Being motivated for soul winning is a good thing, but we must define some terms first. Soul winning is a metaphor for evangelism, or witnessing. As such, this is a good thing to pursue. The Bible calls us to evangelize. Evangelism is at the heart of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20). Christians are called to be witnesses of their faith to a watching world (Acts 1:8). In fact, the word martyr comes from the Greek word for “witness.” Early Christians were often put to death for their “witness” to Christ. Clearly, these people were so motivated for winning souls that they gave their lives to that cause.
How can we be more motivated for soul winning? The Bible teaches that all people are born in sin (Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:1–3) and that we will all be judged for our sin by a holy God (Romans 6:23). The Bible teaches that the only way to avoid this judgment is to repent of our sin and embrace Jesus Christ by faith (Ephesians 2:8–9). If someone we knew was dying and we had the cure for his disease, would that motivate us to share that knowledge with him? The reality is that all people have a terminal, spiritual disease (sin), and, as Christians, we know the cure for that disease (Jesus). This truth should be great motivation for us to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Knowing that those who reject the “cure” for their spiritual disease will spend an eternity in hell should be sufficient motivation to urge them to consider the dire consequences of their decision.
If Christians are not motivated for evangelism, it could very well be because we aren’t hearing the gospel preached faithfully and fully in our churches. In some parts of the world, churches have attempted to make the Christian message more marketable for modern sensibilities. Preaching about sin, judgment, hell, and salvation through Jesus alone is not emphasized as much as messages about how Christianity can make our lives better—improve our marriages, help us raise our kids, and assist us in eliminating bad habits. The pragmatic has replaced the theological in many churches. This brand of Christianity may appeal more to a postmodern world, but it fails to confront people with the truth of their sin and their need for salvation available in Jesus alone. Souls are won not through promises of a better life in the here and now but through the power of the gospel as the only solution for our sin.
Here is where we must be careful. Some Christians see soul winning as something that they do. In other words, success or failure in evangelism is seen as largely due to the efforts of the evangelist. This mindset has turned evangelism from a “witness” paradigm into a “persuasion” paradigm. A witness is one who simply tells what they have seen, heard, and experienced. Witnesses in a courtroom are bound to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” A witness doesn’t seek to persuade; he doesn’t seek to convince; all he seeks to do is be faithful to proclaim what he knows to be true and why he knows it to be true.
Persuasion takes on a very different form. In persuasion, one person is engaged in an effort to change the mind of another person to a particular point of view. It’s not uncommon in persuasion to alter or re-package the message to make it more appealing to others. In persuasion, the most important thing isn’t the truth of the message, but the individual’s response to that message.
If soul winning is a product of our own individual effort, instead a work of the Holy Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2:13), then evangelism becomes our persuasive effort. The goal of soul winning becomes making sure we get someone to come to that moment of decision and accept Christ into his life. One may ask, “What is the problem with that?” If the goal of evangelism is getting people to that moment of choice, then there is every temptation to “do whatever it takes” to make that happen. This mindset has led to the very thing that characterizes the various “church growth” movements, such as the seeker-sensitive movement or the emergent movement, that seek to make Christianity more relevant and appealing to a modern world. On the surface, this sounds good and noble, but at what cost? The Bible says that it is the gospel that has the power of salvation and we are not to be ashamed of it (Romans 1:16–17). We need to avoid the persuasion paradigm and get back to a witness paradigm, one in which the truth of the gospel is faithfully proclaimed.
It all boils down to this: do we believe that God is truly sovereign, even over salvation? If we do, then it is God who is the soul winner. It is the Holy Spirit who brings new birth. It is Jesus Christ who died to save the world. Christians are called to be witnesses to the world by proclaiming this gospel of salvation. The proclamation of the gospel is the means through which the Holy Spirit brings repentance and faith in the lives of individuals. What can be more motivating for soul winning than to know that, through our faithful proclamation of the gospel, God is saving many people (Ephesians 1:4–5).