Want to Lead People to Christ? Be Negative

Josh Buice

Today we will begin a three-part series (posted each Tuesday) that will focus on the positive side of being negative.  Today’s subject is centered on the need to be negative in the work of evangelism.  Each Tuesday for the next two weeks, I will address the need to be negative in the work of apologetics and pastoral ministry.

We’ve all heard the line, “Don’t be negative, you will push people away.”  Recently, I published an article that openly criticized a popular figure in evangelical circles.  What I wasn’t prepared for was all of the negative responses from people who were accusing me of being negative. I do understand the point that many people expressed as they accused me of hindering the gospel.  While I’m generally a happy, optimistic, and positive person who enjoys spending time in laughter, when it comes to the gospel, there is more to it than, “Smile, God has a wonderful plan for your life.”

We live in a hashtag happy culture that demands positivity and tolerance.  The hashtags #DontHate and #DontJudge are popular statements in our society.  Is it true that a perpetual positive tone will automatically lead people to faith in Jesus?  The idea that being positive leads people to Christ while being negative leads people to hell is flawed on several different levels.  While it’s certainly not Christlike to be rude, hateful, and arrogant in sharing the truth, we must realize that in order to share the gospel, a certain amount of negativity is required.

The Problem of Sin is Negative

The fact that everyone has sinned against God is not a positive message (Rom. 3:23).  John Calvin once remarked that the heart is an idol factory. In fact, the truth that a person has sinned against God and that their heart is wicked (Jer. 17:9) is the most negative thing a person could ever hear.  Although the message is negative, the purpose is positive.

Sin must be treated like a poisonous viper rather than a family lap dog.  It must be approached with an urgency that requires immediate action.  To allow sin to grow like cancer is detrimental to a person’s soul.  We take our cues from Jesus, and as we examine His preaching, we see that He was straightforward and honest with people.  Consider the woman at the well in John’s gospel, Jesus pointed out her sexual sin directly without attempting friendship evangelism.  When we look at the preaching of Peter in Acts, we see him pointing out the sin of the multitude.  In Paul’s preaching, he was consistently thrown in jail for his preaching, because he pointed out the negative reality of sin.

Sin is horrible and the end result is even worse.  We must not walk in the footsteps of Joel Osteen who refuses to deal with the root of sin.  We must not be like the doctor who treats the symptoms of cancer rather than the cancer.  We must follow in the footsteps of Jesus and His apostles.  If we want to lead people to Christ, we must address their sin and this will require us to be negative.

Francis Schaeffer was once asked, “What would you do if you met a really modern man on a train and you just had an hour to talk to him about the gospel?” He replied:

I’ve said over and over, I would spend 45-50 minutes on the negative, to really show him his dilemma – that he is morally dead – then I’d take 10-15 minutes to preach the gospel. I believe that much of our evangelistic and personal work today is not clear simply because we are too anxious to get to the answer without having a man realize the real cause of his sickness, which is true moral guilt (and not just psychological guilt feelings) in the presence of God. [1]

The Reality of Hell is Negative

Our culture uses hell as a word to emphasize the extremeness of an adjective rather than a place of torment where guilty sinners suffer endlessly.  Could it be that the reason the church talks so much about heaven and so little about hell is because many people in the church don’t actually believe in a literal hell?  It may shock some people to know that Jesus actually preached more about hell than He did about heaven during His earthly ministry.  What may come as an added surprise to many in the church today is that Jesus spoke more about hell than anyone else in the Bible.  In fact, if you take all everyone who spoke about hell in the Bible and combine all of their teaching on the subject, Jesus said more than everyone else combined.

The point is clear, Jesus preached about hell and it wasn’t a positive message (Luke 16:19-31; Matt. 13:41-42, 49-50).  The reality of endless torment, suffering, agony, flames, pain, and the eternal wrath of God being poured out upon sinners is not a positive picture.  However, it’s a necessary picture.  The justice of God demands that sinners be judged.  There will be no escape for guilty sinners, and this is not a positive thought or message. If you attempt to divorce God’s mercy from God’s justice, the end result is something other than the gospel.

The Exclusive Gospel is Negative

People do not like to be told they’re wrong.  I recall my wife years ago telling me the story about her upper management at a high end personal training facility schooling her on the art of being positive.  They trained her on how to address people who were overweight without telling them they were….wrong.  She was told to move them to the solution without being negative.  Why was so much effort put into such training?  It was all about money and success.  If you tell people they’re wrong, they might not return and when they don’t return, it will result in decreased sales.

That same mindset has crept into the church today.  The church has lost its prophetic voice.  The pulpit sounds like Veggie Tales rather than the apostle Paul.  The message of the cross is a stumbling block to the world.  The bloody cross is offensive.  However, unless the emphatic exclusivity of Christ is preached and explained without compromise, people will perish eternally.  The church today must be courageous enough in our God hating society to lift up Christ as the exclusive door of salvation.  The church must dare to be negative in the sense of telling sinners that God demands that they repent.

The only hope for sinners is for someone to be bold enough to tell them they’re wrong, they’re guilty, and that there is hope in God through Jesus Christ.  A statement from the children’s movie years ago titled Finding Nemo stated, “All drains lead to the ocean” (Gill in Finding Nemo).  That may be true in the pixelated cartoon world of Hollywood, but it’s not true when it comes to real life.  Our ecumenical culture is confused regarding religion and that has never been more clearly visible than at the recent Muhammad Ali funeral.  All religions don’t lead to the same place.  The moment we point out the errors of such an ecumenical interfaith funeral, we have just become negative.

The church is not called to be rude, prideful, arrogant, and harsh.  The call to preach the gospel is not a license to be ugly.  We don’t need to make the gospel more offensive and negative than it already is.  While the gospel is good news to guilty sinners, it’s also negative at the same time.  To speak the truth in love requires that we speak the truth.  Remember, Jesus loved sinners, but He told them the truth.  The most unloving thing we could possible do is to remain silent about the truth in our attempt to be positive.  A happy church will share a negative message with a positive goal.  Do you want to lead more people to Jesus?  You need to be negative!

J. Gresham Machen once said:

No man is interested in a piece of good news unless he has the consciousness of needing it; no man is interested in an offer of salvation unless he knows that there is something from which he needs to be saved. It is quite useless to ask a man to adopt the Christian view of the gospel unless he first has the Christian view of sin. [2]

  1. Will Metzger, Tell The Truth, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 118.
  2. J. Gresham Machen, God Transcendent and Other Sermons, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949), 34.
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Author Want to Lead People to Christ?  Be Negative

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.