I’ve been thinking a lot this week about my non-Christian friend who received news that they have terminal cancer.
I long for them to know the riches of Christ, but today, this has me thinking about the act of conversion in response to a gospel presentation.
I find myself thinking:
- If I present one form of gospel scripts,
- If they intellectually agree to the three or four points,
- If they pray the version of “the sinner’s prayer”
- has a conversion truly worked its way into their heart?
Is that sufficient?
I know the thief on the cross was assured a spot in heaven for his belief in the Son of God – no sinner’s prayer recorded.
I know Zaccheus was declared to have received salvation – no sinners prayer recorded.
Is my goal with my friend to get them to pray a sinners prayer as evidence of their Christian Conversion?
What about Michael Jackson?
This also arose in my mind about the recent death of Michael Jackson.
Some press releases claimed Jackson went straight to hell, others said that he had prayed with Andre Crouch and became a Christian.
Does it count that he didn’t pray out loud himself?
This has caused me to think about the role of gospel presentations and the response of conversion.
Effective Gospel Presentations
When it comes to a gospel presentation and response, I truly believe that God sometimes works a genuine conversion.
God so tugs the human heart that a person feels the need to pray and offer themselves to the Lord.
The presentation of the gospel came at the right time, in the right way, and in the sovereignty of God, a new soul enters the kingdom of God.
Over time, we see the fruit this conversion:
- connecting to a local church.
- evidence of life transformation.
- a growing love for scripture and worship.
- service to the community as an overflow of their relationship with God.
However, in other cases, the simple presentation of a gospel script and a prayer response may only be planted seed.
Perhaps such a “sinner’s prayer” was the result of
- peer pressure
- a desire to please the person, or
- simply intellectual assent without commitment.
Time will show that a genuine conversion didn’t happen.
I didn’t lead 600 people to Christ in one prayer.
I once preached a message in front of 600 middle school students.
I gave an invitation to stand up if you want to follow Jesus, and all 600 stood up.
- I wasn’t clear in what I was asking, or
- Group peer pressure helped everyone give a uniform response, or
- They simply wanted to please me as a speaker.
Maybe there was student who had a genuine conversion in the midst of all those kids. Maybe not.
To this day, I don’t know.
The gospel is not a formula
The unintended consequence of reducing the gospel to systematic theology is a conversion to a formula.
Get the script right and you will get the result.
Put in the egg, the flour, sprinkle a little sugar and bam, you get a cake.
Agree with these three points, say a prayer, and bam! you have a convert.
Consequently, if one doesn’t get the script right, then the conversion has misfired and you are a false convert – this charge has been leveled at me because my conversion 20 years didn’t fit a popular method.
I teach gospel scripts for personal evangelism because I do believe they are important tools to help a person explain the gospel story. It is an important outline to know when sharing 1-1, or when preaching before an audience.
But I warn that it’s not a formula, or some kind of magical process.
Conversion remains a mystery to me
Conversion is still a partially mysterious work of the Holy Spirit.
We know a lot about conversion from Scripture and about some of the mechanics of how the Holy Spirit applies the work of Jesus to our life.
Yet since I became a Christian over 20 years ago, I am always amazed at watching the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a person – whether they have had a faith awakening like John Wesley, or a dramatic conversion like the apostle Paul.
Likewise, I’ve experienced the disappointment of when people pray a prayer, but there is no difference or change in their life. There is no commitment, no change, no conversion.
The gospel message is not a formula.
The work of Conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit, not our rational presentation.
The work of conversion is a divine action, not our persuasive sales technique or use of NLP to lead a person to our conclusions.
My Friend needs to find new life in Christ
When it comes to my friend, I pray for their conversion to happen.
I pray that I will get the opportunity to share the gospel with them.
I pray that they will find the grace that has captured me and experience the presence of God in the mist of their suffering.
I pray that others will share the gospel with them.
I want their conversion to be genuine, real, and effective.
I want to know their conversion has been made by the Holy Spirit, not my slick presentation, or their desperate grasping for a lifeline because it might work and they have nothing to loose.
- show a concern about knowing God.
- believe the Bible is authoritative.
- believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven.
- believe that God can be present in the midst of their suffering.
- give a rip about going to church.
They are fully postmodern in their thinking, even if they don’t know they are.
How can I engage a postmodern thinker with a gospel script that is systematic theology?
I didn’t say how can I present the gospel. I can do that.
I want to know how to engage them in a way that leads to their genuine conversion.
My friend came to know Lord in the final months before they went to be with Jesus in 2012. There were many conversations with friends, plus lots of personal reflections during those depressing times of hospitalizations and being confined to bed in the home.
I am thankful that my friend surrendered their life to the Lord before stepping into an eternity without Him.
- Talk with your evangelism team about “the sinner’s prayer.”
- What do you think is evidence of a geniune conversion experience?
- In your church, how do you celebrate the true conversion experience of new believers?
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