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A few weeks ago I heard a story about Kobe Bryant (arguably the 8th greatest basketball player of all time) being invited to speak to Alabama’s national championship defending (and contending) football team. Kobe talked to the team about having a championship mindset and what it takes to continually grow and improve as an athlete. What amazed me most about this story was Nick Saban (arguably the best college football coach of all time) sitting in the front row taking notes. Saban is a guy who has had unparalleled success as a coach and there he was, trying to figure out what else he could learn. I had a college professor who was the same way. He would sit in on guest lectures with a stack of notecards, scribbling stuff down. He was a great teacher and in spite of his academic accolades, he regularly saw the need to learn and took advantage of any opportunity.
People like this serve as good encouragements for me in my relationship with Christ. They remind me not to settle, to remember I’m not above or beyond learning something new, that sanctification is a lifelong process. At one point in his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul reminds them to remember “the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved” (1 Cor. 15:1a). This is so interesting. Paul is reminding this group of Christians to what? Remember the gospel. Remember the thing that is the basis for their belief. Remember the thing that binds them together. Note what he says: It’s the gospel that was preached...it’s what was communicated. It’s the gospel that they received...it’s what they believed. It’s the gospel that they stand on...it’s their foundation It’s the gospel by which they are being saved...it’s their means of becoming more like Jesus In other words, the gospel is the beginning, the middle and the end. Tim Keller says it this way. “The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A to Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make progress in the kingdom.”
We don’t outgrow our need for the gospel. We don’t ever become so much like Jesus that we stop needing Jesus. That gospel is what we initially receive but what we must continually believe. As we seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, here are a few encouragements to help remind us of the gospel.
Taking time to think back on how the Lord has worked in your life will serve several purposes. It should cause you to rejoice as you consider the ways God has redeemed your life and is growing you in holiness. It should encourage you in the present as you remember sanctification does not happen overnight and that faithfulness unto the Lord happens day by day, in the regular and routine occurrences of life. It should also help you to be quick to share the grace of God with others. As we continually recognize how the gospel has transformed our lives, we should grow in our empathy towards others who are longing for joy, purpose, and fulfillment.
By anyone, I mean anyone. Whether we care to admit it or not, most of us can sometimes default to comparing ourselves to one another when it comes to our sanctification and be dismissive towards people we think we of as less spiritually mature. An older man (who had been a Christian for the better part of four decades and who I thought of as very holy) once told me he thought he would have been much more mature in his faith by the time he got to be his age. It was so humbling to hear. He knew he hadn’t arrived and never expected to. He was the definition of someone who wouldn't “think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Rom. 12:3). He displayed an unwavering desire to grow in the Lord and did so by asking lots of questions and maintaining a posture of humility with anyone and everyone he interacted with.
Lastly, enjoy time with the Lord. Recognize the goodness of the gospel every day. Rejoice in the fact that the Word of God is available to you and you get to read it and learn from it. Do things that stir your affections for Christ. Spend time with people who encourage you in your faith. Consistently behold the glory of the Lord so you be transformed bit by bit into His image. Through all of that, love the One who is making all things new. Love the process of becoming more like Him.
This blog post is in a series of posts designed to help Christians develop a proper heart posture, lifestyle, and method for evangelism. This particular post is part three of “Pathways to the Gospel”, which are conversational truths designed to prepare particular people to hear the Gospel.
The resurrection pathway is another pathway to help a skeptic, seeker, or someone far from God consider Christianity and the claims of Christ based on the unique-among-all-religions historical evidence about the main validating event Christianity proclaims—the resurrection of Jesus. This pathway seeks to bring that historical evidence to bear on a skeptic’s conscience, encourage them to consider Jesus, and perhaps help them see that they reject Jesus not for intellectual reasons but for moral ones. There is one key text to this argument (1 Corinthians 15:6) and one key general argument (the apostles wouldn’t have died for the Gospel if its primary truth, the Resurrection, was a lie).
Sharer: Are you a church person? Did you grow up in church?
Unbeliever: No I didn’t, and honestly, I don’t think religion is that helpful or useful. I think men have made it up to control others.
Sharer: Well let me ask you this: if there was a man who truly died and truly rose from the grave, and claimed to have the power of life and death over all people, would you consider listening to what He says about God, life, and death? Would you want that man to be your friend or enemy?
