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Connecting Their Story to the Gospel

From the series Not Beyond Reach

Have you ever had a chance to share Jesus with someone but got too nervous or scared in the moment to actually do it? In this program, our guest teacher Aaron Pierce assures us that we've all been there. As he continues his series Not Beyond Reach, Aaron walks through practical ways to talk about God’s Word with those who don’t believe the Bible is the absolute truth.

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Message Transcript

Last session we talked about how to bridge the gap from friendship to the gospel by having spiritual conversations. And this session we are going to be talking about how do we introduce Jesus and the message of the cross to non-religious people and then start a discipleship relationship?

The first point in all of this is that we need to remember that our only hope for this world is Jesus and the message of the cross. Like, there are no other answers to the pain and suffering and brokenness of this world than Jesus and the message of the cross.

We always need to remember that, because while our goal is to connect with people relationally and build authentic relationships, and while our goal is to challenge the assumptions that stand in the way of the message of the cross, ultimately the goal is that we introduce them to Jesus and the message of the cross, because that is the only hope.

So, if we fall short of that, we are falling short of offering the real answer to the real problems of the world.

So, for me, this is very personal. I grew up in a missionary home as you all know, and experienced personally the power of God at work in my life. Like, my parents started this mission, I got to see God’s work in people’s lives, transforming people’s lives outside the Church in powerful ways. And so, that was a super privilege for me, because God was not just this nice Sunday tradition that we did. It wasn’t just this kind of religious thing. It was real and it informed every part of our lives. And so, that was the privileged environment in which I grew up.

And then when I was at college, I went on a mission trip. Which is kind of interesting, because my whole life was a mission trip. But I went on a classic, you know, church mission trip.

And what’s great about mission trips is that you just, it broadens your perspective and you see things. And like a classic mission trip, I was exposed to the brokenness of this world. And I saw poverty, I saw injustice, I saw people who didn’t have what I had and I just saw a lot of, just pain and suffering.

So you can react to that in one of two ways. One is, like, you get inspired. You know, like, “I’m going to do something about it.” The other way is you kind of just feel overwhelmed and you feel like, “Man, what can we, how do we solve the problems of this world?” And frankly, I felt like that, the latter.

And I felt like, what, you know, drop in the ocean can I make in terms of impact? And I remember essentially complaining to God and saying, like, “God, how do You, why do we have a world like this that is so messed up?” And I was struggling with that and I was seeking God in that and I was wrestling about how do we solve the problems of this world?

And then I had this deep revelation from the Lord. And the revelation was that all sin, all suffering, all pain in the world is the result of just one thing and that is sin. And there’s only one solution to sin and that is Jesus and the message of the cross.

And so, at that moment it was like, “Alright. I’m done with everything else. My life is going to be about addressing the root cause and communicating the message of the cross to a world that is broken and suffering and that that is the only hope for this world.

In every context, in every culture, no matter the situation, Jesus is the hope and the answer of what people are looking for. And so, we need to start by reminding ourselves of that and perhaps having a revelation of the message of the cross and how that is ultimately what people need to hear.

Now, here’s the thing. When you commit to making your life about the message of the cross, you better expect some spiritual opposition, because there is nothing that the enemy hates more than when we begin to commit our lives to communicating the message of the cross. There is nothing the enemy hates more.

And so, as you commit to this and as you begin to take steps in this direction, you better expect all sorts of lies from the enemy. There are going to be lies like, “Who do you think you are? You’re a fraud. You’re a hypocrite. You’re not adequate. They are not going to listen to you. Why even bother?” All these lies that begin to flood your brain that make you go, “You know what? Maybe I shouldn’t do this.” You know?

Or the distractions of this world will begin to glimmer a little brighter and you’re like, “I guess I want to watch that Netflix show instead of developing a relationship with someone who will…I don’t particularly, you know, agree with on a lot of topics,” right?

And so, you’ve got to recognize that the enemy is going to do everything in his power to try to stop you from communicating the message of the cross. So, the first thing is recognizing that. Recognizing that that is going to be the case.

And then the key, you know, when it comes to spiritual opposition, we stand on the truth, right? Jesus modeled this in the desert. He stood on the Word of God and He confronted lies with biblical truth. Right? So, we need to know the biblical truth, we need to stand on the truth.

