Pleading Evangelism: A Definition From Key Examples
Last time I introduced the series of pleading evangelism, and stated that an evangelism that merely finds unbelievers, presents the gospel, and then lets the Lord cause the growth, is unbiblical, bleached evangelism. It needs pleading — words spoken in such a way as to affect the will through the heart. In this post, I want to give a few key examples from the Scriptures of pleading, that we would understand what pleading evangelism is. This post has two sections: an example of pleading with God, and examples of pleading with sinners.
Pleading with God
First, let’s look at a biblical example of how to plead with God. Paul says in Roman 10:1, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them [the Israelites] is for their salvation.”
Now, of course the fact that Paul prays for unbelievers isn't surprising. Paul was a missionary pastor! So, of course he would pray for the unbelieving Israelites. And it is no shocking fact that we too must pray to God for sinners to be saved. We’re Christians! Asking God to save those whom we love is, by the Spirit, natural for us.
But I’m not looking to convince you to pray. You’re already convinced. I want to convince you to pray like Paul does — to plead. Just a chapter before Romans 10:1, in Romans 9:1-5, he says:
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Here Paul uses three different phrases to emphasize that what he is saying is true. He’s telling the truth, he’s not lying, his conscience in the Holy Spirit bears witness. But what is that truth? What does Paul us to see? “I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart.” Not just sorrow — great sorrow! Not just grief — unceasing grief!
What drives him to this? His love for his kinsmen, the Israelites. He so passionately wants the Israelites to be saved that, if it were possible, he could wish to be separated from Christ so that they, instead of him, would be united to Christ! He would be willing to give up his own eternal glory for their salvation and blessing. He would trade positions, eternities, destinies for their benefit to his own destruction. Oh, see how great a love God gave His apostle!
Now then, let’s ask ourselves this question: how does a man with this overwhelming love, a man with great sorrow and unceasing grief in his heart, pray for those whom he wants to be saved?
Would he pray like this? “Dear Lord, we lift up dear Margie into your hands. We know that you love sinners, and we ask that You would please show her Jesus. Thank you, Lord. In Jesus’ name, amen.” I think not. This is a not a ‘bad’ prayer, but it is not the prayer of a heart of love burdened by great sorrow and unceasing grief.
I imagine Paul prayed something more like this: “O LORD GOD! You are the God and Savior of Israel! To us belong the promise of adoption! Of glory! Of the covenants! You, O Lord, gave to us the Law and the temple ordinances, the unbreakable promises to our forefathers. And what’s more, the Christ, the Lord and Savior of us all, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Son of David, the Son of Man, comes from the line of Your servant David. O Lord, to Israel belongs this salvation! Save them, O God! Would You show them Your glory! You have displayed Your great mercy to the Gentiles, but, O Lord, do not forget Your people! Even as You extend Your grace to all the nations, do not forsake Your people!
“So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and for Your sake, O Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary. O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolation and the city which is called by Your name; for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion. O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name (Daniel 9:17-19).
All praise to You! All glory to You! May Your will be done. Amen.”
Admittedly, Paul’s prayer for the Israelites is not recorded for us in Scriptures. I am imagining. But given how he testifies to the genuineness of his grief and given that he spends three whole chapters in the book of Romans writing on the implications of the new covenant for the nation of Israel, I do not think it too far a stretch. He knew the prayers of the Old Testament saints like Daniel, and whatever he prayed, however he prayed, he undoubtedly pled with the Father to hear him.
His prayer was not apathetic. It was not a listless prayer. It was not a complacent, reserved, stoic prayer like those said so often today. It was not a prayer with an underlying attitude of “Well, it’s up to God now. Time to stop praying.” No! His love was strong, not weak! His sorrow was great, not flickering! His grief was unceasing, not fickle! And from this love, this sorrow, this grief, he prayed with a heart-pounding, weeping, desperate prayer. Surely those who know what it is to ache for God to save sinners know what I mean. This kind of prayer is not mere ‘telegraphs’ to God; it is pleading with Him, begging Him, to act on behalf of sinners.
Pleading with Sinners
Next, let us look at some biblical examples of how to plead with sinners. I will point to many examples in order to bolster the strength of my argument, for I believe that pleading with sinners is at a most pitiful state in the church today.
The first example of pleading with sinners is from God Himself. He said to His rebellious nation Israel:
“Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies… Therefore, repent and live” (Ezekiel 18:30-32).
This plea came after large discourses of condemnation and woe, of promises of destruction and unrelenting wrath. God did not have to extend this mercy to them; Israel had already rejected the prophets and the testimony of God in years past. Yet, God says this, and extends His grace, in a plea: “Repent and live!”
The second example is Christ Himself. He said to the crowds:
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
John 7 even says:
Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’ ” (John 7:37-38).
Note that Christ extends His invitation to all, imploring the crowds to come to Him and find rest for their souls. He compels the crowds to come, to learn from Him, to drink living water. It is not primarily didactic; it is not primarily to inform the intellect. He said this to affect the will, to achieve an effect on hearts, to save sinners. It was a plea.
The third example is Peter. After preaching the gospel on the day of Pentecost, Peter said to the crowd:
“Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” (Acts 2:37-39).
The passage continues to say, “And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation” ” (Acts 2:40)! For Peter, the call to repentance and for salvation is something that deserves to be extended to all of those within earshot. And, to Peter, the call to salvation was worth being repeated. “Be saved!” he cried. “Be saved from this wicked generation! Be saved!”
The fourth, and last, example is Paul. After explaining the doctrine of the great exchange, that is, that through the cross Christ took our sin and we received His righteousness, Paul said, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). We will look at this verse in depth in a later post, but for now focus on the last phrase: “we beg you…be reconciled to God.” Paul is begging, with Christ’s authority, for sinners to be reconciled. It is a plea.
Next in the series is Pleading Evangelism: How To Plead Like a Calvinist, Part I (to be linked to published written).