Tuesday, August 29, 2006

It's As Simple As a 'Different Jesus'

I was listening to the “Way of the Master” radio show (something I do as often as my schedule permits). During the second hour of the show, host Todd Friel and Kirk Cameron had a phone conversation with a Mormon young man. The conversation went as many conversations do with Mormons who are educated regarding their chosen religious system.

To the discerning listener, it didn’t take long to pick up on the errant theology that puts Mormonism squarely in the category of the cults—doctrinal beliefs such as Jesus, the created being who is the spirit-brother of Lucifer, and a works-righteousness formula for salvation. Like so many conversations with cultists, regardless of their spiritual and ideological bent, the Mormon on the phone with Todd and Kirk tried to disguise his aberrant theology with a superficial and disingenuous agreement about salvation by grace through faith. In the end, the conversation deteriorated to the point that the Mormon was upset with Todd because Todd dared to ask direct questions about his religious beliefs—specifically, his beliefs about the person and deity of Jesus Christ.

Seeing that the conversation was starting to disintegrate (It always fascinates me when spiritual darkness cringes when exposed to the light of Christ, much the same way as the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz melted when she was doused with water.), Todd, before letting the Mormon off the phone, asked him to ponder the following thought. Todd said (and this is a paraphrase), “I want you to consider this. If you’re right, the consequence for me is that I will spend eternity in what you would call the ‘terrestrial kingdom’ (the placed reserved for non-Mormons and those who would be considered bad people). If I’m right, you’re going to spend eternity in hell. Thanks for talking to me.”

The point Todd was making was that the Mormon idea of Jesus and the Jesus of the Christian faith (the true Jesus) are not one in the same. The former leads only to death and eternity in hell. The latter is the only way to forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with God, justification by God, and salvation. If the Mormon’s idea of who Jesus turns out to be right (and according to the truth of God’s Word, the Mormon can’t be right), the Christian is no worse off than he or she is in the present world. If the born again Christian’s understanding of the person and deity of Jesus Christ is correct (and it is), the Mormon will one-day face God’s wrath, righteous judgment, and eternity in hell.

Can it be that simple? Can evangelism with cultists, or any unbeliever, for that matter—regardless of his or her religious stripes, be as simple as pointing out the fallacy of the Jesus in whom they profess faith? The answer is a resounding, yes!

As I thought of the implications of what, for me, amounted to yet another evangelistic and philosophical epiphany, I shot Todd an e-mail thanking him for adding another effective and biblical tool to my evangelist’s “war bag.” What are the implications?

Those reading this article who are actively engaged in one-to-one evangelism with lost sinners (If you’re not, you should be!) have likely found themselves in situations where they have concisely shared the Law and the Gospel with someone only to have the person stubbornly (even passionately and sincerely) stick to their guns—holding on to a Jesus they’ve created in their imaginative religious system, or holding on to their outright denial of the truths about who Christ is.

The conversation reaches a point where, for the evangelist, to continue the conversation would be to move away from the Law and the Gospel, to a tit-for-tat argument over differing opinions about doctrine. When the conversation reaches such a point, more often than not, the conversation leaves the realm of the conscience to the quagmire of man’s fallible intellect. Not only has the unsaved person stopped listening at this point, but also the Christian runs the very real risk of continuing the conversation motivated by pride (I must win this fight!), instead of being motivated by love and compassion for the lost person and where he or she will spend eternity.

When one regularly shares the Law and the Gospel with people, whether friend or stranger, there are times during such conversations when the evangelist rightly discerns that it is time to end the conversation. A way to do that while maintaining the high ground in word and spirit, while just about assuring yourself of having the last word, and while leaving the unsaved listener with something honest, spiritually penetrating, and eternal to think about as they lay their head on their pillow at the end of the day, is to employ what I will from here-on-out refer to as the "Different Jesus" principle.

