The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Sharing Jesus with Skeptics’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 11/1/2015, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here: http://bit.ly/1l9eQ66
Your Life’s Purpose
The primary goals in the life of every Christian should be the same: 1) to experience genuine relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and 2) to co-labor with God to expand His Kingdom by sharing the Gospel everywhere possible. Your life might look a little different from mine: you might have a few more kids, and I might have a different calling. But our primary purpose is the same.
Before Jesus ascended to Heaven, He left His disciples with final instructions:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. – Matt 28:18-20
We know this passage as the Great Commission. Now that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, it is our responsibility to be His hands and feet. Now that He is no longer physically walking the earth to preach the Gospel, it is our job to raise our hands and say, “I’ll do it! Send me.”
Sharing the Gospel shouldn’t feel like being in a pressure cooker. The weight of the world isn’t on your shoulders as you co-labor to share the Gospel. Jesus already took the weight of the world on His shoulders and brought it to the Cross, so that our responsibilities in life could be stress-free.
It isn’t your job to save everyone in the world. Jesus already died for that. However, it is your job to talk to the people God has put into your sphere of influence. Your family, friends, and co-workers are all in your life for a reason. You have a specific skill set that makes you different from everyone else around you. You have been through experiences in life that make you perfectly and uniquely qualified to share the Gospel in a way no one else can. It is simply your job to open your mouth, and let God speak through you. If you plant the seed, He will water it. When you step out in faith, God will cause the people you know to start asking questions about Jesus.
To be clear, whenever I talk about sharing the Gospel, I mean speaking. There is a quote often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi that goes something like, “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words.” I don’t agree with that approach. Sharing the Gospel requires that you open your mouth. So let’ s not hide behind that quote, and use it as an excuse to be luke-warm witnessers. We need to get serious about opening our mouths and sharing the Good News; because if we don’t do it, nobody else will!
Last year, my uncle lay dying in his hospital bed in Wisconsin. He had been a smoker his entire adult life, and it had finally caught up with him: cancer was creeping over his lungs. We prayed for perfect healing. He was my mom’s little brother, and he wasn’t supposed to die this young. More important than healing, we prayed for his salvation.
I had never talked with my uncle about God. He lived in Wisconsin, and we lived in New York. Whenever we saw him, we talked about his passions in life: hunting, the Green Bay Packers, and Wisconsin cheese. As his health deteriorated, my brother and I scheduled a trip to go and visit him. We knew we had to talk to him about Jesus: he had reached out to us for a reason, and this was our chance. It was going to be super awkward, and incredibly uncomfortable. But he was in our lives for exactly this purpose.
We showed up to visit him, and the usual conversations started. The Packers were off to a 2-2 start, which was much worse than usual. Uncle Jon hadn’t even been hunting this year because of his health, and he couldn’t really keep down cheese because he was in a hospital bed. But then we drew a hard line. I pulled out my Bible, and we read to him. We asked if he knew Jesus, and if he had ever prayed to be saved. We prayed with him, and left the Bible on his nightstand, with almost a dozen key verses outlined.
After he died, I got the Bible back. He had used it. He had written in it, and left me notes in the margins. The Bible was a bitter-sweet gift to receive after he passed away, but it revealed that he had taken our conversation to heart. Our conversations about the Packers were over, for now; but we knew they would pick back up again in Heaven.
Even if the entire purpose of my life was to introduce my Uncle Jon to Jesus, so that he might be saved, that would be enough. I believe God is looking for us to take responsibility to spiritually steward the people in our lives: to introduce them to Jesus Christ, and teach them how to stand on their own two feet and learn Biblical truth.
Responding to Your Call
When God called Isaiah to be a prophet, Isaiah responded enthusiastically:
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” And He said, “Go, and tell this people… – Is 6:6-9
We love to read that passage, and think of adventure. “If God asks me to go to China,” we say, “I’ll go!” “If He asks me to quit my job and start a business, I’ll do it!” But look at what Isaiah was really responding to. God put an entire nation on Isaiah’s heart. “I have equipped you,” God was saying. “Now you go and talk to them.”
God was encouraging Isaiah to take responsibility for people. Isaiah knew that as long as he made the introduction, God would take care of the rest. Some people would say yes to God, and others would say no. But Isaiah had to do his part. So do you and I!
