I think sometimes when we talk about our faith and about the way we are trying to reach people who aren’t Christians, we aren’t talking about things in a very adequate way. I have heard many people say things like, “we want to save the lost.” There are a couple problems with phrasing things about faith and people in this way.
First off, it calls people “lost.” Now, I am in no way suggesting that people who aren’t Christians are not, in some sense, lost, but I am suggesting that labeling them as “the lost” is probably a little unhelpful. I would suggest that we would be better off talking about people who aren’t Christians the way we would talk about them if they were right there with us.
I don’t think I would ever refer to someone as being one of “the lost” or being “lost” in general to their face because they weren’t a Christian. The main reason I wouldn’t do that is because I don’t think it is helpful to label someone in that way because people aren’t receptive to labels a lot of times (although I may just be taking my own distaste for being labeled and projecting that on others).
It just doesn’t seem likely that anyone, at least people here in this college setting, would be very welcoming of being told that they are “lost.” We might be better off calling people who are “the lost” as simply people who don’t think Jesus is the Son of God; we can just say they aren’t Christians and that can be sufficient.
Secondly, did you notice that the phrase suggests that we are the one doing the saving? “We want to save the lost.” That implies that “we” have the power to save someone. I don’t have the power to save anyone. Christ is the one who saves, not me and not you.
Even when my friend first told me about Jesus and Christianity when I was in high school, that person was not the one who saved me, Jesus was the one who saved me. You see, we cannot fall into a mindset that neglects to recognize that the fate of people lies outside our grasp and is actually in the hands of Christ. I don’t save people and neither does anyone else.
The way that I think about it is that although my friend Tim was one of the primary people who shared what he knew of Christianity, he was not the one who saved me nor was he even the primary player in me coming to Christ. Everything from cheesy bumper stickers to films to music lyrics to my parents to friends to radio talk show hosts had a hand in forming what my opinion of God was and got me to a place where when Tim spoke to me I would be receptive. In that sense, my fate was barely in Tim’s hands at all; my fate was in the hands of hundreds of people before I even met Tim!
Now, I am in no way attempting to discount the act of evangelism or say that we aren’t to share our faith. Please don’t think that is what I’m trying to say. What I am suggesting is that the pressure we put on people to tell others about Jesus in very explicit and direct ways can sometimes be encouraging those people to think that the fate of “the lost” is in their hands. I just do not think that is true. The fate of those people is in Christ’s hands alone and the moment we let ourselves think (or pressure others to think) that we are responsible for the souls of people is the moment we are completely disrespecting the work of the cross.
People do accept Jesus as being what the Bible claims He is and people do become Christians after hearing the stories from the Gospel books. That is a truly wonderful thing and I am certain it brings God much joy. However, I think we need to recognize that if we are the individuals who are telling people the stories from the Gospel or we are telling people who Jesus is, then we need to recognize that it has taken that person their entire life to get to that point where they have become open to accepting those truths.
We cannot think that we are responsible for that person’s soul. We are simply the last straw on a pile full of hundreds of thousands previous straws that finally broke the back.
I never saved anyone nor will I ever. I pray that I am just one straw in the lives of many many people who are all getting closer to the breaking point of following Jesus.
Nick Battilana is a contributing writer for The Aviso.