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What the Bible says about "Win People for Christ"
(From Forerunner Commentary)

John 10:35

In John 10:35, Jesus makes a parenthetical statement that is easy to overlook, and yet it is a foundational principle when it comes to understanding the Bible. He says, “. . . and the Scripture cannot be broken. . .” (emphasis ours throughout).

The written Word of God is another part of His creative work, and in His inspired words, we see the same forethought, consistency, and magnificence that we see in everything that God does. Because His character is true and constant, the Scriptures can never be contradictory. When we encounter something in them that seems incongruous, the defect is only in our understanding, not in what God has provided for us.

The religious tradition that took root and gained prominence after the deaths of the first-century apostles did not hold this principle inviolate, and as a result, nominal Christianity today holds doctrines that are an unholy mixture of portions of the Scripture, along with pagan beliefs and philosophies that have been picked up through the millennia. In contrast, true doctrines fit together in a unified whole, each one supporting and reinforcing the overall body of beliefs. Because of this, if one doctrine is changed or misapplied, the consistency of the whole begins to unravel.

A clear example of this is what the Bible steadfastly shows regarding God's calling and election. Scripture teaches that a man cannot even approach the Messiah unless the Father draws, or calls, him (John 6:44). In other words, salvation is not available to all people right now. But because not all professing Christians truly hold to the inerrancy of God's Word, many believe that anyone can accept Jesus Christ as his Savior, and all that is needed is for other Christians to win over the unsaved. Sometimes this belief is pure and altruistic, and at other times the belief is shaded by a desire to win a person over to a particular denomination or administrative entity. Either way, the conventional religious wisdom is that we can—and should—“win people for Christ.”

However, this belief does not exist in a vacuum. A person's understanding of God's calling is linked with his belief in the different resurrections. It is crucial to the understanding of Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles because these festivals symbolize different physical and spiritual harvests—one early, smaller harvest and one later, much larger harvest. It shapes the understanding of the gospel of the Kingdom and tempers expectations on the effect when the world hears the gospel. If the scriptures about God's calling are broken, then many other core beliefs begin to break down as well.

David C. Grabbe
Can We Win People For Christ?

1 Corinthians 9:19-22

What Paul means in this passage becomes clear when we understand the sense and usage of two Greek words, those translated as “win” and “save.” In the evangelical world, both of them have taken on lives of their own, but with just a little digging, we will see that no contradiction lies between this passage and the numerous other clear statements.

The word translated as “win” is kerdaino (Strong's #2770), and its basic meaning is “gain,” which is how it is typically translated. It means “to acquire by effort or investment.” It can mean “to earn” or “to make a profit.” The flipside is that it can also mean “to cause a loss not to occur.”

This word is used infrequently, but the verses that contain it are well known. For example, Jesus uses it when He cautions against gaining the whole world yet losing one's own soul (Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36; Luke 9:27). The gain is a physical or material one—it is not speaking of evangelizing the whole world. It also appears in the Parable of the Talents, where two of the servants gain more talents through their efforts and investments (Matthew 25:16-22).

Kerdaino is also found in the well-known Matthew 18:15, where Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” The gaining here is not about “winning” someone “for Christ.” When we gain our brother, we are gaining a better relationship. We are keeping a breach in the relationship from continuing. We receive a profit, as it were, by enhancing theconnection or bond between us. There is no implication that we are opening his mind to the mysteries of God's Kingdom. It simply means that after bringing a sin to his attention, if he hears and receives us, then we have gained our brother because the relationship has been restored.

David C. Grabbe
Can We Win People For Christ?

1 Corinthians 9:19-22

In verse 22, Paul speaks of “sav[ing] some.” Sometimes we have an automatic tendency to think of eternal salvation, or at the very least justification, whenever we hear the words “save” or “saved.” However, that is only one facet of the Greek word translated as “save,” sozo (Strong's #4982), whose basic meaning is “to make safe.” It can be expanded to mean “to deliver or protect, either literally or figuratively.”

This word is frequently used in reference to physical deliverance from a dangerous or undesirable situation, and is often translated as “heal,” “preserve,” and “make whole.” When healing people, Jesus would tell them, “Your faith has made you whole.” He was essentially saying, “Your faith has saved you”—but the salvation was a physical one. The person was saved from a condition of misery.

In the highest sense, a person is not ultimately saved—“safe”—until he or she is no longer subject to death or to sin, which earns death. That is, we are not truly safe until “this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality” (I Corinthians 15:54). Until resurrected or changed at Christ's return—until we are “like Him” (I John 3:2), and “death is swallowed up in victory” (Isaiah 25:8)—we are subject to the corruption of our human nature, the breakdown of our physical bodies, and the cessation of life, all things that keep us from being eternally safe. Until we are spirit beings, we will always be in need of deliverance, protection, healing, and restoration. Even the salvation that takes place upon our repentance—the forgiveness of our past sins—does not guarantee our future safety, for until we take our final breath, it is possible for us turn away from God and reject His way of life.

What kind of salvation is Paul talking about in I Corinthians 9? Since no man is saved eternally at the point of conversion, he is not referring to eternal salvation. We also know that he could not have meant justification here either, because even an apostle does not have the power to justify. Nor was he given the authority to impart true belief. Only those whom God appoints to eternal life at this time are going to believe (see Acts 13:48). So that sort of saving is not what Paul is talking about.

Before we get to the full explanation, we need to understand how this passage fits with the rest of the epistle. I Corinthians 8-10 relate to the controversy over eating meat offered to idols. Paul's basic teaching throughout these chapters is that it was far better for the Corinthians to deny themselves a perfectly lawful thing than to risk causing a brother to stumble. Through much of this instruction, he uses his own pattern of self-denial as an example, showing in various ways that he would go without lawful things to keep from causing unnecessary offense.

Thus, if he were interacting with the Jews, he would deny himself things that could be offensive to them but that technically would have been fine. It is not that he would compromise with God's standards, but he would limit himself for the sake of not turning people away. This is what he was doing to gain them. By these means, he was working for a more profitable relationship. His basic point in the overall context is that, if he were willing to do this to gain people who were not even converted, then the Corinthians should be willing to limit and restrain themselves for the sake of gaining their own brethren. A person who is “gained” is more likely to hear what we have to say, so we may be used to help them in some way.

So what does Paul mean by writing, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some”? He may have been referring to their eventual salvation, which he might play a part in, but which he could not actually claim as having brought about. As he had previously written: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (I Corinthians 3:6-7).

However, there is a type of “saving” that Paul could have a hand in through his preaching:

My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, he should know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)

James is not referring to eternal salvation or justification. He means making a man safe by helping him to stop a sin. If a person is sliding into apostasy, and someone turns him back, a type of salvation has occurred, for the one who had been going astray is now on a safer trajectory. If an individual helps another avoid or overcome any sin, a type of salvation has occurred because there is always greater safety where sin has been diminished. This salvation is only ashadow of the kind that God gives, but a saving nonetheless occurs anytime protection or deliverance is provided.

Thus, I Corinthians 9:19-22 shows that, wherever possible, Paul practiced self-denial so that he could gain a positive rapport with others. In this way, he might help them because his preaching of the truth could stir repentance in some area. He is not suggesting that through his preaching or example a person would be justified and brought into a relationship with God, but that his life would be better because there would be at least a little less enmity toward God and His way.

Without compromising, Paul kept the door open so that he could preach, and perhaps his preaching would protect or deliver someone in a small way, even if God was not calling the individual. Nevertheless, Paul was not bringing people into a relationship with Christ, nor is he suggesting that we try to do that either.

David C. Grabbe
Can We Win People For Christ?


 




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