We have the blessed truth. No doubt about that. But how can we share it? How can we win people to Christ? How can we present the truth to people so that they will take the most important decision in their life—to accept the good news of salvation?
It was many years later after I had accepted the blessed truth when this kind of understanding dawned upon me. My awakening was initiated by a conversation I had with a family member who one day gave me a phone call. After the pleasantries, she told me that God had blessed me in immeasurably abundant ways. As I listened to her, my heart sang, “Amen. Praise the Lord!”
But she ended with a stab that pierced my heart: “Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you tell me that the choice you made would make you so blessed?”
I assured her that it wasn’t too late, that she too could make the same choice.
“It is. It is too late,” she replied, with a tinge of deep pain trailing in her voice as she cut the line.
I have kept that conversation in my heart like a folded paper tucked in the secret pocket of my soul. And every so often that voice nudges me out of my cozy slumber. Every so often I am reminded of a duty that I must do.
But always the question is—How do we do it? How do we do it well?
Winning Souls for God
Let me propose three possible answers to this question. First, that we possess genuine love for lost souls. Second, that we present truth as an action. Third, that we live the message.
Genuine Love for Lost Souls
How does that genuine love for lost souls look like? How does it sound like? Here are a few examples.
There’s Abraham. God told him He would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Hearing the verdict, Abraham pleaded: “Lord, will you spare that wicked city for the sake of 50 righteous people?” The narrative tells that Abraham continued to bargain down to 10 righteous people.
Writing about this incident, Ellen White pens, “Love for perishing souls inspired Abraham’s prayer. . . . His deep interest for Sodom shows the anxiety that we should feel for the impenitent” (PP 140.1). Very few among us, however, have this kind of love toward the lost. To have this kind of love is to be Christlike. Ellen White describes “the spirit of Abraham” as “the spirit of Christ” (PP 140.2). Like Jesus Christ who intercedes for the souls of lost men and women, Abraham interceded for the lost souls of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Then there’s Moses. During his absence, while he was with God at Mount Sinai, the Israelites made an idol in the form of a golden calf. God was angry, and He said to Moses, “Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them” (Ex. 32:10). But Moses pleaded, “Turn from your fierce anger” (Ex. 32:12). The following day, he went back to the Lord: “Please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written” (Ex. 32:32). Moses’ interest and love for the people was so deep that he was willing to forsake personal honor and forfeit eternity with God (PP 319.2).
Then, of course, there’s Jesus, who lovingly and intentionally sought lost souls, especially those who had the least chance to be found—the Samaritan woman, the Canaanite woman, the woman caught in the act of adultery. He came to die a shameful, painful death on the cross to save anyone who accepts the free gift of salvation. He came in obedience to His Father, who “so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
In 2014, some months after the super typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines, two of my colleagues and I conducted a photovoice study with Adventist youths in Leyte, one of the areas that were badly damaged. One of our participants, a 13-year-old boy, recounted his experience immediately after the sea surge subsided: “When I saw the dead bodies strewn all over the place, I felt very sad. Many of them may not have known God.” (See Rosario, Aguillon, & Lucion, 2014.)
When you see a sea of people plodding through their way through life in busy city streets, in train stations, in malls, do you ask in your heart, “How can I share with them the love of God? How can I impart to them the blessed hope? What can I do so they, too, can have the blessed life not only now but more so in the life to come?” Jesus, “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).
Christ’s representatives need to cultivate genuine love for lost souls. Unless we have it, we are “only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” We may possess deep knowledge of the truth, but if we do not have love, we are nothing. We may help the poor, fight for the cause of the underprivileged, even die for others (1 Cor. 13:1-3), but if we do not have love, our witness will not have enough power to win people to God.
Truth as an Action Word
How do we present truth? Well, there are many ways. One powerful way is to define truth as an action word. In a study that my colleagues and I did about how Adventists in Southern Asia-Pacific Division were converted into the church, we found out that, among others, friends and neighbors played a significant role. For example, one participant said, “They would serenade us early in the morning.” One man, in his mid-20s, was so touched when an 11-year-old boy, who was his neighbor, invited him to church. He said he felt that that boy cared so much for him. Another participant shared that he was not able to continue his studies after his elementary grades because there was no high school in his place. At age 17, he went to the city and attended a government school. He stayed in a dormitory owned by an Adventist church. In the evenings, according to him, the pastor’s wife would help him and his dorm mates with their homework. Two years later, he was baptized. (See Rosario, Aguillon, Opao, Opao, & Adil, 2015.)
In another study that my colleagues and I did, one woman, who at the time of our interview was in her mid-80s, recalled her experiences during the war. “God spared my life, and I dedicated my life to Him.” She narrated how she would share food to the poor, give medicines to the sick, and with her bike bring people to church on Sabbath. In a country where Christians were a minority, she had brought hundreds of people to the feet of Jesus. (See Rosario, Aguillon, Adil, Opao, & Opao, 2018.)
You Are the Message
Ellen White underscores the weighty responsibility that is every Christian’s privilege. She writes,
The people of God are His representatives upon the earth. . . . They are God’s witnesses, the channels through which He will communicate to an unbelieving world the knowledge of his will and the wonders of His grace. . . . The piety of the Christian constitutes the standard by which worldlings judge the gospel. Trials patiently borne, blessings gratefully received, meekness, mercy, and love, habitually exhibited, are the lights that shine forth in the character before the world. (PP 134.2)
A Christian’s example cannot be underestimated. In the same study on church members’ conversion I mentioned earlier (Rosario et al., 2015), 45.5% of our participants (224 from different age groups, from seven countries in SSD) attested that they accepted Jesus Christ because of the witness of their parents. They shared a common thread in their testimonies, which one of the participants aptly articulated: “Since I was a child, I have seen how my parents lived a godly life. I didn’t follow them just because they were my parents but because I believe this is the true religion.” Another participant who was drawn to Christ because of the influence of a friend said, “I liked her lifestyle. She had peace in her heart. So I decided to go to church with her. Later, I decided to be baptized.”
Paul admonished Timothy, “Do you best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:14). Paul closed his letter with an encouragement: “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you” (4:22). This same prayer is for us for the challenge before us is great: That through us “the message might be fully proclaimed” and that those who haven’t heard of Him will know Him and accept Him as their Savior (2 Tim. 4:17).
Rosario, A. H., Aguillon, C. J. T., Opao, R. G., Opao, S. B., & Adil, J. V. (2014). Holding on to their faith: The lived experiences of Adventist church members in Southeast Asia. International Forum, 17(1), 17-37.
Rosario, A. H., Aguillon, C. J., & Lucion, M. (2015). Journeys from grief to hope: Visual and verbal voices of post-Yolanda youth. International Forum, 18(2), 5-25.
Rosario, A. H., Aguillon, C. J., Adil, J., Opao, S., & Opao, R. (2018). Stories of conversion, retention, and reclamation: The Southeast Asian experience. In P. Cincala (Ed.), Fresh look at denominational research: Role, impact, & scope (pp. 281-306). Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press.
White, E. G. (2018). Patriarchs and prophets. Retrieved from https://egwwritings-a.akamaihd.net/pdf/en_PP.pdf
Arceli H. Rosario is a professor and chair of the Education department at AIIAS (Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies), as well as director of the MAT, EdS, and PhD in Education programs.
Photo courtesy of Pexels.
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