Are you a Christian? If so, do your closest friends know it? Do they know what you believe and why? Are they also believers? If they aren't, then this lesson is especially for you.
The New Testament clearly shows the responsibility of every Christian to teach others the truth and attempt to make them disciples of our Lord (cf. Matt. 28:19,20). Ultimately, there are only two classes of people that we can attempt to teach: (1) those we already know fairly well or (2) strangers. There are advantages and disadvantages in attempting to teach each group.
For instance, all would agree that it is a good thing to talk to complete strangers about the plan of salvation, Jesus Christ and His church, etc. However, it is sometimes difficult to teach people until they come to know and trust you. As many have rightly said: People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. This is true for many folks. Consequently, going from house to house trying to set up Bible studies (i.e., "door knocking") is difficult in our culture. People who do not know us are naturally hesitant or reluctant to open up to a stranger and really listen. This is not to say that "doorknocking" is a waste of time, but it may not be very effective with many. This is a disadvantage of trying to teach strangers.
However, one advantage of attempting to teach strangers is that we are often more comfortable sharing the gospel message with them. Why is this? The answer is simple: we don't have a relationship with them. Thus, we are less concerned about what the stranger may think about us and the truth we bring. If they reject the gospel, it will not affect our lives significantly.
But, this is not the case when we are trying to share the good news with those we know well (e.g., friends who are atheists or members of denominations). To attempt to teach them the gospel is risky--risky in the sense that doing such could harm your friendship. Of course, failing to teach them the truth is even riskier since you might be the only Christian who ever confronts them about their soul and the plan of salvation. You might be their only link to the truth of God's word! What a responsibility! What a privilege! Nevertheless, such is intimidating. No one wants to offend a friend with the gospel, but who wants to lose a friend to eternal destruction?
So, we can see that the disadvantage in approaching our friends with the gospel is that it may be more emotionally difficult and stressful. But, there is a huge advantage that should not be overlooked. We have influence (to various extents) over our friends. Hopefully, they will already know how much we care about them. As a result, they will probably be more likely to truly listen than a stranger would. The chances of converting a friend to the truth are much greater than converting a stranger--simply because of the relationship you share with friends.
Although there are advantages and disadvantages in trying to reach strangers and friends with the truth, we ought to attempt to do both to the best of our ability. Every soul is precious in the eyes of the Lord. God does not desire that any perish but that all come to a knowledge of the truth, repent of their sins, and obey His will (I Tim. 2:4; II Pet. 3:9).
The remainder of this lesson focuses on one method of trying to reach a friend with the truth--writing a letter. This letter was written by Brad Harrub and only modified slightly. Let us consider it together at this time and then make some closing comments.
I have been contemplating this letter for a long time, and have only now gotten up the courage to write it. Even as I pen these words my stomach churns in nervous anticipation. The reason for it is quite simple. I want you to know about the very best thing that has ever happened in my life. I want to make sure before I die that I introduce you to my "first love." You often comment that I seem so happy all the time. Allow me a few minutes to explain why. But before I explain, let me share with you why it has taken me so long to write this letter.
Our relationship stretches back through many smiles and many tears, and throughout that time, I knew that you were someone I could count on. Each one of those smiles and tears represents a lifetime of cherished memories. You know my favorite foods, that I love lasagna and don't like liver. You stood by my side on several occasions when it seemed like the entire world was against me. You have lifted my hand high as we celebrated victories and held my hand through my defeats. In many ways, we are like two peas in a pod. And it's this relationship that has kept me from writing this letter. I cherish our relationship so much that I don't ever want anything to jeopardize it or see it falter. So, I beg you to read the remainder of this letter full of love, compassion, and with an open mind--knowing that it was written out of my love for you.
You and I have a tremendous amount in common--always have and probably always will. However, there is one thing that we don't have in common. A while back I made a decision in my life that started me down a different pathway--a pathway on which I desperately want you to join me. Some time ago I began studying the Bible, and I soon realized that I was only "playing" Christian. I belonged to a local church that had many members, and I was there almost every time the door was opened. However, it became evident fairly quickly that the church I was attending was doing things that were not described in the Bible. Sure, we met each Sunday for worship, and we sang songs of praise, but a great deal of the service was devoted to traditions that men had devised and incorporated into the worship service. In fact, a large part of the worship service could be classified as entertainment. As I read through the New Testament, I discovered that entertainment and these traditions of men were not a part of the original church that Christ established.
You and I both know that religions are a dime a dozen these days. Seems like there is a church building on almost every corner. But, I began to ask myself if all of these religious groups were the same in God's eyes. After looking through the Scriptures, I realized that they were not. Even though many of them do very altruistic acts for the needy, and even though they have many sincere people in their pews, they still were not carrying out Christianity the way that God Himself ordained. They were sincere, but they were sincerely wrong according to the Scriptures.
