Matthew 28.18-20



1.   The great commission of our Lord Jesus Christ is found in Matthew 28.18-20. Turn to that passage and stand for the reading of God’s Word:

18     And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

19     Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

20   Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. 

2.   We are seeing ever-larger churches across the nation, but the lost are not being reached for Christ. Dr. D. A. Waite writes concerning the number of lost people in our churches that Dr. B. R. Lakin estimated 75% of church members to be lost. Dr. W. A. Criswell estimated the percentage of lost members to be 75%. Billy Graham’s estimate was 85%. A. W. Tozer’s estimate was 90%. And Jim Eliff, a Southern Baptist consultant, estimated that 90% of church members are unsaved.[1]  Imagine that. One of every ten church members not truly born again.

3.   Yes, despite these estimates by highly respected men no significant changes have been made by prominent spiritual leaders to increase the percentage of converted members in American churches. Not even those highly respected men have suggested significant changes in evangelistic practice to increase the percentage of converted church members.

4.   A study by the Barna Group in 2002 revealed that most professing Christians believe that Satan does not exist, that the Holy Spirit is merely a symbol, that eternal peace with God can be earned through good works, that Jesus committed sins, and that the Bible, Koran and Book of Mormon all teach the same truths.[2]  How can you hold such beliefs and be a real Christian?

5.   My friends, something is terribly wrong with evangelism in the Christian community, even among the most aggressively evangelistic groups to produce so-called Christians like that. The fact is, and we need to admit it up front, the United States is a heathen country, and we have to take a fresh look at how to reach these people for Christ.

6.   I define heathens as people who do not attend church on a regular basis. Call yourself what you may, if you do not regularly attend church you are a heathen in my book. In Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, a heathen is defined as someone who does not worship the God of Israel or as someone who is irreligious.[3]

7.   Methinks there are two significant factors that have created this problem what we find ourselves in. On one hand, there is the problem of the message, which I will not address at length today. Then there is the problem with the methodology, which I will address today.

8.   Three points for you to consider about evangelizing heathen America: 


It used to be that churches had more in attendance than they had on their membership roles, but that is no longer true. Nowadays, there are far more members on the roles of most churches than there are attending. Thus, whatever denominational stripe is considered, whatever theological stance is taken, it is obvious that we have more people calling themselves Christians these days while attending church less, while giving less and less, and while believing the Bible less, than ever before. By anyone’s definition of success, this can only rightly be seen as failure.

The only criteria that could possibly pass for success is the one where an individual congregation is isolated from all other congregations and three statistics are used as a measure for success; attendance, offerings, and baptisms. But by that kind of evaluation the Church of Scientology is a success, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are successful, and the Mormons are successful. Are Christian congregations properly evaluated by how they stack up against cultic groups? I don’t think so. When the Lord Jesus Christ sent letters to the seven churches in Asia, His appraisal of those churches was based upon such things as their love for Him, their doctrinal integrity, their steadfastness in the face of persecution, and the hotness of their zeal.

This gives rise to some questions that need to be asked:

1B.      Can you have effective evangelism without a sharp focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ? The answer to that question is “No.” Yet there is much that passes for evangelism these days that makes no mention of Jesus Christ, or that does not show His preeminence in any way.

2B.      Can you have effective evangelism without a devotion to doctrinal integrity? Doctrine is important. Doctrine has to do with who God is, Who Jesus Christ is, Who the Holy Spirit is, what they do to bring about the salvation of sinners. What is the Bible and what does it teach? What does it say about sin and the salvation of sinners? This is all doctrine, so how can it be unimportant?

3B.      What about the behavior of a person after he gets saved? Remember, it was the work of faith, the labor of love, and the patience of hope of the Thessalonians that convinced the apostle Paul that they were the elect of God.  Yet what do we see and what do we expect from so-called Christians these days?  Paul told Titus that the Lord Jesus Christ gave Himself for us that He might make us a “peculiar people, zealous of good works.”[4]  Yet such a Christian is a rarity these days.

4B.      There are two main approaches to evangelism these days, and both of them are categorical failures, only occasionally producing among so-called converts someone who seems to fit the New Testament description of someone who is truly born again:

1C.         On one hand you have aggressively evangelistic churches that send out so-called “soul winners” to win people to Christ.  The only problem is that there is no correlation between those who pray to get saved and those who end up church members.  Typically, such a hyper-aggressive church sends many people out into the highways and byways each week, reports many professions of faith on the part of their “soul winners,” and perhaps even baptizes a moderate percentage of them.  But those who end up in their church’s increasing membership are those who have transferred from other churches who want to be a part of a church that is so obviously “getting the job done.”  No wonder such churches never audit their actual practices to ascertain what really happens to those who professed Christ and where those who join the church actually came from.

