A Few Clueless "christians"
Since we live smack dab in the corroded buckle of the Bible belt, we always encounter people who have attended or are attending church but are clueless about the gospel. I have tried to think of better ways to interact with them, and so I have found the following questions to be helpful:
1. "What must a person do to be made right with God?" then I shut up. When the answer never comes, then I ask question # 2,
2. "If you profess to be a Christian but don't know what the gospel is, what reason do I have to believe that you are a Christian?" Then I ask question # 3,
3. "Can I take a few minutes to explain the gospel to you?" I start with sin and the definition of it (1 John 3:4), discuss God's righteous judgment against it (Romans 2:5), and then explain how Christ is the only solution for our sin problem (2 Corinthians 5:21). I use 2 Corinthians 5:21 to explain "the great exchange" wherein our sin is laid upon Christ and as a result we are reckoned righteous by virtue of His perfect sacrifice on the cross on our behalf (Hebrews 10:14). I then mention the resurrection as proof that God accepted what Jesus did (Romans 4:25) and explain that if one has truly become a Christian, they will never be the same because God gives them a new heart; a heart that loves Jesus, His word, and His people (see Eleven Evidences of the New Birth).
Some people are receptive to hearing this, but most end up looking over my shoulder with their eyes darting elsewhere wondering how they can get themselves out of this conversation or how much longer I'm going to be. The ones that really leave an impression on you are those people whose eyes stay fixed on you the entire time, as if they are hanging on your every word. I'm sad to say that such people are few and far between on the college campuses here in America; but God does prepare people and put them in our path regularly, whether we perceive it or not.
An Appreciative Young Man
A memorable conversation we had today was with a young man who really seemed to understand the gospel. He told us that he was grateful that we were out there engaging people with the gospel and he said that he thought that "traditionalism" was a big reason why many people are turned off to the gospel these days. Upon asking him what he meant by "traditionalism", he seemed to be referring to modern versions of legalism (i.e., don't drink, smoke, or chew, or go with girls that do, KJVonly-ism, etc.). I agreed that modern versions of legalism completely miss the point, but given what I know about the church culture in our geographical area, I was amiss as to how many fundamentalist legalists are truly driving the heathen away from the church in droves. I actually think that the problem isn't the uber righteous fundies in our area, for we have so few of them that I've never even ran across one of them when out doing evangelism. The problem is twofold: (1) pseudo-Christianity, and (2) total depravity. When I speak of pseudo-Christianity in our local context, I am speaking particularly of the market-driven, seeker-sensitive nonsense that waters the gospel down to no-gospel or the Word of Faith garbage being preached in church buildings throughout our Piedmont Triad Area every Sunday. Regarding the doctrine of total depravity, sinners hate God and the gospel and they run like cockroaches from bright light when exposed to God's truth in the Biblically faithful churches in our area. Therefore, the first problem can be subsumed under the second, since the second is the spiritual foundation for the first. I opened up my eye-strain Bible to Romans 8:7-8 and explained this to him.
Then the conversation got interesting as he said that he can't judge where his homosexual friends will go after they die. I responded, "But 1st Corinthians 6:9-10 and Romans 1:26-27 make it clear that homosexuality is sinful and those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. That means they will go to Hell should they persist in their unbelief." He then said that he thought that some of his friends were beyond hope and that they will probably never respond to the gospel and I said, "Had you known me 16 years ago, you might have said the same thing about me." I then explained that the grace of God is powerful to change even the most vile of sinners and that he needed to consider the fact that they will spend eternity in Hell if they don't repent and trust Christ alone for salvation. At this point, his hands were visibly shaking. Its an amazing thing when a person is so gripped by truth that they are visibly shaking. I reminded him that if he was truly a believer, he needed to get spiritually fed and equipped by attending a church that teaches the word, and then forgo his fears and bring the gospel to his unbelieving friends. He appreciated the talk, we shook hands, and we went our separate ways.
A Smiling Agnostic
The next notable conversation was with a young agnostic man and his female friend. I asked them both, "What must a person do to be reconciled to God?" and they both said, "I don't know". I then asked them both, "Do you believe in God?" She said yes he said, "I don't know." I said, "What do you mean by saying that you don't know whether you believe in God or not? Do you mean to say that you are not sure whether or not God exists? Are you saying that you are an agnostic?" He said "Yes." I then asked, "Okay, do you believe in absolute truth?" He said "Yes". I asked, "Where does absolute truth come from?" He said, "I don't know." I then asked if he believed things like the laws of logic were immaterial, universal, invariant, and absolute and he and the girl agreed that they were. I then asked, "How do you account for such things?" He said, "Uh, I don't know." I then asked, "What would it take to convince you that the God of the Bible exists?" and he said, "I don't know."
At this point I felt that he was simply dodging me to get me to leave him alone so I said,
You just said you don't know what it would take to convince you that the God of the Bible exists, but God Himself says in Romans 1 that you already know of His existence (Romans 1:19-21). When you look at the dirt under your feet, the grass in the field, the birds in the sky, and the trees at your back, it all screams at you 'CREATED, CREATED, CREATED!' and you know it.At this point the girl to his right was nodding her head enthusiastically in strong agreement. He sheepishly nodded too and said, "Yeah." I then said, "Look you know that God exists, but you're looking for Him about as much as a thief is looking for a cop. You said 'I don't know' to almost every question that I asked you, so I'm going to ask you one more: Do you know what the gospel is?"
Can you guess what his answer was? You guessed it right, "I don't know." The entire time I was witnessing to him he had a grin on his face, so I patiently wielded the law of Christ against his pride and he seemed to become a bit humbled. I then explained the gospel to him, thanked him and his female friend for their time, and was off to find someone else to talk to.
Note: When talking with atheists, agnostics, and other types of skeptics, I treat them basically the same way since Biblically speaking, they are all brothers under the skin. They want me to prove the Christian God's existence but I never let them get away with such since the Bible says that God's existence is a self-evident truth that is hardwired into all people (Romans 1:19-21). Either they are lying about their knowledge of God or God is lying about the knowledge that He hardwired into them and placed all around them in creation. Romans 3:4 puts paid the latter option. "[L]et God be found true, though every man be found a liar."
A Man Looking for a Good Church
The last person we spoke to was a very kind man who understood the gospel and believed that Jesus was the exclusive means of salvation. I couldn't help but give him a fist pump because of the truth that he spoke. Again, it was as real breath of fresh air to hear someone besides myself and my church people speak the truth about the gospel. He said he was looking for a good church and was tired of all the charismania that was going on in the churches that he visited. I told him to pay us a visit as we taught verse-by-verse through Bible books, love our other members like a family, and don't put up with any nonsense in the church. He was very encouraged and said, "Man, I think we're going to pay you a visit this coming Sunday." He thanked us for what we are doing and we shook hands. What a nice way to end the day!
IN CONCLUSION, the one thing that college campuses need is the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. I need to pray with a view to see God work through our efforts as well as sanctify us in the process so that we not lose sight of why we are there and what our purpose is; namely, to be faithful to the charge that He has given us and glorify Him by proclaiming what great things He has done.