Just as Todd Friel strategically and effectively employed the principle with the Mormon caller, the principle can be employed to close conversations with closed-hearted Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, Muslims, unsaved Catholics, agnostics, atheists, and professing Christians who are not saved. I’ve already documented through Todd’s real-life example how the principle can be used when talking to Mormons. Let’s look at how the principle can be used with adherents to some of the other before-mentioned religious systems.

Ending of a conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness:

Jehovah’s witnesses deny the deity and bodily resurrection of Christ. They believe that Jesus Christ is a created being and the incarnation of Michael the Archangel. While they will refer to Jesus as the Son of God, they deny that He is God. They deny the doctrine of the Trinity—believing in one god in one person. Jehovah’s Witnesses also deny the doctrine of hell and believe that annihilation awaits those who are not remembered by God. Those who are remembered by God, if they are not numbered among the chosen 144,000, will repopulate the “new earth.” They believe that Satan was charged with the duty of overseeing the creation of the earth. Faith in Jehovah and obeying God’s commandments is how one earns the privilege of being among the “new earth” population, which is more desirable to the Jehovah’s Witness than going to heaven.

Employing the “Different Jesus” principle with a Jehovah’s Witness might sound something like this. “Let me leave you with this thought. The Jesus in whom you believe is not the same Jesus in whom I have put my faith and trust. If you’re right about Jesus Christ and the way to eternal life, then I will either be annihilated or help in the re-population of the new earth. If what I believe about Jesus Christ and the way to eternal life is right, then you will spend eternity in hell. That should concern you. Thank you for talking to me.”

Ending a conversation with a Muslim:

Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims believe in one god in one person. They believe that Jesus was a great prophet, but not the Son of God. While there is no assurance of heaven, Muslims believe that if your good deeds outnumber your bad deeds, if you believe in Allah, and if you sincerely repent of your sins, you may go to heaven. They believe that the Holy Spirit is the angel Gabriel. Since Jesus was/is not God, Muslims deny the bodily resurrection of Christ. They believe that God allowed Judas to look like Jesus and take His place on the cross. Muslims believe that hell awaits those who are not Muslims.

Employing the “Different Jesus” principle with a Muslim might sound something like this. “Let me leave you with this thought. You see Jesus as no more than a man who was a great prophet. I see Him as God in the flesh—the very Son of God. If you’re right about Jesus, then I am bound for hell because I am not a Muslim. If I’m right about Jesus Christ—that He is the way, and the truth, and the life, and that no one will receive the free gift of eternal life accept through faith in Him and Him alone, then it is not I, but you, who will spend eternity in hell. Your Jesus can do nothing to save you from the wrath of God and His righteous judgment. The Jesus I know—my Lord and Savior—has already done everything, through His death on the cross and His resurrection, to secure my place in heaven. Your god can offer neither of us any hope. In my God, I have eternal hope, through Jesus Christ the Lord. Thank you for talking to me.”

Ending a conversation with a person who professes to be a Christian, but is not saved:

I do not think it is hyperbole to say that there are likely more unsaved people than saved people in churches around America, on any given Sunday. They may have prayed a prayer, or raised a hand, or gave some level of intellectual agreement to the truths about Jesus Christ at some point in their life, but they never truly repented of their sin and put their trust in Christ alone for their salvation. Many people think attending a church or giving money to a church makes them right with God.

Those who claim to be Christians when they’re not will often see God as all benevolent, all forgiving, all forgetting, and non-judgmental. Only the worst of sinners (a group to which the professing believer would say he or she does not belong)—such as murderers, rapists, and child molesters—go to hell. That is, if they even believe in the existence of hell.

They are often pluralistic in their views of salvation; meaning they don’t see faith in Jesus Christ as the only way to heaven. After all (in their mind), a loving God would not send someone to hell just because they worship God in a different way. They may consider themselves to be a good person—relying on Jesus and their good works for their salvation. With no appreciable spiritual fruit in their lives, they may see their faith in Christ as little more than a “get out of jail free” card. They see Christ as their benefactor, not as their Lord.

