Written by Michael Green.
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We are all called to be spiritual midwives! It is to be hoped that the time will come, in our conversation with a friend, when we can actually help him or her over the border into faith in Christ. We have the immense privilege, sometimes, of being midwives at a spiritual birth.
Every physical birth is special; each one is a thing of surpassing wonder. And when you put it like that, it is easy to see two contrasting errors to which you could fall prey. One would be to treat all births alike, with professional competence, but miss the individual needs and be blinded to the glory of it all. That way is sad, and potentially disastrous, especially if there are any complications in the birth; and spiritually there usually are! The other mistake would be to be called upon to act the midwife and yet not have the slightest clue what to do!
Some ministers are like that with spiritual births. It is not an enviable position to be in. Somehow, therefore, we need to have the flexibility of Jesus or Philip on the one hand, and also to have some idea in our minds of how to bring a person from unbelief to faith. We must not offer people a hard-line, tightly-packaged, programme: but we must not be like the fisherman who was asked by his wife on his return home, ‘How many did you catch?’ and had to reply, ‘None, actually. But I influenced a good many.’
What follows must therefore not be taken for a technique. We are not manipulators but introducers. And we have reached the point in conversation when our friend genuinely wants to start a relationship with Christ. How can we help him to begin?
I generally have the first four letters of the alphabet at the back of my mind at this point. However flexibly I approach it, however often I am diverted by his questions or concerns, there are four things that seem essential if he is to come to know Christ. There is something to admit: his falling short, and its consequences. There is something to believe: that God in Christ has done everything for his restoration. There is something to consider: what it will all cost to be a disciple. And there is something to do: reach out in faith and personally appropriate the proffered gift.
There is something to admit
Our friend needs to be brought to appreciate that he has the ‘human disease’ of sin. It consists in breaking God's law, coming short of his standards, and rejecting his love and authority over us (1 John 3:4; James 4:17; John 3:18). The results of this disease are very serious. We are estranged from God (Isaiah 59:1-2, Eph 2:1), and we are enslaved to self-centredness (John 8:34; Titus 3:3). The disease is fatal, if it is not dealt with (Rom 6:23). In order to begin a living relationship with Christ, our friend needs to admit the truth of this biblical diagnosis of the basic problem in his life. He needs to recognise that he is in the wrong with God, and to be willing for changes to be made. Nothing he can do will be able to remedy this bad situation. Even if he could live a perfect life from today onwards, that would still leave unrelieved the guilt of the past. As the epistle to the Romans laconically observes, ‘None is righteous, no, not one’ (Romans 3:10). And a God who is holy and just cannot overlook such a thing. He cannot have defilement in his holy presence. It stands to reason.
There is something to believe
The contents of belief are not necessarily large, though they are demanding. It is not possible to be a Christian, surely, unless you recognise who ‘Christ’ is. He is no less than God come to our rescue. The earliest baptismal confession was ‘Jesus is Lord’. That says it all, really; it is proclaiming that Jesus (and the word means ‘God to the rescue’) is exalted as Lord over all. The one who became incarnate for us, died on the cross for us, is alive for ever through the resurrection, and calls for our allegiance. We need to take time to show our friend that Jesus came to deal with the fact of human sin. He died on the cross to atone for the guilt of human sin. And he rose from the dead in order to be able to break the power of sin.
You will need to spend time explaining the cross. Few people understand the heart of it. Not surprising, for it is the ultimate mystery! But it is certainly not just an example of how much God loves us. It is certainly not a good man coming to a sticky end. It is certainly not a martyr stoically enduring his fate. It is God himself dealing with our sins by taking the weight of them on his own shoulders. Verses from the Bible like Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18, 21; Galatians 3:10, 13; Mark 10:45 all help to show some sides of the mystery. I find it almost incredible that God should love people like us enough to come among us and stoop to the most horrible death that could ever be designed by the brutality of man. More, that he should allow the world's evil to be poured out in vile concentration on his sinless head. But he did. And that is why it is Good Friday for us, terrible though it was for him. That is why we can cry with confident exultation, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1).
