Don Wilton is senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Spartanburg, S.C., and president of The Encouraging Word, which broadcasts his preaching across the United States. He is also Billy Graham’s pastor.
John Lankford is a man’s man. Most who knew him back in 1987 would agree. As the owner and operator of the Nautilus Fitness Center in Spartanburg, S.C., the champion body builder looked every bit like he should have had it all together.
But he did not. The god he worshiped was himself, and, though not a bad person by societal standards, his dream in life was to prove to himself that he was, in fact, the center of his own universe. Not even his beautiful wife, Marilyn, could bring him the inner peace and joy he so desperately longed for.
That all changed in 1987. The word was out that Billy Graham was preaching the Gospel in Columbia. Following a heated argument with his wife over some trivial matter, John found himself driving with her to Columbia in awkward and angry silence.
The stadium was packed. John made it his business to sit as far away from the preacher as possible. But the Lord Jesus picked him out of the crowd. As Billy Graham began to speak about the wonderful joy of knowing Christ Jesus, John’s heart became strangely warmed. When Mr. Graham stretched out his hands and invited any and all to leave their seats and come forward to accept Christ as Savior, John felt as though Jesus had stopped at his seat in the farthest corner of the stadium and said, “John, where are you?”
Compelled by the Spirit and drawn by the words of God’s servant, John Lankford stepped out of his seat and walked the long way down to the front, and Jesus Christ became the Lord of his life. Everything changed at that moment. His heart and life became filled with the peace of God.
Today John Lankford serves the Lord Jesus with a distinctive dedication and faithfulness as a deacon at his church, a Sunday school teacher of little children and a constant witness to all who come into his fitness center. He is known as a man full of grace; young and old alike seek his godly counsel. When John accepted Christ Jesus as his Savior and Lord, he became “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The joy in his life is plain for all to see!
How wonderful to think about how God used His servant, Billy Graham, to share the Gospel so that John Lankford’s life would be changed forever. The preacher’s role was no accident.
In Romans 10, the Apostle Paul affirms that the preacher of the Gospel is one of God’s chosen methods of evangelism. Paul was, in fact, simply explaining in greater detail what the Lord Jesus had said in His response to the mutterings of the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Luke 15 and 16.
Having firmly established the absolute certainty of life after death, Jesus described the eternal predicament of the rich man who had died and gone to the worst place imaginable—hell! Realizing that his rejection of the love of God had left him without hope, the rich man begged for the souls of his five brothers who had yet to die. It is at this moment that the Lord Jesus pointed out that God’s sovereign redemptive purpose is found through the pages of His Word and those He has called to bring the Good News (Luke 16:29).
Paul uses a simple progressive logic to explain God’s stamp of approval on the ones who bring Good News to a lost and dying world. Having established that the Lord Jesus “leveled the playing field” by dying on the cross for all people (Romans 10:11, 13), the apostle firmly issues the glorious public invitation: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).
Because of the love of God through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, there would no longer be any barrier between Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and free men. Jesus Christ died for all. He has no color in His eyes, and He has no culture in His distinction.
There is somewhat of a spiritual drum-roll in what Paul has to say. First, only those who call on the name of the Lord can be saved. Second, only those who have believed in Him can call on Him. Third, only those who have a preacher preaching to them can hear the call. Fourth, only God-called preachers can qualify to be used by God as His preaching instruments (Romans 10:14-15).
Even when these verses of Scripture are put in reverse order, they bring us to a clear and dramatic call for evangelism. First, if God did not call preachers to bring the Good News, no one could hear the Gospel. Second, if, in fact, no one could hear, then no one could believe. Third, if no one believed, then no one would call on the name of the Lord. Fourth, if, in fact, no one called on the name of the Lord, then no one would be saved! This progressive logic neither presupposes that the preacher is God’s only or prime agent in evangelism, nor does it suggest the elimination of the work of the Holy Spirit. The unique call of God on the lives of His servants ought to leave every bearer of the Good News prostrate before a holy and righteous God. Why, indeed, would our Savior and Lord choose to use any human being to be His ambassador?
Think about this for a moment. How exciting this makes the work and ministry of evangelism. We are living in a day and age where the lostness of mankind is increasingly evident. Every day, people are dying without knowing the Lord Jesus. And yet millions are searching for real meaning and real hope. Jesus Christ is the answer! How incredible to think that our sovereign Lord would consider any of us worthy to carry His message of love and forgiveness.
So here we have the beauty of evangelism: God and His preachers. And that doesn’t just mean pastors; it means all believers. Wow!
Following one of the great outpourings of the Spirit of God at a Billy Graham Crusade, George Beverley Shea, Cliff Barrows and Mr. Graham gathered for prayer and thanksgiving. Their hearts were overflowing with joy. Mr. Graham reminded the Team, “Only God gets the glory, boys, only God!” ©2011 Don Wilton
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*Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version.