By Ben Merold
I am in favor of most of the new approaches to evangelism. As our culture changes, we must learn to apply new methodology to remain effective. Many of the new methods have brought much needed change and I am not writing to criticize any new idea. However, some things should never change. I’m referring to some very important facts that must be included in the conversion of people to Jesus Christ. Without the inclusion of these facts, we will fall short of the biblical concept of evangelism.
Use the Bible
The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and that same Holy Spirit will work through the Scriptures to convict people of sin and lead them to the Savior. People must be faced with their “personal lostness.” They must be made to realize that without Christ, they are condemned and under God’s wrath.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Only by conviction of sin will people feel the need of repentance and sense the urgency of salvation.
All of this can be brought about by biblical preaching and teaching. Yet many will not understand their need of a Savior until someone approaches them on a one-to-one basis to teach them, from the Bible, that they are sinners and that Jesus Christ wants to be their Savior. The use of the Bible is imperative to the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion. This never changes.
Only One Way
If there were several ways to be saved, we could let people make a choice. However, there is but one way and Jesus emphasized that fact. He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Nothing else works. Salvation is found only in Jesus Christ. “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11, 12).
By Grace Through Faith
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
People do boast! Most people believe their goodness outweighs their badness and this makes them right with God. Usually they are quick to speak out about this belief. But when grace is fully explained and when they are taught that this grace is received only by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, they are likely to humble themselves and accept the gift of God. An understanding of grace is the only thing that will compel people to put their trust in Jesus Christ—to the exclusion of everything else. The importance of the doctrine of grace never changes.
Decision for Christ
The presentation of the gospel demands a decision and while there are many ways to extend the invitation, the requirements for decision remain the same. There is a New Testament plan of salvation and it can be outlined with the words faith, repentance, confession, and baptism.
Sometime between the years 1822 and 1830, evangelist Walter Scott introduced an uncomplicated approach to accepting Christ as Savior. He presented his so-called “five finger exercise.” Beginning with the thumb, he would list these items on the fingers: (1) faith to change the heart; (2) repentance to change the life; (3) baptism to change the state; (4) remission of sins to cleanse from guilt; (5) the gift of the Holy Spirit to help make one a partaker of the divine nature.
I have heard slightly different variations of Walter Scott’s “five finger exercise.” However, let’s face the fact that the exact same words were not used every time the plan was repeated but the basic teaching remained the same.
This approach was accepted because it was, and still is, New Testament teaching. I regret that Walter Scott did not include “confession of faith in Christ.” Yet I know that many preachers believed it was impossible for a person to truly believe in Christ without confessing that belief. In fact, New Testament baptism was also viewed as a confession of faith.
So these things never change in evangelism. We need to use the Bible, point people to Christ and the cross, explain the grace of God that comes through faith in Christ, and hold to the New Testament way of personally accepting Christ as Savior. Who would want to change them?
Ben Merold is Minister-at-Large at Harvester Christian Church in St. Charles, Missouri.