But one of the verses I find most helpful in taking people to the heart of what Christ did for them on the cross is 1 Peter 3:18: ‘Christ has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God.’ Immensely simple, and extremely clear. The sufferer on that cross was none other than the Christ for whom the world had been waiting since the Garden of Eden. It was the supreme rescuer who ended up in naked agony on that terrible tree. Why was he there? ‘For sins’. He, the just one, took the place which should rightly have fallen to us, the unjust, if we really got our deserts from a holy God. And why was it needed? ‘To bring us to God’. Had there been any lesser way, we can be sure he would have taken it. But there was no lesser way. There on the cross, he did all that was necessary to bring us back to the one we so earnestly desire to keep away from. And it happened ‘once’. The Greek word does not mean ‘once upon a time’, but ‘once and for all’. The job has been done. The rescue is complete. Christ's death can clean up the sheet of our past, guilty life. Christ's resurrection can release in our lives the power to effect radical change. The risen one offers to come and take up residence in our lives, so as to release in us the power of his resurrection (Romans 5:10; 1 Peter 1:5; Philippians 4:13). He will progressively break down that bondage to self-will which spoils us, and set us free to be sons and daughters in his family (John 8:36). That is what we are asked to believe. Not many things, but things of vast significance!
There is something to consider
That is, the cost of discipleship. The entrance to the Christian life is free, but the annual subscription is everything we possess. Jesus is not merely Saviour, he is Lord. And we shall save ourselves and our friend a lot of trouble later on if we make very plain at the outset that it will be a costly thing to follow Christ. Jesus laid it on the line very clearly in Luke 14:25-35, immediately after emphasising in the parable of the great supper that the Kingdom is gloriously free for all comers. He asked the crowds to consider whether they were prepared to face obedience to himself, even before family and self. Were they ready for a lifetime of commitment? Were they willing to be opposed, and to cope with being a minority movement? Dare they be salt in society? Such were some of the elements in the cost of discipleship which Jesus stressed.
Of course, all this lies in the future. Your friend cannot at the moment of commitment have any realistic idea of what it will cost him, any more than the bridal couple have any idea of what it will cost them to be pledged to one another for better for worse, for richer for poorer. But there needs to be that willingness in principle to put the other first, come wind, come weather. And it is like that with Christian commitment. Jesus himself put it very sharply in Matthew 6:24: ‘You cannot serve God and mammon’ (the Carthaginian god of wealth). It is costly to be a Christian. We must not disguise the fact. But it is also costly to reject him, very costly indeed. It is interesting that despite the cost of mutual commitment for life, most married couples do not regard it as prohibitive!
I often summarise it in three questions: Are you willing to let Christ clean up the wrong things in your life? Are you willing to put him in the No 1 slot? And are you willing to be known as a Christian and join the Christian community? That is about as far ahead as they will be able to see, for the present.
There is something to do
Your friend needs to receive the gift which is Jesus Christ. All God's other gifts are wrapped up in him (Ephesians 1:3). There are many metaphors in the New Testament for the way in which we in our weakness and Christ in his love and power get together. We ‘believe in Christ’ (John 3:16), enter ‘into Christ’ (Ephesians 2:12-13), accept the juridical verdict of ‘acquitted’ (Romans 8:1), `receive adoption' (Galatians 4:5), ‘find access’ (Ephesians 2:18), ‘come to Christ’ (John 6:37).
I often find it a help at this stage of the discussion to begin with John 3:16; stressing as it does God's great love, man's real need, and the importance of a step of belief. It has the advantage of being probably the best-known verse in the Bible. My friend may well think he does ‘believe’, so I take him back a page to John 1:12, to show what ‘believing’ in biblical terminology means. It is tantamount to ‘receiving’. He may believe about Jesus in his head, but never have received him into his life. His faith in Jesus is intellectual but not volitional. He has assent but not affiance.
It is worth making this very plain to him. Hold out a banknote to him and say, ‘Do you believe this is for you?’ He will smile, and say ‘Yes’ — without making any move. You reply, ‘Then you don't believe at all!’ — and withdraw the note! In a short time he will see the point: real believing means receiving. It is when he reaches out and takes the note that it really becomes his. That is just what he needs to do about God's divine gift, the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And before I move on, I use verse 13 of John 1 to show how you donot get into the family and become a child of God. It is ‘not of blood’ that you are born into this family — it never comes automatically with parentage or nationality. It is `not of the will of the flesh' — no amount of effort, hairshirts, trying hard, and religious observances can make you a child of God. It is ‘not of the will of man’ either. Nobody else can do it for you — no parent, no priest. It is ‘of God’. He alone adopts us into his family alongside his one and only Son Jesus Christ. And he does it for those who ‘receive’ Jesus. But how can that be done?
