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A Savour of Life or Death

Category Articles
Date April 18, 2008

We are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. [2 Corinthians 2:15.]

I recently was making my weekly evangelistic visits at a rehab centre and introduced myself to a man recuperating from knee replacement surgery. We talked a while about his surgery and recovery and his job; and then I asked about his religious background. He told me that he stopped going to church forty years ago when he went to college. We were having a very pleasant conversation, and then I asked permission to ask him a couple of questions. He agreed, and so I asked, ‘Have you ever lied? Have you ever been angry with anyone? Have you ever looked on a woman to lust after her?’ He begrudgingly said that he has probably lied a few times and yes, he has been angry with a few people over the years. He denied, however, that he ever looked lustfully at a woman. I told him that I found that hard to believe but then I said, ‘The fact that you have told lies and been angry with people means that God is calling you a liar and murderer.’ I then sought to move into the glorious hope of forgiveness of sins through the death of Christ, but he interrupted me, saying, ‘I don’t want to hear any more of this religious talk. You have your beliefs and I have mine.’ I said, ‘Oh, I am getting a little too close, aren’t I?’ We talked for a few more minutes about news, sports, and the weather, and I left.

My Pakistani, Muslim friend, whom I met in the same rehab centre a month ago, died yesterday. I knew he was not long for this world and I had had several very meaningful gospel conversations with him and his wife. When I last saw him, he was gasping for breath, and I knew the end could not be long for him. I said, ‘You don’t need to talk. It is too hard for you to do so. Just listen to me. Jesus is a wonderful Saviour. There is no one else like him. He and he alone can forgive your sins and take you to heaven when you die. I urge you to believe on him, to trust him with your life and soul.’ I can only hope that he believed the gospel.

Then there is another older man at the same rehab centre whom I have known for three months. He has had a series of complications from open heart surgery, and when I first met him, after he told me of his medical woes, I asked, ‘Are you sure you will go to heaven when you die?’ He began to weep and said, ‘No, and I am afraid to die.’ He had been a Sunday School teacher in a liberal church for decades. I explained the gospel to him and he called on Christ to save him. I saw him two days ago and nothing has changed concerning his physical maladies but he is filled with peace and joy. He knows his sins are forgiven, that he has the hope of heaven when he dies.

Paul, the Apostle, says that the task of the evangelist (and we all ought to do the work of an evangelist) is sobering and humbling. That’s because the very words of the gospel we speak to people elicit one of two responses. It is an aroma of life to life or death to death. In other words, the gospel either hardens or humbles, saves or condemns, comforts or angers. That’s why Paul says, ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ He answers a little later in the text by saying that our sufficiency comes only from God.

May I challenge you for a moment? I want you to be moved to engage in gospel work, some where, some how, some time. The venue or time does not matter to me, but if you are a believer in Christ, then why would you not want to speak to others about their souls? I know the objections. I have used them myself. ‘I don’t know what to say. I don’t know any non-Christians. I am not gifted in evangelism. You don’t expect me to witness at work, do you?’

I just know this – there is nothing, absolutely nothing in this world more satisfying, more invigorating, more meaningful than speaking to others about Jesus. You don’t have to be a trained evangelist. You don’t have to have the gifts of an evangelist. You don’t have to be an outgoing person.

You should not take company time to evangelize. You don’t have to be an apologist schooled in evidential, classical, or presuppositional apologetics to speak to others. What you need simply is a heart overflowing with love for God and the Lord Jesus Christ, being filled with the Spirit, and having a love for people. All you need is to have a testimony of what God has done in your life, how he reached down and saved you, lifting you out of the despair and misery of sin and judgment, how he has placed you on a solid rock of redemption, how he has taken away all your sins, how he directs your every step, how he answers your prayers, meeting your every need, how he promises to take you to heaven when you die. Now, you can do that, can’t you?

I know what the general Christian population says about us Reformed types. ‘They believe in election. They think they don’t need to evangelize, that God will save the elect anyway.’ I hope you don’t believe that. I hope you don’t give people a reason to say that about you. They call that Calvinism, but if this is true then Calvin was not a Calvinist. He was earnest in training men to take the gospel to South America and into his beloved France. Regardless of what you may believe, or what others may tell you, Presbyterian and Reformed types have historically been fervent in evangelism. I mentioned Calvin in the 16th century but we ought also to consider Joseph Alleine and Richard Baxter. But let’s move forward to the 18th century and I mention such great preachers and evangelists as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Gilbert and William Tennent, Samuel Davies. Then in the 19th century we must consider Asahel Nettleton, Daniel Baker, James Henley Thornwell, John Girardeau, and Charles Spurgeon. In the 20th century Reformed preachers and evangelists like Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Daniel Iverson, John Blanchard, Henry Krabbendam, Frank Barker and Kennedy Smartt come immediately to mind. Our heritage is one of fervent, aggressive, bold, humble evangelistic outreach, both in preaching and one-on-one work. So, may we put behind us forever the lame excuse that we are better at teaching theology, that we leave evangelism to the Charismatics.

Remember this sober truth – we by the grace of God have the truth and people need the truth; and regeneration and sanctification come only by the work of the Holy Spirit. We are completely dependent upon the ministry of the Holy Spirit. You are by nature a coward, just like I am, but you can be bold and mighty in the Holy Spirit. Will you find your own ‘fishing hole’ and go there to fish regularly?


I wrote the above the day after my Pakistani friend died, but I found out several days later what happened the night before he left this world. One of his acquaintances at work had been praying for our friend and sharing Christ with him for the last two years, long before he became ill. His church, as well as our church, several of our Bible studies and prayer groups were also praying for his and his wife’s salvation. The night before Mohammed died, his work associate was visiting with him, reading scripture to him, and he asked if he would like to pray and ask Christ to save him.At first Mohammed was reluctant, so his friend continued to read scripture and make comments. Finally, Mohammed said, ‘Yes, I want to pray. I want Christ.’ Could not God have saved our friend at the midnight hour? We certainly believe so, and we are humbled, awed, and amazed at God’s mercy and grace.

Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.

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