So here's what I did (and what I am begging you to do). I began looking in the Bible to learn about the church that Jesus built. In Matthew 16:18, Christ told the apostle Peter - "On this rock I will build My church" (i.e., the rock of truth that Jesus is the Son of God). So, I began investigating the details about His church. I read in Acts 2 that the church was started in Jerusalem. I continued reading in the book of Acts to see how those early Christians worshipped and how others became Christians. I came to understand that many of the books in the New Testament were written to different congregations of the church that Christ had founded. In fact, many of the books in the New Testament were letters written by Paul to various churches that were scattered abroad. In each of those letters, there are divine instructions and commands on things that we should and should not be doing.
For instance, I know that in many churches today, people are either voted in or they "join" the congregation. But, I never found this process in my study of the New Testament. In fact, the New Testament is very specific that God is the one who adds people to the church (Acts 2:47). However, He only adds those who have complied with His will. And dear friend, it is with a humble and compassionate heart that I admit that I am scared that maybe you have not complied with His commands. For instance, the Bible instructs that we must hear the gospel (Rom. 10:14-17; James 1:21-25), and we must believe in Jesus Christ (John 8:24; Mark 16:16). And while many people have done these steps, relatively few have taken the next steps of repenting of their past sins (Acts 3:19; Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30), and confessing the name of Jesus Christ (Matt. 10:32,33; Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38). After someone has done this, he is ready to be buried with Christ in baptism so that past sins can be forgiven. This act of baptism, for the remission of sins, is mentioned throughout the book of Acts (see chapters 2, 8, 9, 10, and 16). The importance of being immersed can be identified by the words of Jesus found in Mark 16:16 when He declared - "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned."
In Matthew 16:18, Christ said He would found one church--His church! In Ephesians 1:22,23, we read where the church is called the body (with Christ being the head). A few chapters later, in Ephesians 4:4, we are told that there is only one body (i.e., there is only one church). My plea with you today is that you will do whatever it takes to make sure you are in the one body, and ensure that God has added you to His church (Acts 2:47). Read through the New Testament and see for yourself what the Bible says regarding the church, and then ask yourself this simple question: Am I a member of the church that Christ purchased with His blood (cf. Acts 20:28)? If not, why not? Am I a member of a church that has been created by men--a church that believes and practices certain things that have no basis in the word of God?
It's funny that I can talk to total strangers about this--and have done so many times in the past--and yet I remain silent around those to whom I am closest. I have never talked to you about heaven and eternity because I didn't want to mess up what we had here on earth. But, I realize that this earthly relationship is temporary. One day the memories that you and I share will fade away. I don't want to leave this life without telling you about Christ, and how He changed my life. Therefore, I am penning this letter in hopes of extending our friendship into eternity.
Please allow me to paint a picture so that you can understand the genuine urgency of this letter. Suppose you are sitting in the first class section of a luxury Boeing 747 airplane. There you are sipping on a drink, relaxing, reading a magazine, when all of a sudden someone comes up, and tosses a parachute into your lap without saying a word. You might become a little agitated that someone would toss a bulky parachute into your lap, and then just walk on by. You might even decide to push it aside or onto the floor so that you could return to your drink and magazine. That parachute would be nothing more than a nuisance. And, after a while, you might even resent the person who tossed it into your lap. Now, suppose the person who had given you that parachute also took the time to tell you the airplane you were on was going to crash. How different would your attitude be toward that parachute and the person who gave it to you? Well, dear friend, one day soon our planes will go down. Hebrews 9:27 states very plainly - "It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment." I simply want to make sure you have a parachute that will save you from destruction. Don't resent me for delivering the message. Please understand that I simply want to do what I can while I still have the chance.
While the world around us thinks that the majority of people will end up in heaven, this is not what Jesus Christ Himself told us. In Matthew 7:13,14, He cautioned us to - "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it."
Please do not be mad at me. Please do not shy away from me. Please do not despise me. This letter was not written to drive a wedge into our relationship. Rather, it was written out of love and compassion, hoping that we can stand hand in hand before Almighty God. Yes, I am a happy person--because I know and love my Savior, and He is my best friend. Please consider what I've said. Study through the Scriptures on your own. Examine where you stand. I want nothing more than to introduce my earthly best friend to my spiritual best friend and savior--Jesus Christ. Thank you for allowing me this short opportunity to tell you about Him.
Dear listeners, let me close by challenging you to approach your friends with the gospel. Pray, plan your approach, and then give it your best effort! Perhaps writing them a letter (or modifying the one above) would work for you, or maybe you'd rather sit down and talk with them face to face. The method you use is up to you, but what is important is that you approach them with the truth in the best way you know how. Let them make the decision as to whether or not they want the gospel. Don't decide for them by never sharing it!
May we never forget that "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise" (Prov. 11:30). May we care enough and have courage enough to share the gospel, God's power to save (Rom. 1:16), with friends and strangers!
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.