Written by Garrett Atkins

We like to win. Even from an early age, people are concerned about whether or not they are victorious. In teaching my five-year-old daughter to play simple board games, I have already witnessed pouting, anger, and tears that accompanied her losing. Often she is less concerned about others’ feelings, if there was actual competition, or whether I ignored her breaking of the rules so she could win at least one round of the game. No matter the cost and no matter the cheating, she just wants to win.

The Necessary Use of Persuasion in Evangelism

Our desire to win others to Christ is a necessary motivator for persuasive evangelism. We truly must desire that the person we are witnessing to is won over to believe the gospel. However, unlike my daughter playing board games, evangelism is not about me winning. Instead, it is about Christ’s victory displayed through an individual’s conversion from death (the losing side) to life (the winning side). Regardless of the cost necessary to proclaim the gospel, we persevere in doing so for God’s glory and for the sake of those who are lost, not because we win. By starting with the mindset that evangelism is not about us but for the sake of others, we can view persuasion from a positive perspective.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news. If we have experienced the transforming nature of God’s forgiving mercy and grace, we naturally desire that others will also receive such an incredible gift. However, most unbelieving people are uninterested, opposed, or even hostile toward the good news of the gospel. Bluntly stating truth without context, clarification, or application rarely makes any significant impact on an unbelieving heart. People need to be persuaded of the precarious position they are in as sinful humans before a holy God, and they must be convinced that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is the only means God has provided for the atonement of sins and their adoption as sons. We see this demonstrated in the New Testament: “And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.” (Acts 17:2–4 ESV). If we are sincere in our desire to see people won over to Christ, then our presentation of the gospel needs to be persuasive.

The Delicate Use of Persuasion in Evangelism

There are two equal yet opposite ways that ‘persuasion’ can be misunderstood and applied. First, there is the temptation to change, adapt, add, or subtract elements of the biblical gospel in an effort to win people over. In this “win them over by any means necessary” approach, individuals are convinced to join the cause with deception, coercion, manipulation, enticement, and compromise. It is justified by pointing to the supposed results of pragmatism: “Look at the crowds! See how many people came forward at the altar call! Count the baptisms we have performed!” Yet, no matter the perceived results, those won through a different gospel are not justified and adopted. The Apostle Paul warns in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” We must be persuasive while holding firmly to biblical truth that is free of compromise. We can’t cheat our way to Christ’s victory.

The second way that persuasion can be misused is to view being persuasive as synonymous with being argumentative. From this perspective, proving your point is the most important part of evangelism. Argumentative evangelists don’t evaluate success based on the numbers. Instead, they focus only on winning the debate. Stumping the skeptic is all that matters. This approach attempts to portray the evangelist as the fearless champion of truth with a high regard for doctrine. The danger is that it is often motivated by pride. It is about the evangelist, not Christ, winning and receiving the glory. First Corinthians 13:1-3 warns that if a believer has powerful gifts, understanding, and faith but doesn’t have love, he gains nothing. Winning the argument but losing the person is not biblical evangelism.

Persuasive evangelism is a balance of attractively presenting the gospel while upholding Scripture without compromise. We defend the truth but do so with kindness. We take sin seriously yet still give hope. We dismantle objections and barriers to belief while offering a better alternative in the grace and mercy of the cross. We make Jesus look good because He is good. We proclaim Christ only as He has revealed Himself through the Bible because it is sufficient. Our very lives, through genuinely loving words and deeds, give testimony to the truth of the gospel. It is good for us to share the gospel persuasively, and we must strive to do so. Don’t seek your own victory, but, by the grace of God, desire that He will use you to win souls for Christ’s kingdom.

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord,
we persuade others.

2 Corinthians 5:11