2C.         On the other hand you have churches that make virtually no effort to seek the lost by sending out teams of “soul winners.”  This second kind of church spends a great deal more effort on being attractive to those inclined to look for a church to attend, focusing on what they like to call “seeker services.”  They readily admit that in their services they do not preach against sin, they do not emphasize Bible doctrine, and that they focus on taking a casual and needs-oriented approach in which the pastor takes a consciously low-key approach to communicating by teaching rather than preaching.

5B.    Folks, though there are some very large churches that employ both of these approaches to evangelism, by and large these approaches are failing.  Such approaches are not reaching this country for Christ and such approaches are not producing converts who know what they believe and who put into practice what they claim to know.  It is time to admit failure.  Our country is sinking deeper and deeper into apostasy, with murder by abortion a common occurrence, with divorce among professing Christians a common occurrence, and with men in pastoral ministry these days who are divorced or who are themselves admitted adulterers.  If our evangelism is producing these kinds of Christians, our evangelism is failing. 


Though 20th and 21st century efforts to evangelize Americans have so far been abysmal failures, no one doubts that the apostolic efforts to reach the world with the gospel were extremely successful.  And though only a sovereign God can reproduce the first century revival that spread the gospel from the British Isles in the west to the Indus River valley in the east, we can make a deliberate and conscious effort to emulate both the message and the methods employed by the apostles.  As I mentioned earlier, this sermon will focus on the methods used to evangelize the lost.

There were two features of the apostle’s evangelism that I want to take note of at this time:

1B.      First, they implemented the Lord Jesus Christ’s plan

1C.         Contemporary churches that do anything to reach the lost typically use one of two approaches.  Either they go out into the highways and byways in an effort to win the lost to Christ, what they call “soul winning,” or they do not go out into the highways and byways but entice what they call “seekers” to come to their services.  Both approaches are wrong because they do not reflect apostolic practice and because they do not follow the pattern the Lord Jesus Christ implemented.

2C.         In Luke 14.23, in a parable He was teaching, the Lord Jesus Christ succinctly stated the method of evangelizing He wanted His disciples to use:  “And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”  My friends, it is good to go out.  It is good to get after the lost.  But a disservice is done to the cause of Christ when a so-called “soul winner” seeks to accomplish more than can typically be accomplished at someone’s front door.

3C.         Not everyone gets saved the first time he hears the gospel.  Not everyone who wants to reach the lost is a skilled and discerning evangelist.  So the best approach is for Christians to work hard to get folks into the church house where they can most effectively be guided to Christ.  The apostles did this.

2B.      Next, the apostles were effective because they stressed preaching over teaching

1C.         Teaching God’s Word is wonderful.  Teaching God’s Word is fine.  The teaching of doctrine was an important part of apostolic ministry.  “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”[5]  But teaching the Word of God should never take precedence over good preaching.

2C.         Notice what Paul wrote to the Corinthian congregation in First Corinthians 1.18 and 21:

18    For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

21    For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. 

3C.         No matter what the Bible says on the subject, many churches these days emphasize what is best described as expository teaching over preaching.  And even among those churches that emphasize door to door “soul winning” or “seeker” services where expository teaching is not featured, the sermons delivered are for the most part topical motivational speeches that do not have the conversion of the lost as their goal.

4C.         The apostolic approach was to preach evangelistic sermons.  The approach used so often today is to not preach evangelistically at all but to teach the Bible expositorily, or to preach something other than evangelistic sermons.  Even the famous independent Baptist pastor Jack Hyles boasted that he had abandoned evangelistic preaching to the lost in his own pulpit in favor of preaching to Christians.[6]

5C.         What is evangelistic preaching?  Evangelistic preaching, which was in great measure rediscovered at the time of the Protestant Reformation, consists of preaching the law and then preaching the gospel.  Preaching the law is important because “for by the law is the knowledge of sin,” Romans 3.20.  Preaching the gospel is important because the gospel “is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek,” Romans 1.16.  Proper evangelistic preaching features law preaching to hardened sinners, and then preaching the gospel to those whose hearts are prepared.

6C.         A superficial study of the book of Acts might not reveal that the apostles employed this approach to evangelism.  But when it is recognized that Paul’s greatest success was among the Gentiles who he found attending the synagogues of the Jews where they had been taught the Law of Moses, then the role of the Law followed by the gospel can be readily understood. 

7C.         Sadly, most pastors do not preach these days.  Even more sadly, those who preach almost never preach the law.  Thus, when the gospel is preached the hearts of the lost are so hard and so cold that they have no awareness of the seriousness of their sins against God, no awareness of the anger of God toward them as sinners, and of the great danger of eternal damnation their souls are in.  This results in the gospel mainly falling on spiritually deaf ears.

