You mention on today’s “Serious Answer” (11/17/04) that we should be ready to witness anywhere anytime that God presents the oportunity, but in previous Answer questions you state that the old “Asking Jesus into your heart” tactic in not NECESSARILY based in the Bible… What are steps toward leading people to Christ? It has been a long time since I have had the opportunity to try to lead someone to Christ and when I did, it was along the lines of “asking Jesus into your heart”. Are there specific passages in the Bible that you can give to lead someone to Christ along with my own personal testimony? I am not looking for a checklist, but some guidance with some specific scriptures.
That is a great question, one that I look forward to answering because it is so vital and relevant to the common Christian life today.
To begin, I don’t want to overly criticize or belabor any commentary about the state of ambassadorship (witnessing, evangelizing, etc.) for the common Christian today. So let it suffice to say…
Individual evangelism (sharing your faith) is first and foremost primarily absent in the lives of a super-majority of people who profess to be Christians. It has been relegated to “church staff”, “Pastors”, “visitation night” and youth group activities for the most part.
Where it IS present, it is primarily centered around the “sales” approach of “Jesus will improve your life, so say ‘yes’ to Jesus” rather than a more a Biblical presentation of the Gospel (which we’ll cover in a moment). To explain what I mean, let me retell a common story that makes the point:
A guy gets on a commercial airliner and is approached by the airline attendant. She tells him to put on this big bulky parachute saying that it will “improve his flight”. She explains that the flight will be more pleasant, that he will feel better and that the flight in general will just be more enjoyable if he will put on the parachute. And when the flight is over, he will be happy.
So he puts on the parachute and tries to squeeze into the cramped little airline seat. As the flight goes on he gets more and more uncomfortable. His back hurts, his shoulders hurt, he can’t find a way to sit that is relaxing. What’s more, people begin to make fun of him. They snicker and laugh at him and make comments about what an idiot he is to wear a parachute on a commercial airliner. After awhile he gets sick of hearing the criticism and taunts, and along with the discomfort and aching muscles, decides to take the parachute off. The parachute apparently does NOT make the flight better, he is not happier, so why bother?
Another guy gets on the same airplane and the airline attendant gives him a parachute as well. Then she leans over and whispers in his ear “at 30,000 feet we are going to open the door and throw everyone out”. This guy sits down and experiences the same discomfort, the same aching muscles, the same taunting and criticism but of course there is no possible way that he is going to take the parachute off because he understands the consequences of the decision. What’s more, he tries to warn people and they just laugh at him even more. He realizes the perilous situation and will not for any reason forsake the thing that will save him.
Today’s Gospel message is much like the “improve your flight” approach. “God has a wonderful plan for you, your life will get fixed… you will be happy.” This is a very “marketable” Gospel. Who doesn’t want to be happy? Who doesn’t want things “fixed”? People say YES! to this Gospel.
But then life comes along and ruins it for them. They have heartaches, suffering and trials. People make fun of them and they are criticized and persecuted for their faith.
When the promised “improved flight” does not materialize, many people cast off their “parachute” (the Gospel).
That is the “Jesus will improve your life” Gospel dilemma the Church finds itself struggling with today. It’s much easier to get people to say yes, and pews are filled… but studies consistently find that only 6-7% of “converts” do NOT chunk their parachute not long after their “salvation experience”.
What is the Biblical approach to the Gospel message? Well Jesus and the Apostle Paul give us examples and clues. It basically follows this general flow:
- Reveal God’s Law which exposes sins and brings conviction.
- Reveal the penalty that God’s Holiness demands for sin.
- Reveal the Gospel of Jesus Christ that saves us from that penalty and frees us from our sin.
That’s not some checklist or dogmatic formula. It is the general flow of ideas when you take the compilation of Gospel experiences and teaching in the New Testament.
Why is it important to consider this? Because it does absolutely NO GOOD for Christians to walk up to the lost and declare “you’re going to hell, you need to accept Jesus as your personal savior!”. That means NOTHING to a lost person! It doesn’t make sense to them; it doesn’t touch their conscience, nor their intellect. You aren’t reaching the head or heart because there is no foundation for the statements.
People have to understand WHY before they can respond to “hell” and “salvation”. For example, if I came walking up to you in the street and said “you’re gonna die today if you don’t listen to me and dive over into that ditch!”. You would think I was nuts, and rightly so.
But, if I came up to you with a sense of urgency and said, “a bus is coming around that corner where you can’t see and is hurdling towards straight for you. If you don’t dive into that ditch in the next 5 seconds you will be run over and killed!”, what would you do then? At a minimum, you would be interested enough to turn around and see if what I was saying was true. Even if you chose not to believe, you would still understand why I was telling you to “dive”.
If you understood and believed what I said, then nothing would keep you from diving into the ditch.
Analogies break down if you press them too far, so just take that for what it’s worth. Realize that:
- People need to know WHY sin is sin
- People need to know why THEY are sinners
- People need to know WHY God responds to sin in such a harsh manner
- People need to know WHY they are going to hell
- People need to know WHY they need a Savior
The Gospel message answers those questions when the LAW and then GRACE are clearly communicated.