Witnessing – sharing the Gospel – can be hard. It can be scary because we all have a fear of rejection. We think, if someone says no, it reflects poorly on us. Witnessing can be awkward. What if your best friend doesn’t like you any more because you always talk about Jesus?
Witnessing can be time consuming. We love to think like evangelists. When we think of sharing the Gospel, we assume God is calling us to talk with people on the subway, share the Good News on the street by preaching out in the open, or stopp random people in the grocery store to tell them about Jesus. If we only have the courage to start a random conversation, then BAM – that person will be won to the Lord.
But it isn’t always that simple. Sharing the Gospel requires patience. It requires delicately repeating the same conversation many times, and in many different ways. There are some people with whom I have been sharing the Gospel for years. Witnessing can take time; but it’s worth it in the end.
This morning, I want to talk about winning those “difficult” people to the Lord. Think about the most skeptical person in your life. Maybe you’ve invited them to church a dozen times. You’ve been super smooth, had them over for Christmas dinner, and thrown in a quick explanation of the crèche and the Christmas Story over egg nog. But no matter what you do, they won’t say yes. What can you do?
Keys to Soul-Winning
There are three simple keys to effectively sharing the Gospel: 1) refusing to lecture, 2) living your life as an example, and 3) prayer. A solid foundation in all three areas can make the most potentially awkward conversations about Jesus simple (dare I say fun?).
1) Refusing to lecture.
God has been playing a fun game with me lately. Whenever I am feeling really good about myself, and my pride starts to rise, He reminds me where I came from. A memory will pop into my head about something stupid I did in my drinking days (i.e. college), someone I offended, or a relationship I abused and mishandled. It’s been quite a humbling exercise. The point is this: remembering what God has saved us from helps us keep perspective.
Whenever you witness to someone, try and remember that you were once in their shoes. Paul reminded Titus of this reality:
Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. – Titus 3:1-7
We were once just like them; but the kindness and the love of God appeared.
Romans 2:4 says that the, “…goodness of God leads [us] to repentance.” Souls are not won for Christ with clever speech, or illustrations. When we showcase God’s goodness, people cannot help but run to Him. Judgment will get us nowhere: that is why it is so valuable to keep our life in perspective, and remember just what God has saved us from. You and I were destined for eternity in Hell: but God rescued us from our sin!
Fear does not win people to the Lord. Several years ago there was a conservative Christian group that used to set up camp in the subway station at Union Square. They drew posters with pictures of hellfire and the devil’s face. They would scream at people as they walked by. “Repent or go to Hell!” “Change your life NOW or you will not be saved!”
Theologically, their stance was correct. Practically, however, their approach was equally incorrect. The content of the message was true; but the process they used to deliver that message was severely misguided.
This group had forgotten Paul’s words to Titus: “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another” (Titus 3:3, above). If, as we witness, we forget that we were once in need of a Savior too, all is lost.
A lecturer tells people what is right. A counselor, on the other hand, allows people to draw their own conclusions. Our most effective approach in witnessing is always refusing to lecture, and allowing (and encouraging) people to find Truth in Scripture themselves.
If you’re a parent, you know that telling your kids exactly what to do will only result in one thing: rebellion! My wife and I have a 16-month-old son. When he started walking a few months ago, the first thing he wanted to do was poke his finger in the light socket. We pointed at the outlet, and told him firmly, “Don’t touch this.” You know what he did, as soon as we pulled our fingers away? He touched the outlet.
Our son, relatively speaking, is emotionally immature. He doesn’t know how to resist his urges to do certain things. Your friends and family members who don’t know Jesus are spiritually immature in exactly the same way. The more you tell them what not to do, the less they’ll understand. But if you take the time to step back and allow them to realize how and why they should live their lives differently, change will happen quickly.
When you counsel someone – allowing them to discover the Gospel without having it jammed down their throat, the change is permanent. You have to make accepting Jesus seem like their idea. If they’re just accepting Jesus because you tell them to, the change will be short-lived. If, on the other hand, they’re accepting Jesus because they want to, the change will be life-long!
The Gospel is effective when we share from a place of relationship. Building relationship with our loved ones is so much more important than giving advice. Our most common mistake is that we intervene too soon, or too often. An intervention that is too early, or too frequent, will do more harm than good.
2) Living Your Life As an Example.
When you are a Christian, people examine you with a magnifying glass. They want to see if knowing Jesus really make a difference in the way you live your daily life! After all, why should they accept the investment you’re trying to sell them if it doesn’t really pay dividends?