Revelation 3:20 is a verse that has led millions to faith. The imagery is so basic and so clear. It forms part of a communication from the risen Christ through his servant John to the church at Laodicea. That church is very formal. The members congratulate themselves, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing’. But they do not realise that they are ‘wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked’. Christ offers to meet them in their need, with ‘gold… that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see’. But as things stand, Christ is the excluded party. They represent that paradox — a church which has everything except Christ. He tells them that they need to make haste and repent, and then to receive him into their lives as they would receive a visitor into their city or their home. ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me’ (Rev 3:20). Jesus is the one who can give life and reality to this churchly but spiritually dead community. And he stands outside, knocking. His hand is scarred. He died for them. He lives to make a difference to them, if only they will let him in. It is up to them.
This imagery is superb and wonderfully clear. Your friend will get the point at once. He will see that he too has left Christ out of his life. He may well know about him, believe about him, but he has never ‘received’ him. He has never let him come in. And the marvel of this illustration is that it is more than an illustration. For when a person opens up to Christ, then his unseen but real Spirit does come in. The image is not only pictorial but ontological. Something happens. The person is not the same as before. The Spirit of Christ has come in.
Some people object to the use of this verse because it is written to a church and therefore cannot illuminate initial commitment. I beg to differ. The whole point about this church is that it was a Christless church. The Saviour was excluded by their insane self-satisfaction. They were very much in the place of the non-committed, although they went to church. The religious and the pagan are precisely on the same level if they have not ‘received’ or ‘believed in’ Jesus. In a word, if they have not asked him into their lives.
So it is not difficult to point out to your friend that he can think of the house, in the imagery of Revelation 3:20, as his life. The Lord who made the house, the Lord who bought it back when it had been wrenched wilfully from his ownership, stands knocking for admission. He is willing to enter and cleanse the house. He wants his light to shine out from its window. But he will not act without the agreement of the tenant. The promise is unconditional, ‘I will come in’. The offer is universal, ‘If anyone opens the door’. Christ will not force himself upon us. He will not enter by his Spirit until and unless he is invited. When he is, that brings a person into the family of God (John 1:12). He must decide what to do with the Saviour who stands at the door and knocks. Shall he ask him in? Or not? To respond to him is urgent (Hebrews 3:7-8). It is indispensable (1 John 5:12; Acts 4:12). It is unrepeatable (Hebrews 10:14). ‘Receiving Christ’ or ‘commitment to Christ’ is, like marriage, instantaneous, though there is much that lies behind and precedes it, and a lifelong adjustment that follows. Your friend needs to see that clearly.
Commitment Anxieties and Problems
When lovingly confronted with the powerful challenge of the gospel, your friend is likely to make one of three responses.
He may say ‘Yes’, and if so it will be your privilege to help him into the new life with Christ, beginning then and there. We will look at that at the end of this feature.
But he may very well say ‘No’ or ‘Not yet’. If so, he is likely to need help on one of three ‘Rs’.
He may be implying a ‘No’ to repentance. Maybe he thinks he is all right as he is. I have found that to go through the Ten Commandments or the standards of the Sermon on the Mount with a person in that situation is very valuable. Both are powerful at humbling the proud. Other verses of Scripture that you might like to work through with him may include Jeremiah 17:9; Luke 13:3; Matthew 7:21-3; Romans 3:10-20. It is very important to remember that commitment without repentance soon melts away. Remember too that you are not seeking to arouse guilt over petty sins: you are wanting to encourage ‘repentance to God’ as Paul puts it (Acts 20:21). Our whole life has been centred on self, and God is calling us to centre it on him. That is what is called for in repentance.
He may, of course, evidence no realisation. He may never have understood what Christ did for him on the cross. How could that death so long ago affect him personally? Show him that the offering of the infinite Christ more than covers all the finite number of sinners that the world could ever hold (Hebrews 10:11-14; 1 John 2:2). Maybe he still thinks he can earn salvation by church-going or a good life (but see Ephesians 2:8-9). So long as we are proud of ourselves and our achievements, we cannot give glory to God: but that is what the redeemed delight to do for all eternity (Revelation 4:9-10; 5:12-14). It is the same old problem of the primal sin, the number one thing that God hates, pride. That is his problem, and ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ (1 Peter 5:5). Maybe he has never realised that the full power of Christ's resurrection is available in his own life? In that case, you could well use personal testimony, the resurrection material in the Gospels and the epistles, and verses such as Revelation 1:17-18 and 2 Timothy 1:12.
But perhaps his ‘No’ is to receiving. He is not yet ready to receive Christ. Maybe he confuses it with intellectual agreement (but see James 2:19), emotional experience (but see Luke 11:13), sacramental initiation (see Romans 2:28; Acts 8:15-16; 1 Cor 10:1-5), or suddenness (see Romans 8:1 - what matters is not the date of his birth but whether or not he is alive).