And then we also need to make sure we are not doing this alone, this is a team sport. And so, we want to commit to do this with others that are going to hold our arms up in the battle, that when I am feeling weak, when I am feeling like I can’t handle it, they can stand strong with me. And so, I am doing this with a community of people together.

And then the whole, the last thing is just to not give up and to persevere. So much of success in ministry is just not giving up. Showing up, persevering, and not giving up.

And so, again, as we commit, as we recognize, as we remember that the only hope for this world is Jesus and the message of the cross we should expect spiritual opposition. And, frankly, that is a sign that you’re probably doing something that matters.

Now, the context here is that God has opened our eyes to the problem. We are aware of the fact that we are in a post-Christian context, right? He has opened our eyes and we have, we have rearranged our lives to develop friendships with secular people, with people that wouldn’t walk into a church, and we have begun to engage in good, spiritual conversations. You have done all of this good work, now you’ve got to jump off the cliff. Like now you’ve got to take that moment.

I remember I took my kids a couple years ago to South Dakota to the Black Hills and there was this big spot where we were able to jump off a cliff onto a big, you know, lake. And we were kinda right up to that cliff and you have that moment, right, where you’re like, you’re standing there and at some point, there’s nothing, you can’t get any closer to the edge, right? Like, you’ve gotten as close to the edge, the only thing left to do is to bail out or to jump. Right?

And so, that is what it’s like when it comes to introducing Jesus and the message of the cross, because at some point you’ve got to just do it, right? And it’s not always going to be perfectly smooth and natural. You’ve got to take that leap.

How do we do it?

So, the first principle: rely on the Holy Spirit, not scripts or tracts. We live in a time when we are very skeptical of what people are trying to sell us. And so, the script vibe just feels that way, because it’s more about me getting my script out than it is about me just having a conversation with you about something that matters to me. It’s about being led by the Spirit in doing this, but as I [engage] in this conversation and He is discerning and leading me, I might go a path that I didn’t anticipate going on. But if I have a formula and a script I follow, then there’s just, there’s no deviating from that.

And the idea here is let’s not vomit our gospel scripts, right? And sometimes the reason for that is that it’s the goal is not for you to share the gospel. The goal is for them to receive it. Those are two different things. And sometimes we confuse the two. And you should feel good that you shared the gospel, don’t get me wrong. But in the end, that is not the goal. The goal is that they actually hear it and receive it. And so, sometimes with our scripts and our formulas and our, like, ticking the box of evangelism, it’s more about, like, “I shared the gospel today.” Which is good, because many Christians do not.

But beyond that, you want them to actually hear it. So, it’s a different mentality. And so, that’s why we need to wait for the right opportunity, be listening and responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

The second that relates to this is that people need to experience the power and presence of God. And especially in a post-Christian culture where people think they know who Jesus is or they have some idea of what the gospel message is about, but it’s become white noise to them at best. You know, it has become something that triggers a sense of hostility at worst.

You know, the gospel is not just about a transfer of information. It’s about a supernatural revelation of God that when I communicate the gospel message, that people sense God revealing Himself through those words, that there is a power and an authority and a sense of presence of God that goes beyond the intellectual arguments that I have had or the misconceptions about who I am. Because in the end, we are not just trying to transfer information, right?

We are trying to introduce them to the living God. And so, that’s why we need to rely on that and recognize that we need to ask the Holy Spirit for boldness and courage.

One of the signs that you are filled with the Spirit is that you are bold and courageous. You look at that through the book of Acts. That was a key sign that the Spirit was moving and that there is authority and power in my words.

I have experienced this in multitudes of ways in which there are times when I communicate and my words fall flat. And then at other times when I communicate the same words, but God’s presence, His authority is on those words and it resonates, it connects. And that’s because we need the Holy Spirit to be moving. So, we need to be praying. None of this can be done in the natural, right?

Throughout all this training we are talking about none of this can be done in the natural, and so, we need to be praying for the Holy Spirit to give us boldness and courage.