Employing the “Different Jesus” principle with a false convert might sound something like this. “Let me leave you with this thought. If your understanding of Jesus Christ and salvation is true, then we are both going to heaven someday. But what if you’re wrong? What if your faith, up to this point, has been built on a false hope? What if one-day when you find yourself standing before the Lord, instead of welcoming you into heaven, He says, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’? If you’re wrong, you’re going to hell. Don’t go to sleep tonight without being sure that you know the true Jesus Christ, and not a false god you have created in your own imagination. Thank you for talking to me.”

Some of you reading this may have winced each time the principle was demonstrated. Maybe you are thinking, “Wow! That’s kind of abrupt. That doesn’t seem like a loving and caring way to end a conversation. You didn’t end the conversation on a very positive note.”

Yes, it’s an abrupt end to the conversation. Yes, the person on the receiving end of the conversation will likely not walk away with a “warm fuzzy.” They may walk away upset—even angry.

It’s okay.

If during a one-to-one, spiritual conversation the person with whom I’m speaking scoffs at the Law of God and rejects the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I don’t want them walking away feeling good about themselves and their unbelief. I don’t want to hurt their feelings (This principle should always be employed with a tone of voice and demeanor that reflects genuine care and concern for the unsaved person.); but I am more concerned about where they will spend eternity than how they feel in this present life. If during the conversation they are not drawn, by the power of the Holy Spirit (and not by me), to genuine repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, then my prayer for them is that they will not rest until they are brought into a right relationship with God.

While it may be easier to say than the principle I have tried to share in this article, I see ending a conversation with an unsaved person by telling them that “we will just have to agree to disagree” as being unloving. Are we really showing love and concern for people if we allow them to walk away from the conversation arrogantly feeling as though they have won a spiritual victory? Better that they walk away to wrestle (even war) in their heart and mind with their unbelief, with a terrifying expectation of judgment (Hebrews 10:26-31), and with the thought of spending eternity in hell.

There is only one Jesus Christ—the One revealed to us in the Scriptures. We must do whatever we can—with love, compassion, and honesty (even when it stings)—to warn people about the wrath of God and His future judgment and to point them to the only One who can save them.

Now go share your faith in Christ, with a lost and dying world.

(C) 2006

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Adoption Day

I worked patrol on Friday. It was my last opportunity to work the streets before flying to North Syracuse, New York to preach during an officer appreciation service. It was a beautiful, relatively quiet, Southern California afternoon. My partner and I worked a traffic car. We had no traffic collision to investigate and few calls for service. This allowed us to spend the better part of the day hunting for someone to put in our back seat.

My partner spotted a vehicle with an expired registration. Although it was a minor infraction, many-a-good arrests and war stories begin with a traffic stop for a minor vehicle code violation. I remember one late night, many years ago, stopping a car for an expired vehicle registration. Before I was through, I had two people in custody. The passenger was a wanted parolee who was armed with a knife. The woman driving the car was under the influence of methamphetamine. During a search of the trunk, I found a stolen computer and printer that the couple was using to counterfeit one, five, and twenty-dollar bills. The arrests and field investigation helped the Secret Service to clear several counterfeit cases in our area.

After my partner pointed out the expired registration, I ran the plate on our MDT (mobile computer). The return indicated that not only was the vehicle’s registration expired; it had been expired since March of 2005. Why was that significant? The registration tab on the license plate was a 2006 sticker—not 2005. What this meant to us was that the tab was likely stolen from another vehicle and placed on the car that was now in front of us so that the owner could defraud the DMV of annual registration fees.

This is a fairly common crime committed by people who either can’t afford the registration fees, or people who can’t get insurance or a smog certificate for their car (both are required in California), or people who just don’t want to pay the fees. Regardless of the reason for the presence of the fraudulently obtained registration tab, we determined to stop the car to see if we could take someone to jail.

