— “Are you trying to convert me?” asks the unbeliever.
— “Oh, no, no, no, no” replies the evangelist. “I can’t convert anyone, only God can do that.”
… Later on in that same conversation…
— “Can I do anything to become a Christian?”
— “Why yes. Here are the three steps to getting saved.”
Anyone see a problem here?
Interestingly Paul had no problem talking about “winning” and even “saving” people (1 Corinthians 9:19-22). At the same time he never prays the sinners prayer with people. What does this tell us?
Well I think it diagnoses a funny kind of “sovereignty when it suits us” thinking. The evangelist can’t convert the unbeliever but the unbeliever can convert themselves!
It also betrays a very enlightenment view of the interaction between “the natural” and “the supernatural.” We assume that “the natural” equals the mechanics of evangelism and “the supernatural” equals a capricious and arbitrary zapping from on high.
This is not the way the bible co-ordinates things. There is the realm of the flesh, in which human reason and the basic principles of this world rule (Colossians 2:8a). And there is the realm of the Spirit, in which Christ is offered in the word (Colossians 2:8a-9).
Paul wins (and even saves) people in that he points away from all the powers of the flesh and offers Christ in the word – all praise to the almighty Spirit. And the unbeliever is saved quite apart from the steps they take to convert themselves – Christ in His word has conquered them – all praise to the almighty Spirit.
Don’t be afraid to try to convert people. Everyone’s trying to convert everyone. All the time. Just don’t do it according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. In other words: Preach the Word!