Updated: Jan 27
These are two important questions that must be considered, since Jesus is God and He would certainly know best on evangelizing and whether we should invite. The Bible does tell us. Mark in the Book that marks his authorship, encapsulates the work of the Lord Jesus Christ as:
"Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Mk 1:14-15).
Repentance was the foundation of Christ’s preaching, noted also in the parallel passage of Matt 4:17,
“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Jesus did not invite people to gatherings. Galilee was the most populous of the regions of Palestine. He went there and preached right where the people were. Paul later tells us that "the gospel is the power of God unto salvation" (Rom 1:16).
Sadly not much gospel preaching is happening today. Instead, two other activities occur among those that profess Biblical Christianity: (1) Inviting people to church, and (2) Taking people through a system of verses and repeating a prayer at the end.
Firstly, there isn't one example in the NT of anyone inviting someone to church. We are commanded nowhere to invite the unsaved to gather with the true (supposed) believers in the local church, which is to be the congregation of the saints only (Eph 4).
Secondly, people have reasons why they don't follow the example of Jesus in His work, and some simply haven’t studied it out. Excuses such as “It doesn't work," "People get turned off," "You lose opportunity," "People don't like to have it shoved down their throats." Of course, none of these are Scriptural arguments but pragmatic. Sometimes “if it works, do it" is called "practical,” while obeying Scripture is called "impractical." Many point to results to justify their actions. However, none of us can perfectly judge results.
God always uses the same means to save people—His Word—but He is glorified when we follow the Scriptural pattern. Not doing so is leaning on our own understanding, not acknowledging Him, and then not having Him direct our paths. Who directs the path when we do it our way? We do, of course. Does it work out better when we do it our way? Never. We know that by faith, by believing what Scripture says. Living by faith requires putting aside what we think will work. God sees things in one eternal present. We can't know the damage that using false methodology does. Some might perceive numerical success, then encourage others to do the same since what they’ve done has shown results. In all of this, we are honoured and God is dishonoured and ignored. Preaching the wrong gospel is worse. The ones who invented and then perfected the travesty of corrupt evangelism have made it into a slick business presentation.
Some of the same ones talk about having the power of God in evangelism, and they go out and misrepresent Scripture. The power of God is found in the Word of God (Heb 4:12), the sword of the Holy Spirit (Eph 6:17). Instead, men have taken out repentance, and counting the cost, and denying self, and the message of the Lordship of Christ. 90 times in Acts Jesus is called Lord and only twice, Saviour. Christ's Lordship was the saving message of the apostles. In 2 Pet 2:1, denying Lordship is said to be what most characterizes the apostate. Is it possible that these non-Lordship "evangelists" have simply spread apostasy throughout the land, which explains the many “professions,” and yet so much godlessness.
This issue is really simple. Look at the methods of Jesus and the apostles and follow them. They were not complex. These methods did require studying the Word of God to do real spiritual warfare, to pull down strongholds in men's minds. They required faith and courage. They weren't expensive, except to each individual who was setting himself apart as a Christian in a godless society. The emphasis is no longer going out to where people are and preaching the truth. We know that the preaching of the cross is foolishness to the lost. We can't make true preaching into anything else to them.
The new emphasis today is making the church into something the world will want to visit or the message into something that the world will want to hear, and in so doing, we are dishonoring God, turning men to darkness, glorifying man, and ruining the soil that could perhaps be much more pliant if professing believers had done otherwise.
Sadly, very few do or say what Jesus did in evangelizing, and even fewer, rightly interpret the passages that He preached to evangelize the lost. I think if we want to grow in our understanding, knowledge and wisdom in preaching, we’d be wise to study the preaching of God the Son, and not only Him but also the apostles and prophets.
The question from a man in Jesus’ audience in Lk 13:23 seemed obvious. I would have asked it. “Lord, are there few that be saved?” What did he mean? Jesus’ ministry was almost at its end. He essentially erased illness from the land of Israel north to south, opened the eyes of the blind, cast out demons, raised the dead, and taught like no one ever. He attracted massive crowds (Lk 12:1). You have huge numbers of people listening to an unparalleled speaker who had performed jaw-dropping miracles, so there were also incalculable converts, right? Wrong. The numbers were still tiny, and His followers fewer and fewer, many leaving His side in Jn 6:60-66, and hence this question from those following Him. The believers were still only a small group, what Jesus called His “little flock.” The nation’s leaders rejected Him and most everyone else bought into their lies and slander.
Could it be that today we have massive crowds, but only a relative few are saved? Scripture actually alludes to that, the last days being as the days of Noah (only 8 were saved) and the cities of Lot (only 3 were saved) (Lk 17:26-33). While most churches today exult in the size of their gatherings, Jesus tried to shrink His. They try to lure as many people as possible into one place whether true believers or not, but the Lord repulsed them. Today we find many professors but very few true possessors.