I have often found that the person who is not yet ready to respond to Christ may be helped in one of the following ways. You could say, ‘Fine. You don't feel ready yet. I fully respect that. What do you think is standing in your way? If we can sort that out to your satisfaction, would you then be ready to open your life to Christ?’ Another person might respond better to something like this. ‘Right, you feel you need more time? Great, if you want to give the matter more reflection. But not so good if you want to postpone doing anything about it! Isaiah 55:6-7 has something important to say about that. Why not continue to think it over, and then let's meet for a meal in a couple of days to take it from there?’ This respects the person's request for more time, but does not allow him to slip gently back off the hook!
If you sense that the ‘Not yet’ response is really ducking out of surrendering to Christ, but not exactly liking to admit it, a rather tougher approach might be warranted. ‘You want to put it off? What would you say if someone for whom you had risked your life simply did not want to meet you? Would you not think it desperately ungrateful? I wonder how Christ feels? He did not risk his life for you. He gave it. In any case, it is foolish to keep him at arm's length. He wants to enrich your life, not to rob you.’ I have, on occasion, used each of those responses effectively with people, but it is crucial to be very sensitive to the unspoken things that are going on under the surface, and to pray constantly for the wisdom of Solomon as you handle someone at a very critical juncture in their spiritual life.
Of course, your friend may be different, and fall under none of those categories. He may, for instance, come from a Catholic background. It is best not to get involved in discussing doctrinal niceties at this point; rather to stress the areas that may have been obscured by his background. His faith may be more in the Virgin than in the Saviour. He may be weak on grace, and under the impression that if he goes to Mass all will necessarily be well. He may be weak, as many Catholics are, on God's assurance of our salvation — in which case take him to the promises of God, Romans 5:1,8 and 8:1 being no bad place to start.
He may actually be a Christian, but very unsure of it. If so, go for the promises, like John 6:37, Revelation 3:20 and Ephesians 2:8. Point to the cross (Hebrews 10:10-14): bills do not require to be paid twice. And look with him for the signs of the new life. He is meant to know where he stands (1 John 5:13) and not to wallow in uncertainty throughout his life. Actually, the marks of new life as outlined in John's first letter are well worth going through. There will gradually emerge in the child of God a new sense of pardon, a new desire to please God, a new attitude to other people, a new love for other Christians, a new power over evil, a new joy and confidence, and a new experience of answered prayer (1 John 2:1-2; 2:4, 6; 3:10; 3:14, 16; 4:4; 1:3-4; 4:16-19; 5:14-15). He is meant not just to feel, or hope, but to know he belongs.
He may have been ‘hit’ by the Spirit of God. It is fascinating to meet people who have had a major spiritual experience totally independent of any human agency. Acts 10:44 is a classic New Testament example. The Spirit does not need our co-operation, though he often graciously uses it. He is well able to do his own work in his own way (1 John 2:27). We need to help someone in a position like this to see that any spiritual gift given him at a time like that is intended to be used for the common good, humbly and in love. The emotional ‘high’ will pass: the Spirit will remain. He needs to grasp that important distinction. If the person has been involved in the occult, he may well need a ministry of deliverance.
Of course, your friend may bring forward one or more of the classic difficulties or excuses. There is a fundamental difference between the two, though the presenting ‘symptoms’ may be identical. For one person the problem of pain may be an excuse to avoid facing up to Christ; whereas for another precisely the same problem may be an agonising reason for legitimate doubt — perhaps he saw his brother slowly die of a painful cancer. The difference between the two is this. If you dispose of a real difficulty, then the person will quite easily come to Christ: the barrier has been removed. But if you knock down an excuse, he will produce another excuse, and hope thereby to keep you at arm's length! So the genuine difficulty needs to be handled with sensitivity and care. It needs a lot of empathy, the loan of suitable literature, maybe the sharing of personal experience of your own. The excuse, on the other hand, needs to be shown up for the paltry thing it is.
Pray that you do not make a mistake in diagnosis here. If you treat a real difficulty as if it were an excuse, you will cause hurt; if you spend too much energy in answering a problem which is really only a smokescreen, you will only get more smoke puffed into your face. It is well worth spending time studying some of the more common difficulties and excuses. They do not vary a great deal. You will see some attempts to give answers to them in the following books: Cliff Knechtle, Give Me an Answer; R. C. Sproul, Objections Answered; Michael Green, You Must Be Joking!; C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity; Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict; F. F. Bruce, The Real Jesus, and New Testament Documents; and James Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus.
