One of the sad byproducts of this modern age where "tolerance is king" is that Christians have lost the urgency of the Gospel message. We are so afraid of being criticized, ostracized, or marginalized that we oftentimes unintentionally make our presentation of Christ sound like something that can be taken or left with no consequence. I have read statements from so-called "Christian" mission organizations that went something like this: "We are not here to proselytize. We are just here to show the people love and compassion. If they choose to believe like us, that is fine. If not, that is fine too."
To be sure, there are some tactics being used in an attempt to reach people for Christ that are wrong and inappropriate. But just because there are unethical men who would try to bully or trick a person into making a "profession of faith," that does not mean that we should go to the other extreme and be tepid and timid in our presentation of the Gospel. There are times that a person hears the Gospel explained and readily agrees to believe on Christ. But what about the times that a person hears the Gospel and then sets up camp in the valley of indecision? How should we deal with fence-sitters? Should we leave procrastinators alone? Should we simply give them the message from God and then walk away? Is any amount of pressure justified? If so, how much? In other words, shall we plead with sinners?
Consider II Corinthians 5:20:
"Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God."
Most people know this verse by the first phrase, "We are ambassadors for Christ," but we should be careful not to overlook the rest of the verse. It is powerful! It tells us exactly what it means to be an ambassador for Christ which in turn will answer the question, "Shall we plead with sinners?"
First, a few definitions.
There are two verbs in this verse which bear very similar meanings: beseech and pray. To beseech means to entreat; to supplicate; to implore; to ask or pray with urgency, and to pray means to supplicate; to entreat; to urge. These two words do not mean to merely ask or make a request. They are stronger than that. They both include the important component of urgency. It is no stretch to say that to beseech or to pray someone is to plead with them. To plead means to attempt to pursuade one by argument; to supplicate with earnestness; to urge; to press by operating on the passions.
How about the word stead? We don't use that word much these days, but it simply means substitution; replacing or filling the place of another. The word is used 94 times in the Bible, and the great majority of those uses are referring to a king reigning in another king's "stead." But there are a few instances (like II Cor. 5:20) where the word stead is used to indicate a substitution of a different nature. In this case, an ambassador is in stead of Christ, meaning literally that he is a substitute or a replacement for Christ.
There is one more word in this verse that deserves special attention. The word reconciled means brought into friendship from a state of disagreement or enmity. There could be no more perfect word to describe what transpires when a sinner makes peace with God.
So what does it mean to be an ambassador for Christ? Does it mean to put a fish sticker on your car? Does it mean to wear a WWJD bracelet? The verse doesn't say we are advertising executives for Christ. Well, what about inviting people to church? The verse doesn't say we are event managers for Christ. Handing out tracts? The Bible doesn't say we are marketing consultants for Christ. While there is nothing wrong with any of the above activities, and some are even advisable, none of those things capture the essence of what it means to be an ambassador. An ambassador interacts with one person on behalf of another. An ambassador seeks out problems and meets them head-on. An ambassador speaks the truth, then lays out the path to reconciliation. An ambassador pleads for one party to make peace with the other. An ambassador is not passive, but active, pressing for solutions and resolutions of problems. As ambassadors of Christ, we must conduct our King's business with urgency and directness.
1. Our voice is really God's voice.
Paul said to the Corinthian believers that when he came to them as God's ambassador, that meant that the words he spoke to them were as if they came from God Himself. ("...we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us...") That one simple truth will give you a whole new boldness in sharing the Gospel with men. I often tell people, "It is no accident that our paths crossed today. God has a message for you, and He sent me to deliver it." Some may say that is arrogant or presumptuous, but according to the Scripture it is not. As an ambassador, it is my job to speak on behalf of my King. As Ambassadors of Christ, our words don't just line up on the shelf as yet another view or opinion that man can take or leave. Do we really believe that if a man dies without Christ he will go to Hell? Then we must not treat the rejecting of salvation as if one has declined a cup of coffee. This is a serious matter of utmost importance, and we must conduct the duties of our ambassadorship with passion and urgency. When God speaks, we must not take it lightly, and when Christ's ambassador speaks to lost men, God has indeed spoken.
2. Our compassion is really God's compassion.
When Paul went to Corinth preaching the Gospel, he was not content to just give them God's message and then walk away. No, he recognized that he was in Christ's stead. (...we pray you in Christ's stead...") He knew that he was Christ's substitute in urging these people to believe. You see, Christ was our substitute on the cross, but we are His substitute in this world. When we implore a person to trust Christ, we are not imploring them for ourselves. We are imploring them in the place of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This is the same Jesus who is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. This is the same Jesus who was moved with compassion when he saw the multitudes scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd. This is the same Jesus who loved the world so much that He willingly laid down His life on the cross. It is this very same Jesus for whom we are a substitute. Paul urged and begged the lost of Corinth to be saved because He was urging them in Christ's stead.
3. Our message is really God's message.
It is important to note that all of that urging and imploring and pleading was for one thing: that they would be reconciled to God. ("...we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.") Remember, to be reconciled means to be brought into friendship from a state of disagreement or enmity. The reason that God begs and pleads with men to be brought into friendship with Him is precisely because the opposite of friendship is enmity. A Holy God cannot have friendship with sinful men. It is our sin that creates the enmity, but God has made a way that sins may be forgiven. One who refuses God's pleading is yet in a state of enmity with God and will suffer the consequence. God pleads for man to "make peace" because He loves them and does not want to see them perish.
So...should we plead with sinners? It is plain to see in the Word of God that God doesn't want us to be lackadaisical or casual in presenting His Gospel on His behalf. It is God's message, not ours. We are His substitutes - serving in His stead. If He considers it to be big news, so must we. If He considers it to be nonnegotiable, so must we. If He considers every man worthwhile, so must we. If He has a great longing for all men to be saved, so must we. If He would plead with men who are still undecided, so must we.
Obviously we cannot force anyone to believe on Christ, but neither let us give up so easily. Shall we plead with sinners? We better plead with sinners, because that's our job as ambassadors of Christ. We are to present His message, and we are to strongly and passionately urge people to accept that message. If they have excuses, we need to have answers. If they have reasons to wait, we need to have reasons to not wait. If they have objections, we need to deal with their objections one by one and convey to them that in all of life, there is no decision of greater importance than the decision to trust Christ as Savior.
If, after pleading with a man on behalf of God, he still rejects the Gospel, then it is not time to quit pleading. It's just time to redirect our pleading. Just like we ought to plead with man for God, we also need to plead with God for man. Job 16:21 says, "O that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbour!" We are never truly out of options. We plead with a man on God's behalf. Then we plead with God on that man's behalf, that God's Holy Spirit would soften His heart and reveal to him his great need of a Savior. Then plead with the man for God. Then plead with God for the man again. The stakes are too high to give up with minimal pleading. The great need of the day is for men who would plead with man for God and plead with God for man.