By Charles G. Goodall
To be saved one must first become convinced he is lost. For us to teach someone what he needs to do to be saved, we must ourselves be convinced that an individual is lost. Jesus came into the world to save that which was lost...all mankind. (Matt. 18:11) Jesus did not come into the world to provide a better economy, a better world order or a better place to live. He came into the world to save the lost. That included you and me.
There is nothing that man can do on God’s earth more important than save his soul. Jesus raised a rhetorical question in Luke 9:25, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?” Yes, it is important to get an education, get married, launch a career and have a family. None of these, though, are as important as saving our soul! What good are these considerations if you go to hell?
If you obeyed the gospel and became a Christian you will never do anything in your life more important than that. If you fail to obey the gospel your whole life was totally wasted (II Thess. 1:8) as far as your own concerns and well being. If by chance you did some good along the way that others benefited, and consolation might be taken for that (Phil. 1:15-18), that only adds to the tragedy of the wasted life. To paraphrase the concept of Luke 9:25, “For what profit is it if you do a lot of good, but lose your own soul?”
The most difficult thing to understand in teaching on the gospel is not that a false religion is wrong. Modern religions are so absurd when compared to the scriptures even a child can understand that the denomination under discussion is not even a 32nd cousin to the N. T. church described in the Bible. It has been my experience that when comparisons have been made between the Biblical order and that devised at the councils of men a prospect generally will acknowledge that there is no comparison.
That which is difficult is to bring them to the understanding that their obedience to these false religions places them among the lost. To some this is dealt with as a sort of academic exercise from their perspective. It affects them sort of like someone presented them with the Democratic party philosophy when they are a Republican. Or presented them the pro-choice view when they are opposed to abortion. They take the presentation in stride as the reality of the pluralistic world we live in and friendship is none the worse. My conviction is that when the gospel is presented in the right manner and the prospect rejects it this is the way it ought to be. Overwhelmingly that has been my experience.
Nevertheless, there is that point in which it has to be made clear that it is our conviction the person is lost and why. That is so difficult for us to deal with. We really don’t have any problem with our conviction about their state. We obeyed the gospel and became Christians long ago. We understand when we were baptized into Christ we were added to the Lord’s church established on the day of Pentecost.
We understand that only those who did the same thing are members of the church of Christ and entitled to salvation (Eph. 5:23). We even accept the exclusiveness and uniqueness of that position. That is, Jesus did not establish any of the denominations that came along 1500 years later with their humanly devised plans of salvation and human creeds. We have heard all of this preached for years and understand and firmly believe that Jesus will not save any of them. (Matt. 15:9, John 12:48)
For many brethren, as far as their life outside the services is concerned, the above situation is the best kept secret in the world. It is the biggest obstacle that gospel teachers have in reaching the lost. We have no problem with understanding that our friends and those we work with are lost. We just can’t bear to let them know that we consider them lost. Our solution is to never discuss anything that might let them know that we believe they have no hope, never bring them to services where the preacher might mention that and by all means never provide any kind of setting, like a home Bible class, that might lead into that.
Somehow we have rationalized that if we live righteous before them, and speak of Jesus like they do that is consistent with God’s will. In doing that we treat them as if they are Christians and we accept their treatment of us as Christians even though the whole interaction is a façade. They never learn of our real convictions about their salvation. That is, they are without God and without hope even though they are honest and sincere and more zealous, loving benevolent and spiritual than a lot of our brethren.
There is a vast difference in these two postures and perspectives. One is in a false religion believing a damnable doctrine and going to hell. The other has the truth according to the Bible and knows that he is a Christian and his friend or fellow worker is not. Yet, not a word is spoken about that. Why? There are various reasons. Perhaps some are are even quite complex. Maybe our own feeling of inadequacy prevents us from being the one to make the move. Perhaps there are struggles with sin in our own lives which the other person may have knowledge of. Maybe it is our own lack of confidence in our ability to handle the situation by not knowing enough and, therefore, not following through. It could be avoidance behavior like you don’t discuss religion for the same reason you don’t discuss politics. We may even assume that we might lose a friend.
A young woman I know was told by her husband, who was struggling with problems in the marriage, that he had a problem with her dear friend. He told her he would go to services elsewhere with her but not where she attended with her friend. She refused to leave her friend and he left the Lord. Her friend to her was more important to her than the salvation of her husband.
On the other hand, it could be that as a Christian we are just ashamed of the gospel and the Lord Jesus Christ. “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38) Let’s be honest. If one never gets around to letting his friends and/or fellow workers know that it is his conviction that they are lost because of their false teaching, not only is one not being a friend (a total rejection of the golden rule) to his acquaintance, but this demonstrates he or she is ashamed of the gospel as well.
Oh yes, we do strongly believe our friends and fellow workers are lost in denominational religion. For the most part, though, we seem to not want them to know that. So salvation and the church are not topics of discussion. However, school, work situations, shopping, ball games and children are discussed at length. We would never bring the Lord up in a beauty shop or barber, but we would discuss any or all of the above.
We keep our friends from finding out what we believe about Christ and the gospel by not generally inviting them to services. Preachers are known for having no qualms in speaking out along those lines. Not only that, he doesn’t publish his sermon topics in advance, so it is a great risk to bring them to services. That might turn out to be embarrassing and unbearable should he imply that your friend is lost.
Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” (Romans 1:16) Yes, the good news of the gospel carries with it giving the bad news to the lost. When we reveal that, we can expect persecution. “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (II Tim. 3:12) To try to live in this world and not bear the cross of Christ by confronting the lost is not living godly because it is adopting a lifestyle that avoids the cross of Christ and the persecution that accompanies it. “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.’” (Luke 9:23) Bearing the cross of Christ will always bring persecution. Bearing the cross is what it means to be a Christian. Do your friends and fellow workers who are in denominationalism or institutionalism with whom you associate a great deal, do they know that you consider them lost?—lost enough to go to hell? If not, according to the apostle Paul and the apostle Peter, what conclusion can one make other than that you are ashamed of the gospel and not living as a Christian should. Yes, the one who tries to tell others that they are lost invites reprisals and suffering, even the loss of friendships/relationships held dear, but this is the price one invites by exposing the lost to their “lostness.” “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.”(1 Peter 4:16)
Charles G. Goodall presently preaches for the Westview congregation in Hartselle, AL. He serves as an elder there as he has in two previous congregations. Prior works have been in Brooksville and Bartow, FL, then Nebraska Ave. and Forest Hills in Tampa, FL. Goodall taught at Florida College in the duration. He has authored several publications, including In The Same Hour Of The Night and Evangelizing The Lost. He has published articles from time to time in several of the brotherhood journals. His wife, Vernita, manages the CEI bookstore in Athens, AL and has a monthly page in Truth Magazine. They have three children and nine grandchildren. You can contact him at email@example.com.