Originally published at DesiringGod here.
Think of evangelism like a road trip. Every trip you take has a beginning and an end. You determine your route not only by your destination, but also by your point of origin.
As Christians called to preach the gospel, we always want to wind up at the person and work of Christ. But depending on where the person is today, we may need to take alternate routes — sometimes longer, sometimes winding, sometimes even taking a dreaded detour — to get our news to their hearts.
Most of us spend our time navigating clumsy conversations without obvious opportunities for the gospel. If Christ is the only hope for the world around us, why does it feel so impossible to connect him to actual people and their circumstances without coming off canned or irrelevant?
Categories are so helpful for me when I’m talking with people about Jesus. Consider these common categories or starting places for the next time you’re in conversation with a not-yet-believing friend or stranger. If you listen carefully, you’ll likely hear one of these five themes emerge, at least in some form. If we think and pray carefully through how the gospel addresses each, we will be that much more effective at helping unbelievers we love see their need for Jesus.
1. Security: God’s Aid for the Anxious
“I have a terrible feeling I didn’t get the job.”
“I don’t see how we’re gonna have enough for rent this month.”
“What if something happens to my kids?”
If our antenna is up, we will start seeing opportunities for the gospel everywhere, especially in the pervasive attitude of worry in our culture. The gospel addresses all our fears. God is totally in control of all things. And for all who place their faith in Jesus, he leverages that sovereignty to provide for, keep, and deliver us. Our sovereign King is none other than our loving Father.
God’s people, therefore, are the only people who can truly breathe easy in the midst of uncertainty and chaos. What an invitation to the worried heart!
2. Identity: God’s Solution for the Insecure
A couple years ago, I was sitting next to a twenty-something guy on an airplane. Though he wasn’t a Christian, I found out we had a lot in common. For one, we were both songwriters.
After talking with him for a while, I had the chance to share about my faith in Christ. I shared that my sense of worth and value was found in Christ and his love for me. He said he could identify, although for him it wasn’t Christ’s love. He found stability and meaning in is ability to write songs. I turned to him and asked, “What happens if you wake up with writer’s block tomorrow?”
We are all searching for our own sense of value, worth, and identity. Paul writes of an identity that is not linked to our ability and accomplishments, but to Christ’s work for us (Philippians 3:9). And since Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), we never have to worry about our identity fading or losing its footing. We know who we are: we are his, and that is enough for us, now and forever.
3. Meaning: God’s Answer for the Academic
The gospel is not silent on existential matters. The news of the cross infiltrates every aspect of life, including issues of origin and meaning. The existence of a loving Creator-God provides the only reasonable grounds for the order, beauty, and complexity of the universe and all who live in it.
More than that, the news of the gospel gives the most compelling explanation for the brokenness we witness around us (Romans 3:23), and the most hopeful outlook for the future: God will eventually make all things new (Romans 8:19–23). Materialism and nihilism cower beneath the awesome answers the Bible provides for the universe and our existence in it.
4. Suffering: God’s Help for the Hurting
God wove a pattern throughout the Gospels: hurting people rush to Jesus. Many of the most sensitive and effective paths to the cross begin with pain and heartache. The cross is God’s deathblow to sin and suffering.
This is wonderful news for all who trust in Christ. It encourages us that things will not remain as they are. The end game of the gospel is peace with God, peace with others, and eternal joy on a new earth with our Savior. The cross provides the surest evidence that God turns even the worst sin, even the grossest injustice, for the ultimate and everlasting comfort of his people (Romans 8:28).
Did your neighbor just lose her job? Did your teen not get into that college? Has the man seated by you on the bus just vented his difficult week? Embrace each unique grief or pain as a difficult, but golden starting point. Suffering like this is not an obstacle to Jesus-soaked conversation. It begs for a Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:3–5).
5. Satisfaction: God’s Food for the Famished
What will ultimately fulfill the longings of those around us? What could possibly be attractive enough to pull the addict from her needle, the drunk from his bottle, and the glutton from his plate? “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst’” (John 6:35).
One fountain never runs dry, and one bread never grows stale. One thing satisfies our deepest soul-hunger and never leaves us empty. And he has a name. Jesus Christ is God’s great gift to the person who has tried all the world has to offer and is still spiritually starving to death. Listen for hunger in the words of those around you, and give them something to eat. Introduce them to the Bread of heaven.
One Antidote, One Million Ailments
Tim Keller was right when he said that “the gospel is not the ABCs of Christianity. It is the A-to-Z.” What we have to offer the world is not merely entry into heaven. The gospel is the great antidote for the million illnesses in our world. It comforts the discouraged, breaks through the walls of the hard-hearted, gives answers to the thinker, provides a ballast for the insecure, and saves the sinful, all at the same time.
The one happy destination never changes, but we have as many on-ramps as there are people to guide there.