In the 1611 King James Version, we read, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise” (Prov. 11:30). It is in this verse that the language of soul winning has its roots. Although Hebrew scholars have wrestled over the precise translation of this verse, most agree that what’s in view is the capturing or rescuing of souls from death by the righteous whose lives bear fruit like the fruit of the tree of life in the garden of Eden. When lost people observe the fruit of the righteous and take of that fruit, their souls will be captured, or won, from death.
Although we don’t find the language of winning souls throughout Scripture, we certainly see the theme of rescuing souls everywhere in Scripture. Rescuing souls is at the very foundation of the mission of God and at the heart of the grand story of redemption. Before the foundation of the world, God chose to rescue souls, and when the fullness of time had come, the Father sent the Son to rescue souls. The Son came to seek and to save that which was lost, and the Holy Spirit calls and regenerates the souls of all the Father has given to the Son. Our sovereign and triune God is the primary rescuer of lost souls. And in His wisdom, God has called us to be secondary instruments through which He rescues souls.
Our sovereign and triune God is the primary rescuer of lost souls.
While some Christians in past generations may have had the impression that soul winning is identified exclusively with evangelism, Scripture provides us with a much broader view. Rescuing souls is accomplished wherever a soul, a human being, is in danger of death, both physically and spiritually, both temporally and eternally. Rescuing souls involves evangelizing, preaching, teaching, disciple-making, disciplining, rebuking, exhorting, comforting, encouraging, and praying. Rescuing souls even involves rescuing the lives of the unborn from being murdered, helping to care for those who are rescued, and trying to rescue the souls of those who attempt to murder the unborn. Rescuing souls is not only the work of evangelists, apologists, and pastors, it is the work of all Christians. It is the everyday work of dads and moms, grandpas and grandmas, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors, and every member of the church. Each one of us whose soul has been rescued by Christ is somehow involved in rescuing the souls of others as we shine as a light by bearing fruit of righteousness as we rest in Jesus Christ the righteous—that people might see our good works and ask us about the hope that’s within us as we help rescue their souls by pointing them to God who rescues souls from His wrath, for His pleasure, by His grace, and for His glory.
Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is cotranslator and coeditor of A Little Book on the Christian Life by John Calvin.