Unbeliever: Well, if that really happened, maybe if I saw it, I would listen to that man, want him to be my friend and not my enemy. But if you’re talking about Jesus, I don’t believe He really rose from the grave.
Sharer: Have you ever examined the wealth of historical evidence for His resurrection?
Unbeliever: What evidence?
Sharer: (Jokes) You mean besides the fact that we set our clocks to Jesus? I’m just kidding. And I know you don’t believe the Bible, but let me share with you a Bible verse that might surprise you. There’s a book in the Bible called 1 Corinthians, which almost all scholars, even the ones most opposed to Christianity, affirm was written in the 1st century by the Apostle Paul. In one part of the book Paul is talking about the Resurrection, and he says that Jesus “appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep”. What do you think about that verse?
Unbeliever: Well, I don’t believe the Bible is true, so I’m certainly not going to believe in Jesus’ resurrection just because it says so.
Sharer: Let’s just pretend for a moment I agree with you that the Bible isn’t God’s Word. Let’s just say it’s a letter written by a man. Here’s my question to you: If the resurrection was a lie, or a hoax, why in the world would Paul say that Jesus appeared to 500 people—most of whom were still alive? He’s basically saying to these people—if you don’t believe me about the Resurrection, go ask these 500 people! What kind of fool, writing to people who could go to these people and validate or invalidate his words, would write something like that?
Unbeliever: That is interesting. But I don’t think it’s enough for me.
Sharer: What about the fact that Paul, and almost every apostle with him, was brutally martyred for proclaiming that Jesus is Resurrected Lord? If these eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection were lying, or making up a religion to control people, would they really suffer and die for a lie they knew was false?
Unbeliever: That is a little harder to explain. I need to think about that.
Sharer: As you think about it, here’s the really important thing for you today. This same Apostle Paul says in Acts 17 that God is going to judge the world by Jesus Christ, and that He’s proven that to all people by raising Jesus from the dead. The historically witnessed resurrection is God’s proof and signpost to you that one day this same Jesus is going to judge us and determine our everlasting life or death. Would you like to hear about how to be right with Him, how to go from being his enemy to his friend?
As I’ve said before, few Gospel conversations will be as clean as the transcript above, but notice that the idea is to present two or three simple but compelling arguments for the historical reality of the resurrection (besides the one above, you could mention the conversion of the Roman Empire—one of the most pagan and immoral world empires in the history of the world—by a bunch of poor, uneducated people who did zero conquering. This is another totally unique feature of Christianity among world religions.). Notice also, that the key text of this pathway, the link to the Gospel, is Acts 17:31, which connects Jesus’ resurrection with Jesus’ coming judgement. The main idea is: if Jesus rose from the grave, He has the power of life and death, and you want Him to be your friend and not enemy.
The reason this method is so effective is that the average person who is skeptical of Christianity for intellectual reasons has never closely examined their intellectual reasons. They’ve never heard about 1 Corinthians 15:6 or considered how unintelligible it would be for the apostles to lie themselves to martyrdom. However, eventually you will encounter a “well-studied atheist”—someone who has studied the historical claims of Christianity, knows all of the atheist arguments, and has them ready at hand to blast at you.
If you encounter this person, do not be intimidated or afraid of them—just intentionally change pathways. Say something like “well, so far I’ve tried to address your intellect. Could I address your conscience for a moment?” A well-studied atheist still has a God-given conscience, and I’ve seen the moral pathway get an atheist to admit that if God judged their life by the 10 commandments they would go to Hell. A well-studied atheist simply cannot argue that nothing in creation is good or beautiful—they enjoy God’s creation every day! (See former posts for these pathways.)
Study these pathways. Master one and put it “in your pocket”, so to speak. Practice it on a Christian friend. Then make a bridge to the Gospel with one of your three, and trust God that these pathways and the Gospel will bear fruit.
This blog post is in a series of posts designed to help Christians develop a proper heart posture, lifestyle, and method for evangelism. This particular post is part two of “Pathways to the Gospel”, which are conversational truths designed to prepare particular people to hear the Gospel.
