Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Four Approaches to Evangelism *

Part Four: How to Help Unbelievers Realize They are Sinners
                   and Need A Savior

 When I taught apologetic courses in Bible College,  as part of their semester grade, my students were required to interview two unbelievers using a religious survey I designed for them. The purpose was to identify obstacles that prevented the unbelievers from seriously considering Christianity—and to give the students an opportunity to use what they learned in class in actual witnessing encounters.  Some went to airports, others a mall, and some interviewed non-Christian friends and family. Two of the questions on the survey were these: “Suppose you died today and were to stand before God and He asked you, ‘Why should I allow you into Heaven,’ what would you say?” The other, similar question, was this: “In your opinion what is God requirements for someone to get into heaven.”

About 70 percent of the responses to these questions said, in effect, that entering heaven has to do with how good a person is. In other words, salvation depends on the life one lives. If you are upright, kind to other people, help out when someone needs it, give to charity and so on, you are good enough in God’s eyes to enter heaven

The fact is few people think that they are going to hell. Ask someone. They are not going to say, “Oh yeah, I’m going to hell—looking forward to it!” (And if they do say this, in their hearts they don’t believe it or reject the idea of hell). More likely they’ll respond something like this: “I know I will go to heaven because I’m a good person. I don’t get drunk, steal, or cheat on my spouse. I pay my taxes and give to charity. I even go to church now and then—and drop a few bucks in the pot. I’m a decent human being; God will accept me into heaven.”

The point I’m making is that most non-Christians think of sin as if it were grades on a report card. If they get enough good grades, it will offset their bad grades, and they will still “pass”—make it into Heaven. Let me illustrate this:

·         Tell a white lie you get an “A.” (“I didn’t tell Dan I thought his article stunk because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.”)

·         Steal a few pens or notepads from work you get a “B.” (“They have hundreds of them and everyone does it. Besides, I work at least an extra hour every week and don’t put it on my timecard. They own me!”)

·         Cheat on your taxes you get a “C.” (“Let’s face it, the IRS expects people to fudge a little on their taxes. Everyone does it. Anyway, I sometimes give money to charity and never claim it”)

·         Watch pornography or take recreational drugs you get a “D,” but you are still eligible (ok, barely) for Heaven. Why? Because (“I’m not hurting anyone else. I’m not married, so what if I look at pornography? And I don’t steal to buy my drugs like some other people. It’s my business if I do drugs now and then.”)

·         However, if someone murders, rapes, deals drugs, or abuses children, they get an “F” and deserve hell.

You see, in many people’s minds, “small” sins hardly qualify as bad behavior (or they don’t even recognize them as sin). And even if they occasionally commit a “big” sin, like pornography or recreational drugs, it can be offset if they live an otherwise descent life. If a person is a good citizen,  gives to charity, serves in the military, mows the old lady’s yard next door, it puts them in good standing with God.

You get the picture. Our “good” behavior cancels out our “bad” behavior. It’s only when someone commits a truly horrendous sin, such as murder, rape, child abuse and so on—when one physically hurts another person or financially destroys them—that he or she deserves hell.

Now, where am I going with this—and what does it have to do with evangelism or apologetics? The reason I mention this is because these individuals probably comprise the largest segment of secular and religious non-Christians in America today—and consequently the people we most often encounter in evangelism and apologetics. We need a strategy on how to engage them. Even people that raise apologetic issues for why they reject Christianity often harbor the belief that they are good enough to go to heaven, even if Christianity is true.

In the next couple blog articles, I’ll give suggestions on how to help these people recognize they are sinners in need of a Savior.

*  This and the other blog articles in this series are copyrighted material and may not be reproduced electronically or in print. But feel free to link this blog to your own website, personal email list, or Facebook friends and groups. I explore the topic of this series of articles more fully in my book Engaging the Closed Minded; Presenting Your Faith to the Confirmed Unbeliever (Kregel Publications).

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