God’s Law convicts us of our sin. Paul tells us in Romans 7 that the Law reveals sin. What is sin? Transgression of God’s Law. What is God’s Law? For the purpose of sharing the Gospel, the 10 Commandments are a good place to start.
- A person doesn’t need a Savior unless they see they are in need of being saved.
- They cannot understand the need to be saved unless they see they are condemned.
- They cannot see they are condemned unless they see they have done something wrong.
- They cannot see they have done something wrong unless they can see what constitutes right and wrong.
Which brings us back to: the LAW OF GOD. The Law reveals WHAT is sin by declaring God’s standard of holiness; when sin is revealed, it destroys the notion of innate human “goodness”.
Generally speaking, most people believe they are “good”. They don’t see that they are under God’s judgment, justly condemned, and going to hell. After all, what loving God would send a “good” person to hell for all eternity?
The Law shows us were are not good. Check it out (following the 10 commandments, last to first):
- Have you ever, even one time, been jealous or coveted something that someone else had? Their car, house, money or job? Their beautiful wife or girlfriend?
- Have you ever, even once, lied, exaggerated, deceived or told partial truths?
- Have you ever stolen anything, even once? A pencil, personal use of the company copier, a “business lunch” that wasn’t really business? Cheated on your taxes, not declared all your income?
- Have you ever committed sexual immorality? Have you ever lusted after another person? Have you ever watched, thought, or spoken and impure sexual thought?
- Have you ever hated anyone, anytime for any reason?
- Have you ever been disrespectful to your parents? Ever been thoughtless towards them or dishonored their name by your actions?
- Have you ever failed, even once, to set aside part of your time on a regular basis to worship, rest and glorify God?
- Have you ever taken God’s name in vain? Used His name casually or flippantly? Ever used Jesus name, or the Holy Spirits name in a casual manner?
- Has anything ever, even once, replaced God as the most important thing in your life? If someone were to look at your schedule or checkbook, what would they say is most important?
- Have you ever failed to put God number one in all things at all times?
The Law reveals that NO ONE is “good”. 99% of people will have to admit to being guilty of 99% or more of that list. 99.9% of humans (before Christ) are lying, thieving, adulterous, murderous (hate), coveting, idol worshipping, God profaning degenerates. (and don’t think it doesn’t apply to you. One lie, you’re a liar. One lazy hour at work and you have stolen from your boss, you’re a thief. One lustful episode, you’re an adulterer according to Jesus. See the point?)
NO ONE IS GOOD! That is what the Law exposes about our self righteousness (read Romans 3 & 7).
Once the Law is used to reveal sin, then the hearer is now prepared (if their conscience is penetrated) to hear that God’s holiness demands a penalty for sin – DEATH.
When someone says to you, “its unfair that God would eternally condemn us for sin”… tell them that they misunderstand how horrible sin is. For example, humanly speaking we can guage the “seriousness” of a crime by the severity of the penalty. A $10 fine would tell us that the infraction was petty. A $100,000 fine and 10 years in jail would tell us that the crime was serious.
The fact that God declares all sin to be worthy of eternal death in the fires of hell only serves to reveal to us how HORRIBLE sin is rather than common idea that God is somehow “unfair”.
God is the Creator and Ruler. God declared the Laws. God is the only Person who can declare with perfect justice how severe and serious transgressions of that Law are. And He HAS declared it. Sin is worthy of eternal death. That’s how terrible sin is. It doesn’t matter whether we understand or agree with it.
The Law reveals sin and convicts the sinner. The penalty for sin is death and after learning this, the sinner now understands his condemnation.
What you have now is properly prepared “soil”, ready for the seed of the Gospel to be planted. Now the person knows what sin is, sees sin in himself, understands the penalty for sin…. and realizes perfectly WHY he needs a Savior.
And so we are ready to share the saving message of Jesus Christ to a person who sees his need to be saved.
In closing, I have avoided giving a “step-by-step-with-Bible-verses-checklist for presenting the Gospel” because I believe it is important for Christians to truly KNOW and UNDERSTAND what they are presenting, rather than following a memorized pattern.
Don’t get me wrong… if a memorized list is ALL someone ever did or was capable of, it is infinitely better than doing nothing and more than most are doing now. Even my checklist, or memorized presentation, in ALL ways that Christ is declared, regardless of method or motive, God can use it productively (Phil 1.12-18).
But ideally, a Christian should know the Law (and applicable verses); know and understand why people are eternally condemned to hell (and applicable verses); and finally, know the saving message that Jesus lived, died and rose again to save us from hell and the penalty of sin (and applicable verses).
Knowing these things thoroughly would allow them to share the Gospel at every opportunity that God arranged in just the right way and time. Sometimes it would be planting a “seed” concerning just one part of the message; sometimes it would be a full presentation of the message. But it would always be with a sensitive submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
To help you along, let me leave you with some Bible references to get you started: