There is a key characteristic you need if we are to effectively reach the lost with the gospel. Without this…you might not even be saved, as Ray Comfort explains in this article.
August 30, 2023
There is a subtle error into which we can fall when sharing our faith. It is a misguided empathy toward the person to whom we are speaking. When we see a look of distress on their face—guilt that produces an evident fear—we can want to comfort them rather than leave them under what is more than likely the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
Let me be specific. We take a sinner through the moral Law, and they admit to lying and theft. Suddenly, their facial expression changes, and they become distressed. It’s then that we may want to console them by saying something like, “It’s okay. I, too, have lied and stolen.”
Our motive may be because we don’t want them to be in distress, or it may be because we don’t want to sound “holier than thou”: “You’re a wicked sinner, and I’m not.” A holier-than-thou impression could be a stumbling block because it may seem that we are looking on them with condescension.
I sympathize with the tender Christian. When I’m taking someone through the Ten Commandments and seeing them distressed, I can’t wait to get through the Law into the gospel. I’m tempted to hurry out of the darkness into the light. I’m also concerned about losing them before they hear the good news of the gospel. However, I have learned to control those emotions for a good reason.
Those few moments when a sinner is saying in his heart, “Woe is me! I am undone!” are very precious, because they are working in him a thirst for righteousness. When a drowning man sees that he is going to die, that he has no hope, that’s when he will forget his pride and call out for the lifeguard to save him. But he won’t do that if he doesn’t see that his life is in terrible danger.
“Nowhere in Scripture does anyone who is preaching to the lost console sinners in their sins.”
To use another analogy, no good doctor will give a patient a cure until he is certain that the patient understands the serious nature of his disease. If the patient thinks that he can handle the disease himself, he won’t bother with the cure the doctor is offering him. And so, the doctor pours on the heat to make him sweat. Then the patient says, “Doctor, I can see this is deadly serious. What should I do?” All the while, the doctor’s motive is solely for the well-being of his patient.
And so, we hold back from consoling a distressed sinner because we have a concern for his or her eternal welfare. Look at how Scripture’s addressing of sinners is anything but consoling:
Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. (James 4:8-9)
When reaching out to the lost in Romans 2:21-22, the apostle Paul did not say, “You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? I have. You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery? I have in my heart.”
“It is essential that we always have a loving tone when reasoning about such sobering issues.”
Neither did Nathan approach David after he’d committed adultery and murder by saying that he also was tempted to commit adultery and murder. Nor did Paul sympathize with Felix when he trembled at his preaching (see Acts 24:25). Nowhere in Scripture does anyone who is preaching to the lost console sinners in their sins. The error of premature consolation may be due to a lack of understanding that the Law brings wrath and the gospel brings comfort. If we mix up the two, it will lead us into error.
However, I believe that there is a way to bring a biblical compromise between the two. When I’m witnessing, I often say, “I’m going to share the gospel with you—the good news that God can give you everlasting life as a free gift. But, before I do, I must talk to you about your sin so that you’ll appreciate God’s offer of forgiveness. Does that make sense?” Sometimes I will say, “We are going to go through a dark tunnel, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel, so stay with me.” And, of course, it is essential that we always have a loving tone when reasoning about such sobering issues.