wrong! We Christians must be very careful not to get in the way of the wind, but to let the “wind of the Spirit” blow as He desires.

Hunters will use different approaches in capturing animals. Many different kinds of traps are mentioned in the Bible, because you cannot use the same approach with different animals. Too often you and I use the same approach with every lost person, and we wonder why we often fail. It takes skill to be a hunter, and it takes skill to be a successful soul-winner.

The soul-winner is a fisherman.

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Christ called four fishermen to be disciples—Peter, Andrew, James, and John. And remember that fishing was not their hobby; it was their life’s work. To them, catching fish was not fun: it was a matter of life or death!

Do you know why Jesus called four fishermen? Because fishermen know how to stick with the job and get it done. You will rarely see a fisherman sitting around doing nothing. He is either casting his nets, or cleaning his nets, or repairing his nets. He is always wrapped up in fishing. So it is with the soul-winner: he is always involved in witnessing—and he stays at it! The most important thing about a fisherman is his ability to stick with it, because fishing can be a very difficult and disappointing vocation.

Too often, we “fishers of men” give up too soon. When the going gets tough, we decide to head for shore and give up fishing for a while. We sit around and discuss fishing instead of heading out to the depths to let down the nets! One preacher has suggested that most Christians have ceased to be fishers of men. Instead, they are owners of beautiful aquariums, and they spend most of their time moving the fish from one tank to another!

In Bible days, fishermen had three methods of fishing: hooks, spears, and nets. Peter let the hook down and caught the fish that contained the money for the taxes. If you plan to use a hook, be sure you have the right kind of bait, and be sure you stay alert so you know when the fish is there! It takes real skill and patience to use the spear, but this is a good way to get fish. Just keep your eye on the one you want, and spear him!

But the best way is the net, because you can catch more fish that way. It requires several men to use the nets; soul-winners must learn how to work together. To be sure, not every “fish” will be a good one. Jesus warns us that the net will contain all kinds of fish, some good and some bad (Matthew 13:47-50); but the presence of the bad fish is no reason for us to reject the good fish. Not every fish we catch for the Lord will be a true believer, but many of them will; and the more we try to catch, the bigger will be the percentage of true believers.

If we are going to bring souls to Christ, we must be like the fishermen that Jesus called: we must have persistence. Only God can give the catch, no matter how hard we may toil. And let’s remember that only God knows how big the catch is! Let’s not get so wrapped up in numbers that we forget how important one individual soul is to Jesus Christ.

The soul-winner is a harvester.

Jesus tells us to “look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest” (John 4:35-38). It takes all kinds of workers to have a harvest: people to plow, people to sow and water, people to fight weeds, and people to reap the grain. But all of them are a part of the harvest! This is why soul-winners are compared to harvesters: we need to practice cooperation. Not compromise, but cooperation, a willingness to work together.

There is no end to what God will do for the Christian who does not care who gets the credit. The important thing out in the field is not competing for attention, but reaping the harvest. We are laborers together, and each one must help the other.

God has given us some marvelous tools for harvesting the grain: radio, television, literature, cassettes, computers, and a host of other tools. We are not to use these tools to impress each other, but to gather in the harvest. I fear that too often we harvesters are using the sickles on each other instead of on the grain! It is discouraging to see how one Christian attacks another Christian, or one worker criticizes another worker; and all the time the harvest is going to waste. One of the basic laws of the harvest is partnership: one sows, another reaps, but God gives the increase.

The soul-winner is an ambassador.

“Now then we are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Imagine! We are God’s ambassadors! This certainly puts dignity into this business of winning souls! Instead of apologizing when we witness for Christ or make a visit in a home, we ought to act like dedicated dignitaries, sent by God—because that is exactly what we are! “As my Father hath sent Me, so send I you” (John 20:21).

As ambassadors, we have been chosen and commissioned; and our task is not to preach ourselves, but to represent the One Who sent us. “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord” (2 Corinthians 4:5). We represent Him, and we carry His message of peace. When an ambassador is sent to a foreign country, all his needs are met by his government, and he is protected by their armies. So with us: God has promised to meet all our needs, and His protection is our assurance of victory. All that the government asks is that the ambassador be faithful, and that is what God asks of us.

