In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gave His final instructions to His disciples after the resurrection and before His ascension. He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Most churches have this passage (known as the Great Commission) or Acts 1:8 (“and you shall be My witnesses…”) plastered on a wall somewhere as their “mission” statement. It is a reminder that one of our main duties as believers is to share the Gospel with others. The glaringly obvious thing we sometimes overlook, if we are sharing the Gospel with someone, it is because they do not believe the Bible to be true.
Therefore to fulfill the Great Commission, we MUST be having conversations with atheists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and many other different worldviews. This underscores the purpose and need for apologetics. You cannot do evangelism without apologetics. You cannot fulfill the Great Commission without apologetics.
However, encountering and engaging in discussions with someone who has a different worldview can be challenging. Here are five things to keep in mind as you go into the world to preach the Gospel.
1. You are not responsible for someone else’s salvation. When we witness, we tend to take too much credit and too much blame, when none of it has anything to do with us in the first place. Our responsibility is to “go and preach.” What is not our responsibility is what the other person does with what we share with them.
As it says in Mark 16:16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” It is the Lord who calls someone to salvation and He will use our conversations to accomplish whatever end He desires. So we do the first, God handles the second.
Furthermore, we must remember that leading someone to a decision to follow Jesus will take time – or at least it should take time. They must consider thoughtfully the case for Christianity to weigh the cost of following Jesus. And they must decide to abandon their former worldview for the biblical worldview. Those are big decisions with big consequences. Your conversation will most likely be one of many conversations that lead a person to Jesus. So there is no need to feel pressure to “seal the deal” in one single conversation.
2. Be prepared. While you cannot expect to have all of the answers before you engage in conversation with an unbeliever, you do need to be as prepared as you can be. Peter emphasizes this in 1 Peter 3:15 to “always be prepared.” You must at least have some reasonable explanation as to why you choose to follow Jesus. Why do you believe Christianity is true over all other worldviews?
The best way to prepare for these conversations is to study apologetics. It gives you the foundation to articulate why Christianity is true and how we can have confidence in the historical accuracy of the Bible, the existence of God, and the resurrection of Jesus. Those are some basic concepts that are useful for many different conversations with unbelievers.
As Peter said though, we are to always be prepared. That indicates the study of Scripture and apologetics must be a continual thing so we will be ready at any time for sharing the Gospel with someone who does not believe the Scriptures.
3. Understand your audience. Part of being prepared is understanding your audience. If your audience is Jewish, you are going to prepare for that conversation in a different way than if your audience is atheist. Just consider the difference in Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 when he is addressing the Jewish crowd at Pentecost and Paul’s sermon in Acts 17 as he addresses the Greek Philosophers in Athens. Those are two completely different audiences who require two completely different conversations. The truth about God and man’s condition are the same but the presentation changes based on the starting point of the audience.
Likewise, your conversation with an atheist will be very different from your conversation with a Muslim. So keep that in mind that there is not some standard speech to be recited in order to lead someone to salvation. Each person comes to the conversation with their own deeply held worldview and their own personal experiences and hesitations. You must be mindful of that as you engage with unbelievers.
4. Ask questions. Asking questions is the first and best way to know your audience. When you aren’t sure how to introduce the Gospel to someone, begin by asking what they believe and why they believe that. This helps you know where they’re coming from and maybe gain insight into why they reject Christianity. It will also help you understand the cost they must weigh in their personal lives in order to accept Jesus. Many other worldviews threaten to ostracize, disown, or even kill those who convert to another religion.
Asking questions can also expose faulty logic in another person’s position, or even contradictions within their worldview. Too often, Christians think we must defend and explain our position for someone to believe. But it is equally important for the unbeliever to have to defend their worldview position too. Ask an atheist what reason they have for believing there is no god. Ask the Hindu what reason they have for believing in reincarnation. Ask how they reached those conclusions. Those positions must be explained and defended as well.
Questions can also expose dishonest motives. Jesus employed this tactic in most of his encounters with the Pharisees. His responses were always in the form of a question to get the Pharisees to reveal their own hearts and evil intentions before Jesus would give an answer.
It can also make sure you are answering the right question. Sometimes we are so eager to jump in with an answer we find ourselves answering the wrong question. And giving the right answer to the wrong question is always wrong. There might be underlying questions that we don’t want to overlook. We must remember that we are not just answering questions, but addressing the questioner. There is always a person there.
Most importantly though, questions make it a conversation. We must be careful to not treat unbelievers as a project to win or just someone to convert. We want to remember that this is a real person who has a real soul and we need to be interested in them as that real person. Asking questions ensures a continued exchange so that our witnessing can be done with “gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience” as Peter says in 1 Peter 3:15. It is not an argument; it is a conversation.
5. Remember the point. We must always remember the point. It is not to win the argument or debate. It is not even to successfully answer every question. It is to show them Jesus. Oftentimes these conversations can drift into so many important yet secondary topics. It is important to keep the conversation focused on the essentials: a God must exist; only the Christian God is truth; and Jesus really is the Son of God. The conversation must lead to the foot of the cross because THAT is the point in preaching the Gospel. That IS the Gospel.