I will teach transgressors Your ways, and
sinners shall be converted to You.
One day in 1995, while in New Zealand, I was carrying the cross beside a highway that followed the seacoast. Suddenly, up ahead, I heard a scream. It came from a woman who looked to be about thirty-five years old and who was wearing jogging clothes. She had come from the beach and was racing toward me, crying out, “The cross! The cross!” As she neared me, she asked in a breathless voice, “What are you carrying the cross for?”
I could tell she was upset, and I feared it might be because she did not like the cross of Jesus. But regardless, I began telling her about my journey of carrying the cross around the world. Before I got far, though, she stopped me and told me her story.
For years, this woman had lived in Wellington, one of the major cities of New Zealand. But in time, people in her life had disappointed her, her dreams had been shattered, and her spirit had become sunk in depression. So two years earlier she had moved to a cottage by the sea in this remote part of the nation, hoping she would find peace. But in those two years, her life had gotten no better. She was in despair. On this day, she told me, she had planned to run into the sea and drown herself. But before doing so, she had cried out to heaven, “God—if there is a God—I need life! Show me a sign.” Just then she looked up and saw my cross!
The woman said to me, “I have come to the cross. I need life.” And she burst into tears.
I began to share with her. “We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. But God loved us so much that Jesus came to this earth, born of the Virgin Mary, andlived without sin and overcame sin. Jesus did mighty works and showed His power over all the universe.
“Jesus suffered and died on the cross for our sins. He was buried and was raised on the third day. Many saw Jesus alive during the next weeks, and then He ascended into heaven. “Jesus lives today, and He will hear your prayer if you call out to Him. Jesus will come into your life and will give you a new birth. The Holy Spirit will live within you, and you will have peace with God and be a part of the family of God forever.”
I then held the woman’s hand and prayed for her. Next, I asked her to repeat after me a prayer: “Dear God, I need You. I believe Jesus died on the cross for my sins and for me. As best I know how, I welcome Jesus into my life and repent of my sins. Jesus, save me and make my home in heaven. I forgive everyone and want to live with You, Jesus, now and forever. Please give me eternal life now. Thank You, Jesus!”
I will never forget her shining, tear-filled eyes and smiling face as she looked at me and said, “Now I have life.” Then I shared with her some scriptures to help her know what Jesus had done in her life, to give her assurance of His continuing presence, and to encourage her to grow in her walk with Jesus and get into a good church. I look forward to the day when we will meet again in heaven and will celebrate life for eternity.
The Big Question
In this chapter, I will relate to you how I normally share Jesus with people. But please don’t take what I have to tell you as a formula that you must use. Each situation is a little different; each person is at a little different place spiritually. Be prepared to use the suggestions I give you, but remain open to the Holy Spirit’s leading in each opportunity you have.
Sometimes (though by no means always) I begin with what I call the Big Question: “Should you die right now, do you have the assurance that you would go to heaven?” I call this the Big Question because it really does deal with the biggest issue in our lives: where will we spend eternity? I have discovered through long experience that the Big Question gets people in all kinds of life situations to think seriously about their lives. It focuses on eternity and brings us face to face with Jesus.
There are basically three possible answers to the Big Question: yes, no, or I don’t know. Should someone answer the question with no or I don’t know, I say, “I want to show you from the Word of God how you can know that you will go to heaven when you die.” I have found that almost everyone will let me go ahead and share about Jesus at that point.
Should someone answer yes, then I generally say, “Wonderful! Upon what do you base that? How do you know that you will go to heaven?”
Should I get a response like “I’m basically a
good person,” I never criticize the other person
or try to correct him or her.
In a case like this, the other person might explain that he or she has trusted in Christ alone for salvation. And that’s great—then we’re dealing with a precious brother or sister in Christ. On the other hand, we might get an answer like “Well, I’m basically a good person” or “I go to church.” The other thinks that his or her morality or religion is good enough to earn God’s acceptance. This person is working under a false premise.
