GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
Number 634 • April 25, 2021
SEEKING AND SAVING THE LOST – Part One
Jesus summed up His mission from God and His ministry on earth as being just that: “For the Son of man came to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10). Not physically or geographically lost, Not intellectually or mechanically lost. Spiritually lost, separated by sin from God the Father and any hope of heaven. Not lost animals. Not lost angels or demons or extraterrestrials. Lost humans – lost men and women, lost accountable children. God loved and loves the lost. God wanted a way for them to be found, to be saved from irrevocable destruction, to return to Him, to have everlasting life. He sent and gave His Son to accomplish His will (John3:16-18, 34-36).
Christ was anointed and commissioned by God to save the spiritually lost people of the world. He would do that by the sacrifice of his life and himself on the cross. But he would also do it by preaching the truth of God’s gospel – the act would have to be explained to people. They would not know or understand it without words. Preaching the gospel was a secondary part of his mission, the part that he could entrust to others to continue throughout all time until the consummation (the commission given to his apostles in Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15-16, also in Acts 1:8). A third aspect of his mission and work was to confirm his words by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through him (Acts 2:22, Hebrews 2:3-4). He was sent, not just to be a teacher preacher and miracle worker healer, but to be the Savior and the Lord over God’s kingdom of saved people. His mission will not be completed until his return to judge the world (Acts 17:30-31) and take the saved to the heaven prepared for them (John 14:1-6), and return the then-perfected kingdom to God (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
How has Jesus successfully accomplished his mission? By being sacrificed on a cross – a cross which became an altar on which he as the High Priest of God gave his own life’s blood as the purchase price for the past present and future sins of all mankind (you should re-read now the last three chapters of each of the four “gospel” accounts in the New Testament). After his sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection, just before his ascension to heaven to rule there with the authority of God at and as the right hand of God he gave to his personally chosen apostles the authority and the promise of sufficient power to continue his mission to seek and bring to salvation all the people of the world (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-16, Luke 24:44-52, John 20:19-23). They were to teach others to do as they themselves were sent to do, to obey the Lord’s will and teach others to do the same. Our mission is the same as that of the apostles and of Christ himself – nothing has changed. We are told what to teach others, what to require them to do in order to have the Lord’s salvation.
How can we carry out our commission from the Lord, to seek and save the lost? I will tell you four things that are almost self-evident – they need very little explanation or commentary, but we will elaborate somewhat on each of them.
● WE CAN’T “GO” TO THEM BY SITTING WHERE WE ARE AND WAITING FOR THEM TO COME TO US.
In the accounts of Matthew and Mark Jesus is quoted as saying “Go …Go into all the world.” I hear people who don’t want to be moved out of their personal comfort zone say, “We don’t have to go physically to ‘take the gospel’ to other places. It’s the gospel that needs to go, not necessarily the people. We can send the gospel everywhere.” Of course we can do that – we are actually doing it. With the technology and communication resources we have it is easy to do it. We can call them, email them, send the word to them, or even send somebody to them with the message – assuming you can find anybody who is willing to go. But technology is no substitute for personal contact, personal interaction with the people you are trying to reach and influence. Jesus surely is not opposed to using any available means, personal or impersonal. But he doesn’t say, “Send the light.” He says, in effect, “Take the light and deliver it personally.” You know the “missionary song” about “the Macedonian call,” based on Paul’s vision of a man of Macedonia (Acts 16:7-10). The messenger did not say, “Send us some literature about the gospel.” He said, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And immediately after that Paul and his mission group endeavored and determined to “go to Macedonia and preach the gospel to them” (10).
Many who need to hear, and whom we say we want to hear, will not come to a church building or knock on some Christian’s door and ask to be taught. They will not often come uninvited to our worship assemblies or our ‘gospel meetings.’ Maybe they are waiting to see if we are really serious about wanting to share the good news of and from Christ with them by coming to where they are, not waiting for them to find us and come where we are.
● WE CAN’T “NICE” THEM OUT OF SIN AND INTO RIGHTEOUSNESS.
I know where the Bible says, quoting Jesus, “Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). I know how that is misunderstood and misapplied. I also know how Peter’s words of encouragement to wives who have non-Christians husbands are misunderstood and misapplied. “If those husbands do not obey the word they may, even without the word, be won by the conduct of the wives, when they note the respectful and pure conduct of the wives” (1 Peter 3:1-4 ESV). Being kind, patient, helpful, and busy doing good works may impress others, but it won’t make Christians of them. Neither Jesus nor Peter, nor any of us who preach the Lord’s words and will, can convert anybody to Christ or bring anybody to obedience to the Lord without words. They may see your good works but if they do not know Who or what prompts you to do them, if they do not know to Whom they should give credit and glory they will probably not give glory to God or to His Christ. You must explain that the Lord is the One who leads you to be good and do good, that He is the One you serve and the One to whom you want to introduce them that they might serve Him too. If they ask, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30), tell them. There is no coming to God without faith and belief, and there is no belief or faith possible without words of information, instruction, and exhortation. So Jesus said go and preach the gospel, teach them the gospel truth of God and exhort them to obey Him even as you obey Him. Your example of goodness may open the door, but it will take patient teaching to keep that door open and the person on the other side of it listening, learning, and growing into the likeness of Christ with you.
● WE CAN’T “LOVE” THEM OUT OF DAMNATION AND INTO SALVATION.
Evident love, like good works, will attract and impress and open some doors, but love does not save the loved one. Love will motivate you to go to others, do good for others, teach and encourage and exhort others, but unless they hear and accept and respond obediently to the Lord we share with them they cannot be saved (Romans 10:9-17). God will not save them because you love them – as of course you do: you love your neighbor as you love yourself, don’t you? (Matthew 22:36-40). God will not save them because He loves them – as He undoubtedly does (John 3:16). Christ will not save them because He loves them – as He does, and proved it by giving himself for all of us (Galatians 2:20). Love prompted God to be merciful and mercy prompted His grace – His plan, salvation’s plan – to be completed by the faith and works of faith of the one to be saved (Ephesians 2:4-10). We probably do not stop loving the lost, even those we believe will end in damnation and destruction. Nor does God. But it takes an obedient response to love’s prompting to save anyone from that terrible destination.
● WE CAN’T “PRAY” THEM OUT OF HELL AND INTO HEAVEN.
“Pray for me. Pray that I won’t be lost. Pray that I’ll be forgiven and saved.” I’ve heard that request many times from many people. A man named Simon asked apostle Peter to pray in his behalf that the perdition he was threatened with could be averted and avoided (Acts 8:14-24). Some believe prayer can alleviate one’s punishment in purgatory (or in torment of hades), and perhaps secure one’s release from that penitentiary of the soul. But it is not so. The truth is, one’s condition after death cannot be changed. Those in paradise cannot help those in torment, nor can there be any crossing over from one condition to the other (Luke 16:19-26). One cannot, in this life or in that to come, do for others what they are required to do for themselves. It is a hard lesson, but it is part of the gospel we are to preach to the lost we seek once we find them and are able to address them in the name of Christ. There is an effective remedy for the lost but it must be applied by them, not to them, while they can still exercise their own will. — To be continued.