The moral pathway we examined earlier can work with people who are unchurched, skeptical of the basic truth claims of Christianity, or agnostic about God’s existence or standards—but it works best for people who agree, at least somewhat, that there is some kind of moral standard. For those people who are more skeptical or have no moral basis there are some other particular pathways to get to the Gospel. The creation pathway utilizes God’s general revelation—how God has revealed Himself in creation—to point an unbeliever to their need to be right with their Creator.
The Bible says that the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps 19:1), reveal God’s invisible attributes, and leave all mankind accountable to Him (Rom 1:19-20). The Creation pathway utilizes these truths to help an unbeliever who is always seeing and enjoying creation’s witness to see their need for saving by their loving Creator. To use this method, you need to memorize or be familiar with Psalm 19:1 and Romans 1:19-20. Here’s how it might look in a conversation.
Sharer: (Bridge to the Gospel) Are you a religious or spiritual person?
Unbeliever: Not really. That’s just not for me.
Sharer: Well let me change the subject, and maybe we’ll get back to that. It sure is a nice day today, isn’t it?
Unbeliever: Yes it is.
Sharer: Now, I know you don’t share my beliefs, but I bet that we do have something in common—we both enjoy and see beauty in the world. Even if it’s not perfect, there’s stuff we admire and enjoy.
Unbeliever: Yeah, of course, there are things about the world that are cool and things in it I enjoy.
Sharer: Have you ever wondered why we happen to live in a beautiful and enjoyable world and notice its beauty and enjoyableness?
Unbeliever: Not really…what are you getting at?
Sharer: If there was no God, or there was a far-off distant God who didn’t really bother with us, I guess it would be possible for there to be a creation. But a beautiful creation, one we just so happen to enjoy? That speaks of a designer, a creator, one with a particular purpose in mind.
Unbeliever: I don’t know about that. That seems like a stretch.
Sharer: Let me put it to you another way: Do you think the Mona Lisa could just randomly come about? Paint to form itself and just fall in the perfect strokes, onto a canvas formed at random? Or a great book or movie—could either of these things just come into existence, all by themselves?
Unbeliever: Well no. At least, I’ve never seen that happen.
Sharer: You’re right. Paintings have painters, books have authors. It’s self-evident. The creation—whatever it is, points to a creator. The world we inhabit, and yes, even the bodies and minds we have—minds that can create things like the Mona Lisa!—point us to a creator.
Unbeliever: That does actually seem possible.
Sharer: Well, the Bible says that God, in His love, has made this beautiful and enjoyable world with a purpose for you and me—to reveal to us His goodness, power, and glory. The fact that God has given us His creation as a witness leaves us accountable to respond to Him. Do you want to know how to respond and be right with your great and loving Creator?
Though no conversation will actually go like this transcript, notice that there are two main strains to this pathway: first, the world we live in is both functional and beautiful. The particular design of the world, one that both works and is beautiful, points to a creator. The second strain is the biblical assertion that the beauty and goodness of the world makes us accountable to the Creator of the world. That accountability is the pathway to the Gospel.
There is, however, a common objection to any arguments about the beauty and goodness of the world showing us God’s existence. A skeptic might say in response—“well what about all the evil and horrible things in the world? If you say beauty and goodness in the world proves God’s existence, why can’t I say that evil and suffering disproves God’s existence?” There are a couple of ways you could respond to this. First, you could simply ask—“how do you know that the things you say are evil really are evil?” This is the “How do you know Hitler was wrong?” argument. Simply put, any claim that something is wrong/evil/horrible by necessity admits that there is an objective moral standard, and if there’s an objective moral standard, there is a God. Ironically, not only does the goodness and beauty of creation demonstrate to us that there is a God, but so does our sense of and revulsion at the evil and horrible things in our world demonstrates to us that there is a God.
Another way you could respond to this argument is with something that leads straight to the Gospel: “If you genuinely want to know why our world is both beautiful and broken and you’re not just raising an objection, I would be happy to explain it to you, but it’s going to start with the heart of what I believe as a Christian: God created all things good, mankind fell, was separated from God, and let evil loose into the world; and God lovingly and graciously provided a way out of all the evil in us and around us. Let me tell you how he did that.”
See a future post for our final pathway to the Gospel!