God is not at war with the world, but the world is at war with God. Our task as ambassadors is to tell the world that God loves sinners, Christ died for sinners, and that men can be reconciled to God. One of these days, God will declare war on the world; but before that happens, He will call His ambassadors home! While we are waiting, let’s be faithful ambassadors, representing Jesus Christ in the way we live and the words we speak.

The soul winner is a fireman.

“And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire” (Jude 23). “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” (Zechariah 3:2).

The lost soul does not have to die to be in the fire; he is in the fire of condemnation right now! “He that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3:18). Lost people are already living in the “suburbs of hell,” yet they think their life is wonderful! Our task is to pull them out of the fire, because they are unable to save themselves. In other words, soul-winning requires urgency.

Perhaps this is why many Christians avoid trying to win souls: it is a bit risky to put your hands in the fire! Certainly soul-winners get “burned” occasionally but it’s worth a few scars to rescue somebody from eternal fire. Sometimes the situation gets a bit “hot,” but we must keep right on witnessing, because God may use us to snatch some precious soul out of the burning. And God has promised to be with us when we go through the fire, so there is really nothing to fear.

The next time you look at a lost soul, remember that he is already in the fire of sin and judgment. The worst is yet to come! Sin has so numbered him that he does not even feel the pains in his soul, and this is what makes his situation so tragic. Oh, the urgency of it! We must reach into the fire and help to pull them out! As those angels took hold of Lot and pulled him to safety out of Sodom, so we must lovingly snatch the brands out of the burning, before it is too late.

The soul-winner is a witness.

“If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; if thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not He that pondereth the heart consider it? And He that keepeth thy soul, doth not He know it? And shall He not render to every man according to his works?” (Proverbs 24:11-12).

The picture here takes us back to an Old Testament Jewish village. Here is a man who has been condemned to die. The elders are taking him outside the village to stone him to death, and you see the man as they go by. And you know that the man does not deserve to die! You have the one piece of evidence that will save his life! What are you going to do?

Some of us might say: “Well, I don’t want to get involved.” Or, “It’s too late to do anything now.” Or, “Who am I to tell others what to do?” God says, “Excuses! Excuses that will cost a man his life!” As soul-winners, you and I must be witnesses who have honest concern. It must burden us that men and women are being dragged off to judgment! It must concern us that we have the one message of life that can save them! The time has come for us to stop making excuses! Christ has left us here to be His witnesses, and our witness is the only thing that can save sinners from eternal death!

What does it take to be an effective soul-winner? It takes the love of a shepherd, the skill of a hunter, the cooperation of a harvester, the dignity of an ambassador, the urgency of a fireman, and the heart concern of a witness.

Let’s ask God to make us the kind of Christians that He can use to win others to Christ. Winning souls is the greatest work in the world—the most rewarding work in the world—the work that God blesses and that brings Him glory for all eternity!

______________

“Copyright © Moody Church Media. Used with Permission. www.moodymedia.org

Starting a Conversation

In a previous post titled “What is Evangelism?”, the following definition of what it means to evangelize was presented:

 “To evangelize is to present Christ Jesus to sinful people in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come to put their trust in God through Him.”

The article proposed that this definition defined four important aspects of personal evangelism:

1. It defines the mission of the evangelist – “to present Christ”.

2. It defines the primary audience for the gospel message – “sinful people”.

3. It defines the problem the gospel message addresses – “our sin”.

4. It defines the power behind both the gospel message and the response to that message – the Holy Spirit, thus establishing the sovereignty of God in the salvation of men.

Armed with the above definition, and with a burden for a lost loved one, friend, or even a perfect stranger, you are ready to go. How does it start?

First of all, pray – before, during, and after. Pray specifically that God will open hearts to receive the message. And secondly, no matter how you get the conversation off the ground, do so with gentleness and respect. Remember that it is God who saves and that your mission is simply to share Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t ‘force’ a conversation. You could actually enter an ongoing conversation, or you might have an opportunity to initiate the discussion. What follows is an example of the conversation process.