The driver of the car was a 21-year-old girl named Christina. She told my partner that someone in of her classes at the local junior college gave her the registration tab. (The things kids learn in school these days). We also learned that her driver’s license was suspended for unpaid traffic tickets. My partner asked her to step out of the car, handcuffed her, and put her in our back seat.

I sat down in the front seat and started the paperwork while my partner prepared to impound Christina’s car for thirty days. Christina’s day was going from bad to worse.

Christina sat quietly in the back seat. Through the meshed, black metal screen that separated us, I could see tears running down her cheeks. I asked a question, the answer for which I was confident I already knew. “Have you ever been arrested?”

“No.” She answered. The next thing she said caught me by surprise. “I’m suppose to be adopted today, at 1:30.”

I found the statement to be unusual, since Christina was a young adult. I planned to inquire further, but, for now, I had to get through my paperwork. Once the tow truck arrived and secured the vehicle, we mad the six-mile drive to the station.

As we started for the station, Christina asked me if I thought she would make it to court on time, for the adoption hearing. I gently explained to her that she was arrested for a felony. Even if the bail commissioner granted her an O.R. release (own recognizance), which was likely, it would be several hours before she was released. She wept.

Curious, I asked Christina to explain how it was that she was being adopted. She shared the story of a young girl abandoned by her mother. At the age of fourteen, she suffered a brain aneurysm. Her mother never so much as called to see how she was doing.

Christina’s father remarried. Her step-mom loved Christina as if she were her own daughter. While basic biology can make a mother, it takes more that that to be a mom. In Christina’s case, the “step” in step-mom may appropriately identify a blended family, but it does not describe the amount of love between this mother and her child.

Recently, Christina discovered that it is legal in California to adopt adults. Christina’s step-mom did not hesitate when Christina shared the news with her. This was supposed to be a day of rejoicing, with the finalization of Christina’s adoption. The adoption would take place, but not today. Instead of standing before a judge to be blessed, she was beginning a journey that would end with her standing before a judge to be sentenced for the crimes she had committed.

As I listened to Christina’s story, I felt compassion for her. Seeing the look on my partner’s face, I could tell he was feeling the same way. The fun we had hoped to have in making this arrest was gone.

Listening to Christina’s story reminded of the following passage of Scripture.

"For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him" (Romans 8:14-17).

We were only a few minutes away from the station. My time to talk to Christina in the quiet confines of the patrol car was short. I tried to justify in my mind that there wasn’t enough time to share the gospel with her. Then the Lord quickly reminded me of something I said to my home church during a Sunday morning sermon.

"Jesus had a very deep, gut-level, intense, emotional attachment to the lost. It’s the kind of emotional attachment that compels a person to do something for the other person. So, in a very practical sense, if you see a lost person’s need for salvation—whether they are family, friend, or stranger—and you commit the sin of silence and do nothing to share the gospel with that person, then the reality is that you feel no compassion for that person. Your feelings for that person may be genuine, but your feelings do not run so deep that you will care enough for them to bring them the only Good News that can change their life—the gospel of Jesus Christ."

I looked at Christina’s driver’s license and noticed that she was wearing a crucifix, in the photo. I mentioned this observation to Christina. She said, “I’m Catholic. I received that necklace as a gift when I went through confirmation. I noticed the back of your shirt says ‘chaplain.’ Are you a chaplain?”

“Yes I am.” I answered.

“That’s wonderful.” She said softly.

“Christina, would it be all right if I posed a hypothetical situation to you?” I asked.

“Yes.” She answered.

I proceeded to share the courtroom analogy with her. I learned the courtroom analogy from my evangelism mentor, Ray Comfort; and the analogy is featured in the last chapter of “Take Up The Shield.” Most of you know the analogy by now, and I hope you are using it when you share the Law and the gospel with the lost. But for those of you who are new to the Ten-Four family, let me share it again, as I shared it with Christina.