Should I get a response like “I’m basically a good person,” I never criticize the other person or try to correct him or her. I never say, “No, that’s not how it works!” Instead, I say, “I want to show you from the Word of God how you can know that you will go to heaven when you die.”
The Jesus Story
Many people in this world do not know even the basic facts about the life of Jesus. And they cannot trust in Jesus when they don’t know who He is. So the more we talk about Jesus, the more convicting our sharing will be.
When I sense that the person I am speaking with knows little or nothing about Jesus, I like to give him or her a brief summary of Jesus’ life—how and why He was born, how He taught people and performed miracles, how He died, was resurrected, and ascended to heaven. In fact, I give a complete overview of the life of Jesus.
One time, in Scotland, I was sharing with a university student who felt a need for new life. So I explained to her about the life and death of Christ, and then proceeded to invite her to pray with me, asking Jesus to come into her heart.
She asked, “How can a dead man help me?” That’s when I realized that I had neglected to tell her about Jesus’ resurrection! I corrected the omission, and then she was ready to pray with me. But I learned something that day: always cover all the key points about Jesus.
Sharing about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is just what His early followers did. They did not have the New Testament (it hadn’t been written yet), so they merely went around and told people what they knew about Jesus. And think about how many people became followers of Jesus through their efforts!
There is nothing more powerful than the story of Jesus. Review it for yourself by reading the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Then think about how you can clearly and effectively relate it to others.
I suggest you have a shorter version and a longer version of the story of Jesus that you can use. Sometimes you may have only a limited time with a person, and at other times you can talk about Jesus for a long time. Let the Holy Spirit lead you in this. The important thing is to make sure that the other person knows the life and message of Jesus so that he or she can then know Jesus personally.
Steps to God
You’re not a theologian and I’m not a theologian, but we both can understand and teach the basic message of salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. It’s so simple and yet so profound. Using plain, everyday words, we can convey to an interested person how God has reached out to us in love through His Son to save us from the consequences of our sin.
1. We are sinners. “All have sinned, and come short of
the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, KJV).
We all have a problem, and it’s called sin. But rather than being condemning of others, when sharing with another person, I start with me. In a calm voice I say, “I am a sinner and you are a sinner. All people are sinners.” I point to the biblical definition of sin—it’s right there in Romans 3:23. We come short of the glory of God. Certainly, we may be good people in a lot of ways, but we don’t come anywhere near to living up to the glory of Almighty God.
What is the glory of God? Well, in human terms, the glory of God is reflected perfectly only in Jesus. He is the glory of God. So when we say we are sinners, we are saying that we don’t measure up to the standard of Jesus. Most people whom I have talked with have no problem admitting their sinfulness when it is described like that. The point of all this is to recognize that there is a consequence to sin.
2. Our sin separates us from God. “The wages of sin is
death” (Romans 6:23).
Just as a roof separates us from the sky when we’re inside a building, so our sin separates us from God. Because God is all holy, He cannot tolerate sin. He cannot accept sinners unless their sins have been washed away. To be separated from the source of true spiritual life—God—is to be spiritually dead.
To quote it in full, Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Many times, when I’m talking with a person, I’ll draw two lines side by side. I’ll put “Satan, sin, wages, death” on one side and “God, gift, eternal life through Jesus” on the other side, with a space between the two sets of terms. Unforgiven sinners are on the side of Satan and sin, separated by a gulf from God.
What is the difference between wages and a gift?
Well, imagine that you worked hard for a week and then on Friday your boss said, “Here is some money—it’s my gift to you.” Wouldn’t you respond with something like “Hey, that’s no gift; I earned it”? You would be right to do so. A wage is something we earn, while a gift is something we receive.
We deserve spiritual death because of our sin, but eternal life is something we can only receive through Jesus. We can’t earn eternal life through doing good works or by being religious or in any other way. But Jesus Christ has earned it for us and freely offers it to us.
