Over the summer, I had the opportunity to organize an outreach through my Church at a local county fair. This week-long endeavor required many volunteers to cover the 200 plus man hours needed. God provided!
It was during one of these days at the fair that I decided to experiment by asking youth, high school and younger, the following questions: Who was Jesus? Who was Moses? Who was David? Who was Jonah? And finally who was Adam and Eve? I received a bizarre range of answers and blank stares. One child believed that Jonah helped carried the cross for Jesus. Another said Moses killed a giant. Others thought these people had to do with current events. The saddest was a middle school boy who had never heard of Adam and Eve. When I explained they were the first two people his eyes got big and he said, “We know that!“
This brings up a question; how do we communicate the gospel to a generation that lacks any biblical foundation? Are we seeing such a shift in ignorance that witnessing in America will be akin to doing so with a new people group in a faraway land? While it is certainly true that society is becoming increasingly ignorant of biblical concepts this does not mean it is becoming a useless endeavor to proclaim the gospel.
However, what it does mean is we need to explain the terms. Repentance, faith, resurrection, grace, salvation, saved, and sin. We understand these terms and concepts but to a generation who at best has sat in church for a wedding or two have no basis for understanding our Christian terminology. We must define the words as we use them. For example, when sharing my faith I never use the word repentance without then defining it; agreeing with God we deserve punishment for sin, confessing sin, turning from sin to God, having sorrow over sin and hatred of it. Of course this brings me to another word; sin. What is it? Violating God’s law. But what is God’s law? The commandments. How does this apply to the person? You see, we must begin at the beginning. When speaking of the beginning, many times I have had to go back to Genesis in order to fill in the information that is missing from a person’s void of biblical knowledge.
While defining words are important I have not yet answered the real question. How do I communicate the gospel of Christ to a person who may not have even heard of Jesus Christ except as a swear word. Well to answer this we need to understand some biblical principles.
First, while a person may not appear to profess any knowledge of God the reality is they know there is one. How is this possible you may ask? Well, the scripture tell us this is in fact the truth.
“The fool says in his heart there is no God” –Psalm 14:1
“…by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” –Romans 1:18
So how does this truth become known?
There are two ways this truth is known to all men. The first is called General Revelation. This is the evidence of the creator that testifies to His glory: The Creation. By looking into creation itself man sees God’s handiwork. This give mankind no excuse to say there is no God, and makes him a fool for doing so.
“The heavens declare the glory of God” –Psalm 19:1
The second is the conscience. This is where God wrote His moral law on the hearts of men. And it is here that you should appeal to with a biblically ignorant society. Because God has placed a conscience in each person it is universally programmed and in tune with God’s commandments. Lying, stealing, murder, dishonoring parents, adultery, coveting are condemned largely in all societies. So this conscience is a God given foundation within each person to build from in your presentation of the gospel.
So here is a framework:
Engage in the natural realm
Engage the conscience
Present the problem
Provide the solution
Present the seriousness
So let me unpack that into a real word conversation.
Engage in the Natural Realm:
This is what you do every day. “How’s the weather?” “Did you see that game last night?” The content is not important but it engages the person into a conversation.
Engage the Conscience:
This can be lead into in various ways. One way I use is a more direct. I may transition by simply asking, “Do you ever thing about what happens to a person when they die? What do you think it would take to go to a better place after death?” At this point you have moved in to the spiritual realm with a person. The typical response to the proposition of the duty to enter a better place after death is most often living a good life. But if we work through the commandments, lying, stealing, lust, hatred the person will see, by their own conscience, they have not been good.
Present the Problem:
The problem or dilemma is that if we have broken the moral law we must deserve punishment. Assuming a person has no real understanding of heaven, hell, or God’s attributes you will have to define them as you proceed. But you are now beginning to educate the person to their destiny without Christ, of which the truth is being testified by in their conscience. This is a work of the Holy Spirit.
Present the Solution:
Once a person understands they have sinned against a righteous God and understand they can do nothing to save themselves then you can give them grace. The scriptures teach that Christ crucified is folly to the Greek. (1 Corinthians 1:23) why? Because they have no concept of its implications. But through the law, the Ten Commandments, their conscience will testify to the problem and reality of sin. Furthermore the Spirit uses this to bring understand of the solution. It is the Holy Spirit that enables a person to repent and place their faith in Christ. This brings relief to us. Knowing we are only responsible to engage and person and present the good news is good news indeed. As is often said, we plow the earth and plant the seed, others water it, but God makes it grow.
Presenting the Seriousness:
Often times I hear a presentation of the gospel that is left with the hearer as if they can make the decision as to its importance. But the scripture teaches this adherence is critical. In Act 17:30 we see He commands everyone to repent. We are also called to plead with a person that they might turn from their sins to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20) Leaving the message without this seriousness is inconstant with the presentation in the scripture.
In summary, as culture continues to slide into ignorance, approaching a person with the gospel without first using the law to explain sin, our efforts will sink into the sands of confusion and foolishness because of a lack of foundation. Beginning with sin just as the scripture begins with the fall will establish the foundation needed with the aid of a God given helper called the conscience. Coupled with explaining the terms, this approach is not only effective but biblical. However, it will be useless unless we step out of our comfort zone and engage the world where they are in our own neighborhoods.