We learned in our last article that, by asking questions, we can open and direct gospel conversations in an inoffensive way.
However, we want those conversations to be more than impersonal and intellectual discussions of ideas. We want to be able to present the Lord Jesus Christ to people as the answer to their greatest need.
To make people think on a spiritual and personal level we must expose the problem of sin and reveal the danger of judgement. We must aim at their conscience. Once a person’s conscience is awakened, they begin to think and speak in spiritual terms and start to understand the gospel’s relevance to them. But how is a sinner’s conscience stirred? The Holy Spirit gives us His key to convincing people of their guilt before God. Paul writes, ‘by the law is the knowledge of sin’, Rom. 3. 20. God’s law cannot justify or sanctify people, but it can surely terrify them.
God’s command to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’, Gen. 2. 16, 17 NKJV. What did they do - they disobeyed His command.
When God approached Adam and Eve after their disobedience He did not speak abstractly about sin, neither did He just pronounce Adam and Eve guilty. He reminded them of the command He had given and asked them if they had broken it. ‘Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?’ Gen. 3. 11 NKJV. God’s method of reaching the conscience involved using His law to lead them to admit their guilt: Remember the commandment I gave? Have you broken it?
For people to accept that they have sinned they must know what is expected of them and how they have failed to achieve it. God’s law is the straight edge against which our crooked actions are exposed. When used appropriately it also makes a logical bridge between someone’s wrongdoing and their punishment. Using the law shows that sins are crimes against God, and people are aware that crimes deserve punishment. If we do the crime, we must do the time.
Ray Comfort of Living Waters fame has championed a template approach to applying the law in gospel conversations. Much can be learned from this.
However, we should remember that each person is an individual and the use of any template in evangelism can make us lose sight of that. We should listen carefully to each person and respond appropriately to them as individuals. I have found it beneficial to use the moral judgements people make in conversation and apply this back to them.
One man pointed out to me the need of the homeless and showed real moral outrage at the lack of love in society, ‘People should all love one another and not be so selfish!’ I agreed with him. A few minutes later, I reminded him of what he’d said, ‘You mentioned there was a lack of love in society, and you really seem to care a lot about that; am I right?’ When he agreed, I said, ‘Well, God cares a lot about it too. In fact, His law demands that we love our neighbour as we love ourselves. What do you think of that?’ He thought it would be wonderful if everyone did that. So, I said, ‘The problem is, I haven’t met that standard. Have you?’ He responded, ‘Well, not all the time - no one’s perfect!’ I agreed with him but, rather than accepting that as a comfort, I said, ‘That’s the problem, isn’t it? This is God’s law, and we haven’t kept it. If you were to stand before God and be judged by that commandment, would you be innocent or guilty?’ ‘I suppose I would be guilty’. I then applied the force of what he had said, ‘If you are guilty’, I said, ‘that means you deserve to be punished. There’s a penalty for breaking God’s law. Does that not concern you?’
Many who are confronted by God’s law in this way are truly challenged. Their attitude changes when they consider, perhaps for the first time, that they aren’t right with God. When a person realizes that they do not deserve heaven, the news that God is kind to the undeserving becomes attractive. The gospel of God which declares that His Son has taken the punishment for sin upon Himself and paid for our salvation is the only message which offers genuine hope to guilty sinners. The law makes sin appear sinful and judgement appear just and, in doing so, it also makes the grace of God appear exceedingly glorious.
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