“Christina, you know you are going to have to go to court because of what you’ve done today.” I began.

“I know.” She said. Her face was still wet with tears.

“Let’s say that when the time comes for you to stand before the judge, having been found guilty for your crimes, and the judge looks at you and says, ‘Christina, you have been found guilty of the crimes you committed, and it is time for me to sentence you. I sentence you to a $100,000 fine or life in prison.’

“You can’t believe what you just heard. You don’t have $100,000 and you don’t want to spend the rest of your life in prison, so you plead with the judge. ‘Your honor, I’m sorry for what I did. I promise I will never do it again. The punishment doesn’t seem fair. Give me a break. Please let me go.’

“The judge says, ‘I’m a good judge. And because I am a good judge I have to hold you accountable for your crimes. Justice demands that you be punished for what you have done. You have broken the law.’

“Just as the judge is about to send you to prison for the rest of your life, a man walks into the courtroom—a man whom you have never met. He walks forward to the judge’s bench a lays $100,000 in cash, before the judge. The man looks at the judge, points to you, and says, ‘I’m paying Christina’s fine. Set her free.’

“The judge looks at the cash payment, sees that your debt has been paid in full, looks at you, and says, ‘Your fine has been paid. Justice has been satisfied. You’re free to go.’”

I looked at Christina and asked, “Wouldn’t that be good news, Christina?”

“Yes.” She said.

I continued. “Well, Christina, that’s exactly what Jesus Christ has done for you. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, the sinless Lamb of God, died on the cross to pay the full penalty for your sins—a debt you will never be able to pay.

“Christina, you’re only hope to avoid the just penalty for your sins against God—eternity in hell—is to repent of your sins (turn away from them) and trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation.”

She was weeping bitterly now.

Knowing a little about Christina’s religious background, I said, “Christina, religion won’t save you. Traditions and rituals won’t save you. Your good works won’t save you. Only the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ will save you. Only real faith in Jesus Christ will save you. And it’s not enough to believe in your head. You must believe in your heart and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Repent of your sin. Stop living to please yourself and live for Christ.

“Christina, here is something that I know will mean a lot to you—especially today. If you repent and trust in Jesus Christ to save you, not only will He forgive your sins and give you the free gift of eternal life, but He will also adopt you as one of His own children. Isn’t that beautiful?”

“Yes it is.” She answered.

We pulled into the station parking lot as Christina answered the question. Before we walked Christina into the station jail for booking, I asked Christina if she understood what I had shared with her. She nodded her head. Understanding that I may never see her again, I urged her to carefully consider what I shared with her. She said she would.

My partner and I took Christina through the booking process and we booked our evidence. We went 10-8 (in service), hoping to go 10-15 (make an arrest) again. As we drove around town, I asked my partner (who is also a Christian) what he thought about what I said to Christina. He said the encounter challenged and encouraged him to be bolder and more consistent when it comes to sharing his faith.

The encounter with Christina also served as a timely reminder for my partner—a reminder that there is more to the job than taking people to jail, handling calls, and trudging our way through the daily frustrations and disappointments the job can bring. We are on the streets to help people. And there is no greater help we can give than the compassionate presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pray with me that her new mom will adopt Christina. Pray that Christina will also be adopted as a child of the one, true, God—through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

You Don't Have to Buy a Monitor Lizard to Share the Gospel

My eldest daughter, Michelle, and I were at a local park trying to choose a location for a church picnic and outreach event. As we walked through the park, off in the distance I could see a young woman walking her pet. It wasn’t a dog—the kind of pet you would expect in a park. It was a 3’-long Australian Monitor Lizard. The crawling creature fascinated us, seeing that such animals are not indigenous to Southern California. We had to get a closer look.

