Tears streamed down her red cheeks as she contemplated the answer to the question. It was as if her entire eternity hinged on this moment. Her breathing escalated and her chest burned. Her knees began to shake, and it was as if she could stand no longer.
"What is stopping you from giving your life to Christ today - this very minute?" the preacher asked her.
"Nothing," she responded with a crackle in her voice.
Jesus' command to share and spread His message across the entire world was the very last thing He said before ascending into glory back to His Father. He said,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
And being the last couple of phrases that the Savior of the universe uttered from His glorified lips, He intended for us to take His words and His command to evangelize seriously. He was so serious about this that He said,
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
And so, the Bible reports that after He proclaimed these last important instructions, He was lifted up into the sky and a cloud took Him out of sight of the disciples as they looked on (Acts 1:9).
No serious Christian is going to contest that evangelism is a major and essential action for the regenerated son or daughter of God. We all know that we should be telling people about Jesus. The early church devoted themselves to spreading the Gospel, just as Christ commanded, and succeeded in taking the Gospel far away from where it originated in Jerusalem. The very reason I am writing this article is because God, in His grace and sovereignty, raised up followers that obeyed His commands and spread the Gospel to the four corners of the world.
We know that we should take the action of evangelism seriously. But I would suggest that we should not only take the action of doing evangelism seriously; we should also take what we say when we evangelize seriously. Because if we really do believe that we have been commissioned by the Creator of the cosmos to spread his message, shouldn't we take seriously how we convey that message? Shouldn't we make sure that the methods we use and the words we say to try and persuade people that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) are effective and efficient?
Therefore, I have come up with four questions we should stop asking when we share the Gospel. Please understand that:
1. These are hard lessons I have learned from my failures of evangelism. I'm not suggesting that I am the peak of perfection in this department.
2. This is not a one size fits all approach. I am writing from my personal experiences of ministry in the southeastern United States and working with Syrian Refugees in the Middle East. What doesn't work for me may work for you.
3. This is not a negative attack on any evangelistic technique or method. I am simply trying to share helps that I have learned along the way.
"Are you a Christian?"
This question is terribly ineffective in the Bible Belt of the South, where everyone believes they are saved and going to heaven. I am ashamed to say that I have used this one far too many times, and have, unfortunately, used this question to get out of truly evangelizing all together.
Asking "Are you a Christian?" in the south is almost the same as asking, "Do you like football?" In the south, an 82 year old grandmother who doesn't even know the difference between offense and defense, when asked, will say she enjoys a cool October kickoff. It doesn't matter if she knows almost nothing about it; her culture is saturated with it, and so, she loves it. Almost everyone in the south will say they like football, whether they know it and follow it or not.
In the same way, if you simply ask a southerner if he or she is a Christian, they will say yes, whether they truly know and follow Jesus or not. This is called Cultural Christianity.
In his book The Unsaved Christian, Dean Inserra defines Cultural Christianity like this:
"Cultural Christianity admires Jesus, but doesn't really think He is needed, except to 'take the wheel' in a moment of crisis. The Jesus of Cultural Christianity is a type of historical imaginary friend with some magic powers for good luck and sentimentality. 'Amazing Grace' is a song known from memory, but why that grace is amazing cannot be explained. The God of Cultural Christianity is 'the big man upstairs,' and whether or not He is holy and people have sinned against Him is irrelevant. Words such as 'hope,' 'faith,' and 'believe' hang on the walls of living rooms as decorations, but the actual words of God only come around when Psalm 23 is read at a loved one's funeral."
When we simply ask someone in the south "Are you a Christian?" we give them the out they need to shut down any serious and meaningful conversation we could have that might impact their eternity.
When we get serious about sharing the Gospel, someone simply confessing to be a Christian is just not enough. Because the Cultural Christian will reply "yes" to that question and be just as damned and unsaved as a unrepentant murderer on death row.
We have to be willing to press further than "Are you a Christian?" As the church, we must care enough for people that we dig into what they believe a "Christian" really is. Because, unfortunately, many of the people who work with us, go to school with us, and possibly even worship with us, know as little about Jesus and the Gospel as unreached tribes in the Congo.
Here are some questions you can use to replace "Are you a Christian?":
1. Have you committed your life to Christ?
2. Do you know what the Gospel is?
3. What would be your one sentence answer to what Christianity is?
"Do You Believe in God?"
When I was a little boy, I wanted every actor I watched, each band I listened to, and every celebrity I admired to be a Christian. So, when I started to like and enjoy an actor or any kind of musician, I would look up their religious beliefs. If I found even the slightest reference to an acknowledgment that there was a God, I rested assured knowing that they were a Christian and that they were going to be in heaven.
Chances are you done the same thing. You find someone you like and you immediately want to know if they believe in God. If we are honest with ourselves, many times when we ask someone if they believe in God, it is just to make ourselves feel better when they say they do. Now, we never ask them if the God they believe in is the God of the Bible, but as long as they acknowledge the existence of "God," we feel okay.
Think about it: whenever a celebrity grips their golden trophy at the Oscars or the Grammys and stands behind a podium to give their acceptance speech or whenever a coach is giving a press release after a big victory, we just wait in hopeful anticipation for them to "thank God."
It is wonderful for a celebrity to acknowledge God when they receive their reward, and there is nothing wrong with a coach thanking God after a big victory, but exactly what God are they thanking? And do you get to go to heaven just because you thank God, yet you never give your life to Him?