1. Just start talking about a current news item in which somebody did something we all would consider a bad thing to do. Just pick something that’s a hot topic. Once you start talking about it and are agreed that so-and-so did a bad thing, ask…..

2. Why did so-and-so do that? That WILL get an answer. The answer will guide you to the next question. Whatever the answer is it will be what your conversation partner thinks motivated so-and-so to do a bad thing. Whatever the specific answer is, it will automatically lead to the next question. Example might be: “I think he/she must be a bad person.” then ask:

3. WHY/HOW is it that so-and-so is bad? You can get a variety of reasons to lead you to the NEXT question.

The object of the questions is to be able to get to a point of agreement that the real problem is something ‘inside’ so-and-so. Outside influences don’t cause bad behavior. There’s something inside a person that is at issue. In James we are told that we sin when we are drawn away by our own lust/passions. Keep that in the back of your mind.

Once you agree about an internal problem ask:

4. What do you think the internal problem is?,. You can even add ….’and how did you think it got there?’ Regardless of the answer you can inject God into the discussion with something that doesn’t accuse, but rather points out that there’s a book called the Bible that talks about this guy called Adam. You are sharing a story from a ‘source’ document, not preaching. And it keeps going.

Once you agree it very well could be this thing called sin (the bad news of the gospel) you ask another question:

5. What do you think can be done to solve the problem of sin? You know the answer and prayerfully anticipate the opportunity to provide another answer from the same ‘source’ book.

And the conversation continues step by step until you have shared God’s answer from the ‘source’ book. At some point it might be time to consider a response to the message. Then you can say something like “Based on what you have heard so far, do you think you are ready to respond (the gospel must be responded to), or ARE you still on the way?” You very could hear that someone is ready to respond, or you could hear a person say, “I’m still on the way, I guess………”, which keeps the door to conversation open.

Do you see what’s going on in the ‘conversation’? You don’t preach, you PRESENT Christ. You don’t push for anything, you just talk about God’s plan of salvation from a ‘source’ book – the Bible. Asking questions shows you care what someone thinks. And really care. If you don’t weep for that lost soul, pray to God for ‘a weep’. He will give it to you.

My friends, be blessed as you share your Savior!

What is Evangelism?

Many people use the word evangelism in different ways. However, what does the Bible say about this important word? When we look to Scripture, we run into a problem: there is no direct-equivalent word for our English word evangelism in the New Testament. Its origin is rooted in three Greek words:

euangelion—“gospel”—to describe what is said (Mark 1:14–15)

euangelistes—“evangelist”—to describe the person who is telling the gospel (Acts 21:8; Eph. 4:11)

euangelizo— “to proclaim the gospel”—to describe the activity of telling the gospel (Rom. 10:15).

Evangelism, then, is the English term for the act of communicating the gospel, an act conveyed in the New Testament by the verb euangelizo (‘to bring good news’).[i]

The verb evangelize is used over 50 times in the New Testament, including 25 by Luke and 21 by Paul. As stated above, its essential meaning is to announce or proclaim Good News. . The underlying picture is that of a herald or town crier who sounds the trumpet and conveys the news from the king. In that sense, the task of a herald isn’t to express his opinions or ideas, but to deliver his message in the humility of heart that must accompany such authority of speech.[ii]

After years of study concerning what it means to evangelize, this writer’s all-time favorite definition comes from Alistair Begg:

“To evangelize is to present Christ Jesus to sinful people in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come to put their trust in God through Him.”[iii]

What a RICH definition:

1. It defines the mission of the evangelist – “to present Christ”.

While it doesn’t tell us exactly what to present about Christ, the Apostle Paul did in one of letters to the church at Corinth. He defined the gospel as being of first importance, and “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…” (1 Cor 15:3). My friends, that is the core of the gospel message, the GOOD NEWS!

2. It defines the primary audience for the GOOD NEWS – “sinful people” who have yet to trust in Christ as the solution to the problem of sin.

3. It defines the power behind the proclamation of the GOOD NEWS – “the power of the Holy Spirit”. The Holy Spirit is the power behind both the proclamation of the Gospel, and the power behind a genuine affirmative response to the message of the Gospel.