And when you’re filled with the Spirit, there’s a conviction, an assurance that gives you the boldness to speak. And then we need to have that authority and power that our words carry weight beyond the words themselves. Those are the things we need to be praying for.

And then the big idea here is that we’re introducing people to the person of Jesus. The concept is that we are not, it’s not about defending a philosophy or a concept or a set of intellectual beliefs. We are actually introducing people to the person of Jesus.

And sometimes as followers of Jesus, we need to remind ourselves of that, right? Because it gets into, like, how do I convince you to believe these set of principles or this theological framework. All of that is good, but that is based on the person, the real person of Jesus that you are introducing them to.

And that is the goal. And that’s a helpful thing, because a lot of the stuff that comes in terms of, you know, sanctification and their discipleship process and moral behavior and political stuff, all of that comes downstream after they meet Jesus.

And so, it kind of gives you the freedom when you’re engaging a secular person that your goal is not to worry about their behavior, not to worry about the lifestyle that they live or the political view that they may or may not have. Your job is to introduce them to the person of Jesus. And then when they meet Jesus, all that stuff begins to take shape.

So, who is Jesus - as you’re having these conversations now? What do they think? Who – is it accurate? And often what we need to do is we need to begin to reframe Jesus in people’s minds.

Christianity has become synonymous with a political party, right? For valid or invalid reasons. In some circles, Christianity has unfairly been associated with racism and misogyny and bigotry and the tool of the rich and the elitist. Like, this is a view that some people have.

Many also point to, like, the horrible things that were done in the name of Christianity throughout history and they say that, “You know, that’s proof that it’s a destructive, negative thing.”

You know, as we are confronted by these misconceptions and these misrepresentations of Jesus, we have to patiently reframe Him so that all that baggage – we talked about this in the last session – all that religious baggage that they bring to the table gets removed.

And because the reality is that Jesus does not fit into the stereotype that so many people have of Him. In fact, the Jesus that they reject, I reject also, because it’s not the real Jesus. Jesus, in His time, was radical. He subverted the cultural and political norms of His day. He was homeless, worked with a group of uneducated working-class folks, spent time with the diseased and the undesirables, defied racial and gender boundaries, healed the sick, fed the hungry. This is Jesus.

And this is not the picture that many people have of Jesus. It was the religious people of His day that hated Him. The people with power. And while it’s true and we should acknowledge openly that horrible things have been done in the name of Jesus, they are not an accurate reflection of who Jesus is and what His teaching is. Right?

And so, one of the ways, as you’re challenging and reframing Jesus, one of the ways that you can do this is invite people to do a Bible study with you. What you find is a lot of people have heard about Jesus and heard about the Bible, but very few people have actually read it and studied it.

And so, a really cool way, as you have developed a friendship, you’ve had the spiritual conversations, you’re introducing Jesus, to say, “Why don’t you find out for yourself?” Right? And then just pick a book, one of the gospels, and begin to read it together. And you’re reading it in the same way that we talked about how to do the spiritual conversations. Not as a, “I’m here to teach you.” No. Just open it up, read it, talk about it. And create that environment where it’s okay to ask questions, to doubt, to maybe be, maybe they’ll say something offensive and that’s okay.

But what’s amazing is when you begin to expose people firsthand to who Jesus is in the Word, it completely reframes Him in a way that they have never understood before. And so, that is a really awesome way that you can take a next step with someone.

So, next thing after introducing the person of Jesus is we need to recognize no cross, no power. The message of the cross, the death and resurrection of Jesus, what He did on the cross for us is where the power of God lies. You know? But the tension is that the message of the cross is both foolishness and the power of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” And I think what is really good about that, that tension, is it forces us to depend on the power of the Holy Spirit, right? Because in my natural words, the cross is foolish. But with God’s power, with His authority, it carries His power, right?

So, I can’t communicate the message of the cross just with brilliant intellect. I need God’s power. And so, it reminds us of that and it forces us to depend on the power of the Spirit. And it reminds us that it’s not about our wisdom or eloquence, right? In 1 Corinthians 2:4, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with the demonstration of the Spirit’s power.