3. Christ died for us. “While we were still sinners, Christ
died for us” (Romans 5:8).
As you tell an unbeliever the story of Jesus, you should emphasize the importance of Jesus’ death. It was central to the meaning of His life, and it is central to ours, for at the cross Jesus took upon Himself the penalty for our sin. This is how eternal life has become a gift available through Jesus Christ.
Going back to my diagram, I often like to add a cross bridging the gap between spiritual death and spiritual life. The cross of Christ is how we cross over from spiritual death to spiritual life. In fact, it is the only way to get from one side to the other.
Each of us must individually choose to make that journey. It is a journey we make by the faith that God gives us or not at all.
4. Through trusting in Jesus, we can be saved. “Whoever
calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (Romans
We each must decide whether we will make Christ’s sacrifice on the cross apply to us, personally, by putting our trust in Him. We agree that we are sinners and that Jesus is the one and only Son of God, who died and rose for us. We believe in Him and commit our lives to Him forever. We repent and call on Him, and He saves us.
The point is that we show from the Word of
God what trust in Jesus can do for us….
I try not to get hung up on the terminology. Sometimes I use “be saved”; other times, “be born again” or “accept Jesus” or “receive Jesus” or “become a follower of Jesus.”
These are all good, biblical terms. I use whichever wording seems to communicate best with a person. The point is that we show from the Word of God what trust in Jesus can do for us—rescue us from our sins, cause us to be born of the Spirit, and give us a place in God’s kingdom.
Sometimes when you’re sharing Jesus and the new life in Him, the other person might go off on a tangent. In a case like that, gently bring the discussion back to Jesus and the cross. You don’t need to discuss evolution or morality or politics. Paul, a witness of Jesus in the early church, said it this way: “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
When someone asks you a question you don’t know the answer for, simply say, “I don’t know a lot about that, but I know that Jesus loves us and wants to save us from our sins.” Bring it back to Jesus. It’s all about Jesus.
The Sinner’s Prayer
After you have explained how to believe in and become a follower of Jesus, the person you are speaking with will probably be wondering just what he or she has to do to receive eternal life. Explain that all it takes is a simple prayer of repentance. Now, many people have never prayed in any way, or at least have never prayed for forgiveness. So you’ll need to encourage them and lead them through the prayer.
Don’t make the mistake of trying to judge whether a person is ready to accept Christ yet. You can’t know that. Only God and the individual know that. When you have explained to someone how to receive Jesus, just encourage him or her to take this step of believing in Christ, then start the prayer.
If I’m talking to a woman named Abby (let’s say), I might say something like this: “Jesus can come into your life, Abby. You can know Him. Pray this prayer with me. Believe it in your heart and speak it with your mouth. Just say, ‘Dear God. …’ ”
There is nothing magical about the exact wording of the prayer you use. The main thing is that the other person asks for forgiveness and asks Jesus to come into his or her heart. As a model, here is a prayer I have used for years:
“Dear God, as best I know how, I give You my
life. Lord Jesus Christ, forgive all my sins. I believe
in You. I repent of my sins and want to follow You.
I ask You to come into my heart and be the Lord
of my life. I have been wrong; You are right. Take
control of my life as I give myself to You. Thank
You for hearing my prayer. I forgive everyone.
Make my home in heaven and put my name in
Your book of life. I love You, Lord. Thank You for
hearing my prayer. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.”
I like to pray the prayer a phrase at a time and let the other person repeat each phrase after me. Should the other person not pray the prayer out loud with you, go ahead and pray it anyway. The person may be praying it silently within his or her mind. Or the person may decide to pray it later. In that case, he or she will be learning by listening to you go through the prayer. No matter what, it does no harm to pray the prayer.
Assuming the other person has prayed the prayer with you, then immediately afterward give him or her assurance about what has happened. “God bless you, Abby. God heard your prayer and has forgiven your sins. Jesus has come into your life to stay.”
Give encouragement. The most important time in a new convert’s life is the moment he or she receives Jesus.
