A Subtle way to Share the Gospel
Copyright © 1994 – Tim Arensmeier
(With special Thanks to Ron York who initially introduced me to this process.)
Everyone has encountered the bossy, abrasive individual who is aggressively out there trying to get other people to "become Christians" by tactics as subtle as a train smash! The stepping in front of you, handing you a tract, asking,
"Are you ready to meet your Maker?"
Or, the one which so endears us to him,
"You're on your way to Hell! You need to be 'born again!'"
While individuals so accosted may well be lost and therefore indeed "on their way to Hell," those tactics will seldom solicit the desired response, i.e., a readiness to listen to and seriously consider the claims of Christ upon their lives.
There is no desire here to convey that we should not be involved in open identification with Jesus Christ, in the marketplace or across the backyard fence. That's not the point. I merely want to convey a method and provide a mechanism for assisting us in learning how to more effectively communicate the gospel.
That method is very simply the sharing of one's own personal testimony. If your neighbor is telling you about something he or she has experienced, and you don't have the impression that they are trying to force something down your throat, you'll probably listen, if for no other reason than one of being polite.
So . . . why not take advantage of the concept, and learn how to share your own experience of coming to faith in Christ as the mechanism of sharing the Faith with another, in a non-intrusive way?
For a fascinating example of such a method, the apostle Paul used this in one of his "defenses" of his position after having been arrested in Jerusalem for reasons which the Roman Empire had yet to fully understand.
Paul had originally been arrested because some of his Jewish antagonists had accused him of bringing “a Gentile” into the Temple in Jerusalem -- which hadn't happened.
While they were trying to stone him for that, the Roman commander intervened, securing his physical safety. After establishing his Roman citizenship, he was transferred from Jerusalem to Caesarea (on the coast) for safety under the Roman governor, Felix, who kept him "safe" in prison for . . . two years!
Festus was the next Roman governor to hear Paul, who finally appealed to his Roman citizenship and asked to be heard by Caesar. While waiting to be transferred to Rome, Agrippa (a local vassal king under the Caesar) and his wife Bernise visiting through, asked to hear Paul after learning of his case from Festus.
In Acts 26, we have the entire narrative. If you will take your Bible, or New Testament, and a clock, you can read Paul's entire defense -- even if you read slowly -- in less than five minutes! I'd like to encourage you to do that at this time.
Assuming that you have done that . . . the following outline conveys the essence of what Paul communicated in those very few minutes:
1. A Gracious Introduction Acts 26:1 - 3
You'll note that Paul is gracious as he addresses King Agrippa. He affirms Agrippa as knowledgeable of Jewish culture and customs, and requests a patient hearing.
2. Brief History of Good Points of Past Life Acts 26:4 - 10
Here, Paul relates that he had been a good citizen, and a very religious person, a Pharisee - a very strict religious person. (Paul, here . . . as a part of his religious history, questions why anyone should find it incredible that God might raise the dead.)
3. Brief History of Bad Points of Past Life Acts 26:11
While some may wonder if these are "bad points" as he was being consistent with his religious fervor, you'll note that he acknowledges that he was forcing people to blaspheme, and that he was obsessed with this. In the King James translation, it is related that he was "mad" over it.
Part of the interest in acknowledging these two facets of Paul's "testimony" is that some people have conveyed that they were such "bad" people before coming to faith in Christ, that the average listener could conclude that they would have sprung for any religious or psychological change or shift. Paul doesn't allow that by telling of both the good and bad points of his past life.
4. Circumstances Surrounding Conversion Acts 26:12 - 18
While relating his own experience, you'll note that Paul includes the fact that others were present with him, and also experienced something unusual. Paul also tells in very specific detail what Christ told him to do, what he would experience and how he would be protected. In the course of this, Paul even inserts details of the gospel, affirming that Satan exists, and what part forgiveness plays in our experience.
5. Results of Conversion Acts 26:19 - 22
Paul immediately launches into a brief overview of what he had done since coming to belief in Christ and starting to follow Him. He tells of his preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, how the Jews attacked him, and why he was standing before Agrippa on that occasion, as illustrative of God's protection of him, as promised.
6. The Gospel Acts 26:23
Succinctly stated, Paul gave a distillate of what the Gospel is: Christ suffered death, was raised from the dead, and proclaimed light (the opening of their eyes) both to the Jews and to the Gentiles. Pretty brief. But, the gospel is there!
7. Persuasive Appeal Acts 26:24 - 29
In conclusion, Paul allows an interruption, and concludes his testimony by appealing directly to King Agrippa, with an invitation to seriously consider the claims of Christ on his life. He acknowledges that his desire is that all believe as he has come to believe.
Having looked briefly at Paul's defense of his position, as that is what he was supposed to be doing, let's look at what happened: He was supposed to have given a sort of legal defense of his position, and he turned the entire event into an opportunity to uplift Christ before -- not only King Agrippa – but the entire courtroom as well! Outstanding!
But let's be consistent. That is what happened to Paul. That is history. That was his experience, and we would be mistaken to conclude that therefore we ought to be able to totally copy his experience. That's not the point.
My thought is to take Paul’s experience as a point of reference, or departure, and examine his "defense" to see if there are elements which, when taken and applied, might be of assistance to us in tailoring our own story of our coming to faith in Christ.