This blog post is in a series of posts designed to help Christians develop a proper heart posture, lifestyle, and method for evangelism. This particular post is part one of “Pathways to the Gospel”, which are conversational truths designed to prepare particular people to hear the Gospel.
So you’ve become missionally involved in a non-Christian’s life and struck up a spiritual conversation via a “bridge to the Gospel”—now what? How do we go from having an unbeliever answer a question on where they are, to us sharing the Gospel in a relevant way? Another way to ask this question would be: how do we share the Gospel in a way that makes sense and is relevant to someone based on where they are spiritually?
One way to do so is through a Scripture-based “path to the Gospel”. A path to the Gospel is a truth or set of truths presented in such a way as to help a particular person coming from a particular background, see their need for the Gospel, and be prepared understand its relevance when presented. A “pathway to the Gospel” is a biblical truth that prepares a non-Christian to be able to hear the Gospel.
For example, it wouldn’t be very helpful, if someone shares with you that they are a skeptic, had never really heard anything about the Bible, and thought the main point of life was to be true to yourself, for you to immediately reply, “Well Jesus Christ lived a perfect life and died for your sins so that you could be saved. Do you want to receive Him now?” This may very well summarize the Gospel, but the person hearing it has no context in which to receive it.
The best biblical evidence for using pathways to the Gospel is the example of Jesus and the apostles. In the book of Acts there is a significant difference in the way the apostles preached to the Jews—who had a background of the Scriptures—versus the way they preached to the Gentiles. In Acts 17, Paul preached in the synagogues and “he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead…” Paul used what the Jews had—the Old Testament Scriptures, all they contained and required—to show them Christ. However, when he went to Athens to the Gentile Philosophers (Acts 17:22-34), he begins with creation, quotes a pagan philosopher, and ends with how Jesus’ resurrection proves that God will judge the world! All this being said, the apostles’ “prep work” for communicating the saving truths of Christ varied depending on their audience.
The first pathway we’ll look at is the moral pathway—others will be addressed in future posts. This pathway was used most often by Jesus in his personal ministry (see the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-22); it utilizes the gift of the conscience that God has written on all people’s hearts, and uses the basics of God’s commandments to show people their need for the Gospel. It helps to demonstrate to the average non-Christian that indeed “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23) and are deserving of judgment. This pathway is particularly useful and helpful in an American context where the average person on the street both believes in some kind of “god” and considers themselves a basically good person.
How might this look in a conversation? What follows is a transcript of how one particular evangelistic organization, Living Waters, utilizes the moral pathway. (Two notes: first there are many methods for the moral pathway, see also Evangelism Explosions’ questions. Second, an actual conversation will be messier than what follows). Notice below how this method utilizes the 10 Commandments and a few teachings from the Sermon on the Mount to help someone see the pervasive nature of their sin.
Sharer: (Bridge to the Gospel) Are you a religious or spiritual person?
Receiver: Yeah. I go to church and try to do as well as I can.
Sharer: How is that going? Do you consider yourself a good person?
Receiver: Sure, mostly.
Sharer: Would you be okay if I asked you a few questions to see if that were true?
Receiver: Why not.
Sharer: You familiar with the 10 Commandments?
Receiver: Yes, mostly.
Sharer: You know the 6th commandment, do not murder?
Sharer: Did you know that Jesus said that anyone who is angry with his brother, or calls him a fool, is guilty before God of murder? (Matthew 5:22)
Receiver: I didn’t know that.
Sharer: Have you ever done that—been angry with someone or called someone a bad name?
Receiver: Yes, who hasn’t?
Sharer: If Jesus is right, according to God, what would that make you?
Receiver: A murderer.
Sharer: Let me tell you the one that really got me. The 7th commandment is “do not commit adultery”. Jesus said that if you’ve ever looked at someone else with lustful intent you have already committed adultery with them in your heart. (Matt 5:28). You ever looked at someone with lust?
Unbeliever: Again, yes, who hasn’t?
Sharer: I have, just like you. What would that make you and I?
(this can go through other commandments as well, like, do not lie, or steal, etc.)
Sharer: So, by your own admission, you are a murderer and adulterer. I am too. If God were to judge you by the 10 commandments, would he find you innocent or guilty?
