By Foy W. Vinson
Countless are the sermons which have been preached and the articles which have been written on this theme. However, it is clearly evident that too much has not been said on this subject in view of the fact that so little is being done about it. When I speak of “our” responsibility I mean the obligation which has imposed upon every disciple of Christ to inform others of divine truth (Heb. 5:12; 2 Tim. 2:2). By “responsibility” I mean that for which one will be held accountable. This word has been used so often that perhaps we have lost sight of the gravity, which is attached to it. Yes, that for which I am responsible I will have to account for at the judgment bar of Christ! By the “lost” I mean those who are alienated from God because of sin, and who, should they die in their present condition, would have to suffer the pangs and torments of an interminable hell. Let us notice that the lost fall into the following three categories.
By far the majority of the lost fall into this first category–those who have never heard the unsearchable riches of Christ. When we consider this class of alien our minds often go immediately to some remote place far removed from our own land. We think of Africa, Asia, South America or some such place, but never of our own nation. Perhaps we convince ourselves that if we lived amid the millions of Africans and Asians who have never heard the truth we would busy ourselves in teaching them. But brethren, I fear this is but the practice of self-deceit! Why the majority of folks right in our own country, in our own state and even in our own community have never heard the gospel of Christ! Oh many of them have been exposed to counterfeit gospels, but I’m speaking of the truth. Paul said to the Galatians, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed– unto another gospel: Which is not another.” Hence error often parades itself under the guise of truth, but it is not the truth.
Now our subject concerns itself with our responsibility to the lost. Since those who have never heard the gospel are lost, then what obligation do we have to such? When Jesus commissioned his apostles directly and every disciple indirectly (Matt. 28: 19-20; Mk. 16: 15-16) he had in mind that great host of people who have never been informed of the truth. Jesus therefore lays upon our shoulders the duty of teaching the uninformed. We have an approved example which enforces this obligation in Acts 8:4 where we read that “they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.”
The seriousness of this responsibility is seen in the fact that one must first hear or learn before he can obey to the saving of his soul. We know that faith and obedience are essential to salvation, but neither is possible apart from the hearing of the word (Rom. 10:13-17). This means that the salvation of others is in part dependent upon me. This has always been so. Ezekiel was told, “When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity–” (Ezek. 3:18). So a soul may be eternally lost through my failure to disclose to him the truth. Yet the tragedy does not end there, for Jehovah continues in the above verse by saying: “…but his blood will I require at shine hand.” Therefore, to prevent not only the damnation of others, but my own self as well, I must meet this responsibility.
The second category into which the lost fall covers those who have heard the preaching of the gospel but who have not become obedient thereto. These might be called the second class of alien. Not everyone who hears and even learns the truth immediately obeys it. And though this group does not compare in numbers with the one first mentioned, yet there are multitudes of people who must be thus classified.
It is true that individuals should obey the gospel once they hear it. I fear, however, that since this is so we often “write off” so to speak those who do not immediately respond to the truth. This we ought not to do. I’m sure the majority of those presently Christians did not obey the very instant they learned the truth. It seems to me altogether possible if not probable that the apostle Paul heard the gospel proclaimed at least once if not more quite some time before he submitted himself to Christ. I conclude this from the fact that he was present at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 1: 58; 8:1) which occurred as a result of the preaching Stephen had just done. Also Paul resided in Jerusalem during the period of time when the apostles and other saints were quite active in sounding out the word to those round about (Acts 2:14-40; 3:12-26; 4:33; 5:2542).
Instead of assuming the attitude of “they know the truth and if they don’t choose to obey it that’s their tough luck” I should rather consider the possibility that I might be one reason such have not obeyed! What about my example before others? (Matt. 5:16; Phil. 2:15.) I’m confident that often the dim-lighted, half converted, lukewarm child of God is the primary consideration in the failure of another to obey the truth. Peter realized the impact of a godly life on others when he penned these words in 1 Peter 3:1, “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.”
Above all, let us not be hasty in forsaking our efforts to lead another to Christ. In Paul’s charge to Timothy to “preach the word” he also admonished him to “exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” On Pentecost Peter after declaring Jesus to be both Lord and Christ and after setting forth the divine conditions for pardon still did “with many other words testify and exhort” (Acts 2: 40). Remember, many have been converted years after they first heard the gospel and many such have become faithful gospel preachers themselves or elders in the Lord’s church.
Finally, in categorizing the lost we must include those who have become Christians and then have been overcome in one way or another by the prince of this world. Some say that such individuals are not to be classified among the lost. They say that once one is saved he is forever saved. They further claim that though such a person has lost the joy of his salvation he still possesses salvation itself. This is inconceivable, however, since it is the fact and knowledge of salvation which produces joy in the first place. It was the realization that he had been saved from all sin that caused the Ethiopian eunuch to go “on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39). The same was true in the case of the Philippian jailor who “rejoiced, believing in God with all his house” (Acts 16:34). It was the loss of this salvation on the part of Simon the sorcerer, a child of God, that caused the inspired apostle to describe him as being “in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:23). Peter describes the tragic condition of such persons in the following language:
“For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, the dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Pet. 2:20-22).
Brethren, we have the obligation of restoring the fallen before they become irreclaimable. James says, “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:19-20). Paul also points out this duty in Galatians 6: 1: “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”
In spite of these passages, how often do members fall by the wayside without ever being approached! It appears that the average member feels that the work of restoring the fallen is the duty of the preacher and elders exclusively. I sometimes feel that our efforts at restoring the unfaithful are largely ineffective due to the fact that often the only one who calls on the wayward is the preacher and his visit is commonly regarded as a mere “professional call.” Paul taught that “the members should have the same care one for another” (1 Cor. 12:25). Many times this “care” is conspicuously absent.
May we have a greater realization of and appreciation for our responsibility to the lost, whether they be those who have never heard the truth, or those who have heard it and not obeyed, or those who have obeyed and then erred from the truth. Let us recognize the value of a man’s soul and what it means to be LOST! Then let us look on the fields which are white unto harvest and “go forth bearing precious seed” knowing that we shall “doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing our sheaves with us” (Psa. 12:6).
Truth Magazine VI: 3, pp. 2-4