For starters, we may all work on and develop some sort of "gracious introduction" which we could use as a beginning point with a friend or neighbor, when opportunity presented itself.
For instance, while talking about the current political environment, some may use that as their introduction to bring up their experience of faith in Christ.
Values. What are the foundations upon which you base your life, and why?
You might use such a conversation to begin with such as,
"I've had some similar situations in my life, but I've come to a new point of reference in looking at how I live life, and why, and I'd appreciate your giving me a few minutes of your time to tell you what I've learned and experienced."
Another sticking point some have with Paul's experience, is that they don't have a "dramatic" testimony. Quite possibly you aren't a converted gang leader, drug runner, mother-stabber, horse thief, international counterfeiter . . . or congressman! Did I say that?! You may just be your ordinary, garden variety, litterer.
You may have paid your taxes, not kicked your neighbor's dog, and even come to faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior at your family devotions at age four and a half. Praise God, I did! And, as such, I don't have a Pauline testimony. Mine is much more along the lines of:
"I can't remember a time in my life when I have not known, believed in and loved Jesus Christ."
Don't let that ever be a deterrent to sharing your faith and following Christ. Those of us who have such a testimony usually have been spared a lot which has scarred others. We're no better. That's not the point. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Therefore, all (we) deserve the wrath of God, including those of us who have been fortunate enough to be raised in a Christ-centered home.
But, for those who have come to faith later in their lives, it is appropriate to evaluate how to convey both the good and bad points of life before coming to faith in Christ.
For all of us, the balance of Paul's testimony definitely has some potential application to our testimony. There are circumstances surrounding our coming to faith in Christ. Share them -- briefly.
Brevity, cannot be over emphasized. Briefly telling your story will frequently open the door for your friend or acquaintance to ask questions. If you drone on, and on, and ON -- they'll tend to zone out, and yawn OFF, and find some way out of the experience, as they'll probably conclude that you are preaching at them, which is probably exactly what is happening.
Moving on -- All of us can relate some of the results of our coming to faith in Christ, and how life has been lived as one of His followers.
At the point of the sharing of the gospel story itself, if you read the passage carefully, you'll notice that while Paul specifically articulates a distillate of what the gospel is, in verse 23, he essentially is weaving it throughout the entire four minute presentation.
This assumes that you and I are pretty familiar with what the message of salvation is. We need to realize that this assumption is a fairly large one, as many churchmen are quite “in the dark” regarding the gospel. This is not to suggest that they are not saved, or don't know Christ by faith.
It is to clearly acknowledge that many are not well versed in talking about their faith clearly. If that is a problem for you, then my thought would be to assist you in learning how to express what your faith in Christ is, what it means and how to express it.
For those who are somewhat familiar with what the gospel message is, i.e., that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not charging up our sins against us, but reconciling us to Himself through Jesus Christ, then the following work sheet may be of assistance to you.
TESTIMONY WORK SHEET
I. Gracious Introduction. Write down some brief introduction which you might use in talking with a friend.
2. Briefly, cite a few details of your past life which would convey to a normal person that you weren't some sort of ax murdering whacko who would have turned to the Moonies for significance.
3. Jot down a few comments which would allow the listener to recognize that you knew that you were in need of a Savior.
4. Distill out as briefly as you can, how you actually came to respond to the message of salvation. This could include such details as having attended a Billy Graham Crusade; being introduced to Christ by a counselor after one of the meetings. Or, that you had heard about Christ, and had attended church for years, but one Sunday (or Thursday evening), it all started making sense in a new and exciting way, and suddenly, you knew that Christ’s death on the cross of Calvary was really for you!
5. Write out some of the results of your coming to believe in, and follow Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
6. See if you can write down, in very brief form, the smallest essence of the gospel.
7. After making the above presentation, think about what you would feel comfortable saying to a friend, by way of an attempt to get them to think seriously about their need to consider Christ's claims on their life. Something along the line, like Paul,
“I wish you to would seriously consider the claims of Christ on your life. It has truly transformed mine.”
Having completed the above exercise, share the work you've done with a trusted friend who is also a follower of Jesus Christ, and get their feedback on each point.
Working on these thoughts, in advance, helps you to have a greater comfort in even considering what you would say if presented with the opportunity to talk with someone about Jesus Christ.
You will probably find that you've been given several opportunities in the past, but due to a lack of preparation, you've totally missed them.
It's my desire to assist you in learning how to increasingly become comfortable with expressing your faith, so that you will find yourself talking about Jesus Christ more frequently and more easily.
In closing, never forget what the apostle Paul said to the believers in Corinth:
What (not who), after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe -- as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed [of the gospel], Apollos watered it [by either re-stating the gospel, or further praying for the people], but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything (italics mine), but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters are alike in this: each will receive their reward for their labor (interestingly, not their results). I Corinthians 3:5 - 8 KJV
The point is that our "job" is to present the gospel -- to uplift Jesus Christ -- Who will draw people to Himself. It's His job, through His Spirit, to convert people. It is our job to "plant" or "water" -- lets allow God . . . to be God, and affect conversion to new life in Christ.
Rev. Tim Arensmeier is pastor