Unbeliever: If he did that, I would be guilty.
Sharer: Would you go to Heaven or Hell?
Sharer: Do you want to know what God, who deeply loves you and desires your good, has done for you so that you can be free from your guilt and go to Heaven?
Notice how the sharer uses the basics of God’s law that most people would agree with to show people that they’ve broken the commandments they know to be right in their hearts. When using this particular version of the moral pathway, it’s extremely important to be gracious and to include yourself as deserving of God’s judgment, and to stay on track—to graciously deal with objections without sidelining the conversation into apologetics.
If you’d like to see a (straight out of the 90s) example of this method in action, watch Ray Comfort witness to these agnostics. One very helpful thing about this clip is that it shows him graciously dealing with objections that might come along the way.
This blog post is in a series of posts designed to help Christians develop a proper heart posture, lifestyle, and method for evangelism. This particular post is about “Bridges to the Gospel”—conversational questions you can use to steer a conversation toward the Gospel.
As we get missionally involved in the lives of unbelievers and “our 3”, we are seeking their conversion and aiming to personally share the Gospel with them. There are many ways and methods of sharing the Gospel; what will follow in the next few posts is a casual, conversation-based method of evangelism. It will (hopefully) teach you a reproducible, conversation-based way of sharing the Gospel with no need of visuals or (if you memorize a few verses) even a Bible in hand. It’s perfect for an initial Gospel conversation with one of your three, or a Gospel conversation with a providential stranger (someone on an airplane, coffee shop, etc.). In the following posts we’ll learn three basic steps to have one of these Gospel conversations. What follows is step 1: A “Bridge” to the Gospel.
A bridge to the Gospel is a simple, thought-provoking question or statement that turns a conversation in a spiritual direction. If you’re hoping to have a Gospel conversation with someone, you want to begin to move the conversation toward the significant (away from the weather, sports, hobbies, etc., towards family, relationships, and how life is going) and eventually use one of the below “bridges” to the Gospel, or something like them.
There are two purposes of a bridge to the Gospel. First, it attempts to transition the conversation to spiritual matters. Second, it gives the person you’re talking with a chance to talk about what they believe and what they’ve experienced, as a disarming act of love and so that you get an idea of where they are spiritually so you can most effectively share with them. For that second purpose, ask follow up questions if necessary until you have a decent grasp on where they are generally in their spirituality or lack thereof.
The following are different categories, with examples, of bridges to the Gospel. I’ve learned this and borrowed most of these from Timothy Beougher, a professor of evangelism at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, but I’ve altered and added a few questions as well.
“Are you a religious or spiritual person? How so?”
“Do you consider yourself to be a good person? Why or why not?”
"What is your current level of interest in spiritual things?"
"Where are you in your own personal search for meaning and purpose in life? How has that gone for you?"
"Did you grow up going to church?”
"Do they talk about Heaven much in your church?"
"What does your church teach about the way a person becomes a Christian?"
"Is there a specific question or concern that is hanging you up in your spiritual journey?"
"In your personal opinion, what is a Christian?"
"What do you think of ____?" (God, Jesus Christ, religion, the Bible, meaning of life, etc.)
"Did you know that (name of well-known athlete) is a Christian?"
"I haven’t gone through what you’re going through, but I’ve walked through __________. I don’t know where you are spiritually, but honestly I don’t think I would have made it without my relationship with Jesus. I’d be happy to share with you how He’s helped me.”
"Is there something I could pray about for you?"
"Bill, we've been friends for a while now. We have talked together about so many things, yet there is a very important part of my life I have never shared with you. Could I share with you about my spiritual journey?”
What “Bridge” you use depends almost entirely on context. Generally, I’ve found that the personal experience/opinion questions are generally most effective (especially with the “providential stranger”) because they are disarming and because, quite frankly, people love to talk about themselves. The church-type questions work well in our context because many Charlestonians, wherever they are now, have had some experience with church. The relationship, felt needs, and prayer bridges can be very effective for conversations you may have with non-Christians with whom you have a long-standing relationship.
Don’t wait for the perfect moment to ask one of these questions—always err on the side of boldness. You’ll be shocked how many non-Christians in your life are open to you starting a Gospel conversation. See a future post for the next step!
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