By Samuel Escobar
How do people come to Jesus and enter into a relationship with him? What paths do most people travel to find Christ?
We usually think people become Christians by hearing the message, following steps 1, 2, 3, 4 and coming to a decision. But this presupposition is too narrow—and so is our evangelism if we follow it.
Ask some people in your church or fellowship how they be-came Christians, especially those who do not come from a church background. You’ll be surprised with the circumstances and ways of their conversions. I have done it, and my conclusion is that there are at least four different avenues to Christ: through the search for truth, interest in a person, the challenge of commitment and the touch of power. We need to know how to meet a friend’s need at any of these four levels.
The Search for Truth
The search for truth is the most common road to faith, the one to which we refer most when we think about evangelism.
We have a biblical example in the Gospel of John. This man, Nicodemus, comes to Jesus with questions. The way Jesus speaks to him is instructive.
There was one of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Council, who came to Jesus by night. “Rabbi,” he said, “we know that you are a teacher sent by God; no one could perform these signs of yours unless God were with him.”
Jesus answered, “In truth, in very truth I tell you, unless a man has been born over again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
“But how is it possible,” said Nicodemus, “for a man to be born when he is old? Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?” (Jn 3:1-4 NEB)
So this man is serious enough to come with his questions and concerns. He comes to Jesus because he sees in Jesus a rabbi, a teacher. He comes in search of teaching. He wants to be taught; he wants to know. He has some questions; he pursues these questions, and Jesus answers him.
In colleges today many people come to Christ that way. Some kind of intellectual curiosity brings them to their first contact with a Christian group. They have some questions; they are asking; they are searching. Maybe theirs is not an elaborate philosophical search, but it is still a search for truth.
I was talking with a group of students in Calgary, Canada, who were telling how they became Christians. One of them said, “Well, I saw an ad about a discussion the Christian club was having on witchcraft and Christianity. I was interested in the whole issue of witchcraft. The ad caught my attention and I went to the discussion because I had some questions.”
That’s the way he became a Christian. There are some in your group who came because of an idea on a poster that attracted them. They were interested in the idea and wanted to pursue it. Like Nicodemus, they came because something piqued their curiosity; they had questions.
Interest in a Person
In the Gospel of Luke we meet someone whose interest in a person brought him to faith: “Entering Jericho [Jesus] made his way through the city. There was a man there named Zacchaeus; he was superintendent of taxes and very rich. He was eager to see what Jesus looked like” (Lk 19:1-3 NEB).
For Zacchaeus, unlike Nicodemus, it is not so much a question of ideas. It is more an interest in people, a person—”I want to see what he looks like!”
“But, being a little man, he could not see him for the crowd. So he ran on ahead and climbed a sycomore-tree in order to see him, for he was to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said, `Zacchaeus, be quick and come down; I must come and stay with you today.’ He climbed down as fast as he could and welcomed him gladly” (Lk 19:3-6 NEB).
There is no intellectual exercise at all, no questions answered, no search for truth. This is a personal encounter, a relationship. This man wants to know what Jesus looks like.
He probably is a solitary man (tax collectors were not popular). What is his need? His need is for a meaningful relationship. That’s where it itches! And so what is Jesus’ answer? He says, “I’m going to stay in your home and eat with you.” In that Pastern situation, nothing could be more expressive of Jesus’ &sire to take him seriously as a person and to risk having his friendship.
Jesus was called a friend of publicans and sinners. For some, truth is in people and they want to have a meaningful relationship with others that will really get them to the truth.
The Challenge of Commitment
Pei haps the Bible’s most interesting example of this road to is Paul, who here in Acts 9:1-6 is called Saul:
Meanwhile Saul was still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the High Priest and applied for letters to the synagogues at Damascus authorizing him to arrest anyone he found, men or women, who followed the new way, and bring them to Jerusalem.
While he was still on the road and nearing Damascus, suddenly a light flashed from the sky all around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Tell me, Lord,” he said, “who you are.”
The voice answered, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you have to do.” (NEB)
Saul’s life can be described in one word: commitment. He is a committed man. He is a go-getter, an avowed anti-Christian. He is entirely immersed in the cause of Judaism. He sees the Christians as a danger. And probably the only thing that will take him out of one type of commitment will be something that is worth more than what he is committed to now.
The stoning of Stephen may be a key in all this. It’s a moving scene. Stephen is just a layman, not one of the apostles, but he is a strong man who gives a brave and powerful message: “How stubborn you are, heathen still at heart and deaf to the truth! You always fight against the Holy Spirit. Like fathers, like sons. Was there ever a prophet whom your fathers did not persecute?” (Acts 7:51-52 NEB).
Stephen’s words so infuriated the crowd that the people dragged him out of the city and stoned him. And Saul was among those who approved of Stephen’s murder.
It was there that God started to speak to Saul. He saw that Stephen was a committed man who died for his cause. The one who is committed is impressed by the commitment of others. That’s the only thing that can challenge him or her. So the next mention of Paul in Acts is his conversion in Acts 9. And Paul’s commitment to Jesus has the same fervency he had when he was persecuting the followers of his new Lord.
The lack of commitment of many Christians is why it’s difficult to communicate the gospel to very committed people for example, Marxists. You can only change committed people by showing more commitment. The way they see it, if God is God, he demands more, and he is worth not only living for, but also dying for.
That’s why I became a Christian because I wanted the same kind of commitment my Marxist friends had.
Marxism didn’t attract me intellectually. I had gone through a course on Christian apologetics in high school, and my mind was sharpened in the process of trying to answer spiritual questions.
But I was put to shame by the commitment of my Marxist friends.
After trying for months and months, I finally got my friend Hector to my church. Hector is a Marxist who later became the leader of the guerillas in Peru. It was Saturday, the day of a social meeting for young people.