4. It defines the goal of our evangelistic efforts – that “they (sinners) may come to put their trust in God through Him”. That sinners would realize their sinful condition and genuinely trust in Christ for forgiveness is the desired response to the message we proclaim. A ‘genuine’ response is one that pours forth from a God-opened heart (See Lydia in Acts 16), and one that is not the result of our ‘powers of persuasion’, whatever that might look like.

Simply put, our part in evangelism is to faithfully present Christ as the answer to problem of sin. It means that we need to talk about the BAD news (the problem of sin), followed by the GOOD NEWS!

When we look at what passes as presenting Christ in today’s evangelical environment, it seems clear that the bad news concerning sin, and the need for repentance, have all but been forgotten entirely! If you think that a mistaken notion, just listen/watch just about any sermon from any of today’s popular pulpits/stages while asking the question “Where’s Paul’s gospel?

When it comes to our personal efforts at sharing Christ, it’s always easier to talk about what receiving Christ means in terms of temporal and heavenly benefits than it is to share the bad news that at times drives people away. But remember Lydia. God opens hearts to hear the what we have to say, both the bad news and the good news.

What can be done to best prepare us for personal evangelism? For this old guy, there’s a simple two-part answer.

1. KNOW Paul’s gospel!

2. Ask God for 1) tears for the lost and 2) that He would open the hearts of those with whom we share His Son


[i] Jeremy Bouma, ‘What is Evangelism?’

[ii] Alistair Begg, Crossing the Barriers, Lesson 1

[iii] Ibid.

Presuppositional Apologetics and Personal Evangelism

Sounds rather ominous, doe it not? Really deep stuff! Well, not necessarily. First, let’s define our terms.

“Presuppositionalism is a school of Christian apologetics that believes the Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. It presupposes that the Bible is divine revelation and attempts to expose flaws in other worldviews. It claims that apart from presuppositions, one could not make sense of any human experience, and there can be no set of neutral assumptions from which to reason with a non-Christian”.[i]

 To evangelize is to present Christ Jesus to sinful people in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come to put their trust in God through Him.”[ii]

We all have presuppositions, certain beliefs or assumptions with which we enter discussions. They frame our thoughts about a matter as well as our argument. In matters of personal evangelism, it means that we believe what the Bible tells us about ourselves as human beings, as well as what it has to has to say about lost sinners. We let those truths guide us in our sharing of the good news.

So, what does the Bible tell us about ourselves as human beings? For me, the two most significant facts are found in Romans, Chapter 1.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of (fallen) men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” (Rom 1:18-19) Emphasis mine.

First, since fallen men are full of ungodliness and unrighteousness, they are subjects of God’s wrath. Secondly, fallen men know that God exists, yet the suppress the truth in their unrighteousness. In other words, God doesn’t believe in atheists.

With that truth in mind, what else the Bible have to tell us about those with who we desire to share the gospel? We’ll share just a few.

1. They don’t seek God.

 “As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom 3:10-11)

2. They hate God and can do nothing to please him.

For the mind that is set on the flesh (the only mind the sinner has) is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:7-8) Emphasis mine.

3.  They cannot, in and of themselves, even understand the gospel!

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:14)

“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4)

 

So how does this affect our evangelistic efforts? There are several ways:

1. If all of us, by nature, already know that God exists, we do not have to ‘prove’ the existence of God. In fact, some would suggest that if we engage in proving the existence of God to an unbeliever, we are presenting a ‘case for God’ and making the unbeliever the ‘judge’.

2. If it’s true that the unbeliever is living in rebellion against the God he/she knows exist, that person by nature also hates God’s gospel. We are actually presenting the gospel to someone who doesn’t want to hear it.

3. If it’s also true that the unbeliever, in his/her natural state, cannot even understand the message of the gospel why do we present it at all?  I tell you why I do.

You see, along with believing what the Bible says about us as fallen creatures (our presuppositions), I also believe that God saves all those whom he has chosen to save in exactly the same manner (another presupposition). Don’t worry, I’m not going to get into a long dissertation about the doctrine of salvation. But I do believe that there are two ‘steps’, if you will, in God’s saving of sinners.