8C.         So, go out and compel them to come in.  And once they are in preach the law to them before the gospel is preached to them.  That is what the apostles did.  Of course, the apostles served during a time of sweeping revival, when the Spirit of God moved in the lives of men as He had never before done and as He has never done since then.  So great was their success that opponents once said that they had “turned the world upside down.”[7]

9C.         Much more could be said about the apostle’s evangelism, but these two features (their plan and their preaching) are big enough challenges for us to take on at this time. 


1B.      What would I suggest pastors to do right this moment?  I would suggest that pastors begin to preach to the lost in their own churches.  This could effectively be done by preaching very strong law sermons week after week.  Then, when there is some evidence of genuine conviction being produced by the Holy Spirit, preach clear and concise gospel sermons that avoid the confusing instructions so commonly given these days to “ask Jesus into your heart,” to “pray the sinner’s prayer,” to “ask God to forgive you,” or some other such unscriptural nonsense as that.  Finally, make sure the pastor counsels everyone who seems to come under conviction.

2B.      After that has been done for a while, so that a significant number of church members seem to have gotten saved, I suggest abandoning the unscriptural approach to evangelism the church is engaged in. I would suggest completely stopping all door to do so-called “soul winning” as being patently ineffective.  As well, I would abandon the “seeker” services as being patently ineffective.  In its place I would institute a program of inviting folks to come in, whereby your people are sent out into the highways and byways to gently persuade people to come to church without trying to squeeze a profession of faith out of them first.  The single goal of a church’s outreach should be to get folks into the church house where they will hear the Word of God preached.

3B.    The next step should be to train the church people to compel the lost to come in.  To be sure, you cannot make anyone become a Christian, and coercive manipulation is entirely inappropriate.  No one can or should try to make someone attend church services.  But keep in mind that the apostle Paul did write, in Second Corinthians 5.11, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” 

4B.    So, is there room from improvement here at Calvary Road Baptist Church?  Of course, there is.  I am excited that almost every member of our church participates in our evangelistic outreach on Saturday night.  The next step is for us to advance from a very passive approach of inviting people to come to church, to actually compelling them to come in, as the Lord Jesus Christ commanded.  This would involve persuading folks to do what their initial inclinations would not be to do.  When the sinners are in the church house, they can then be preached to in the apostolic manner, laying down a foundation of law so that they come to see that they have sinned against God.  Then the gospel can be preached to them in the hopes that they will come to Jesus Christ and find forgiveness and life. 


1.   For too long Christians in the USA have tried to evangelize Americans in a manner similar to the way the apostles sought to evangelize the Jews.  But this was done because of ignorance, not realizing the foundational doctrines the Jews had been taught for more than 1,500 years.

2.   The Jewish people knew God was personal, was righteous, was holy, was the Creator and Sustainer of all things.  Further, they knew that He had given His Law and that they had violated His Law.  So, Peter and Paul needed only to apply the Law to Jewish people before preaching the gospel to them.

3.   As well, when Paul reached Gentiles early on in his ministry, they were Gentiles who attended Jewish synagogues and who had many of the same advantages the Jews had.  And there used to be a time in our country when people had a knowledge about God and His Law that affected how sinners could be reached with the gospel.

4.   But now our country is mostly occupied by heathens.  If so-called “soul winners” ever could win people to Christ at their front door using the Romans Road, that is no longer the case.  What god-consciousness exists any more in the United States is oftentimes the result of the influence of eastern religions, not Christianity.  This means nothing can be taken for granted.

5.   Sinners have to be indoctrinated.  Sinners have to be catechized.  They have to be told about the one true and living God.  They have to be told about the Bible, about sin, and about God’s Son.  This foundation has to be laid before the gospel is preached.  And this foundation cannot be laid in fifteen minutes by the average church member.  It has to be presented in the right way by the preacher, to prepare sinners for the gospel.

6.   This means that we have no choice about how to evangelize heathen Americans.  Dealing with folks at their front door simply does not work.  We must do what our Lord Jesus Christ said to do, how He said to do it.  We must compel sinners to come in to God’s house, where they can be indoctrinated, where they can be exposed to God’s Law, and where they can then sit under the preaching of the gospel.

[1] D. A. Waite’s comments in R. L. Hymers, Jr. and Christopher Cagan, Preaching to a Dying Nation, (Los Angeles, CA: Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle, 1999), page viii.

[2] http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=128   9/24/05

[3] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 838.

[4] Titus 2.14

[5] Acts 2.42

[6] Quoted in R. L. Hymers, Jr. and Christopher Cagan, Preaching To A Dying Nation, (Los Angeles, CA: Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles, 1999), pages 81-82.

[7] Acts 17.6

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