Common excuses include the following. ‘I haven't time to take Christianity seriously’. The answer is, ‘Yes you have. In this respect all men are equal: we all have the same amount of time, and we make time for what we really prize’ (Isaiah 55:6; Galatians 6:7). Or he may come up with, ‘There are too many hypocrites in church’. Swallowing down the temptation to say, ‘Come along, and make one more’, I often prick that bubble by asking which hypocrites he knows in the congregation, and how does he know they are hypocrites? Romans 14:12 is a valuable corrective here.
Another excuse is, ‘I can be a Christian without going to church’. To this the answer is short: Jesus couldn't (Luke 4:16). But the whole attitude of minimalising (how much can I get away without doing?) is the very antithesis of someone who has been touched by the grace of God. Christianity is corporate.
Again, when you get to the point of challenging your friend to make a commitment, you may well find him saying, to your astonishment, ‘Well, I've always been a Christian’. When you investigate a little, you may find that he is identifying being a Christian with going to church (but see John 1:13; 2 Timothy 3:5), having been baptised (but see Romans 2:28; Acts 8:13, 21), or doing his best (but see James. 2:10; Matthew 22:37-9; Galatians 3:10). All these variations of ‘I'm already a Christian’ are normally excuses to hide the real reason for rebellion against God. That is what you will seek patiently and lovingly to unearth. Romans 1:18-32 is, of course, a devastating indictment of man in revolt.
Excuses such as these, and there are plenty more, generally spring from a mixture of pride and prejudice. They are helped by fashion, laziness, ignorance, fear and materialism. These factors help to confirm man in his rebellion. The amazing thing is that God should continue to offer pardon freely to those who are so unwilling to receive it (Romans 5:6-10).
But of course, some of the problems you will meet which inhibit commitment are not excuses at all. They are real difficulties. Here are a small selection.
Often a person will say, ‘I really am trying hard to be a Christian’. This is an offshoot of the Pelagianism which lies so deep within us. We always want to do, rather than to allow anything to be done for us. And the gospel is good news of what God has done for us. It is not ‘try’ but ‘trust’ which is at the heart of Christian living; not performance but relationship. A lot of the New Testament is devoted to making that plain. Verses such as Romans 4:3-5, Acts 16:31 and Isaiah 12:2 point it up.
‘But I don't understand it all’, some people say at this juncture. Of course they don't! How could mortal man take in what Almighty God has done to make him acceptable? ‘”What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”, God has revealed to us through the Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 2:9). I do not need to understand electricity before availing myself of it!
‘I've tried it before and it is no good’, is something that may come up. It needs a sensitive and loving touch. What is the ‘it’ which he has tried? Is he confusing a deep turning to God with something less? Maybe he ‘went forward’ during a big meeting, but it never made any lasting difference? That could have been because his emotions were stirred but his will was untouched. Or it could be because there was no subsequent nurture. Maybe he really did entrust himself to Christ, but never grew, and so has gradually become indistinguishable from those who never began. Maybe he has never got involved in the Christian community, and has shrivelled as a result. Maybe he has never understood the power of the Spirit in one's life to break the grip of sinful habits. Maybe the chill winds of personal doubt and the scepticism of others have withered the tiny shoot of faith.
You will need to exercise great care with such a person. Show that ‘If we are faithless, [God] remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself’ (2 Timothy 2:13). Show him that his state does not depend on his feelings, but on the dependability of God, who has given us his word that ‘He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life’ (1 John 5:12). Has he or has he not welcomed the Son of God into the partnership of his life? If he has, however long ago and however feebly done, Christ has come in; and he can know that because of the Lord's promises. Feed him on the promises of God. Let him learn some of them with you. They will prove invaluable in the early days of definite discipleship. If, as he looks at his life, he concludes that he has never really begun the life of repentance and faith in earnest, then lead him to it, as you would anyone else.
‘I could never keep it up’, your friend may say. That is a noble sentiment. It shows he wants to keep it up, but is doubtful about his ability. He needs to be shown that Christ will keep him up (1 Peter 1:5; John 10:28-9; Jude 24). Once again he needs to learn the unfamiliar but utterly necessary path of faith. It is Christ's job to keep me. It is my job to trust him to do so.
