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.
What is a Pathway to 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 Moral Pathway
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.