I think not. But when we simply ask someone if they believe in God and walk away satisfied when all they say is "yes," we know just as little about their eternal destiny as before we asked the question. In fact, when we are satisfied with a simple acknowledgment of God as a verification of genuine faith, we are unbiblical. James said,
"You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!" (James 2:19)
You can believe in God and not believe in Jesus. I have worked with Syrian refugees in the Middle East that were Muslim. Imagine if all I did in way of evangelism was ask, "Do you believe in God?" Of course their answer would be yes! They are devout Muslims! But you would be woefully incorrect if you thought the God they believed in was Jesus. If the only thing you asked a Muslim was whether or not he believed in God, you might walk away satisfied, but you wouldn't see him again in eternity.
We must be willing to investigate what "God" people put their faith and trust in. For the sake of their eternity, we must show them that their god is not worth believing in, unless it is Jesus Christ.
Here are some questions you can use to replace "Do you believe in God?":
1. Do you have any spiritual beliefs?
2. Who do you worship?
3. What God do you pray to and worship?
"Do You Believe in Jesus?"
This one seems really odd. Why would I not ask someone if they believe in Jesus? Isn't the whole point to guide an individual to Jesus?
Yes, we do want to guide individuals to Jesus - the very point of the Gospel is to show someone the sacrificial love and forgiveness of Jesus. The word "Gospel" itself literally means "Good news," and that good news is about Jesus.
We do want to persuade people to believe in Jesus, but the issue - the very essence of this article - is that we often find one question to ask someone and if they respond yes, we are satisfied and stop pushing. And if you only ask someone if they believe in Jesus, they could end up spending their eternity in hell, even if they say yes.
Let me give you two examples:
I have already told you about ministering to Syrian Muslims that were refugees in the Middle East. Let's suppose we only ask a Syrian Muslim if he believes in Jesus. To your surprise, if he is even a moderately informed Muslim, he is going to say yes! Muslims have no problem acknowledging that a man named Jesus of Nazareth lived and died. They even believe that he ascended to heaven and that He will return before the end of time!
If all we ask a Muslim is "Do you believe in Jesus?" the answer is going to be, "yes." But if you ask, "Do you believe that Jesus was God Himself, died on a cross for the forgiveness of sins, was raised from the dead, and ascended to heaven to sit on His glorious throne?" tempers will flare and you will find disagreement. If you ask a Muslim, "Have you given your life to the one true God - Jesus Christ?" you will find the difference between a Christian and a Muslim.
"Do you believe in Jesus?" does not get you there.
A second example:
One rainy morning I heard a knock at my door. When I opened the door I found a well dressed woman and her daughter who wanted to talk to me about God. They were Jehovah's Witnesses. They were new to this and I was also uncomfortable, so, I said, "Do you believe in Jesus?"
"Yes!" they replied. I smiled a smile of satisfaction and contentment, waved goodbye, and went about my day. But what did this woman and her daughter believe about Jesus?
Jehovah's Witnesses do believe in Jesus. They do believe that Jesus was God's only begotten son. They do believe that Jesus began in heaven. However, they do not believe that Jesus was God in human flesh. Therefore, since they do not believe in the divinity of Jesus or the Holy Spirit, they do not believe in the ultimate truth of the Gospel that will save them from an eternity of hell and damnation.
If we are truly concerned about the eternal fate of Muslims, if we really care about the spiritual state of Jehovah's Witnesses, we must ask them more than, "Do you believe in Jesus?" We must engage in conversations that will test their beliefs. We must show them that Jesus really was God almighty, that He really did die on a cross for our sins, and that He really did raise from the dead, declaring death and hell defeated and proclaiming victory to all the saints.
Here are some questions you can use to replace "Do you believe in Jesus?":
1. How did you meet Jesus?
2. What do you believe about Jesus?
3. What does Jesus' death mean to you?
"Do You Go to Church?"
Rev. Billy Graham once said, "If 50% of church members make it to heaven I will be surprised."
One of the largest mission fields in America is the church. So many "Christians" sit in a pew every Sunday and they are no more saved than the raging atheist. They truly believe that since they said a short meaningless prayer when they were a kid and haven't missed a Sunday service since, their eternal destination is secure and bright.
However, Cultural Christians who say a prayer, only to never give their life to Christ, are just as bound for an eternity of torment and separation from God as the devil himself.
The Cultural Christian points at his church attendance and service to redeem him and wash away his sins. Dean Inserra explains it this way:
"Cultural Christianity is a mindset that places one's security in heritage, values, rites of passage (such as a first communion or a baptism from childhood), and a generic deity, rather than the redemptive work of Jesus Christ... We know, from Jesus Himself, that there are people who can be in the church but not of the church. We know there are unsaved "Christians." And we know that Jesus will not be fooled, even if the rest of us pretend to be."
We can't play into this fake cherade of salvation by simply asking people if they go to church or not. We have to dig deeper. We must press harder into the spiritual conversation. We can't be satisfied with someone simply stating their church attendance. We have to stop assuming that church membership automatically carries with it a head over heels passion for Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, I have asked several people where they go to church, only to find later that they honestly tell me they have never committed their lives to Christ, after they gave a solid answer as to where they attend worship on Sunday mornings.
Especially in the south, when we only ask people if they go to church, we conveniently give people the out they were looking for to end the spiritual conversation. Why? Because they have learned that if they will just lie and give the name of any church when asked, we won't ask anymore probing questions. They know we will be satisfied and move on. We must change this narrative.
If we really care about the Cultural Christians that are sitting in our church pews, we will be willing to ask them questions that expose their fake church-attendance gospel. If we are truly concerned about the spiritual well-being of those who give us the name of a church to shut us up, we will be willing to ask them probing questions and care more about their eternity than our desire to avoid discomfort.
Here are some questions you can use to replace "Do you go to church?":
1. What do you do on Sunday mornings?
2. Are you in love with Jesus?
3. Do you think you are good enough to make it to heaven?
Author: A. C. Minor
Scripture quotations are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.
Inserra, Dean. The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel. Chicago: Moody Publishers. 2019. (Pg. 14, 18-19).