The one-size-fits-all approach of evangelism (or discipleship, prayer, or a myriad of topics) may seem on the surface to work in our path-of-least-resistance approach to Christianity, but it’s not what you see in Scripture. Studying how Jesus interacted with people reveals a multifaceted approach. One can, however, see trends based on the various groups with whom Jesus interacted. In my own study of the Gospels I’ve seen three consistent ways Jesus dealt with three unique groups of people. While this is still a generalization and I encourage you to study all the Gospels yourself, perhaps this will help you to contextualize the gospel in your personal world.
First, Jesus showed COMPASSION to the broken. Considering the reality of the gospel in a nutshell, John 3:16, which shows God’s love compelled Jesus to die for us, this should not be surprising. Yet we, filled with shame and tainted by guilt, need the compassion of Christ. The Gospels abound with Jesus’s compassion toward those very aware of their sin, including the woman at the well, the Gaderene demoniac, the woman with the issue of blood, lepers, and others.
As we share Christ, we will encounter people with little hope, broken people whose lives have been torn apart by sin. Some struggle with emotional pain, others suffer the phsyical consequences of sin from abuse to bad choices. Our response to these precious souls should not be to heap more judgment on them but to proclaim the beauty of Christ’s love and compassion.
Next, Jesus CONFRONTED the self-righteous. Self-righteousness has been as common as warts on a toad as long as there have been people. Our heart defaults to justifying ourselves, and Jesus confronted plenty of those types in his ministry. He challenged Nicodemus to be born again, a strange request on several levels for a leader of the Jews. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he had. The best example is his diatribe against the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. Whether the Pharisees and their venom or the Saduccess and their skepticism, Jesus had no use for spiritual pride. He still doesn’t.
When we talk with someone who is self-righteous, whether from a deeply embedded but false belief system or someone who denigrates your faith, we need not be hostile in spirit toward them. Remember Paul said to treat outsiders with gentleness (Col 4) and Peter reminded us to be honorable toward Gentiles (I Peter 2:10-11). But we shouldn’t sit back and take their ridicule or allow a false portrayal of our faith. We can graciously and yet boldly proclaim the truth and challenge self-righteousness.
Finally, Jesus CHALLENGED those who would follow to surrender everything. Read Luke 9:23; 14:26-27, and many other passages where he expected nothing less than absolute surrender. For those of us who claim the name of Jesus, we would do well to study these and other passages for ourselves and for fellow believers.
I’m afraid the church today tends to show too much patience with the self-righteous and too little compassion to the broken, while allowing for a path of least resistance kind of discipleship. May we never stray far from the Gospels as we learn to share Jesus with others.