And I think that that’s what we need today in our culture more than ever, right? It’s that a lot of people, they have their intellectual problems with the Church and the cross and what they need to experience is God’s power. And that’s why we need to communicate the message of the cross, but we need to do it in a way in which we are fully dependent on God moving, right?

If He doesn’t show up, then all I’ve got is foolish words, right? But if He shows up, then it has the power to convict.

And I can tell you, you know, being in ministry for many years, that I have seen this. I have seen some of the most cynical, hardened people moved by the power of the message of the cross and their lives transformed.

And that power is available to everyone who believes, right? And so, we have to be willing to take that risk, the foolishness, in order to experience the power of God. If we omit the message of the cross, we omit the power of God.
How do I communicate Jesus and the message of the cross that will connect with people I’m talking to? It goes back to understanding: what are the false assumptions that they have about it? How do I challenge those? How do I remove those things so that they can really see who Jesus is?

And the thing about contextualization is it’s not about popularity or compromise. It’s not about being loved, it’s about clarity, right? When I communicate in a relevant way, in a contextual way, then I’m understood. And as we know from reading the Bible, reading the book of Acts, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be loved. I mean, Paul experienced riots. Jesus was crucified.

You know, the message is not always going to be loved, but it’s going to be understood. And that’s what we want. Because there’s nothing worse than communicating but no one is reacting because they don’t even get it. Like, what’s the use in that? And so, that’s why we want to contextualize the gospel.

And we want to avoid using Christian language that is weird and foreign and strange to a secular culture, because Jesus used words and imagery that was very relevant to His time. When He spoke of, you know, fishing and, you know, sheep and things of that nature, it was because that was the context and the people He was talking to.

But if I go to Minneapolis and I talk about Jesus being the Good Shepherd, people might conceptually kind of understand, but there’s not a lot of sheep running around in Minneapolis, right? It’s not powerful imagery that connects to their context. Political activism of our day is actually very powerful language you can draw on, using your life for something that matters. For sacrificing my needs for the sake of others.

Often, we are using good, biblical language that isn’t connecting at the heart. And so, we are not applying the principle that Jesus was showing us when He used that kind of language.

One key principle about this that can get a little challenging for us as we think about being, you know, faithful to the Bible, is that we want to use the Bible as an argumentative authority. And frankly, a lot of our gospel scripts are based on Scripture that we share as if that is going to say, “Ah, okay, because the Bible says it, therefore…” Right? And we kind of have that kind of language.

And the reality is we have to understand that for a lot of secular people, the Bible is not an authority. Many of them question it. They question, you know, how it came to be and also what it says. That doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t true – and it is, and we’ll talk about that – but I can’t assume that when I use Scripture, somehow that’s an argumentative proof. Right? It’s not. And so, part of that is we need to understand how culture sees the Bible. So, take a look at these guys.


Interviewer: So, when I say the word “Bible,” what does it mean to you? What comes to your mind?

Person 1: I mean, it’s a very well-selling book. I mean, it, I don’t know, it’s something that I feel like gets talked about a lot and people reference it a lot without reading it.

Person 2: When I think of the Bible, I think there’s a lot of things that are really outdated now in the Bible. So I think I tend to have more of a negative view that way just because of the way they, like, talk about slavery or, like, gays or women in the Bible. Like, I think a lot of it is pretty outdated and it doesn’t really apply now, but…

Person 3: So, I’m not Christian so I come from a different place anyway. But, like, it’s an interesting work of fiction that sort of, like, it has moral messages and, like, it teaches stuff, like, how you should live your life. But that’s all it is. It’s just, like, it’s a moral base that you can, you could build your life around. And for some people that’s good. But, like, it’s not something to be taken literally or anything.

End Video

Stop there. Good communication is about knowing people’s assumptions. And so, if I’m talking to someone that takes the Bible seriously, then I can use it as an authority. But if I’m talking to someone who doesn’t, I can’t.

And so, here’s the challenge, or the principle, or the way to go after it is that we can leverage the truth of the Bible that is experientially verifiable, right? So, we can even say, “Hey, the Bible says this,” but we can connect that to something that they experientially feel to be true.

And so, often that means using Scripture in a different way. So, I’m going to show you a video, this is another one of our “Is There More?” Spiritual Conversations videos in which we basically begin to draw on Scripture, but not doing it in an authoritative way, but in an experientially verifiable way. So, take a look to give you the example I’m talking about.


