Apologetics: How to Tell Others About Christ
When Jesus Christ told His disciples that they were to "Go. . . and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19), the Lord was giving them what the Duke of Wellington once described as '"marching orders" for the church. They were to tell others about Him. They were to carry the gospel everywhere.
Unfortunately, it is entirely possible for you to understand this commission and even want to tell others about Jesus Christ and yet still not know how. You might say: I know what I should do, but how do I do it? How do I show that Jesus is the answer to the kid next door who is on drugs? How do I get my very sophisticated roommate to admit her need for Jesus Christ? How do I get the mechanic who works on my car to listen to my testimony? How do I overcome the built-in hostility toward the gospel in those who work with me every day? What words do I use to talk about Christ to my wife, my husband, my children, or my friends? If you have ever asked these questions or are still asking them, then a study of the way in which Jesus related to the woman of Samaria in John 4 should be of help to you. As I look at Christ's dealings with the woman of Samaria I see five great principles. I am convinced that if we learn from these principles and practice them, we will experience results similar to those recorded by John when we are told concerning Christ's witness that many of the Samaritans "then. . .went out of the city, and came unto Him" (John 4:30).
The first great principle is: Be a friend to those you are trying to win. Jesus showed Himself a friend to those who were lost. He is described as having been a "friend of publicans and sinners." This (although intended critically) was good reporting. Jesus could have kept aloof from mankind Just as we can keep aloof. But He would have won nobody that way. Instead, Jesus came to the sick, lost, lonely, distressed, and perishing and moved among them as a friend. In this story we find Him in the woman's country, at the woman's city, sitting on the woman's well (verses 5-6).
There is an illustration of this basic fact about the Lord Jesus in one of the books by Watchman Nee, the Chinese evangelist. Nee had been talking to another Christian in his home. They were downstairs, as was his friend's son. The friend's wife and mother were in an upstairs room. All at once the little boy wanted something and called out to his mother for it. “It's up here,” she said. “Come up and get it.”
He cried out to her, “I can't, Mummy; it's such a long way. Please bring it down to me." He was very small. So the mother picked up what he wanted and brought it down to him. It is just that way with salvation. No one is able to meet his own need spiritually, but the Lord Jesus Christ came down to us so our need could be met. Nee writes, "Had He not come, sinners could not have approached Him; but He came down in order to lift them up" (1)
I wonder if you are like that in your witnessing? Do you keep aloof or do you go to those who need the gospel? Another way of asking the same thing is to ask whether or not you have contact with non-Christians socially. Do you go to their homes, sit in their kitchens, ask them their interests?
A great deal of our difficulty in this area comes from the fact that Christians have often looked at the world as if it would inevitably get them dirty if they should get into it. They have taken verses like 2 Corinthians 6:17 "Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate" as meaning that Christians are to have no dealings with the world, rather than seeing that the words only have to do with avoiding conformity to the world, not isolation from it. Jesus did not teach isolation, and He did not practice it. He said in his great prayer for us recorded in John 17, "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil" (verse 15). When He departed for heaven He left His disciples in the world to evangelize it.
I am convinced that we need very practical ways of repeating Christ's obvious friendship with the lost in our own personal experience. For a start you might invite a number of non-Christian friends into your home for dinner. You might go to a concert will them. You might take in a sports event. Why not befriend your co-workers. Join a club, a choral society, a civic organization. It is not even a loss to go shopping together or invite your friends in for coffee. These are only beginning suggestions. If you are serious about taking the gospel to the lost, the Lord will show you other fruitful avenues of getting to know non-Christians. Just remember: Take the initiative and be friendly.
Second, ask questions. It is never a bad move to ask questions. As we read the story of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman we discover that this is precisely what He did, and that He did it at the very beginning of the conversation. He asked for a drink (John 4:7). Looking at the conversation from the outside, as we do look at it, this is almost amusing. The woman was the one with the needs; she had the real questions. Jesus was the one with the answers. Nevertheless, Jesus humbled Himself by asking her for a favor and so established an immediate and genuine point of contact.
