The Edifier

West Allen Church of Christ

The Edifier Index

Persuading People to Obey the Gospel

Harold Hancock

It is important that people obey the gospel. If they do not, they are lost, and when the Lord comes again, He will take vengeance on them with flaming fire; they will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power ( 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). But we cannot coerce people to obey the gospel; they must obey from the heart (Romans 6:17). They must be persuaded that Jesus is Lord and Christ and be persuaded of His teachings. They must obey the Lord because of conviction.

Instructing people in the gospel is like the mom who told her small tot to sit down in the grocery cart at the supermarket. He kept standing up, and she kept telling him to sit down. Finally she reprimanded him firmly enough that he sat down. She heard him whisper to himself as he was scrambling down, "I may be sitting down on the outside, but I am standing on the inside!" When we get people to sit down on the outside (be baptized because we want them to or to "get us off their backs" or because of intimidation) while they are still standing up on the inside (not willingly submitting to Jesus), we have accomplished nothing worthwhile. They are just accommodating us. They are not converted, and they are not saved.

Thomas Aquinas, a religionist who was doctrinally wrong but who was esteemed for his knowledge of education and persuasion, was seemingly right when he observed: " When you want to convert someone to your view, you go over to where he is standing, take him by the hand (mentally speaking), and guide him. You donít stand across the room and shout at him. You donít call him dummy; you donít order him to come over to where you are. You start where he is, and work from that position. Thatís the only way to get him to budge."

Please understand, we are not suggesting that we must compromise the truth, or be less than honest with our hearers, or refuse to speak boldly and plainly in order to persuade people to become Christians. We persuade people with truth; truth demands honesty, and the best way for truth to be understood is for us to speak it plainly. It is imperative, though, that we see the need to persuade people of the truth about Jesus and that we give thought about how we can best do this.

This is not just a lesson about human behavior taken from the wisdom of men. Paul sought to convert people by persuading them that Jesus was Lord and Christ: "Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ." (Acts 17:1-3). "After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth...And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks" (Acts 18:1,4). "Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" (Acts 26:28). Paul gave people reason to believe in Jesus as Lord and Christ and taught them His word.

Furthermore, it is interesting to notice that Paul considered his audience and addressed his audienceís needs logically. With the Jews, a nation familiar with scripture, Paul started with Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah (Acts 17:1-3; 18:1,4); with the Gentiles, Paul started with the "unknown God" and creation (Acts 17:22-31); with King Agrippa, he started with issues at hand himself and the charges against him. In every case, he took his audience "by the hand (mentally speaking)" and guided them to Christ.

Some today seem to think that the criteria for good preaching and teaching is name calling and harsh, sometimes even cynical, judgments spewed out in angry tones followed by a quick, unconvincing affirmation of love. As a defense they cite references showing that Jesus offended

His hearers with truth (Matthew 15:12), rebuked the Pharisees sharply (Matthew 23:13), and that Paul and John called names (1Timothy 1:20; 3 John 9). True, sometimes Jesus or His apostles issued stern rebukes and called names, but not always! They also knew how to be gentle and how to beseech one as an aged brother (John 8:10,11; Philemon 1:9). And while you may read the names of Hymenaeus and Alexander (1Timothy 1:20), how many names of the Pharisees who taught for doctrine the commandments of men do you know (Matthew 15:10)? And what was the name of the man who had his fatherís wife at Corinth (1 Corinthians 5:1)? Effective preaching is not determined by calling names or not calling names, beginning a teaching session by telling someone they are going to hell or not beginning a teaching session by telling someone they are going to hell, but by what the occasion demands to make the truth plain and persuasive.

When we go forth to teach the gospel, our purpose should be neither to pamper nor to deliberately be offensive, but to persuade people to obey the Lord. We should use good sense and good judgment. We must be bold, but not rude, belligerent, or obnoxious with the truth. †