I remember hearing about a couple in pastoral counseling several years ago. The husband was a Christian: he had accepted Jesus as outlined in Romans 10:9. His wife was not. They came to counseling because he “couldn’t” continue to be married to someone who wasn’t a Christian, and she had no desire to accept Jesus.
They quickly discovered that the husband preached Jesus without apology, but his life wasn’t a reflection of that relationship. The husband preached forgiveness; but he was quick to judge, and slow to forgive. He preached kindness, but he was anything but gentle. He preached understanding, but he frequently lashed out at his wife without apology.
What was happening here? The husband wasn’t living his life as an example. He wanted his wife to accept Jesus, but she didn’t see the point. His life didn’t bear Gospel fruit, so she wouldn’t accept the seed.
For some people in your life, you are the only Jesus they will ever see. They won’t accept an invitation to church until they see a demonstration of why they should as they watch you live your life. The husband needed to apologize. Then, he needed to make a decision to lead by example.
This might seem obvious, but if we are going to win people to the Lord, we have to pray! We should pray for lost people in our lives daily. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with frustrated Christians whose family members won’t accept Jesus, only to find out that they have never prayed for those very same people.
First, we should pray for our friends and family members whom we want to accept Jesus. Jesus clearly stated that, ultimately, the impetus for joining the Kingdom of Heaven comes from the King:
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him… - John 6:44
No one can accept Jesus unless the Father draws him. We can say and do all the right things; but if the Holy Spirit is not tugging on someone’s heart, they will not come to know God. We should pray every day for our loved ones to be pulled by the Holy Spirit into a desire to know God: that they would be drawn into the Kingdom by our Father of Heaven.
Then, we can pray to be ready. God will fill your friends and family members with a desire to know Him as you pray for them. Then, He will fill your mouth with exactly the right words to speak at the moment they open their hearts to Jesus.
God’s desire is that we would put ourselves in uncomfortable situations, and trust that He will tell us exactly what to do. Here is what Jesus told His disciples:
And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. – Mk 13:10-11
We can have confidence to inject ourselves into any situation or conversation, knowing that God’s Holy Spirit will fill us with the words to speak. It is up to God to prepare hearts. It is up to us to plant a seed by sharing the Gospel with words. Then, it is up to His Holy Spirit to cultivate the seed that has been planted: to transform our friends and family members into radical followers of Jesus Christ.
God has surrounded you with friends and family so that you can preach the Gospel to them. At some point, even though they feel Him tugging at their heart, a conversation will be required. We must trust God’s Holy Spirit to make us ready for those conversations; and when the moment arrives, we must take the plunge and preach the Gospel without apology, and without compromise.
When I first moved to New York City, I was anything but saved. I had grown up in the church, but I had fallen away from God when I went off to college. I spent my college years drinking, partying, and basically doing whatever I wanted. Deep down, I knew my lifestyle wouldn’t make me happy. But I didn’t care, because I was immature.
As year after year passed, I became desperate. I knew I was missing a relationship with God. I longed for purpose and meaning in my life, but I was scared to come back to church. Would God accept me? Would He have the patience required to help me make changes in my life?
As I struggled to come back to church, my brother was praying for me. We talked every week, and I saw how Jesus had changed his life. He used to drink and party, just like me; but he gave up that lifestyle to become a disciple of Jesus. I wanted what he had, but I didn’t know how to ask.
I talked with him on the phone one Sunday. I was hung over: waking up slowly after a long night out. He was on his way home from church. Then he said something so simple that would change my life forever. “Stop messing around. You keep saying you want to go to church, so just do it. Stop making excuses. Find a church you like, and get involved.”
This was tough, brotherly live; and it was exactly what I needed to hear. I gave my life to Jesus soon after, and I’ve been walking with Him ever since. God has used me to have simple conversations with many people that have resulted in transformed lives. He gets all the glory; and I get the reward of eternal life in Heaven with my friends and family.
Pray. Refuse to lecture. Live your life as an example. Trust that when God brings someone to you who needs Jesus, He has already prepared you to show them the way.
- by Pastor Mike White
© Michael D. White, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
 For non-New Yorkers, this is one of the busiest transportation hubs in New York City, and the 4th busiest subway stop according to the MTA. The MTA estimates that 110,000 people pass through the Union Square station every single day (http://web.mta.info/nyct/facts/ridership/ridership_sub.htm).