In the next chapter we will be looking at how you can help a new believer to walk faithfully with the Lord for a lifetime. But even before you start talking about following Jesus, you can encourage the new believer to share about his or her new life in Jesus with someone else. Should another person be watching what is going on, you might say to the new believer something like this: “Share with your husband (or your friend) here what Jesus just did in your heart.”
In cases where the other person is reluctant to start that kind of sharing, you can lead him or her through it. Ask the new believer, “What did you just ask Jesus to do?”
The new believer will probably say, “Well, I asked Him to forgive me.”
“He didn’t lie when He promised to forgive sins, did He?”
“So what did He do?”
“He forgave my sins.”
“You asked Jesus into your life. What did He do?
“Jesus came into my life!”
The best follow-up for new followers of Jesus is immediate. Having them share their decision reinforces the experience for them and might even lead to another person’s coming to Jesus.
Remember, there is never failure in sharing Jesus.
I urge you to practice going through the scriptures listed above simply and clearly and leading another through the sinner’s prayer. Perhaps you have a friend with whom you can take turns practicing these skills before doing it for real with the people you meet in daily life. Keep lifting up Jesus, and He will do the drawing of people into His kingdom.
Remember, there is never failure in sharing Jesus. It’s not your kingdom; it’s His. Go ahead and share.
Keeping the Door Open
I have been assuming up to this point that the person you are talking with is going along with you and agrees to pray the prayer of salvation. But of course, that is notalways the case. You might invite someone to receive Jesus, and he or she will say, “No, thank you. I’m not interested.” What do you do then? You respect the other’s wishes, but you don’t give up.
Let’s say you have been sharing with a clerk at the convenience store where you buy your gasoline. Should she turn down your request to pray with you, then say something like “Thank you so much for listening to me. God bless you. I’ll be praying that God will meet your every need.”
The next time you come to the convenience store, say “God bless you” to the clerk again, and the next time, and the next. Eventually the clerk is likely to say something like “You know, it’s really nice to hear you say those words. I look forward to you coming in.”
That’s your opening to try again. You can now say, “Well, God really does love you. That’s why Christ died for you.” You have the opportunity to explain the message of Jesus to her one more time. And this time the clerk may be more receptive.
Handle the follow-up however you judge best, as you listen to the Holy Spirit, but my point is this: don’t slam the door on the person. Keep it open all the time. Pray, be a friend, and look for another opportunity that the Holy Spirit will give you.
Ron Bozarth ran five topless nightclubs and finally the famous Comedy Store in Hollywood, California. I shared Jesus with him and we were friends for nine years. He let me preach on stage in his nightclubs, but he would always put off making a full commitment to Jesus. But then, in 1976, he asked me to perform the wedding for him and his bride, Geri. At the ceremony, I invited the couple to receive Jesus—and they did! In front of all their Hollywood entertainment friends, they got down on their knees and fully gave their lives to Jesus to love and follow Him.
It took nine years with Ron, but I didn’t give up. Neither should you give up sharing with your friends and acquaintances. Don’t slam the door. Don’t cut somebody off. Keep offering the invitation of Christ.
Sometimes we sow seed and sometimes we harvest. Certainly we should expect to harvest every time we talk to people about Jesus, but we don’t know for sure. The important thing for us to remember is that we have never failed when we have faithfully presented Jesus and His message of love and eternal life. Whether the other person responds immediately or not, so long as we have done our part we’ve acted to glorify God. Depend on the Holy Spirit to convict the other person, and keep your heart full of love. Remember, it’s all about Jesus, His life, His Kingdom, and His love.
Questions to Consider
• What ways have you found to be most effective
in turning a conversation to the topic of following
• If someone asked you, “What are the most
important things to know about Jesus?” what
would you say?
• How would you word a prayer for salvation so
that it seems the most natural and straightforward
• What kind of practice or preparation would
make you more ready to share Jesus with one
who needs Him?