Here’s the answer Jesus gives to the man’s question in Lk 13: “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” (v. 24). With that statement, Jesus would‘ve flunked most personal evangelism courses. Jesus said that we are not to be concerned about the quantity saved but the quality. With true conversions, versus filling pews with mere professors, which fill the coffers. Jesus’ answer to this man is perfectly consistent with what He does and says everywhere in the gospels. “Strive” comes from the Greek, “agonizomai.” You can guess what english word comes out of that word. That doesn’t sound easy, does it? People won’t get into His kingdom who won’t agonize to get there.
He’s not talking about people already saved entering into the gate, even as the question is essentially “why aren’t more saved?” We’re not saved by works, but repentance itself isn’t a work. “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” (Ac 11:18). We come as a little child and that entails that surrender of allegiance. It isn’t a work, but it is volitional, that is, human will is involved. When you read the parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-21), you see an example of the agonizing. When Paul was saved (Ac 9), that was agonizing. Same as the Philippian jailer in Ac 16 and all the others in Scripture.
In almost every way, for decades “evangelical” churches (and majority of Baptist churches) have gone polar opposite of what Jesus did and said. They have changed His methods to invite rather than go or attract unbelievers and altered his message to make it easy on interested hearers and comfortable for false believers. Most often the very truths He taught that spurned the non-genuine and unsaved in His day are left out of today’s presentations. What is most often missing that Jesus emphasized in His evangelism was hating your own life, dying to self illustrated by losing your life and taking up the cross and “counting the cost” (e.g. Lk 14:25-35; 19:12-27; Matt 10:38-39; 16:24-26; Mk 8:34-38; 10:21-30).
He not only wouldn’t leave the hard part out, but He stressed it more than any other. That is noted in His dealing with the lost rich young ruler whom He commanded: sell, distribute, come, take up the cross and follow Me (Mk 10:21). You say, “Don’t we just believe in Jesus Christ to be saved?” Yes, we do. But you can’t believe both in Jesus and in your self. You can’t believe in Jesus plus your idols and materials things and family, or yourself. You can’t believe in Jesus while embracing your sin. You cannot serve two Masters (Matt 6:24). True faith requires true repentance. Jesus always challenged the allegiance of the one listening. We’re not saved by works, but repentance itself isn’t a work (Rom 2:4).
Consider Christ’s words to the mostly lost multitude and His (professing) disciples in Mk 8:34-38:
“Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
To strive to enter the narrow gate is consistent with everything Jesus told anyone about receiving Him. If someone would come after Him, he needed to understand coming meant self-denial. If he wouldn’t give up his life, he would lose his life. The striving is an internal battle. This is repentance. People want to stay on the throne of their life and keep control. They want to continue with sin. They want to put love and affection for people over doing what God says. They’re miscalculating the cost, because what they‘ll lose when they die will blow their mind. That’s why the thorny ground, the worldly heart of Matt 13, can’t bear fruit. You can’t put Jesus on the shelf with all your other idols.
Only the good ground in Matt 13 comes to undemanding fruit, because he lost his life for Christ and the gospel’s sake. In Lk 9:57-58, “a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.” “Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” In Mk 10:17, a certain ruler asked the greatest Evangelist that ever lived, “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” After Jesus brought the criteria to determine goodness, perfection, and sinfulness to him, by His law, He said to Him in v 21, “go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.” Wealth was still of greater value than Jesus to the rich ruler. He would not measure himself against the Divine standard to see his own rebellion against God’s holiness. Instead he justified his behavior. He wasn’t actually interested in following Christ, which was receiving Him, just hoping to take care of that nagging eternal life problem. Jesus said to that ruler, give up all your things and “come, follow me” (v. 22). But he wouldn’t.
Sin is against God. It relates to God as Creator and Master. God has laid out what He wants and man doesn’t follow the instruction. Sin is defined ultimately as anything in the creature which does not express, or which is contrary to, the holy character of the Creator. The creation has a will of his own. With “come, follow me,” God says trust me and do my will, not yours. A change in allegiance occurs. A man isn’t his own anymore. The rich ruler wanted things to work out for him. He knew something was wrong but wasn’t interested in his sin as it related to offending God but as it related to hindering from getting what he wanted. Jesus goes so far in Lk 14:26 to preach, hate your family and yourself, which fits with what He taught His disciples to preach in Matt 10:32-39 as He commissioned them.
This is the cost that must be counted (Lk 14:28) to follow Christ. So the battle, the striving, the agonizing that everyone must do to enter the narrow gate to life eternal is to let go of self and receive a new Sovereign. For someone to be prepared to give up himself, to turn from his idols, he must understand the living and true God. There is no profit to gain from the whole world at the cost of ones soul. The sinner must see what he is leaving behind—less than nothing. He must see what he’s getting—the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. For that, Paul said in Phil 3, what things were gain to him, he counted loss, even as dung, that he might win Christ.
