“We are responsible for the presentation of the Gospel; not the response to it.”
This idea is perhaps the hardest one I’ve encountered in my walk with the Lord. For as long as I have understood the necessity of sharing the Gospel, I still struggle when people do not respond or, worse yet, reject it altogether. It took me several years to learn that this is not something personal. Those who choose to reject or not respond at all are not rejecting me, they are rejecting the God who loves them and is pursuing them.
Several years ago, I served on staff at a large, downtown church and people in the homeless community frequently came by seeking assistance. At first, I would try to help as many people as I could. A few dollars, a hamburger, a free night at a local shelter were commonplace. A man approached me on the street corner outside our church one Sunday morning. His truck had broken down and he needed $21 to buy a part to fix it. When I asked where he was going, he told me a story about his mother’s funeral in Corsicana and how he would not be able to get there in time without the part. I asked him to wait while I walked over to an ATM and took out $40 (Since it has to be multiples of $20…). When I came back, I offered him the money and he gladly accepted. I prayed with him and asked the Lord to protect him. He was very grateful and went on about his way.
The very next Sunday, that same man was walking around our church property asking for $21 for a truck part to get to his mother’s funeral in Corsicana. I have to admit, I was livid. I had half-a-mind to approach him and call him a liar to his face. I was so mad. I wish that I could say I got over it quickly but I didn’t. I stewed over it for several months, maybe a year or more. I didn’t offer money to anyone, I didn’t buy any hamburgers and I certainly didn’t offer any paid nights at the local shelter.
A few years later, I was serving as the pastor of a church that was right off the highway in our town. We had people frequently come by and ask for food or gas money. I was very cynical about helping at first. A lady came by one morning asking for a few dollars for gas and some food for her and her children. I hesitated at first, remembering the man who needed the truck part. In a very providential moment, the Lord reminded me that while I was judging the outside of her, He was looking at her heart. His concern went a much deeper than my shallow estimation. I gathered a few snacks and groceries from our food pantry and went to our local gas station and filled up her tank.
In all of this, the Lord reminded me that my responsibility is to appropriately present His Gospel and His love to people, no matter the circumstances. God is primarily concerned with the souls of men. Souls that are lost will always act lost. They will lie, cheat and steal. Without the Gospel, we are all depraved men groping in the dark for hope. We will search for anything and everything in an effort to find some temporary joy.
When we take hold of opportunities to share the Gospel, we are presenting the light of Christ into darkness. We are pointing dead men to the only fountain that will revive them and quench their thirst. How they respond is their responsibility before God. Even more, it is God’s task of changing the hearts of men, not mine. My sole responsibility is being faithful to present the life-giving, life-changing message and ask God to change the hearts of those who hear it.
During my time as the pastor of that church, I preached through the book of Hebrews. I came across a passage in chapter 13 that firmly planted this responsibility in my heart. The writer says, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body.” (Hebrews 13:1-3 ESV)
As Christians, we have the responsibility to present the Gospel as often as we have opportunity. At the same time, we trust that God will move upon the hearts of men and move them from death to life. Praise be to God that He doesn’t pass over us in our despair or trouble! He presents Himself to us and beckons us to receive Him. May we be found obedient to His call!