Do you know anyone who still uses the term “soul winning”? Perhaps it has fallen out of favor among 21st century evangelicals. And if so, I believe that to be a modern tragedy, for it is a Biblical expression that accurately describes the most important task of anyone who names the name of Christ.
The most often quoted verse to support this phrase is Proverbs 11:30, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.”
But what exactly does it mean? Charles Spurgeon answers that question in his classic work, “The Soul Winner”. Let’s take a look at his definition of the phrase and see if we can learn anything from one of the great preachers of the 19th century and apply it to the 21st century.
Spurgeon describes soul winning (i.e. evangelism) as consisting of three main activities: instruction, emotion and regeneration. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
Soul-winning is all about teaching the truths of the gospel to the unsaved. Jesus told the apostles to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them” (Matthew 28:19-20). In other words, if we are not teaching, we are not evangelizing.
This emphasis on teaching raises the obvious question: Teaching what? Jesus gives us the answer to that question in Luke 24:47, the parallel passage to Matthew 28:19-20. He told the apostles they were to preach “repentance and forgiveness of sins”. Paul also answers the question when he told the Corinthians that “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23) and that he was sent by Christ “to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17), which he outlines as the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
Biblical evangelism is first and foremost the clear articulation of Biblical truth regarding 1) the sinful and lost condition of every human being; 2) the deserved wrath of God upon humanity because of our sin and His righteousness; 3) the death of Christ as the only possible way for God to both save us from the penalty of sin and satisfy the justice of God; and 4) the necessity of repentance and faith as the required human response to appropriate the God’s offer of forgiveness through Christ.
We cannot merely rattle off sound doctrine with little or no concern for our fellow man. We must not only teach, we must teach in such a way that people are emotionally moved by the manner in which we present the gospel message. Evangelism is not the rote recitation of a doctrinal statement. Like Jesus, when we engage someone in a discussion about spiritual things, we do so because of our compassion for him/her (Matthew 9:36).
If we truly believe what we are saying, people we see that and even feel that in our non-verbal communication. And the end result will be that they, too, are deeply affected by not only our words, but our person. Evangelism isn’t just proclaiming truth, it is also the giving of our very lives to people.
And if a person responds in genuine faith and repentance, his/her emotions will also be affected. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10), so if a person has little or no remorse over his sin and its consequences, it is likely that any profession of faith is bogus.
The work of evangelism, while done through weak human vessels, is solely and ultimately the work of God. The new birth can only come about when the Holy Spirit convicts the sinner of his sinful condition, brings that person from a state of spiritual death to one of life, and enables the repentant one to turn from darkness to light. Salvation is the work of God from start to finish. May we never lose sight of the miraculous nature of soul winning, for there is only One who can capture a soul, and that is King Jesus.