Moreover, there were two very important consequences as the result of His asking the woman for something. First, He aroused her interest. Dale Carnegie reminds us in his very successful book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, that the voice any person likes to hear best is his own. Jesus got the woman of Samaria talking. Her talking put her in a good mood (perhaps even changed her mood if, indeed, she had arrived at the well shortly after being pushed off the path by Peter, as I believe may have been the case). Out of her good mood the woman then clearly developed a favorable interest in Jesus. She must have found herself thinking, "My what an interesting person this is! How polite! And what discrimination He must have to be interested in me!”
The second consequence of the Lord's asking her a question is that the woman found her curiosity aroused. He had asked her a question; she found it natural to begin to ask Him a series of questions. Here we should notice something quite interesting. In the report that we have in John 3 of Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus, the second sentence that Nicodemus is reported to have uttered begins "How?" It was a question. The very first word that the woman of Samaria uttered was "How?" Again it was a question. No doubt there were many differences between the two questions. Perhaps there were even different motives in asking them. The interesting point is that the two questions occurred. In both cases Jesus did not only get the one to whom He was witnessing talking. He got him or her asking questions. He then answered them. So should we if we are to be effective in telling others about Him.
Let me state this again in a slightly different way. People are always full of questions, many of them religious questions. If you can get them to express these questions through yourself asking questions, by the grace of God you have already accomplished a great deal in your witness and God will use the aroused interest to point the one asking the questions to Jesus. Paul Little has written correctly about provoking such questions: "Once the non-Christian takes the first step in initiative, all pressure goes out of any conversation about Jesus Christ." And he adds that thereafter "it can be picked up at the point where it is left without embarrassment” (2)
Third, offer something relevant. Jesus offered the woman something related quite directly to her need. In one sense the offer was always of Himself, of course. And yet, to aging Nicodemus Jesus spoke of Himself as One who offers new life, a new beginning. (John 3:3). He spoke of Himself as light to the man who had been born blind (John 9:5). To the woman the same offer was couched in the metaphor of water. He said, "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:13-14).
Most Christians need to learn from this principle. It will not do for us to witness about the transmission and reliability of the Bible if the person we are talking to is a girl who isn't interested in that but who is afraid she will end up an old maid if she becomes a Christian. We must share Christ's offer to guide our lives and enrich them in whatever way He leads us. It will not be much use for us to speak about the power of Jesus Christ to deliver a person from the grip of drugs or alcohol if the man we are speaking to is a disciplined scientist whose greatest hangup is his suspicion that other scientists have disproved Christianity. We need to offer him the challenge of searching the Scriptures himself to see whether these things are so and to encourage him to test Christ's claims. Above all we must not present our message in the language of the last century or in cliches that have no meaning to most of the non-Christian world.
Most people are thinking of their own needs. We must offer Jesus to them in ways that relate to those needs.
Fourth, stress the good news. Show that the gospel of Jesus Christ offers comfort. This does not mean, I am sure you realize, that we are to totally overlook sin. Jesus did not do that. He brought the woman to the point of recognizing her sin by His reference to the issue of her husbands. Nevertheless, even as He gently uncovered the sin. He offered comfort; for He coupled His inquiry into her marital status with the invitation to come again to Him (verse 16).
Unfortunately, it is true that we often do exactly the opposite in witnessing to non-Christians. The comfort of the gospel is there but we forget the comfort in our zeal to expose (and, I am afraid, often condemn) the sin. For instance, imagine a situation in which a non-Christian offers a Christian a drink at a party. Aren't there thousands of Christians who would immediately reply, "No, thank you. I don't drink. I'm a Christian."? Then they think that they have offered a splendid witness to Jesus Christ when actually they had only succeeded in condemning the non-Christian. At the same time they would have given him the wrong idea that non-drinking is somehow a very important part of Christianity. Oh, we may think that non-drinking is an important part of our Christian life. It may be so in our case. But the point I am making is that the statement "I don't drink; I'm a Christian" is no more intelligible to the non-Christian than his saying to you, when you ask him to go to a football game, "No thanks. I don't go to football games. I'm a non-Christian."
