“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:18)
“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness…He will guide you in to all truth.” (John 16:8,14)
I hear Christians often proclaiming, “I [or someone else] led this person and that person to the Lord.” While it is true many say this innocently, because they hear it said so often by others and repeat it without giving it much thought, such proclamations reveal a troubling characteristic of today’s Christianity I’ve mentioned many times over the years: the lack of a healthy fear of God. Do we lead anyone to Christ? I don’t believe so. There are passages that speak of the concept of us preaching to others in the process of them being converted. Preaching in the Greek [kerusso] means to herald, proclaim, or publicize. It does not mean the same thing as leading [Greek: eisphero]. We can sow seeds God may use by preaching to them, serving them, or keeping them before the throne through prayer.
But is it not God alone who sends us, gives us the words to preach, the hearts to serve, and the concern to pray in the first place? While there are several instances where people claimed to preach to people, or teach them, nowhere in the New Testament will you find the concept of one person claiming to lead someone else to God, only God leading people to Himself. Paul captured this when he said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6). Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32). The Writer of Acts said, “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” (Acts 2:39-40).
It is God alone who provides two powers none of us can possibly supply critical to the salvation of a soul. The first is conviction. John the Baptist proclaimed it, and “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” was Jesus’ first sermon preached. Paul said, “The kindness of God leads you to repentance” (Rom 2:4). Without repentance salvation is not possible, and without the conviction only God sends in to the life of the sinner repentance is not possible. Anyone who has preached the Good News to another unredeemed soul has experienced both the receptivity of one who is under conviction, and the futility of trying to reach one who is not.
Many years ago I witnessed to a young lady like no one I had witnessed to before, or probably after, because I had hopes of marrying her. Everything about her was perfect, except the one thing that mattered most. One evening as I was continuing to try to persuade her she grabbed me, looked into my eyes, and said, “Mike, I know if I died today I would go to hell, and what you have been trying so hard to convince me of is the truth. I believe everything you have said, but I’m just not ready. So please stop. I don’t want to hear any more of it.” There was nothing more I could say, do, or pray for her because the Spirit was not convicting her of sin, and the need of a savior.
The second power the Spirit alone can bring to the table is the openness of a heart. In Acts 16 we read, “A woman named Lydia…was listening, and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” Once the Spirit has convicted us, that same Spirit who knows our hearts better than we do opens them to receive, and then respond to, the words spoken to a seeker through a minister. Only God opens a heart, and only God convicts a heart once opened. No man convicts a heart, and no man opens a heart. Without either of these phenomenon taking place, salvation is simply not possible.
We can preach until our tongues hang limp, serve until our arms have no more strength, and live a life of perfect piety before both God and man in our efforts to evangelize. Yet, if the target of our affections is not feeling the conviction of the Spirit within, and then opening their heart to our testimony and our witness, it is all “striving after wind.” Does that mean our preaching, serving, and prayers are all futile? By no means! We do not know whether any person is being called by God or not. What is certain is we are commanded to preach, serve, and pray. Ours is simply to be obedient to the Great Commission, and leave the job of leading and increase up to God.
Be very careful you give the credit where the credit is due. We lead no one to God. The Lord alone draws all men to Himself, calls men to Himself, shows the kindness that brings about repentance, opens hearts to the message, and brings men to Himself. Indeed, “no one comes to the Father except through Him.” It is only the arrogance of modern Christendom, and the lack of a healthy fear of God brought through its form of evangelism that has led so many astray, that now leads them to erroneously and naively believe they lead people to God. Let us carefully consider our ways, fear God and give the credit – all of it – to the One who deserves it.