June 22, 2012

Starting Gospel Conversations

by Mike Riccardi

One of the desires the Holy Spirit implants in the new believer’s heart is the desire to share with others the Good News by which we have been saved. However, as we all know too well, that desire can often be eclipsed by a number of things. Perhaps we fear being thought of as strange, naïve, or narrow-minded. Maybe we feel like we haven’t quite got the message of the Gospel packaged into a perfect presentation. It could even be that our pride and self-focus has dampened our affections for Christ’s glory and our love for the lost.

Sometimes, though, none of that is the problem. A fresh revelation of the glory of Christ in His Word has set our hearts on fire to proclaim. The sight of that glory extinguishes our fear of man. We have studied and understood the basic tenets of the Gospel, and have even memorized Scripture passages to reference. Even at such a victorious point, sometimes it’s just hard to start the conversation.

Now, in some cases a conversation with a co-worker or a neighbor will move directly to the Gospel. Praise God for those times. Pray for more of them. Most of the time, though, a conversation doesn’t move in that direction unless we steer it that way. And I think many Christians wind up squandering opportunities to move a conversation with a friend toward deeper things because they simply don’t know how to make that move without being too abrupt, tactless, or cheesy.

One potentially helpful way of steering a conversation toward the Gospel is to listen for key themes. Some have conceptualized the history of redemption as forming around the four key themes of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. As I’ve done some reflecting on these categories, I discovered that many of our life experiences can be viewed through the lens of these themes as well. Therefore, listening for these themes in a conversation with an unbeliever can provide a way to naturally transition the conversation to the Gospel. Think through them with me.

Creation

In creating the heavens and the earth, God has been very kind to all mankind—He sends the rain and the sun on both the just and the unjust. Noticing a point in the conversation in which an unbeliever makes any sort of mention of enjoying a part of the creation can lead to a smooth transition to the Gospel. A friend’s remark about the nice weather, the appreciation of a beautiful sunset, being intrigued by the shape of a cloud, or even an admiring the intricate design of a flower—all of these provide an opportunity for us to praise the Creator who spoke such beauty into existence.

  • “Wow, it’s such a nice day out today, isn’t it?”
  • “It sure is. How kind of God to give us such a beautiful day to enjoy!”
  • “Oh, uh, yeah, I guess. I’m not very religious.”
  • “I see. Do you have any thoughts about who Jesus claims to be?”

Another way the theme of creation connects to our daily lives is in our own creativity. Any time someone creates something, they mimic the Creator, even if it’s in a small, broken way. Part of being made in the image of God is to create. This can range from the artistic—like painting, photography, poetry, or sculpting—to the more mundane—construction projects, interior decorating, gardening, or scrapbooking. Each one of these activities provides opportunity to praise God for His common grace—His mercifully giving these good gifts to both His friends and His enemies to enjoy.

If an unbelieving friend shares their interest in some creative activity, it would be great to say something like:

  • “You really seem to enjoy writing. Have you ever thought about why that is?”
  • “I guess it’s just something I picked up when I was young and have enjoyed it ever since. I haven’t really given it much thought beyond that.”
  • “Well, this might sound surprising, but I believe that our creativity reflects the creativity of God, who’s created the whole world. The Bible says that God created humans in His image, and so we reflect Him in many ways. Would you mind if I told you more about that?”

Fall

On the other hand, evidence of mankind’s fall into sin is everywhere. Unfair circumstances, strained personal relationships, unrealized expectations and hopes, and even various tragedies give evidence that our world is broken by sin. These topics provide an opportunity to speak of the God who created this world “very good,” and of humanity’s rebellion against God that brought His curse.

Opportunities to connect the theme of the Fall to our lives are literally ever-present. One of the favorite activities of our generation is complaining. In fact, Paul notes that grumbling and disputing are so common in the world that not engaging in those activities would cause us to stick out line shining stars in the night sky (Phil 2:15). From the car breaking down again, to arthritis, from repeated fights with a spouse, to just recognizing that things didn’t go according to plan, we all have a sense that things in our world have gone horribly wrong. If an unbelieving friend complains to you about something, you can sensitively acknowledge that their experience verifies the Bible’s teaching that the world is broken. It’s a short walk from there to the reason for that brokenness: sin—the rebellion against God that we all partake in every day. And of course, it’s a short walk from there to the solution that brokenness: the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. That’s next.

Redemption

Even though our world is broken, God still graciously grants that we experience the righting of some wrongs, the reconciliation of some relationships, the resolution of some conflicts. When our unbelieving friends experience these expressions of common grace, we can celebrate with them. Here is the opportunity to speak of God’s common grace, and of the theme of redemption that is fulfilled in Christ the Redeemer.

If a friend who has been speaking to you about having marital problems suddenly reports that she and her husband have worked out their issues and have reconciled, you have an opportunity to celebrate the “redemption” of that relationship. If a friend was incapacitated by an illness or injury, but has now recovered, you can celebrate the “redemption” of their health. And in doing so, while praising God for being merciful in general, you can also point out how these instances of redemption are pictures, woven into the fabric of human experience, that are designed to point us to the ultimate story of redemption that God accomplished in Christ.

  • “Jen, I’m so happy that you and Ron are working things out. I’ve been praying for you since you first told me that things were getting a little rocky.”
  • “Aw, thank you so much! I’m happy too. It really is terrible to feel so alienated from someone who’s supposed to be your closest partner and friend, you know?”
  • “I do. And it’s interesting you put it that way, because that’s exactly how I felt when God reconciled me to Himself through a relationship with Jesus Christ. I’d really love to tell you about that. Would you mind?”

Consummation

Finally, the theme of consummation runs through any experience of accomplishment, any sense of anticipation that has finally come to completion.

Think about how anxiously a child anticipates Christmas morning, barely able to sleep the night before because of his desire for finally getting those presents he’s been asking for all year. Or think about the excitement and sense of accomplishment that comes from walking across that stage and finally receiving the degree you’ve worked so long and so hard for. A friend of yours might know what it’s like to have worked for years on a manuscript, only to receive the first copy of the published book one morning and hold it in his hands for the first time. And we all know of the delight that comes from finally being reunited with an old friend or a beloved family member after spending a long time apart. The wide-eyed expression, the ear-to-ear smile, and the open-armed embrace bespeak the consummation of the anticipation of seeing one another.

Each of these experiences are echoes of the final consummation of all things, when the Lord Jesus at last returns to destroy His enemies, to redeem His people and receive them to Himself, and to rule over His creation in righteousness and justice. As believers in Christ, we anticipate that moment like a child excited for Christmas. When we hear, “Well done, good and faithful slave,” we’ll feel like we’re holding that diploma or that first edition, to an infinitely greater degree. And when we finally see Jesus, well, words just can’t adequately capture the fullness of joy, the thrilling delight, the consummate pleasure that will be ours forever.

Conclusion

It moves me to worship when I consider how God has seemingly woven the major themes of the Gospel throughout the experiences of human life. I pray the same is true for you. But that worship shouldn’t remain at the level of passive admiration. It should move us to take advantage of that reality as a strategy to witness to our unbelieving friends.

Meditate on these themes and think about how to strategically apply them to your own conversations. Pray that God would grace you with a genuine care for the unbelievers He brings into your life. Your love for them will guide you to speak to them in a way that demonstrates your genuine concern for their souls.

In the context of developing these relationships and cultivating a love for the lost, if we keep an ear open for the themes of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation, we just might find more opportunities to steer our conversations toward the Gospel.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.