There are two real dangers in all of this. The first is the danger that in getting our witness tangled up in such issues we miss the fact that our friend may be quite desperately lonely—perhaps that is why he drinks—and never suggest a cure for his loneliness. Or we may miss his feeling of great guilt, sorrow, meaninglessness, or whatever it may be.
The second danger is that in focusing attention on some aspect of the non-believer's conduct we may actually give the impression that he must improve himself before he can come to Jesus. This is quite wrong. We will never want to give the impression that when we come to Jesus we can do as we please, that we can sin that grace might abound. That would be untrue also. But neither do we want to suggest that there must be self reformation before a man or a woman can come.
In England, in the early part of the nineteenth century, there was a woman who had heard the gospel but who had never been able to respond to it personally. She had come from a Christian home. She understood the faith. But still she could not come. She considered herself unworthy. One day she wandered into a very small church and sat down in the back. She was almost in despair and hardly heard the words of the elderly man who was speaking. Suddenly, right in the middle of his address, the preacher stopped and pointing his finger at her said, "You Miss, sitting there at the back, you can be saved now. You don't need to do anything!" His words struck like thunder in her heart. She believed at once, and with her belief there came an unimagined sense of peace and real joy. That night Charlotte Elliott went home and wrote the well known hymn:
Just as I am, without one plea
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidd'st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come. (3)
If we are to witness for Jesus Christ we must never give the impression that a man must first become worthy of the gospel. We must not forget that there is comfort in the gospel for sinners.
The fifth principle is confront the individual with his responsibility to decide for or against Jesus Christ. Jesus told the woman at the well that He was the Messiah (John 4:26). Well, was He or wasn't he? This was the decision placed before the woman. It must be the same in our witnessing. If we do not get to the point of focusing on Jesus Himself, our witness is incomplete. It is not yet a full witness. And if we do not get to the point of showing that a decision is necessary, our witness is inadequate.
These are the principles of how we should tell others about Jesus Christ, taken from the story of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman. First, be friendly. Second, ask questions. Third, offer that which most suits the individual's needs. Fourth, stress the good news. And fifth, show that the person must decide either for or against the Lord Jesus.
What will happen if you do that? I believe that the results will be similar to those that Jesus experienced in Samaria. The first obvious results were in the life of the woman. About midway through the conversation the woman acknowledged her need, saying, "Give me this water, that I thirst not" (John 4:15). A few moments later she confessed her sin, "I have no husband" (John 4:17). Third, she began to show a quickening of spiritual intelligence: "I perceive that thou art a prophet" (John 4:19). Fourth, she affirmed her faith in the Lord Jesus: "Is not this the Christ" (John 4:29). Also, she took the good news that she had received to her town.
I know you may think that the people among whom you work or with whom you associate may be difficult specimens to speak to. That may be true. So was the Samaritan woman. And yet, she became the first great witness after John the Baptist. It may be that God will use your witness to reach one who in his turn may evangelize an entire generation.
1. Nee, Watchman. What Shall This Man Do? (London: Victory Press, 1962), page 37.
2. Little, Paul E. How to Give Away Your Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1966), page 36.
3. “Just As I Am” Words: Charlotte Elliott, 1835; first appeared in The Christian Remembrancer. Music: Woodworth, William B. Bradbury, Mendelssohn Collection, or Third Book of Psalmody (New York: 1849)
James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) was the pastor of Philadelphia’s historic Tenth Presbyterian Church (1968-2000). He founded the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals in 1994. He served as an assistant editor of Christianity Today in Washington, D.C., from 1966-1968, and as editor of Eternity from 1985-1989. James Montgomery Boice's Bible teaching continues on The Bible Study Hour radio and internet program, preparing you to think and act biblically.