We approached the woman, whose name was Coda, and told her how impressed we were with her exotic pet. She was eager to answer our questions about her pet, and we had plenty of questions. Her pet’s name was “Gushu.” In just a few moments, by simply showing a friendly interest in Coda and her pet, we established a nice rapport with her.

I try to be ever watchful for evangelism opportunities. Recently, I started carrying a small, digital voice recorder with me so I can document my evangelism encounters—always doing so with the other person’s knowledge and consent. The recordings can be useful in training others to share their faith, and they can be a great way to bring evangelism encounters to life so that other Christians can be motivated, and challenged to share their faith. I picked up this idea from the Adventures in Christianity website.

I told Coda that I had hoped to find someone in the park willing to be interviewed. I explained to her that the topics of discussion would be creation, evolution, and spiritual beliefs. She said she had to run an errand, but she was planning on coming back to the park so Gushu could play in the park. To our surprise, Coda and Gushu returned to the park forty-five minutes later.

She laid a blanket on the grass and the three of us sat down. For the next forty minutes, we talked about creation vs. evolution, Coda’s spiritual beliefs, heaven and hell, Coda’s violation of God’s Law, sin and judgment, and the free gift of eternal life received by those who repent of their sin and put their trust in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation.

There were no arguments. No subject seemed to be off limits. The conversation was personal, in that Coda shared much about herself. I spoke plainly to Coda. I spoke frankly. I expressed concern about her spending eternity in hell, apart from saving faith in Jesus Christ.

I thanked Coda for talking to me and I gave her a copy of Ray Comfort’s book, How to Live Forever Without Being Religious. She looked at the title and said, “I love the title. I’m going to read this.” I told her that much of what we talked about would be further explained in the book. She thanked me and we went our separate ways, in all likelihood, never to see each other again.

Coda didn’t make a decision to receive Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. Frankly, I wasn’t looking for a decision. Too many people in our increasingly godless society have made “decisions to accept Jesus” as their Savior, but they are not saved. At some point in their lives they may have claimed some kind of intellectual belief in the truths about Jesus Christ. They may have cried out in desperation to God in a last-ditch effort to fix their troubled lives. However, they never repented of their sin and put their trust and faith in Christ alone. Like the atheist, agnostic, and cultist they are diving headlong into the lake of fire. The sad part is that they don’t know it because no one has ever told them that praying a prayer and going to church will not save them. They don’t know it because they’ve bought the lie of the “try Jesus on for size” false gospel.

No, the purpose of my conversation with Coda was not to talk her into making a decision for Christ. My purpose, my mission, was to plant good spiritual seed and warn her about her eternal destiny apart from Christ. In doing so, I put my trust in Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Harvest, to save her from the wrath to come and cause authentic spiritual growth in her life.

My conversation with Coda went against the grain of the prevalent evangelism philosophy in today’s body of Christ—particularly in the United States. My approach with Coda would not likely fit into the box commonly known as “friendship evangelism.” The philosophy can be described this way.

“Friendship evangelism” is taking the time and making the effort to establish authentic relationships with non-Christians. The hope is that by establishing such relationships, the Christian will “earn the right” to talk to the non-Christian about spiritual things. Another hope is that living the Christian life in front of the non-Christian will cause the non-Christian to ask the Christian what it is that makes them different and what the non-Christian must do to be saved.

So the Christian committed to the “friendship evangelism” philosophy of ministry takes his or her time, working carefully, diligently, and cautiously to make an investment in the life of unsaved friends, neighbors, or co-workers. They find out what interests the unsaved person and then tries to share in those interests. For example, if the person with whom they are trying to establish a relationship likes to ride mountain bikes, the Christian will buy a mountain bike and join them in the activity. If their unsaved neighbor is a member of the local chess club, the Christian may learn to play chess and then join the club in order to spend time with their unsaved friend. The Christian may also look to other areas of life he or she might have in common with their unsaved friend—like profession, school, and family.

