December 2022 Sharing the Gospel Article Cover Photo

Seven Tips for Sharing the Gospel with Christ-Professing Friends and Family

We all have beloved friends and family who fit into the Bible’s description of self-professing Christians who are not genuine followers of Christ. These might include those who  affirm the Bible along with their other religious texts, call themselves Christians without reading or affirming Scripture, or simply grew up in the church but now create a Jesus in their own image. God warns us of this in his word multiple times:

  • “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
  • “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:16).
  •  “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6-7, quoting Isaiah 29:13). 

Of course, we don’t determine someone’s salvation. That’s important to clarify. Simply, we’re to exercise biblical discernment to differentiate the true gospel from fake gospels, the real Jesus from the Jesus of our own image, and believers who can give godly counsel from false teachers who will lead us astray. Though we’re not the ultimate judge, we’re supposed to use Scripture to make correct judgements. As 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” With this in mind, Jesus’s warning in Matthew 7:21-23 should be alarming to us:

Jesus says: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

There will be many people who use the Lord’s name who are not saved. This reality should light a spark in us to boldly share the good news with our family and friends.

So how do we witness to self-professing Christians? Do we witness to them differently than we do to atheists or those who acknowledge they’re practicing a different religion? Yes and no. Below are 7 tips to sharing the gospel with “Christian-in-name-only” individuals.

  1. Define Terms

Defining terms is a good idea when sharing the gospel with anyone, but especially with professing Christians, as you likely use many common terms (e.g., “faith,” “grace,” “salvation,” “atonement,” “Jesus,” “gospel”) yet mean completely different things. Asking good questions will help you understand their beliefs better, keep you from making wrong assumptions, and get a good conversation started. A great first question to ask is: “How does someone become a Christian?” or, “What do you mean by Christian?”

As Christians, we know “Christian” refers to a follower of Christ. It would be hard to call oneself a Christian and then disagree with Jesus Christ. This is why we need to know what Jesus teaches and why the next tip is crucial. For more helpful tips on how to ask good questions and navigate gospel conversations, Tactics by Greg Koukl will equip you to have productive dialogue with people of all faiths and backgrounds. 

2. Open the Bible

Unlike witnessing to atheists, the Bible is common ground! Though we view it as our ultimate authority and others will likely vary in their views towards it, use it! Read scriptures to them and then ask them what they think it says, if they believe it, and why. Many self-professing Christians do not read the Bible regularly or even know what it teaches. Use the Bible throughout steps 3 and 4.

3. Emphasize Sin

Who likes to talk about their sin? No one! But many self-professing Christians do not know the weight of their sin and are just trying to “be a good person” or pursue social justice. We must make the bad news known before we get to the good news. Some great verses to emphasize our sinfulness and the weight of it include the following:

  • “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
  • “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23).
  • “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10).

While emphasizing sin, make sure the focus isn’t solely on their sin. Exercise humility in acknowledging your sin. It’s not that we are without sin, it’s that our sin has been dealt with and forgiven. 

4. Share the Gospel! 

Many self-professing Christians haven’t actually heard the good news. Now that terms are defined and the Bible is open, share the true gospel. Use the Bible to explain it for you. Make it “the Bible says,” not “I say so.” That way, their acceptance or rejection isn’t of you; it’s of the Bible. This will help them recognize that maybe they aren’t really a Christian if they’re disagreeing with the Bible and what Jesus says so much. This also keeps the conversation friendly with you, as you’re less accusatory. There are many ways to share the gospel using Scripture. Here’s one example I like to use specifically for self-professing Christians:

I’d love to share with you the gospel message found in the Bible and get your thoughts on it. The gospel is actually written out in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, where it says: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose from the dead 3 days later.

The real question is, what is our response? In Mark 1:15, Jesus’s first words when he started his ministry addresses this. He says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus tells us the correct response: Repent (acknowledge and turn from our sin) and believe. 

God promises us in 1 John 1:9 that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

This is the good news! As Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” It is a gift we do not deserve and can never earn. 

This is not just good news, but the only way because Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is very clear in the Bible that he is the only way. What do you think about what Jesus said?

5. Give Them an Opportunity to Ask You Clarifying Questions

Don’t assume they understood your gospel presentation perfectly. Ask them if they understand what the Bible says about the gospel and salvation, and ask them what their thoughts are on it. Better yet, if things are going well, ask to set up another time to continue the conversation. This is also a great moment to expand the conversation and let them ask you other questions about the Bible and Christianity.

6. Be a Good Christian

Now that’s a funny sentence. What I really mean is to imitate Christ well. Show them what it means to be a Christian by how you live. Hopefully you were doing this before your conversation began, but continue to do it afterwards. This can be challenging at times as we never want to compromise biblical truth. Take Galatians 1:10 as your encouragement: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Live out Christianity by living for the Lord and not for the approval of man. We define a Christian as a follower of Christ. Therefore, go follow Christ! Share Christ’s love for them in tangible ways.

7. Pray

No matter how the conversation went, pray for them. Pray for hearts to soften, eyes to open, conviction of sin, and willingness to talk more. Pray for wisdom in navigating the relationship, words to say, and your conduct. Though this is tip #7, it’s the first and last step in all evangelism. There are no magic words you can say to guarantee a positive response from your loved one. Pray for God to work on both of your hearts, before, during, and after your conversation. And whether your conversation was a gigantic success or an epic failure, pray for more opportunities in the future and continue being an ambassador for Christ.

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