I spend my Tuesday mornings intentionally engaging in conversations about God (among other things) with women who don’t share my views. Some think they believe what I believe about God, but their lifestyles communicate otherwise. Some don’t know what they believe. Some don’t really care to figure out what they believe.
We spend thirty minutes one on one, talking out problems these women are facing. They tell me about themselves. I affirm their feelings. I try to make them feel heard and understood. I try to empower them to make well-educated decisions. I interject pertinent truth when it’s fitting. And, if I feel led, I share the Gospel proper.
Thirty minutes is not a lot of time to get through all that. And I will never see the vast majority of these women ever again.
That being the case, I must ask myself, “As a Christian, whose primary responsibility to others is to share the Gospel with them, must I verbally share it with every non-Christian I meet? If I don’t have time or don’t ‘feel led’, am I shirking the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) by not laying out the plan of salvation with every non-Christian I know?”
It’s true, every unbeliever’s greatest need is an understanding and acceptance of the Gospel. And it’s also true that each unbeliever is at a different point along the path to accepting truth.
If we think of a person’s journey to faith in Christ as a timeline, with their birth on the far left and their acceptance of Christ on the far right,we would do well to consider what happens in between.
As they start traveling on their path, unbelievers go through stages.
1. Ignorance. The fact is none of us are born knowing the Gospel. We have to learn it. And whether we’re 4 or 94 the first time we hear it, we all spend part of our lives ignorant of the Gospel.
Once we’ve heard the Gospel, we respond to it, for better or for worse. A small percentage of folks hear the Gospel one time and embrace it wholeheartedly. The majority of us, however, have to hear the Gospel more than 7 times before we both understand it and accept it as truth. Before that glorious day comes, we may go through the following stages in any order, each stage may last for any length of time, and we may visit any stage more than one time:
2. Denial. “That can’t be true.” “That doesn’t work for me.” “That doesn’t make any sense.” “That’s pretty far-fetched.”
3. Hostility. “I’m a pretty good person – I don’t need a Savior.” “That’s intolerant.” “Who are you to tell me I am going to hell?”
4. Conviction. “I want to believe it, but I’m not sure it’s true.” “I know I need to get right with God, but I really don’t want to live differently yet.”
If unbelievers are in stage 1, I’m convinced the most loving thing we can do is share the Gospel with them. Lay it out, clearly, lovingly, with scriptural support. To withhold that information would be unloving and in direct violation of our charge as believers.
But what do we do with unbelievers in stages 2, 3, and 4? They’ve heard the Gospel at some point, but they aren’t emotionally ready to accept it. In that case, sharing it with them again might actually turn them off. Is it in their best interest to share it with them anyway? Unless we really feel a definite leading from the Spirit to share, I’d say it isn’t.
Christians ought to do whatever it takes to move non-Christians toward the Lord, and sometimes that means NOT sharing the Gospel verbally.
If we sense they aren’t open to hearing the Gospel, although it sounds like an oxymoron, we can actually perpetuate their acceptance of the Gospel down the line by not verbally sharing it with them now.
If an unbeliever has already heard the Gospel before and chose not to accept it, what they need more than anything – even more than an additional presentation of the Gospel – is a positive interaction with someone who calls themselves “Christian”. They need to feel respected, valued, appreciated, and accepted. An encounter like that will move them farther down the timeline toward accepting the Gospel for themselves much more readily than a pushy Christian with an agenda to verbally share the Gospel with every non-believer she comes into contact with.