A reader asks: “Can an unsaved man or woman lead someone to Christ? Can you provide any Scriptural evidence on this question?”
First and foremost, we must always remember that the saving of souls is the sovereign work of God the Holy Spirit. He is the One who “convict[s] the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). We also know that God’s ordained means for communicating the Gospel is the preaching of His Word. “For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:13-15).
God Uses the Words of the Unregenerate
Certainly, the Holy Spirit can use the words of an unbeliever as part of His work of convicting an individual of his sin and need of salvation. In the case of Balaam, God even used a donkey to communicate truth (Numbers 22). Many an unsaved judge has told many a young drug addict standing in his courtroom, “You must change your ways or you will destroy yourself.” Doubtless God has often used such admonitions from unregenerate lips, in combination with the preaching of His Word and the power of His Spirit, to save souls.
Unsaved Men Have Preached the Gospel
But what about unsaved preachers? Can God use men of the pulpit who are not regenerated to preach the Gospel to the saving of souls? The answer is yes. For Scriptural support, some would point to Philippians chapter one, where Paul speaks of those who tried to make his imprisonment more difficult by preaching the Gospel for which he was already in chains:
Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. (Philippians 1:15-18)
Paul’s words strongly indicate that those who were doing this “from envy and strife” and “from selfish ambition” were actually enemies of the Gospel, not merely believers acting on sinful motives. But Paul rejoiced that even through such men the Gospel was being proclaimed. Paul trusted in the work of God’s Spirit to use even their words to save souls.
The Tragic Case of Charles Templeton
While such a thing is not the norm, God does use such means. A notable example of an unsaved preacher used of God in recent times is Charles B. Templeton. One of the founders of Youth for Christ in the mid-1940s, Templeton was an associate of Billy Graham from the late 1940s into the 1950s. One of the first well-known television preachers, Templeton founded churches and preached the Gospel to tens of thousands in North America and Europe, and there are still people living today who were genuinely converted in response to his preaching.
But in 1957, Templeton shocked Evangelicals by publicly rejected the Gospel he had preached to multitudes. He spent the rest of his life speaking against Christianity. He declared that no one can know for certain if God even exists, much less know that Jesus saves. In later life he wrote a book called Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith (McClelland & Stewart, 1999). During his later years he said that he wished he had the faith in Christ that he had once preached to others, but he would not bow the knee and repent. God gave Templeton many years to repent, but he passed into a Christless eternity in 2001 at the age of 85.
Of such men the Apostle John said, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” (1 John 2:19).
Not God’s Normal Means, But We Cannot Limit God
Is it the normal case for God to bring men to Christ through the preaching of the unsaved? Clearly, the answer is no. God uses His true Church. God uses His living and powerful Word. God uses faithful preachers. God uses the testimony of truly regenerated Christians. There is only one true Gospel. God applies the salvation that was wrought by Christ on the cross to individual sinners by the working of His Spirit. Our sovereign God is going to bring all of His chosen ones to glory through faith alone in the shed blood of Christ alone, and by the sovereign power of the Holy Spirit, and He may at times use means that are strange to our eyes.
As Jesus said to Nicodemus when explaining the Gospel to him, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
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