Encouraging a Decision
So what do you do now? You have established good, genuine relationships with your roommates, classmates, parents and professors–you have even had fruitful discussions with them about your faith. But they still have not made a decision about receiving Jesus. How will you be able to tell when your friend is ready to accept Christ?
The answer, actually, is quite simple: ask.
Over the years I’ve used a couple of very simple questions to find out where people stand. “Have you ever personally trusted Christ or are you still on the way?” worked almost every time. This sufficiently described a Christian so that the average person did not say yes unless he or she knew what I meant. If the person didn’t understand the question, I could deduce that he or she wasn’t a believer and it quite naturally gave me the opportunity to explain the gospel.
Most, however, would respond, “That’s me, I’m still on the way.” Then I would ask my second question, “How far along the way are you?” Without inhibition or embarrassment the person usually told me.
Talking It Through
Important or trivial objections to becoming a Christian often popped up at this time. Some complained that they didn’t know enough. I would point out that it was not a question of how much they knew, but whether they believed and were ready to respond to what they did know. “A person never fully understands the gospel,” I would say. “If we wait until we fully understand, we will never trust Christ.”
Sometimes a person would object, “But I’m not good enough.” I liked answering this because I could help my friend see that this was exactly the kind of person for whom Christ died.
Others were concerned: “I don’t think I could last and I don’t want to be a hypocrite.” My answer? “It’s not a question of holding on to Christ and hoping that your grip will not fail. Rather, Christ grasps hold of you. In John 10:28, Jesus has said that he gives his sheep eternal life, they shall never perish and no one can pluck them out of his hand.”
As I shared with my friends I learned to avoid two extremes: precipitation and procrastination. The first, pushing people into a decision they were not prepared for, not only was wrong but usually backfired. The second, letting them put the decision off as though it were not important, undermined my message that the issue was a matter of life and death that demanded a response.
When Sergio indicated that he wanted to receive Christ, I explained that to become a Christian there was something to be believed and someone to be received. Christ’s deity, life, death and resurrection, and his diagnosis of our sinful condition are the essence of the Christian faith. But mere intellectual assent to those facts does not make a person a Christian. He must receive Christ into his life and become a child of God.
Sergio had trouble with this concept so I compared it to marriage. “Belief in the other person does not make us married. We must respond with our will in order to establish a relationship. In becoming a Christian we believe in Jesus and then receive him into our lives. Only then can we say we have a relationship with God.” John 1:12 explains this.
I would also use Revelation 3:20 to help a person understand the need to invite Jesus into his or her heart. “Suppose someone came to the door of your home and knocked. How would you let the knocking person inside?” I asked Jackie. She thought for a moment and said, “I would open the door.” After agreeing with that, I said, “And then what would you do?” A smile broke across her face as she said, “I would invite the person to come in.” “This is exactly how you become a Christian,” I told her. “Christ is knocking at the door of your life. He wants to come in to become the Lord of your life, but he will never force his way in or gatecrash. Instead, the moment you invite him to come in, he will.” Before praying with her I asked Jackie to explain it back to me. As she repeated the essence of what I had told her, I knew she had heard and understood correctly.
Once the person definitely wanted to receive Christ and seemed to understand what was involved, I would suggest several options about praying to receive Christ. If he or she wasn’t accustomed to praying, I would offer to pray a prayer which could be repeated after me phrase by phrase. After saying what my prayer would include, I emphasized the fact that the words themselves had no magic. Unless they represented what my friend really felt in his or her heart, they did not mean anything.
Gabriel preferred to pray silently, and I offered him that option. Then, after he had prayed silently and I had prayed audibly, I asked him what he had said to God. He, like many others, had thanked God for the birds and his friends and the sunset. I then asked him if he had really spoken to Jesus Christ and thanked him for dying for his sins and invited him into his life as Lord and master. “I guess not,” he answered. So I suggested he pray again, addressing himself to the Lord in those terms.
Others, on the other hand, preferred to go back to their rooms to pray. If they did, I urged them to call me or see me within twenty-four hours to tell me the decision they had made.
After the prayer of conversion some people would feel tremendously relieved. Others had little feeling at all. This varied with the individual. I made sure they knew that the assurance of salvation rested on what Christ had done on the cross and that it did not depend on how they felt at the moment.
I soon realized that my work was not over once the person had accepted Christ. Good follow-up is crucial. New Christians need help to begin reading the Word of God for themselves. I usually suggested a specific passage, such as the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. Giving them questions to ask themselves about the text also proved helpful (such as “What does this teach me about Christ?” or “Is there a command I should obey or an example to follow?”).
New Christians also need help in their relationships with non-Christian friends and family. I would see new Christians alienate their families due to their misdirected zeal. To tell family members they don’t know the gospel often makes them resentful. If the person came from a nominally Christian family, I suggested it would be more constructive to assume his or her family understood the facts of the gospel, and to tell them so. Then he or she could simply say that these facts had suddenly become alive and meaningful in his or her life and that’s why it was important to share with them what had happened.
I would suggest breaking from non-Christian friends only if I saw that they were going to sweep the new Christian into an old life of sin. New Christians usually have more contacts with non-Christians than Christians do, making them excellent evangelists—especially as their friends see how knowing Jesus is changing the new Christian.
Scripture teaches us that God wants to use us in reaping as well as in sowing and watering. Many more of us would have the privilege of being the last link in the chain if we “popped the question” to more people than we do. Take time right now to think about your circle of friends. Is there someone who is waiting to be asked? If you were to approach that person in love, you might be able to help him or her make a specific decision for Christ. Few things are more precious.
The above article, “Encouraging a Decision” was written by Paul Little. The article was excerpted from the book Campus Evangelism Handbook.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”