The other day a friend in his mid-sixties asked me to give him some tips on how to use Facebook for his business. I went into teacher mode. I said something like, “You can use targeted audience data for business page ads. In addition they give you analytics that show your market penetration.” I thought he was tracking with me because he was nodding and making noises of understanding. I talked for about two or three minutes feeling like we were really getting somewhere. After I stopped talking he said, “Ok. So you’re saying I can use Facebook on my phone too.” I had thought he was understanding me, but really he was just being polite.
Have you ever been in a situation like this? You’re explaining something. You think you’re saying everything very clearly. When the person responds, it’s obvious that they have not understood at all. If this happens in normal life, it happens when we share the Gospel as well. In situations like this we often say, “That’s not what I said at all.” We then start over and say it again, and again, and again.
Repeating yourself over and over can work, but it has a weakness. Let me show you what I mean.
I shall reiterate this exact same line numerous iterations to expound on a very important point. I shall reiterate this exact same line numerous iterations to expound on a very important point. I shall reiterate this exact same line numerous iterations to expound on a very important point. I shall retaliate this exalt sane lime numinous iterations to expound on a very important point. I shall reiterate this exact same line numerous iterations to expound on a very important point.
Be honest. You didn’t really read all of the lines above did you? If you did, then great. Though, what most people do when they see something repeated is skim or skip. It’s a feature of the brain. The reason we skim or skip is because we assume we know what is being said so we stop paying attention and think about something more interesting. In the paragraph above, you probably thought I wrote the same thing over and over. I didn’t. About half way down I changed the line into something nonsensical. I’m guessing you didn’t even notice. So, you only thought you knew what I was saying. That sense of familiarity made you turn off your brain. My point is that repeating yourself over and over may not be enough. Certainly we need to repeat the Gospel, often, but there’s more to it than that. If they think they’ve heard it before, then they will probably tune you out.
Our culture, even our church culture, is confused about what allows a person to receive eternal life, but they don’t want to admit it. It’s embarrassing for us who have attended church for decades to confess that the fundamentals have baffled us for years. On top of this, we’re a polite culture. We don’t like to interrupt. We don’t like to hold up our hands and say, “I don’t get it.” We need to be more like my four year old. She often stops me mid-sentence to tell me that what I’m saying “doesn’t make any sense.”
Let’s say you’re sharing the Gospel with someone. It looks like they are getting it. They nod, and make the appropriate facial responses, but what’s really going on under the lid? As they listen to you, it’s like they are making a boiling brain stew. They’re mixing the ingredients of your words into the pot where they keep all past teaching they’ve ever received. They’re not just hearing you, they’re hearing the echoing words of their preacher of twenty years, and their grandma, and their most recent Netflix episode. So how do we clear the pot, stop the stir, empty the bubbling brain stew? How do we make sure they get it?
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Often, it’s not enough to simply tell a person what they must do to receive eternal life. There is something more you will usually have to do when you share the good news.
If you want to know if someone understands, and believes, there is really only one way to find out: You have to ASK QUESTIONS! You have to make inquiry that uncovers the confusions they don’t even know they have. You have to dig to discover if they get it. Isn’t it amazing that we get so used to preaching that we forget that conversation is a much better way to get through to people? Talk to them like a friend, and remember, friends always ask questions.
My ministry team has developed seven easy follow-up questions that we believe need to be asked whenever someone is learning about God’s grace. We ask these questions after we’ve presented the Gospel. The questions help clarify the most important points.
1. DO YOU KNOW FOR SURE THAT YOU WILL GO TO HEAVEN?
If they answer yes, then a great follow up question is, “How do you know?” If they answer no, a great follow up question is, “Would you like to know for sure?” Almost anyone can honestly answer that they would like to know how to be sure of their eternal destiny. If they are confused, point them back to the truth found in John 3:16. Point out that the verse doesn’t say that a person might possibly, or maybe have eternal life. It’s a promise from Jesus, and Jesus doesn’t break His promises.
2. HOW MANY OF YOUR SINS DID JESUS DIE FOR ON THE CROSS?
All of them! Jesus paid for all of their sins when He died on the cross. He didn’t just pay for sins from our past, but sins in the future as well. This opens the door for the person to see how God can give eternal life to them for free. If they remain confused, you might bring their attention to John 3:17, the verse right after 3:16. It shows that a person is not condemned because they have sinned. A person is only condemned if they don’t believe in Jesus. This is because Jesus has paid for all the sins ever committed.
3. WHAT IS THE ONLY THING GOD ASKS YOU TO DO TO GAIN EVERLASTING LIFE?
Everlasting life is received by believing in Jesus alone for it, not by doing good things. This is the key point that they must understand. If they think that they must behave in addition to believe, then they have misunderstood the good news. If they are confused on this point remind them what John 3:16 says. There is only one obligation a person must fulfill to have eternal life: believe in Jesus.
4. HOW LONG DOES EVERLASTING LIFE LAST?
Forever. If it didn’t last forever it wouldn’t be called everlasting life. You can’t lose something you HAVE that lasts forever. If the person has trouble with this remind them of the words of John 3:16. Jesus calls this life eternal. You can illustrate it in this way: Imagine that you receive a gift that you’ll have forever. Now imagine that that gift is suddenly taken away ten minutes later. Was that really an eternal gift or was it a temporary gift? It was temporary. Jesus doesn’t offer believers temporary life, but eternal life. He offers us a gift we will have forever.
5. WHEN DOES YOUR EVERLASTING LIFE BEGIN?
You receive it the moment you believe in Jesus for it. This is a simple but important point. If a person is not clear on this topic bring their attention back to John 3:16, showing them what happens when they believe. If they need more convincing you can simply slide down the page a few verses to John 3:36. It says that a person who believes currently has eternal life. That means that a person receives eternal life the moment they believe in Jesus to receive it.
6. DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?
You might want to reread John 3:16 then ask the question above. Asking, “Do you believe this?” is important. Jesus was known to ask this same question after making His offer of eternal life. If they answer, yes, then you can congratulate them by saying something like, “Way to go! You have everlasting life, which you can never lose!”
7. IF YOU WERE TO DO SOMETHING REALLY BAD AND THEN DIE, WOULD YOU GO TO HEAVEN OR HELL? WHY?
Heaven. As to why, they should understand that Jesus has already paid for sins, even the big bad ones, and given them eternal life. If they are not sure they have everlasting life that they can’t lose, then take them back to John 3:16 and remind them that this is eternal life that can’t be lost. It’s vital to impress this point.
It’s worth noting that sometimes a person might say yes, that they do believe it, but then admit that they are not sure that they actually have eternal life. If this is the case, the best thing to do is to go back to John 3:16 and reiterate what you’ve already been saying. If the person is willing you can start over at question 1 and go through them again. Sometimes it takes a few times for a person to understand what exactly is being said. If they still don’t seem to understand, encourage them to read the Gospel of John and invite them to talk with you again at a future date. Don’t rest until you’re sure they’ve understood.
Some will understand what you’re saying but reject it. You can’t force people to believe it. All we can do is do our best to make sure they understand, and then it’s up to them. They might reject it because they believe you have to have good works either before salvation, which I call a prerequisite or after salvation, which I call a postrequisite. Other’s may just find it hard to believe and need some time to think about it. If they go away understanding what you’ve said, then you’ve done your part. If you do, congratulations, you’ve made a difference. You’ll be rewarded for it.
How will you be rewarded? you might ask. Find out in my next book, Eternal Rewards: It Will Pay To Obey