The words of the Gospel can transform a person’s soul.

The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. (Rom 1:16) But some have picked up the notion that reciting the Good News of Jesus Christ's death, burial, and resurrection and adding a salvation "recipe" to the mix has some kind of mystical ability to convert people.

While attending a ceremony for one of my troops retiring from the Air Force, I met his Baptist pastor. I introduced myself and told him I was a Christian. When I told him I was in the Church of Christ, he shook his head in dismay and began praying and preaching me the gospel. Doctrinal issues aside, I’ve met many like him, especially “street” preachers. They find an opportunity to use the gospel message as sort of a magical formula. These guys actually believe that if you hear the right phrases, scriptures, etc from the Bible, you will somehow be “zapped” by God and become Christ’s disciple.

I was in a college speech class. One of the students was a young man who used the class as an opportunity to preach the Gospel to the rest of the class, whom he considered unrepentant sinners. After the third “speech,” some in the class had had enough and told him to come up with something else—they didn’t want to hear it. To which, the young man replied, “I gave you the gospel, so now, you won’t have any excuse if you wind up in Hell.”

These guys are like the gunslingers of the Wild West, making a notch on their pistol for every guy they kill. It is an unloving and unfruitful endeavor. I know of no one who has been saved by a stranger grabbing him or her on the street and giving them a three-sentence religious recipe. Yet many believe that the actual words of the Gospel weave some kind of magic spell to influence sinners to Christ.

Here’s a story from the New Testament to illustrate:

Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. [One day] the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. (Acts 19:13-16) NIV

There are no magical qualities in the arrangement of certain Bible words and verses that can “wake up” an unwilling, unrepentant sinner. Jesus’ parable of the Sower and the Seed (Matt 13, Mark 4) shows how the Word of God reacts on different types of hearts. But a person has to be willing to accept Christ’s salvation; it doesn’t come like a spell being cast by a wizard.

I became a Christian at 49, after living a terrible life of sin and depravity. I had heard every kind of nickel-and-dime sermon imaginable. None of them “stopped me in my tracks” and changed my life for the better. It was only after I had had enough of sin, and was so loaded down with guilt, that I finally fell to my knees and begged God to forgive me. I was baptized that Sunday and have never looked back on my old life.

If someone comes up to you and hands you a Bible tract, be polite and accept it. Read it. Perhaps one day it will trigger something within so that you’ll reach out to Jesus. But the message of the Good News itself can only transform your soul if you let it.