Angry. Frustrated. Confused. Disappointed. Discouraged. All of these adjectives and more describe the feelings of many Christian leaders and lay people as they observe the lives of those who have supposedly come to Christ but then have not gone on for the Lord. Are they or are they not saved? If they are saved, why haven’t they “gone on”? What do you tell them?
To begin, we must maintain common sense and perspective because the lack of commitment found in the Christian community is not a problem unique to believers but a problem across the board today. Employers tell me they are having the greatest problem they’ve ever had in finding committed employees. They find many want the paychecks and the pensions but not the pressure or the work. Leaders of educational institutions have told me that students today are far less committed to what they want to do with their lives than they were even ten years ago. Christians don’t have a corner on the “lack of commitment” market. Even James admitted that Christians can let the world affect them instead of they affecting the world (Jas. 4:3).
Let’s also be careful not to tamper with the gospel. Well-meaning Christians are adding everything a Christian needs to be or do to the gospel presentation as an “insurance policy” in an attempt to solve the problem. Not only do they muddy the gospel by obscuring the grace of God, without meaning to do so, they can easily lead an unsaved person, whose mind is blinded (2 Cor. 4:3-4), to depend on Christ and righteous behavior for entrance to heaven. That can be eternally damaging since a person is never saved until he has trusted Christ alone to get him to heaven. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
There are basically three reasons why some don’t go on. One is that many who profess Christ have never come to know the Lord. Because the gospel has not been clearly presented, they have not placed their trust in Christ and His finished work on the cross as their only way to heaven. In many ways, we are today suffering the consequences of our own sloppiness in evangelism. We have hurriedly told people to say a prayer, “Come forward,” “Accept Christ,” “Give your life to God,” or “Invite Christ into your heart,” without making clear what salvation is.
People are saved when they come to God as sinners, trust/believe that Christ died to pay the penalty for all of their sins, that He rose on the third day, and depend exclusively upon Him for eternal life. Because the gospel has not been clearly presented, many know the language but not the Lord. Instead of depending on Christ to save them, they are depending on a prayer they said, a good deed they did, a religious act, or an aisle they walked as their means of salvation. We may be part of the problem. Our carelessness in evangelism has caught up with us!
Lack of proper follow-up is a second reason some don’t go on. A Christian leader said to me, “I never thought of doing anything with a new convert except inviting him to church.” Give new converts enough lack of personal attention, and though genuinely saved, some will lose interest and zeal.
How did the Apostle Paul deal with new believers? He wrote, “As a nursing mother cherishes her own children” and “as a father does his own children” (1 Thes. 2:7, 11). Repeatedly we have discovered in our crusades that the results are fantastic when we pair a new believer with an old believer who works with him at least once a week for several months or even years. Take that warmth, encouragement, and personal concern out of the picture, and a new believer may become detoured in his Christian growth. He can be disheartened by ridicule from relatives, bad habits that keep plaguing him, and Satan’s many temptations.
The third reason some don’t go on is because Christians are saved sinners. We are saved, but we are still sinners. Hence, our lives and lifestyles can become as nauseating as those of the believers mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5 and 6 who were guilty of immorality and taking one another to court. Interestingly enough, Paul never doubted their salvation but rebuked them as believers (1 Cor. 5:9-12; 6:6, 8). Is their sin excusable? No! But unfortunate as it is, in a day that is prime for evangelism, Satan is working overtime to cause Christians to fall into sin.
What’s the answer? Evangelism and follow-up demand four things: prayer, patience, thoroughness, and sensitivity. We should pray for ourselves that we will be clear in presenting the message. Pray for new converts that they will grow. Pray! Pray! Pray!
We need patience. If you are not sure someone understands, give the Spirit time to work rather than rush the person into a false profession. After he’s trusted Christ, be patient as he takes out of his life what should not be there and puts in what should be. Don’t become impatient and give up if everything doesn’t change immediately. It took some of us years to change.
Be thorough. Review the gospel. Make sure the simplicity of the message is understood. After they are saved, go back over the gospel again. You may lead someone to Christ on the second visit who you thought trusted Christ on the first visit. There are those you will deal with who claim to understand and later realize they didn’t.
Be sensitive. Listen to what the person is saying but watch also his facial expressions, questions, and responses. Maybe he’s not sure Christ is the Son of God but hasn’t told you that. Maybe he’s still confused but doesn’t want to say so. He’s afraid you might think him stupid. Maybe he’s attempting to come to Christ just to please you instead of out of an awareness of his sinful condition.
We dare not approach people in evangelism and follow-up without those four items. There will always be those who don’t go on for the Lord as we would wish. The New Testament says there are such people (Heb. 5:12; 2 Thes. 3:14-15). But let’s make sure that we are not part of the problem. True, we cannot feel responsible if the one we are dealing with “dropped the ball” and didn’t do his part, but let’s make sure we’ve done ours.
Dr. Larry Moyer