Often you will get down to the bottom line, and he will admit to you that he is scared. That is a difficulty nearly everybody faces. Scared that nothing might happen? In that case, take him again to the Saviour's promise, ‘I will come in!’ He will not, he cannot break his word. Scared that he will be letting himself in for a miserable, narrow time? Far from it. In his presence ‘there is fullness of joy’ and at his right hand ‘are pleasures for evermore’ (Psalms 16:11). Scared of being in a minority? Sure, but one plus Christ is always a majority. And since when has the majority always been right? Scared of what his friends will say? That is usually the problem. And it is very real. Show him that any friends who are worth their salt will not desert him. Show him that he is not called to drop anyone — simply to be among them as before, but with Jesus just beneath the surface of his life. Show him that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18) and that he is about to welcome perfect love into his life.
The time has come when things seem pretty clear, and the flow of questions and anxieties has dried up a bit. Ask your friend gently, ‘Do you think you are ready to say “yes” to the Lord now?’, or ‘Is there anything that is still keeping you back from him?’ If he can't think of anything, say, ‘Right, then let's kneel down right away and ask him to come into your life’ (or whatever analogy you are using). Alternatively, you can ask him if he would prefer to make that solemn act of commitment on his own, maybe by his bedside, and tell you when he has done so; or whether he would like your help and presence at this important time.
Mostly he will opt for your help (though respect his wishes if he prefers to go the other route). If so, sit or kneel together. Pray for him that he may be truly brought into the family of God. Then encourage him to pray for himself, admitting his sins and asking Christ's Spirit to come into his life. I have already suggested that you use some promise such as John 1:12, 3:16, or Revelation 3:20, and get him to claim it.
It is no better if he prays out loud rather than silently, of course, but many Christians do, and he might as well start as he means to go on. I have found that people who make their initial commitment to Christ out loud never have any problems in the future about joining in extempore verbal prayer. In any case, to pray out loud will help him in precision; it will break the sound barrier, and it will show him that he is well able to pray to God in his own words without necessarily depending on some book of prayers. It will also help you to be aware of what is going on in his heart. If he says, ‘I can't pray aloud’, I sometimes say, ‘Then pray silently, and give me a prod when you have taken the step of opening up to Christ’. Soon, a hand prods me! Alternatively, I may say, if I sense that it will really help him to pray aloud but that some blockage is in the way, ‘May I pray that God will open your lips? Why not join me?’ Then I pray for him, and almost always he will burst into verbal prayer, released by God's gracious Spirit from whatever was holding him back.
It is a great privilege to be alongside as these broken, sometimes sobbing words of commitment come flooding out. I often find myself weeping in empathy, and it does not one whit of harm! Then I pray for my friend, that the Holy Spirit will baptise him deeply into Christ, fill him with spiritual gifts and never leave him.
It is a very moving time. There are often tears and laughter. It is important that in the sheer joy of the moment we do not omit vital things which require to be attended to. I turn to him and ask, ‘Has he come in?’ Mostly they know the answer without a shadow of doubt. But not always. In that case I take them back again to the promise of Christ. ‘It says, “If anyone opens the door I will come in”. Did you open the door?’ ‘Well, yes, as best I know how’. ‘Then what has he done?’ ‘Oh, I see, he has come in, even though I don't feel very different’. ‘Exactly,’ I say. ‘And be thankful for this first of many lessons that you will get in your Christian life, that you live and grow by trusting the promises and faithfulness of the Lord, and not your own volatile feelings’. I then do with him what I do with the person who is already happily sure: I get him to thank the Lord for coming in. ‘Dear Lord, thank you for coming into my life. Thank you for your promise never to leave me. Help me to be true to you all my days.’ A prayer like that, trusting Christ's promise, standing upon it and thanking him for it, is a valuable lesson of trust at the very outset of his Christian walk, and it teaches him to look to the Lord in gratitude and praise, and not only to come to him with requests.
After that, I normally give him a tract or booklet like Come, Follow Me, summarising the step he has taken, along with one verse of Scripture to take away with him. It might be John 6:37, Matthew 28:20 or 1 John 5:12. The last one is so clear and such a prophylactic against doubt: ‘He who has the Son has Iife; he who has not the Son of God has not life’. Beautiful simplicity and clarity, is it not? Just the initial uncomplicated assurance that the new believer needs. He is sure to be attacked by doubt, the Tempter's first and very powerful weapon. At his first appearance in Genesis 3 we find him at it: ‘Did God say…?' And the sooner the new believer learns, like his Master, to counter doubt with the promises of God (cf. Matt. 4:4, 7, 10), the sooner he is likely to find his feet as a Christian and to grow.