1. God opens hearts to hear the gospel.

2. God sends a messenger to present the gospel to that divinely opened heart.

Do you remember Lydia in Acts, Chapter 16? Paul and company went down to a river outside of Philippi looking for a place of prayer and there was a small group of women already gathered there. Paul spoke to them and we are told:

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14) (Emphasis mine.)

In short, God opened Lydia’s heart to hear the gospel, sent Paul as his messenger to present that gospel and Lydia was baptized (along with her household) and invited Paul & company to stay at her house!

 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” (Acts 16:15)

We don’t need to be told specifically that ‘Lydia was saved that day’; the text speaks for itself. God had a purpose ion opening her heart and God’s purposes cannot fail.

So, what does that mean for personal evangelism? It means that we have the great privilege to be God’s ‘gospel’ messengers. Our job is to ‘get the gospel right’ (Christ died for our sins) and share it with others. Our prayer for the lost is simple. “God, open their hearts to hear.”

We don’t need to try and pry open hard hearts with clever presentations. We don’t even need to ask people to open their own hearts. They can’t. That’s God’s business. Unless God opens a heart to hear the truth of the message, our words are just words. But when God opens a sinner’s heart and the gospel is heard, salvation happens.

In summary, presuppositional apologetics –  believing what God says about fallen men and believing what we are told about how God saves sinners actually simplifies our evangelism. Our ‘work’ is knowing and being faithful to the gospel message (See 1 Cor 15:1-5) and being available to share that message as God leads us. No tricks, no gimmicks. We’re not ‘salesmen’. We’re simply messengers. It is God who saves sinners!


[i] John Frame, 2006

[ii] Alistair Begg, Crossing the Barriers

The Parable of the Sower and Bad Evangelism

by John MacArthur

One of the dominant myths in evangelicalism is that the growth of Christianity hinges on its popularity. The idea that more people will repent if only the preacher were cooler or funnier invariably causes the church to suffer through a ridiculous parade of entrepreneurial types who act as though their personal charm can draw people to Christ. But you cannot manufacture converts by changing the message or stylizing the messenger.

This error leads to the harmful notion that a pastor’s conduct and speech should be shaped by the culture in which he ministers. Many preachers have such strong cravings for cultural acceptance they are actually willing to alter God’s message of salvation in order to achieve it. Subjects like sin, guilt, and repentance are regularly jettisoned so as not to offend or alienate non-Christians.

Such compromises do nothing to increase the church’s witness within the culture. In fact, they have the opposite effect. By creating celebrity preachers with synthetic gospels they only succeed in filling churches with unrepentant sinners. Instead of making the world more like the church, such efforts only succeed in making the church more like the world. This is precisely what Christ’s teaching in Luke 8:5–8 was designed to avoid.

The Nagging Question in Evangelism

The disciples, having a genuine burden that others would believe, must have been astounded that the masses were not repenting. The problem wasn’t Jesus’ ability to attract an audience—the crowds were huge, often numbering in the tens of thousands. But very few were repenting and embracing the Savior. The disciples’ own expectations of a global kingdom without end (Isaiah 9 and 45) were faltering. It must have been easy to lay the blame at the indicting, hard, demanding message that Christ preached (cf. John 6:60-61).

The Lord responded to the rising tide of doubt by telling a series of parables about evangelism. A year before He would give the Great Commission, Jesus told His first parable about a farmer sowing seed:

The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great. (Luke 8:5–8)

This agricultural illustration is a paradigmatic explanation of what evangelism should look like. It is designed to answer the fundamental evangelistic question: Why do some people repent and believe the gospel while others reject it?

The Invariable Sower

Luke 8:5–8 is commonly known as the Parable of the Sower. But that popular title is indicative of the widespread confusion we see today regarding its interpretation and application. The parable isn’t about the sower.

What is surprising about the farmer in the story is how little control he actually has in the growing of crops. There are no adjectives used to describe his style or skill.