Narrator: It seems like the most self-destructive, suicidal people in our culture are celebrities.

Newsperson: “EDM star Avicii has died.” “The death of Robin Williams.” “Chester Bennington, dead of an apparent suicide by hanging.”

Narrator: And yet, they have it all, right? For all the stuff we chase, the things we consume, does anyone actually get to the point where they finally have enough? Some of you have rejected the consumerism of your parents’ generation and instead focus on experiences and a lifestyle, but the second the thrill of a new experience dies away, you’re like the person who discovers that their new house or car left them feeling no different than their old one. The dictionary definition for delusion is this: a false belief held despite strong evidence against it. There is overwhelming evidence that what we consume will never satisfy us and yet we continue to do it anyway. It’s not that we haven’t reached the prize at the top of the mountain. Our problem is there is no prize at the top of the mountain. So what do we do? It seems cruel to have a hunger that this world cannot satisfy, but maybe this is trying to tell us something. Thousands of years ago, there was a king named Solomon. He was the richest, most powerful person in the world. No one’s life compared with his. And yet, when it was all said and done, he said this, “I have seen all things that are done under the sun. All of them are meaningless, like chasing after the wind.” Maybe that’s our problem. We are stuck looking under the sun. Could it be that we aren’t finding satisfaction in this world because we were made for more? The author C.S. Lewis wrote this, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Our science teachers tell us that we are the result of the Big Bang and evolution. We live in a purely material world. And all of us one day will be gone. But what if that’s not true. Consider whether God made you and I and everything around us and that our deepest desires are satisfied only by knowing Him. Now, I can’t tell you what to believe, but from what I have seen, until we look beyond the sun, we are left with what is under it. And like Solomon, sooner or later we will realize that no matter what we get, it will never be enough.

End Video

So, you see how Scripture was used there in a way that it’s experientially true, right? Like, I know that’s true. And so, it’s drawing on the authority of the truth of the Bible without saying, “Hey, the Bible says it, therefore it is.”

And there’s a lot of biblical basis for having this approach. The apostle Paul was a brilliant example of this, right? In Acts 17, he’s in Athens. Right? And he’s speaking to these sophisticated Athenians, who have all these different gods and they are very intellectual. And he uses, he communicates the gospel without once referencing Scripture.

And you contrast that to Acts 13 when he’s speaking to these Jews in the synagogue and he uses Scripture to defend and make the case for the gospel. So, he knew his audience.

He knew what connected. So, if you read Acts 17:23 and 24, what you find is first thing he does is he compliments. Remember, we talked about affirming truth that people have, even if they don’t know that that truth is biblical.

So, we look for ways to affirm truth that people have. So, he compliments [the] Athenians on their interest in the gods. That’s a good thing, because they desire something beyond themselves. They desire the supernatural and, in fact, often you can find that today where people desire spiritual things and you can affirm that in them. So, that’s what the apostle Paul does.

The second thing he does is that he begins to reference their culture and their context. And he begins to speak truth from their context.

And he referenced and unknown god, right? And he quotes one of their poets. Like, today that’s like taking a pop song and taking lyrics and using that as a way to connect with someone. Right? So, he was very intimately aware of their culture, their context, and he drew on that to speak the truth, right?

And then he summarizes the whole biblical account of creation without referencing Genesis. He doesn’t say, “Well, in Genesis 1 it says…”

He summarizes the truth, right? Which, by the way, was in contradiction to their view of creation. But he summarizes it.

And then he calls his audience to repent. So it’s not like a soft message in which he kind of, like, is all happy and everything. He calls them to repentance.

And then he preaches, as we have talked about, he preaches Jesus. He doesn’t actually say the name “Jesus” but he absolutely preaches Jesus and the death and resurrection.

And then he invites people to respond. And what happens? Some rejected, some wanted to know more, and some believed. Basically the options we’ve got, right? You know? And so, it’s a perfect example, a biblical example of how Paul contextualized the gospel for his audience. And so this is the culture we are in. And this is the model that we need to follow.