Two final things as you bid him farewell. He has had enough for one session! But he will need tender loving care very soon (and we shall consider the nurture of the new Christian in the next chapter). Therefore, arrange to meet him tomorrow. But as he leaves, encourage him to tell someone else what has happened. It will help to confirm him in his assurance, and will fulfil the injunction of Romans 10:9-10. It would be best in the first instance to tell someone who is friendly and understanding, and who will rejoice with him and encourage him. Probably he knows some such person, who has very likely been praying for him. I am constantly amazed at the number of new believers who know very well of certain people who have been doing just that. So let him select one and tell them the good news that he has begun the most exciting of all relationships, with Jesus Christ as his Saviour and Lord.
Summary: training others to help people to faith
Here then are some summarized suggestions for training in a situation where talk of Christian commitment is very much in the air, and where an opportunity has arisen to talk to a friend (or even a stranger) about Christ after one of the meetings.
The basic requirements are not very many or very exacting:
a. We must know Christ personally. Without that we can never introduce anyone to him.
b. We must be thrilled with him; enthusiasm communicates. See how in John 1:41 a sense of discovery proved a vital evangelistic tool. It still does.
c. We must have the love of the Lord flowing through us. Without that, it will all be hard and professional. Compare John 3:16 with 1 John 3:16.
d. We must be flexible, allowing our friend to make the running, and all the time drawing him back towards Jesus and the resurrection. It may well not be the classic ‘sense of need’ that leads him to stay behind: it could be a sense of the presence of God, a sense that here is something different, a search for fulfilment and meaning, or an awareness of deep loneliness. Your job is to see where he is, and apply to his situation that aspect of our many-sided Lord which is most appropriate to him at that time.
Granted those general preparations, on the evening itself:
a. Come with a Bible, pen and paper, and pick up a booklet and a counselling form. Try to come accompanied by someone who is not yet a believer. The fact that you are going to be available for counselling need not deter you. Simply, at the end of the meeting, slip your counsellor's badge on unobtrusively, smile at your friend and say, ‘I've been asked to help with people who want to join those Discovery Groups he was talking about. Why don't you join one? I can strongly recommend them’. In this way you may well find yourself counselling the friend you brought with you!
b. Be much in prayer for the speaker, for yourself, and for anyone with whom the Lord might use you that night. But be prepared for anything. One night you may not be used at all. Another night you might have two or three people to handle. Put your counsellor's badge or identification on only at the very end of the meeting.
c. Be alert to the way the speaker is closing the meeting. He may call for response in a variety of ways. It is up to you to act accordingly. He may call people to the front or to another room: in that case, move promptly, and keep your eye open for someone else of your own background who is not wearing a counsellor's badge. Get alongside, and approach them naturally. ‘Good evening, I'm Jenny Jones. What's your name?’
Or he may ask people to stand while others have their eyes closed in prayer. In that case have your own eyes open, and scan the area around you, so that afterwards you can go up to someone who stood and ask if he or she would like a short chat. Alertness is essential here: otherwise people can be missed who most need help. This approach by the speaker is designed to bring counsellor and enquirer in contact with the minimum of movement and fuss, but it leaves much to the initiative and alertness of the counsellor.
He may ask people to raise a hand and then to seek out one of the counsellors afterwards. So keep your eyes skinned, and your badge prominent. He may even say, ‘Everyone chat to one of the people next to you about Christ’. Then the ball will be in your court. On such occasions it is not difficult to be charmingly direct, ‘Tell me, do you know Christ?’ or ‘What does Jesus Christ mean to you, I wonder?’
Pointing the way
Once you are sitting with your friend (and it does not matter where: it is amazing how intimate you can be in the midst of a room full of talking people), introduce yourself, and establish friendly relations fast. ‘Is this the first time you have been along, John? What was it that struck you tonight? Would you say that you had put your faith in Christ personally, or are you still thinking about it?’
Such questions should get him talking. And you need that. It is fatal to prescribe before diagnosing. There is great value in asking, ‘Would you say that you had put your faith in Christ [or “accepted Christ” or “come to Christ” — stick to whatever metaphor the speaker is using that night], or are you still thinking about it?’
If he has not got there yet, you can be sure that he will gratefully cling to your alternative option, and say, ‘I'm still thinking about it’.
You reply with another diagnostic question, ‘Would that be because there is something in all this that you don't understand, or is it that you are not yet willing for all that it involves?’
This will probably land you in summarising the steps to faith and seeing where the sticking-point is. You will need to have some rough outline in your head, around which you can build the verses which have most helped you.