At the end of the evening, I was talking with him and I said, “Tell me, Hector, what do you think about our church?”
And he said, “Well, you know, it’s very easy to be a Christian.” “What do you mean?”
“They give you a room, they give you a Ping-Pong table, they give you hot chocolate after the meeting. You have a great time there. Do you know that I am risking my life for the party? They don’t give me anything! Do you know that I have to give so many hours of my time a week to do this and that for the party? It’s too easy to be a Christian.”
That kind of shocking experience made me take my Christianity seriously. Some people come to Christ only when they are challenged by a commitment greater than their own.
The Touch of Power
There is one more avenue to Jesus which we see over and over in Scripture namely, through the touch of his power. We have an example of it in the Gospel of John:
[In Bethesda] lay a crowd of sick people, blind, lame, and paralyzed. Among them was a man who had been crippled for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and was aware that he had been ill a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to recover?”
“Sir,” he replied, “I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is disturbed, but while I am moving, someone else is in the pool before me.”
Jesus answered, “Rise to your feet, take up your bed and walk.” The man recovered instantly, took up his stretcher, and began to walk (5:3-9 NEB)
Now this man comes to Jesus in a different way, by a different route: by feeling Jesus’ touch of power. And many these days come to him that way.
Don’t misunderstand me; many people whom Jesus healed didn’t even come back to say thank you. Do you remember the ten lepers? Nine of them went away without even saying thanks. A miracle was no guarantee that people would become followers of Jesus. He didn’t use miracles for that.
What I am saying is that Jesus comes to the lives of some people not after an intellectual search nor by some of the other roads that we have mentioned, but rather through his own act of power in their lives.
While traveling in the Maritimes of Canada, I saw former drug addicts who had come to Christ because Christ had been powerful in their lives in a way no one could explain. Nothing else had been able to get them off drugs—no doctors, no psychologists, no social workers, no police. But simply a powerful act of God shocked them, got them off of drugs and helped them at a crucial moment in their lives. No intellectual argument, nothing else. Just a powerful act of God.
The Right Message for the Road
Now it is important to consider how we, as individuals and as a group of Christians, can help the people in each of these four categories. What kind of evangelism will reach each of them and help them find fullness of life in Christ?
People on a search for truth need to be taken seriously. If you take time to listen to their questions and to point them to answers in the Scripture or to find answers for them when their questions are beyond you, they will appreciate your help.
If you give them a canned answer or simply tell them your own personal opinion on some issue, it will lack authority and they may disdain it. Be careful not to treat their questions with scorn. You may think they are ridiculously simple, too complex to have any value or totally beside the point. But for them they are a valid part of the search for truth.
Also encourage them to talk to God directly about their questions even if it means starting with “Do you exist?”
Provide books, offer to study Scripture with them, invite them to a good lecture or discussion of a Christian topic.
Respect their intellectual struggle. Above all, support the facts you give with an attitude of caring which can represent Christ to them. All of us need both truth and love. The next chapter, “The Search for Truth” by Rich Lang, will help you understand these people.
For the curious who want to encounter something in a person, you may be the one they need to see as a “friend of sinners” before they are willing to approach the Lord Jesus Christ. What they see in you day by day is what they consider the Christian message to be for, after all, you are a Christian.
The best thing you can offer this kind of person is to share your life with him or her, honestly and openly. Let your friends see your struggles as well as your victories. Admit your problems and needs. Let them watch as you pray and as God answers. Include them in Bible studies if they are willing. Try to have them get to know other Christians so this meaningful relationship will not be just with you but with the family of God. Make it clear that the real heart of Christianity is a personal relationship with God himself. “Meeting Jesus through Friendships,” by Paul Tokunaga, exemplifies this path to Christ.
To the committed person (no matter to what cause he or she is presently committed), your own commitment will be a key in witness. If you are not taking your discipleship to Christ very seriously, you have nothing to say to this person.
Actually, the people who want a cause to give themselves to are better candidates for Christian conversion than the merely curious or the ones who want a cure-all for their problems. We must never misrepresent the gospel by pretending it is easy to answer Christ’s call; we must include the fact that he says “take up your cross daily and follow me.”
As our committed friends see us doing this, not seeking the comfortable way all the time, they will at least respect our gospel and may become willing to study Scripture with us on a regular basis. Consider using Ada Lum’s study guide Jesus the Life Changer (NP). You may also be able to include them in a social action project you are involved in. Melissa Moskowitz may give you insights into these people in “Attracted to Commitment.”
We all need the powerful acts of God in our lives. Watch for God’s workings both in your own life and in theirs as you dare to pray for the power of God to make itself manifest in your midst. Praying with and not just for your friends and their needs is a step of faith that can create wonderful opportunities to see God in action. Rob Decker, in “Encounter with Power,” explains how wonderful the opportunities can be.
Keep in mind a few correctives: for those who are looking too much for something that will make them “feel good,” help them get some facts as a basis for their faith; for those who have come to Christ through the intellectual route, point them toward the reality of a dynamic relationship with the living Christ; for those who have come out of the attraction of the commitment, caution them about falling into performance orientation wanting to do things for Christ to get his approval; and finally, for those who came to Christ through God’s manifestation of power, help them to remember that good friendships are still the most powerful way in which people experience Christ.
Above all, remember that evangelism is simply the sharing and demonstration of the gospel. It is God, not us, who saves. Be fervent in prayer for a friend who needs Christ. Then, no matter by which avenue the person may come, the Lord is the one who can reach down, meet the needs, and bring him or her to a living faith. Nothing is too hard for our God.
The above article, “Four Roads to Faith” was written by Samuel Escobar. The article was excerpted from Escobar’s 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.”