The way you get to know the culture is you are with people, you know people, you understand them and then the Spirit gives you the wisdom to do it right. The good thing also is when you have relationships there’s also the grace that you’re not going to say things right, but you build up enough credibility to work around that anyway.

And let me be clear, this is something you learn, you practice, and the Spirit works in your life, but the point is you can grow in your ability to communicate in the context that God has called you to.

And it’s going to look different. If you work in a corporate culture, there are different things that you’re going to be able to draw on and challenge as you speak the truth in your context. Or with your kids or at school, there are different contexts; it’s not all the same. It’s about knowing your audience and knowing how to communicate the gospel effectively where you’re at.

Alright, so, last point is that there is power in your own story. And this is probably the biggest thing that you should be prepared to do. It’s interesting, even the word “testimony” is a very religious word. And so, we tend to communicate our stories in very religious ways. And so, the challenge is can you practice sharing your story using the relevant language of the context you’re in? Because, and what is so cool about this is as you’re engaging in relationships, and asking people, “Tell me your story,” inevitably they’re going to ask you, “What’s yours?”

Or as you go through stuff, we talked about this, as they ask, “Where do you get the hope that you have?" Can you tell your story - short, non-religious, that includes Jesus and the message of the cross?

And I would say you need to practice this. Write it down. Talk to, go with a friend or a spouse. Share your story, because it can be awkward, but if you’re not ready to tell your story, and, but not in the kind of churchy testimony way but in a natural, non-religious way, then there’s a problem. You need to be ready. So, this is a great opportunity and it also plays into the culture today where people are open to your story, right? It’s kind of the relativistic, “You believe what you believe, but…” so you’re able to draw on that. So, be prepared to tell your story.

And then the last key point is that you have to take a risk and invite a response.

This is often where we fall short. And this often why we’re not seeing the fruit is because we are actually falling short at the last moment. Anyone that is in sales will tell you you’ve got to give people the chance to say yes or no.

And, by the way, if they say no that doesn’t, that’s not the end of the relationship. So, at some point and at various points probably, you need to give people the chance to say yes or no to Jesus.

I’ve been in moments where I kind of, like, as a last resort said, “Well, do you want to receive Jesus?” And they say, “Yes!” And you’re like, “Oh! Okay then.” You know? And so, you’re kind of surprised. But I don’t think we offer people the chance to say yes or no to Jesus enough. And it’s another one of those cliff-jumping, risk moments. But I would encourage you, give people the chance. Give people the chance to say yes or no and then when you give people the chance, then you need to walk with them.

Now, discipleship relationship is critical. And we talked about this in the beginning, the whole idea of 1 Thessalonians 2:8, which says, “We loved you so much that not only did we share the gospel of God, but our lives as well.”

And what is really cool about a discipleship relationship is that it doesn’t start the day the person commits to a local church. It starts the moment they meet a follower of Jesus. And this is about an accurate definition of what is the Church? Because the Church is not just a group of people that meets together once a week on Sunday. It’s a group of people out in the world. And so, when they meet you in the world, they are meeting the Church and that’s when discipleship relationship starts. And it doesn’t even start necessarily after they made a commitment to follow Jesus. Often it starts before they make a commitment, because the idea is that you are intentionally walking in relationship with them, moving them closer to Jesus. That is what a discipleship relationship is. And so, you can do that with people even before they made a commitment to follow Jesus. We bring discipleship, which often means exposure to the Word of God and to prayer and to Christian community in their context so that they can continue to be an influence in their world.

The whole kind of context of this training is adopting a missionary mindset. And the missionary mindset is about being intentional about what we do and how we live. So, we guide people purposefully to see spiritual growth, make the most of every opportunity, and it should lead to multiplication, that you’re teaching people how to be disciples and to make more disciples. And then that’s the context that we are in.

And what is beautiful about that is that you might have three discipleship relationships, but the impact that that can have is exponential as they in turn have impact with others. And so, the liberating thing is that I don’t have to worry about reaching everyone. I can just reach those one, two, three people that God has put in front of me. And I can actively build that discipleship [relationship] with them, starting with a friendship, engaging in spiritual conversations, and introducing Jesus and the message of the cross. That’s the process.