We have offered above some suggestions on how to introduce an enquirer to Christ. There are many other simple outlines, such as the Bridge diagram, widely used by the Navigators, or Knowing God Personally beloved by Campus Crusade. Choose what you find congenial. Helpful verses to keep in mind during such conversations include the following:
On the need… Romans 3:23; 6:23; 1 John 1:5; Isaiah 59:1-2; John 8:34, together with the implications of Matthew 22:37-9 and James 2:10.
On what God has done… Matthew 1:21; Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; Isaiah 53:6; John 8:36; 1 Peter 1:5; Philippians 4:13
On the cost of discipleship… Matthew 6:24; Galatians 2:20; Romans 10:9-10
On the step of faith… John 1:12; 3:16; Revelation 3:20; 1 John 5:11-12
When faced with the powerful personal challenge of the gospel, you will probably get one of three main reactions. He may say ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or ‘Not yet’. We have looked at common commitment anxieties and difficulties above. But if he says that he has entrusted his life to Christ, rejoice with him, and get him to thank God there and then. It will help him to praise God out loud with you, however haltingly.
a. Get him to explain back to you the essence of what he has done. This will help him to get it as clear as can be hoped for at that stage.
b. Tell him about the Discovery Groups that are being planned, and find out if there are any nights he cannot manage.
c. Get his details carefully on to the counselling form, and give him your own address and phone number.
d. Advise him on the inevitable initial doubts that will come, and show him how to meet doubt with promise (e.g. Romans 6:23; John 10:10; Revelation 3:20; 1 John 5:12-13).
e. Introduce him to the speaker or some other Christian leader, and put him in the position where he can ‘confess with the mouth the Lord Jesus’ straight away. This will be a real help to him (Romans 10:9-10).
f. Encourage him to come back the next night with a friend in tow. He can be useful to the Lord straightaway, and should expect to be.
g. If the Discovery Group is some days away, arrange to meet him within forty-eight hours to cope with initial problems.
h. Hand in your counsellor's form before leaving the building. Make sure it is completely filled out.
But do not imagine, just because he has come to the front after an evangelistic address, that the person you are talking with has necessarily come to faith. People come up for all manner of reasons, and you may need patiently to sift through problems and difficulties which are proving to be stumbling-blocks. You will need all your flexibility and sensitivity at this point.
It may well be, however, that after you have spent time with him, patiently answering his doubts from the Bible and experience, he is ready to take a step of faith. He wasn't quite there at the end of the preaching, but your conversation with him has made all the difference. You will need to handle him very much as if he was in our first category of response, the person who says ‘Yes’.
So, after things seem to be pretty clear, say to him, ‘Do you think you are ready to say “Yes” to the Lord now?’ or ‘Is there anything that is still keeping you back from him?’ If he can't think of anything, say, ‘Right, then let's kneel down right away and ask him to come into your life’ [or whatever imagery you use]. He may prefer to do it on his own, and tell you when he has done so; but he may want your help and presence at this important time. Probably he will opt for your help (though respect the other way if he chooses it). If so, sit or kneel together.
Pray for him that he may be truly brought into the family of God. Then encourage him to pray for himself, admitting his sins, and asking Christ to come into his life. Use some promise like John 3:16, John 1:12 or Revelation 3:20, and get him to claim it. It is no better if he prays out loud, of course, but Christians do, and he might as well start as he means to continue! More, it will be an aid in precision, and it will break the sound barrier. It will also help you to be aware of what is going on. If he says, ‘I can't pray aloud’, say, ‘Then let's ask God together that he will open your lips’. You pray for him, and he will probably find that he can then pray out loud. It is a great privilege to be around as these broken, sometimes sobbing words of commitment and repentance and faith come out. You will often find yourself weeping too, in empathy. Then pray for him, that the Holy Spirit will baptise him, deeply into Christ, fill him with spiritual gifts, and never leave him.
It is a most moving time. But do not omit to complete the counselling form, to get the phone number and fix a day very soon for a chat. Remember that the bond between a new believer and the person who led him to faith is very special, and he will take things from you that he will take from nobody else (see 1 Corinthians 4:15). When you have handed in your form, you have technically completed your responsibilities. But you will probably want to see such people again, help them on in the early days of their Christian life, and see them settled in a Discovery Group and a church where they can be fed. You will want to ensure that they get some initial Bible reading notes (e.g. Come Alive to God) before going on to one of the well-known systems of Bible reading. You will certainly want to pray regularly for him or her.
And having tasted the joy of this ministry, you will want to be in it till your dying day. Rejoice, you may do just that!
© Michael Green 2013.