In a subsequent parable (Mark 4:26–29) Jesus states that he who sows the seed is actually ignorant of how the seed transforms itself into a mature plant. After sowing the seed, the farmer “goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know” (Mark 4:27).

This ignorance is not unique to the sower in Christ’s parables but rather is true of everyone who sows. The growth of the seed is a mystery that even the most advanced farmer cannot explain. And that reality is the key to understanding the Lord’s first parable.

Jesus explained that the seed is the gospel or “word of the kingdom”, the farmer is the evangelist, and the soil represents the heart of the hearer (Matthew 13:19). The evangelist scatters the seed—that is, explains the gospel to people—and some of those people believe and receive life. How this happens is a divine mystery to the evangelist. One thing is clear, however: though he is the human means, it does not ultimately depend on him. The power of the gospel is in the working of the Spirit, not in the style of the sower (Romans 1:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Peter 1:23). It is the Spirit of God who raises souls from death to life, not the methods or techniques of the messenger.

The apostle Paul understood this principle. When he brought the gospel to Corinth, he planted the church and left it in the care of Apollos. Later he described the experience this way: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). God was the one who actually drew sinners to Himself, changed their hearts, and caused them to be sanctified. Paul and Apollos were both faithful, but they most certainly were not the explanation for the supernatural life and growth. This truth caused Paul to say, “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7).

This runs counter to the notion that the results of evangelism can be influenced by the cultural assimilation of the pastor or the style of music used at his crusades. The preacher who thinks designer jeans will make his message more palatable is akin to a farmer investing in a designer seed bag so that the soil will be more receptive to his seeds.

Jesus intentionally highlights the farmer’s lack of influence over the growth of the seed. The entire parable makes the statement that as far as evangelism goes, it simply does not matter what the evangelist wears or how he does his hair. Such externals are not what makes the seed grow. Anyone who argues that a preacher who imitates a particular segment of culture is better able to reach that culture, has completely failed to understand Jesus’ point in the parable.

All the farmer can do is sow, and all the evangelist can do is proclaim. As a preacher, if I thought someone’s salvation was contingent upon my persuasiveness or relevance, I could never sleep. But instead I know that “the Lord knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19). It is not coincidental that the New Testament never calls evangelists to bear the responsibility for another person’s salvation. Rather, having proclaimed the message faithfully, we are called to rest in the sovereignty of God—much like the farmer in Mark 4:27 who sleeps through the night after a day of scattering seed.

Christ’s description of the farmer provides the biblical model for evangelism. The evangelist must plant the gospel seed, without which no one can be saved (Romans 10:14–17). Then he must trust God with the results, since only the Spirit can give life (John 3:5–8).

The Invariable Seed

Not only is the farmer’s style irrelevant to the success of his crops but Jesus also does not suggest that the sower should alter his seed to facilitate growth. And this absence of discussion about the seed directly corresponds to evangelism. Jesus assumes that Christians will evangelize using the true seed—the gospel.

Most preachers outwardly profess that the gospel is an unalterable non-negotiable, but that doesn’t stop them from subtly softening its sharp edges. Modern gospel presentations frequently portray God as indifferent to sin and not its judge; the sinner as the victim, not the offender; the cross of Christ as the remedy to frustrations and unfulfilled dreams, not the propitiation for our sins; and a divine endgame that revolves around our temporal happiness, not our eternal state.

One of the primary refrains about evangelism today is that the church needs to update the methods without altering the message. But if we’re not faithfully preaching the truth about man’s sinfulness, God’s grace and mercy, the sinner’s need for repentance and faith, and the completed work of Christ, we’re not protecting and preserving the gospel message.

Believers are sternly warned in Scripture against tampering with the message (Galatians 1:6–9; 2 John 9–11). If a frustrated evangelist looks at how difficult his task is, or how closed his culture seems to be to the gospel, the problem is not with the faithful messenger or the true gospel. Rather, it lies in the nature of the soil into which the true seed falls.

Thus the sower and the seed are constants in Christ’s parable. The only variable is the soil—the receptivity of the hearer. And in the days ahead, we’ll take a closer look at the characteristics of each soil type we’ll find on our mission field.