There is certainly value in establishing relationships with non-Christians, but “friendship evangelism” (as it is applied by many Christians) has a flaw. While this philosophy of ministry helps in the establishment of relationships, more often than not true evangelism doesn’t occur. Why? For one thing, most Christians do not share their faith with others to begin with. Another reason evangelism doesn’t happen is that Christians work so hard to establish relationships, they won’t share their faith because they don’t want to do anything to jeopardize the relationship they have worked so hard to build. In the end, maintaining a relationship with the non-Christian becomes more important than where the non-Christian will spend eternity.

“Friendship evangelism,” as it is typically practiced, is neither friendly, in the truest sense of the word (John 15:13), nor is it evangelistic. It often becomes a “cop-out” for not sharing the gospel, as opposed to being a catalyst for sharing the Law and the gospel with the lost.

I didn’t have to establish a relationship with Coda by buying a monitor lizard and joining the “reptile of the month club” so I could earn the right to share the gospel with her. I simply had to care enough about her to establish a rapport with her, so I could fulfill my responsibility to share the gospel with her (Matthew 28:18-20). The approval, acceptance, or comfort level of non-Christians is not how Christians should determine when, where, and how to share the gospel with them. The command of Scripture, the Christian’s love for God, and their love for the lost should be all the motivation and mandate the Christian needs to share his or her faith with them.

Many Christians are under the impression that Jesus spent a lot of time establishing relationships with the lost. But even a cursory review of the Scriptures reveals that what Jesus (and the apostles) did was establish a rapport with the lost when bringing the Law and the gospel to those who He encountered, one-to-one.

Take for instance the woman at the well (John 4:7-30). Jesus’ earthly ministry lasted just a little more than three years. He didn’t spend all of that time developing a relationship with the woman at the well. He took but a few minutes to establish a rapport with her before confronting her about her adulterous relationship and explaining to her the way of eternal life.

Jesus didn’t have to be wealthy and spend years developing a relationship with the rich young ruler to have the right to confront the man with the Law of God (Mark 10:17-27). Jesus had an immediate rapport with the young man when he came to Jesus with an important question.

Philip didn’t have to spend years learning Ethiopian culture to earn the right to engage the Ethiopian eunuch in spiritual conversation (Acts 8:25-40). Philip established a rapport with the man by simply asking him, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

Paul didn’t have to spend years assimilating into the Athenian culture before engaging the people in spiritual conversations and confronting them on their sin of idolatry, or before engaging the people through open-air preaching (Acts 17:16-34). He established a rapport with them by engaging them in thought-provoking conversation. He reasoned with the religious people, the philosophers, and with whomever he came in contact. He stood before the people and called them to repentance and warned them about the judgment to come.

It doesn’t take months of training or a particular spiritual “gift set” to establish rapport with people. It simply takes the willingness to talk to people, fueled by the hope that the conversation will open the door for presenting the Law and the gospel. You’re not being obnoxious if you engage a stranger in conversation. You’re being obedient. You’re not being caustic or deceptive if you turn the conversation from the natural to the spiritual. You’re being caring and determined. You’re not being insensitive or judgmental if you honestly and sincerely confront people about sin and warn them about an eternity in hell apart from Christ. You’re being loving—very loving.

Should Christians try to establish relationships with non-Christians? Yes—by all means. But Christians should not do so at the expense of evangelism. Our ability to establish relationships with people will not save anyone. It is only the gospel that has the power to save (Romans 1:16-17). And the gospel must be shared. It must be spoken, using the Law of God to bring non-Christians to recognize that their sin against God is exceedingly sinful (Romans 3:19-20).

You don’t have to wait years to share the gospel with someone. You don’t have to wait years only to see you talk yourself out of sharing the gospel with whomever you are trying to establish a relationship. Leave your house today determined to establish a rapport with someone, anyone, and share with them the only good news that will save their lives—the gospel of Jesus Christ.