Every once in a while, you will encounter an unbeliever with a unique reasoning for why they have not come to the faith.
We are quite used to seeing those who claim to have intellectual barriers, but have you ever encountered an individual who wanted to believe, but simply couldn’t?
For those of us who know Jesus, it is hard to even make sense of that statement. Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient to atone for all who would believe on Him–why then would someone who claims to be seeking Him, reject Him?
There are a few ways that this will come to light in your conversations:
- Someone may claim that God is immoral, and therefore they cannot morally justify following Him.
- Some may say that their experience with other believers has been less than positive.
- Others still may claim that they are very open-minded, but God has not made Himself clear to them.
This is not an exhaustive list, but these are some of the most common “sincere” forms of disbelief I have encountered.
That said, I believe by following the four-step path below, you can build a framework around which to have a fruitful, ongoing dialogue with an unbeliever who sincerely disbelieves in the God of the Bible:
Step 1: Care for the Person
Perhaps the most important thing you can do for an unbeliever in this position is to simply show them that you care!
There is, of course, a time and place for truthful, yet sometimes harsh answers. But as the old saying goes, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care!”
This is especially true in apologetics.
It is important to note that you must not confuse caring with conforming to the sincerely held beliefs of another person. In other words, Jesus never confronted an individual by stepping into their shoes.
We must care, but we must also do so without compromise. When a person sees that we are able to hold firm in what we believe but also show love in unexpected ways, we can begin to make some inroads into the unbeliever’s circle of trust.
Once there, we have the opportunity we need to share the truth in love.
This brings us to step 2:
Step 2: Challenge Their Perspective
This is where you begin to be more firm with the unbeliever. At this stage of the game, you have earned their ear by showing that you have a genuine love and care for them.
Now, you must earn their respect by maintaining your caring position while asserting your Bible truth at the same time.
Remember those common ways we looked at a few moments ago that represent sincere disbelief? Let’s look at them again, and I will briefly point out the gist of a proper, firm response:
- Someone may claim that God is immoral, and therefore they cannot morally justify following Him. They may claim this all they want, but if they do, they are appealing to an objective standard of morality that is impossible to exist without God.
- Some may say that their experience with other believers has been less than positive. They are referring to hypocrisy, but have they ever refrained from shopping at Walmart because hypocrites may shop there too? There will be undesirable people everywhere we go–Christianity must by definition be judged by the life of Christ–not His followers that may be misguided.
- Others still may claim that they are very open-minded, but God has not made Himself clear to them. If YOU believe the Bible, you know this is impossible (Romans 1:18-20). You then need to explain how and why they already know God (see this article).
While you should not expect a “Now I get it!” sort of response followed by repentance and submission to the gospel, if you have done Step 1 right, you may indeed start to see the unbeliever open up a bit.
If nothing else, they may start asking more questions and even calling on you for advice.
At this point, you move along to Step 3:
Step 3: Cultivate a Partnership
In this partnership or relationship, you will hopefully be regarded as the informal “spiritual advisor” for this person.
By laying the groundwork for the Christian faith–truth (Step 2) and love (Step 1)–you have planted a seed in the life of this unbeliever which you, fellow believers, and the Holy Spirit can water. As circumstances of a potentially spiritual nature enter into the life of this person, they will likely have questions.
In anticipation of that, you might make it known to this person that while you are not interested in pushing them to believe the gospel, you are interested in being available to answer questions and help them along in their journey of faith.
What an opportunity to put apologetics into practice!
Remember, you are dealing with a sincere disbeliever–not a rigid objector. This step only works with someone who is genuinely interested in how the God of the Bible fits into their lives. Of course, the goal is that they allow the God of the Bible to take over their lives!
If you are going to partner with someone in their spiritual walk, you must do so with clarity and integrity. This is not the time to be a know-it-all. If you can provide a sound, biblical answer to their question–go ahead!
But if you cannot answer their question in a way that comports with the Word of God and is backed up with Scripture, simply encourage them about what a great question they had, and let them know you don’t know the answer but will gladly find out and present them with it later.
But you can’t stop there.
This partnership, in the beginning, will take on a passive form, i.e., being available to answer questions and provide encouragement along this person’s spiritual journey.
But there may come a time (especially when the Spirit has them under deep conviction) when this individual has had their questions answered, their objections overcome, and their fears stymied, and they are still refusing to accept Christ.
At this point, you should enter the final step:
Step 4: Choose a Path
If you’ll notice, this process has had somewhat of an ebb and flow. We began with a soft answer (Proverbs 15:1), and then led to a more confident approach.
Then, we backed off a bit into a passive posture, in which we gave a reasonable defense for the faith whenever we had occasion to do so.
For this last step, we will need to lean towards confidence again. Now in this kind of relationship (which could last for days, months, or even years!), you have already had a long time to either earn or lose this person’s respect. Hopefully, at this point, the individual will respect you–regardless of whether or not they agree with you.
If the person has not come to faith yet, but you believe (hopefully with the help of the Spirit) that they are close to accepting Christ, this step is crucial.
Here, you will firmly remind them that them that you have answered them sufficiently, overcome their objections, and stymied their fears. You will remind them that although they may have claimed the contrary, God really does love them and know them, and still desires a personal relationship with them.
You should introduce a plan that allows them to regularly experience and interact with God. Perhaps you could go ahead and invite them to church with you (if you haven’t already done so). Or, you could purchase them a Bible and set aside a time each week that they can go through the Bible with you and spend time in prayer.
This will look different for you, but however you choose to do this, you must do it. Stress the imminence of coming to know Jesus–make sure that if they died right now, they had 100% confidence they would go to heaven.
No, you cannot force them to believe. You cannot draw them into belief–only the Spirit can do that. But the Bible teaches that if they seek Him, they will find Him. Give them opportunities to seek God, and show them that they are not alone in this journey. If it takes you a lifetime to win just one soul, that one soul will have been worth it all.
Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!