WHY SHOULD WE TRY TO PERSUADE THE LOST?
The English word “persuasion” (in all its various forms) is used three times more often than the word “predestination,” yet it seems the latter receives a thousand times more attention. Persuasion is at the very heart of apologetics, and I dare say, it is at the heart of evangelism itself. I have to wonder if the lack of emphasis on this biblical doctrine has lead to the decline in baptisms and evangelistic efforts among Evangelicals over the last few decades?
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT PERSUASION?
Let’s take a look at some of it’s most relevant uses:
“Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas.” (Acts 17:4)
“Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 18:4)
“This man is persuading the people to worship God.” (Acts 18:13)
“(Paul was) arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 19:8)
“Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to become a Christian?” (Acts 26:28)
“They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.” (Acts 28:23-24)
“Since then we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.” (2 Corinthians 5:11)
Too often we speak only of the need to proclaim and explain the good news to the lost, but clearly the Bible teaches us that we should be trying to persuade people of its truthfulness. Is that not what evangelism and apologetics is all about?
Notice in Acts 17, when Paul “dialogued” (Greek: dialegomai, meaning ‘reasoned’) in the synagogue that it resulted in people being “persuaded” (Greek: peitho). Paul explained the Old Testament scriptures and answered their questions so as to convince them of the truth. This was typical in his approach with his fellow Jews (“his custom” v. 2) , because he knew the Jews considered their scriptures to be authoritative. However, Paul’s approach with the Gentiles shifted to speaking about their culture first rather than the Scriptures (see vs. 22-31). Paul is using his God given gift of persuasion by connecting with his audience on their level. He has “become all things to all people so that by all possible means [he] might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO PERSUADE?
Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words describes the word “persuade” as follows: ”
To prevail upon or win over, to bring about a change of mind by the influence of reason or moral considerations.”
Notice this definition draws attention to both reason and morality. In other words, appealing to one’s conscience in an effort to get them to do what is right morally may be one effective approach to persuasion, but it’s not the only tool. Appealing to sound reason (by means of dialogue) is an equally important biblical tool in the persuasion process.
Persuasion is not about emotionally abusing people into submission. It is about speaking truth in love (Eph. 4:15). It is about being a person of character who earns the respect of the audience by showing them respect. It is about making sound, logical, well reasoned arguments that connect with the listener on a personal level. As Paul said:
“We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2)
Paul, while he was in Ephesus, was “arguing persuasively” (Acts 19:8). Doesn’t that strongly imply that it is possible to “argue unpersuasively?” Why would anyone want to risk being “unpersuasive” when it comes to proclaiming the most important news of all?