These accounts in Lk 13 and 18 (also found in Mk 10 and Matt 19) tell more than a sad story. They set an example of what we’re to do. We obey God by imitating what Jesus did. By doing so, our evangelism is sanctified by the truth, what Jesus prayed for His own (Jn 17:17). Both men (the rich young ruler and the man in Lk 13) left unconverted. In a modern day church setting, the evangelist allegedly would have repulsed the hearer. In this case, it’s Jesus, God the Son, so that’s untrue! Some might even say that Jesus “front-loaded works” by what He said. I trow not! Jesus above anyone else wasn’t saying that works could save. He did not succeed at making either man feel comfortable. He wasn’t careful to say things that wouldn’t turn the men off. Salvation is what it is. Our goal is to find the particular barrier, the stronghold which we can discern by means of Scripture, and then deal with it like we see exemplified by the Lord and the apostles in the NT.
It matters how Jesus evangelized. God the Son is the Author and Maker of the evangel. I think for many it doesn’t matter. For many the standard is this: if the Bible doesn’t say that it’s wrong, then it’s permitted. In preaching a watered down or false message and not following the Scriptural example, is a person living by faith? It is because of the unscriptural methods and watered down messages that many so called sowers have become primary agents for ruining the soil in people today.
What did Jesus use to persuade these men? He used Scripture. He often quoted the OT. Over twenty times He said “it is written.” Almost another ten He declared, “it hath been said” or “that it was said,” and verbalized Scripture. 2 Cor 10:3-5 refers to this as spiritual weaponry—“the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God” (Eph 6:17). We preach the Word (2 Tim 4:2). “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom 10:17). We are begotten “by the Word of truth” (Jam 1:18).
In Jesus’ parable in Lk 14:23 He said:
“Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.
“Compel” (anakatso) is a strong word for persuade. The “highways and hedges” were outside of the confines of Judaism. In the picture, the Jews rejected the gospel, so Jesus was telling them to bring it to the Gentiles, to see if they would have it. Going to the highways and the hedges was a big deal because the religious leaders condemned Jesus for His associations with publicans and sinners. The compelling message comes at this point:
“And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” (vv 25-27).
Does that seem persuasive or compelling to you? Christ’s aim was not to draw appreciative crowds but true converts. From the world’s side, family is very compelling. The family may not want a family member to follow Christ. Just like following Christ might mean giving up possessions, it also might mean giving up family. It might mean suffering. Jesus made bold demands that would discourage the half-hearted. There is no such thing as sort-of accepting Jesus. He is either God or He isn’t. Since He is, He is worth giving up everything for Him.
In Matthew 10, Jesus instructs His apostles, "his twelve disciples" (Matt 11:1), on what they are to preach and then further what to preach in response to the audiences response to the preaching. The pivotal passsges of that command of Christ to His disciples, immediately proceeding what He stated about fearing God and not man or the circumstances (vv. 26-31), are verses 32 to 39,
"Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it."
These things stand in stark contrast to the world’s idea of persuasion. They do what “works.” And if it works, it’s a success. Then it must be “of God.” It plays on covetousness, giving men what they want. It’s not calling for sacrifice but for self-gratification, something directly contradictory to the gospel. The world offers the mess of pottage for the birthright. We follow the example of Jesus in our persuasion. Preach the saving message. The gospel of Jesus Christ the power of God unto salvation. The power is in Scripture which is quick and powerful (Heb 4:12). The Spirit works through Gods Word. We are born again of the incorruptible seed, the Word which lives and abides forever (1 Pet 1:23-25).
Paul said in 1 Cor 1:18:
“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”
The power is in the preached Word. 2 Tim 3:15 says that the “holy scriptures . . . are able to make thee wise unto salvation.” We depend on preaching rather than clever techniques invented by men. “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:31), not man-made methods. God choose for man to be saved through the foolishness of preaching. The Spirit-filled speak Gods Word with boldness (Ac 4:31). Believers have all the power they’re ever going to get at conversion. They have every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ (Eph 1:3). They have the Spirit of God indwelling them (1 Cor 6:19-20). Paul didn’t pray for power or name people to be saved but prayed for boldness, that he might open his mouth and speak as he ought to speak (Eph 6:20; Col 4:4)—what came out of his mouth was the Word of God, which was powerful enough to create the universe in six days.
God doesn’t call the powerful. He calls the weak. The weak preach with boldness and men are saved, not because they had strength, but because of the preaching of the cross (1 Cor 1:18–2:5).
“That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:5).