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  • Writer's pictureNathan Freeman

The Missing Ingredient In Our Evangelism

I recently found an old and faded picture of my late mother being baptized in a shallow river when she was in her early teens. She was standing next to a man that I presume to be the pastor. The man was waist-deep in the dirty water, wearing slacks and a white dress shirt. The witnesses stood at the water’s edge with hands clasped in joy and smiles on their faces. There is something beautiful about baptizing a new believer outside in a river or creek while the church watches from the bank. There is something beautiful about a man wearing his Sunday best and wading into a river to baptize one little girl. My guess is that the rejoicing over the soul outweighed the care of the nice white dress shirt.


Christian, if you would see conversions, you must care about souls more than your comfort. John the Baptizer certainly cared more about the souls of a nation over his own comfort. The great prophet lived in the uncomfortable wilderness and donned clothes to match his surroundings. John was a living illustration of the spiritual state of the nation. Like his prophet predecessors, God called him to be a living testimony of how God saw His people’s spiritual state. The nation was spiritually impoverished and living in the wilderness.


John’s message was equally uncomfortable; it was a call to die. To come and plunge themselves beneath the waters of the river Jordan signified the ancient path the Israelites had taken, a path from death to life. John’s call was to a nation of impoverished souls, urging them to enter the water and pronounce judgment on themselves. The offense of the message to the self-righteous was high, as was the cost John ultimately paid. John gave up his comfort, his popularity, and ultimately his life because he refused to conform to the message of the world but harkened the world to conform to God’s message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2).


If we would see souls saved, our message must be of the same nature. A missing ingredient in our evangelistic call today is leading to either false or no conversions. Consider John’s message in place of one we often hear today. John’s preaching urged total surrender through baptism. To be baptized by John was an acceptance of one’s own undoing in light of the holiness of God. It was a call to judge oneself a sinner through and through, from toe to soul.


Today, the evangelical call is often this, “Lay all your burdens, all your sin, and all your shame at the cross.” That is a true statement, but it misses the mark in one aspect—most people do not understand their total ruin. Sin has been reduced to only the bad things a person does. What about the good things? What must we do with those? They must go to the cross as well. John didn’t stand on the riverbank and make the clarion call, “Come and lay down your troubles, your anxieties, and all the bad things you have done.” John’s call was one of complete death to self-righteousness.


I come across many people today struggling with assurance of salvation. After a little conversation, it is almost always diagnosed as a misunderstanding of their sin. I will usually ask something like this, “Have you repented of all your known sin?” To which the answer is usually, “Yes,” and a nod. But then I like to ask, “Have you repented of your righteousness?” Now, I am met with confusion, but we have found the root of the problem. They fundamentally misunderstood that even their ‘goodness’ added nothing to their salvation but rather stood in their way of completely putting on Christ Jesus and His righteousness and making NO provision for the flesh (Romans 13:14).


Dear soul, you may have repented of all your awful deeds, but have you repented of your righteousness? Paul said, “Not having my own righteousness…but that which is through faith in Christ.” (Philippians 3:9). The call of John was so offensive to the Pharisees because it was a slap in the face to their goodness. They were not good people who had transgressed the Law because they did some bad things; their ruin was total! They needed to be totally saved; they needed to lay down both transgressions and self-righteousness—and so do we!


Let us peek into a typical story of evangelism: We begin a relationship with an unbeliever, maybe they are agnostic or just do not think much about spiritual things. We stick with that relationship, and over time, our new friend comes to an agreement that there is a God. Good, step one is complete. The next step is usually to convince them that this God is not some far-away concept that watches at a distance, but a person that wants to be intimately involved with them. Now comes the cross, the only way to enter that relationship. The debt has been paid on their behalf by another, Jesus, the Son of God. Finally, we ask them something like this, “Would you like to lay down all the bad things you have done and accept Jesus?” I think most people would readily agree with this. What’s the drawback? Just lay down all my bad things, and I can go to Heaven when I die? That’s not very offensive; I can convince people to do that. Just let go of the bad things; check, I got that.


Now take that same scenario, and the final step looks like this: “Friend, you must die to self. Even the good things you think you have done are tainted by the stain of sin. You have no righteousness of your own, not the slightest bit. You must put all your faith in another, Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us.” This creates a desperate dependency on Jesus.


The good news is that God saves souls despite our imperfect witnessing. Our aim is always to point others to their need for Christ. What better way than to preach the peace that comes from letting go of even our good deeds and laying them at the cross?


Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

let me hide myself in thee;

let the water and the blood,

from thy wounded side which flowed,

be of sin the double cure;

save from wrath and make me pure.


Not the labors of my hands

can fulfill thy law's demands;

could my zeal no respite know,

could my tears forever flow,

all for sin could not atone;

thou must save, and thou alone.


Nothing in my hand I bring,

simply to the cross I cling;

naked, come to thee for dress;

helpless, look to thee for grace;

foul, I to the fountain fly;

wash me, Savior, or I die.


While I draw this fleeting breath,

when mine eyes shall close in death,

when I soar to worlds unknown,

see thee on thy judgment throne,

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

let me hide myself in thee.

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