Are Christians to Win Souls?

As in so many areas of Bible truth, there seems to be an imbalance in various segments of Christianity regarding this question.

Humanly applied pressure and manipulation is called "Soul Winning"

I recall attending an evangelistic meeting conducted by a very well-known evangelist. He preached his gospel message and gave a rather normal invitation — at first. In the initial phase of his invitation he had those who were "making decisions" to trust Christ as their Savior raise their hands for prayer. This was done with "every head bowed and every eye closed." He then urged those who had raised their hands to step out into the aisle and walk forward. Some did and some did not. Then he invited the "Christian workers" who were in the audience to go to those who had raised their hands but had not yet walked the aisle, and offer to come with them. Of course, I thought — as you may be thinking — if every head was bowed and every eye was closed, how could these "Christian workers" know who had raised their hands in the first place? Peeking was obviously part of the planned approach.

After an extended invitation, there was still one woman who had raised her hand for prayer but who remained standing in her place. Finally, the evangelist looked right at her, pointed his figure, and said, "Lady, you're holding everyone here. We're waiting for you." He then said, "One of you godly, soul-winning women come and bring her to the altar." A well-meaning woman from the church came to her and only after repeated urgings, tears and resistance, did she get her to the altar. With that, several people around me stomped out of the meeting. I was so disgusted with what was paraded as the work of the Holy Spirit and a burden for souls that I felt like leaving as well. Call it what you will, but this is not soul winning in the biblical sense of the word.

Soul Winning Is Denied

On the other hand, there are those who maintain that we are never told anywhere in Scripture to win souls. Instead, they tell us, we are to simply present the message and allow God's Holy Spirit to do His work of winning the individual to Christ. Let's see what Scripture reveals.

Is the winning of souls legitimate? Can we win the lost to Christ?

I can answer these questions yes or no depending upon what is meant by "winning" the lost. If by winning the lost we're talking about saving them, then obviously the answer to the question is a firm no. Only God can save a lost person. He alone is able to produce the new birth. This is the work of God's Holy Spirit. We dare not even attempt to do His work in the heart of anyone, particularly one who is lost in his trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1–3).

However, if by winning the lost to the Lord we are speaking of reasoning with them and persuading them to trust Christ, then our answer to the above two questions must be an equally firm yes.

What does the Bible mean by "winning souls"? 

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.
— Proverbs 11:30

To "win" souls in this verse means to bring, to lead. So, the question becomes, "Can Christians bring or lead others to Christ?" Most would answer yes, and rightly so.

But winning the lost ones may involve more than simply bringing or leading them to Him. For instance, Daniel 12:3 seems to include an additional dimension:

Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.
— Daniel 12:3

To "turn many to righteousness" is a stronger thought than is used in Proverbs 11:30 — to win souls. The wording in Daniel seems to carry with it more of a hands-on, eyeball-to-eyeball grappling, coupled with strong reasoning and persuasion.

In light of this, it certainly has been my observation over the years that the believers who make honest attempts at winning others to Christ are too often very weak at reasoning and persuading. As a result they are too easily satisfied with "having presented the gospel," with little thought given as to how they might improve their ability to bring others to a definite decision to trust Christ as Savior.

The Apostle Paul as an Ideal Example

Paul, the apostle, urged the believers to, "Imitate me; just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). In what way are we to imitate him? The context has the answer. Ignoring the chapter division, his statement just prior to that quoted above is, "Give no offense, either to the Jew or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please [adapt myself to] all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved" (10:32–33). So, if I am to imitate him, following his example, I am to see that all that I do brings glory to God (10:31) and does not bring offense to anyone, so that many may trust in Christ as their Savior and be saved.

It seems logical, then, to discover from Scripture how Paul went about winning others to Christ. So we turn to the book of Acts to see the apostle in action.

Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed.
— Acts 14:1

We are not told how they spoke, but obviously there was something in the way they spoke that brought multitudes of Jews and Gentiles to believe in Christ as their Messiah/Redeemer. Added to this is the fact that it was the Word of the living God that they were sharing. Their speech (manner of speaking) was apparently crucial in bringing about this great harvest of souls.

We dare not speculate too much, but the Bible is clear that Paul was not much of a speaker; he was no orator. He recognized it, even quoting his distractors in their ridicule of him: "For his letters, they say, are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible" (2 Corinthians 10:10). Contemptible carries the idea of being of no account. If you were organizing a high-powered Bible conference, you probably wouldn't consider Paul as a headline speaker; a workshop type guy, perhaps, but not your main man. You'd want an Apollos for that job (see Acts 18:24–25). So when Paul "so spoke" as to win a multitude to Christ, it couldn't be referring to his eloquence. It must have been some quality other than that.

Continuing in Acts, I think we'll discover what that quality was. When Paul and his company came to Thessalonica they went to the synagogue.

Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.’ And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.
— Acts 17:2–4

Paul let the Scriptures do the talking (Isaiah 55:10–11), but he knew the Scriptures well enough to walk these well-versed Jews and Greeks through God's Word to the point of decision — belief in Christ (carefully note Acts 18:4,13,19,24–28; 19:8–10, 26).

This is, perhaps, the area of our greatest lack in this matter of winning others to Christ. We are content to know a few salvation verses, and if those verses aren't enough to convince the unsaved, we hide behind clichés such as: they weren't ready; their hearts were hardened; I planted so someone else will have to reap. We are not willing to admit our sin of not being adequately immersed in Scripture so that we can turn most any man's objections or hesitations into an opportunity to present more of God's Word.

Again in this chapter (vv. 16–17) we see Paul's pattern:

Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshippers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.
— Acts 17:16–17

Finally, there's Paul's own testimony:

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more.
— 1 Corinthians 9:19

A willingness to serve all men for the gospel's sake is crucial to winning others to Christ, but this demands that we willingly step out of our comfort zones, trust in the Holy Spirit's power, and begin to persuade others using the mighty Word of God.

Reasoning from Scripture and persuading through the Word is the most effective way of winning others to Christ. It is the Bible way. Is it your way?