Evangelism to world religions (Part 1)

Imagine the following situation: You’re talking to a group of people in a coffee shop, and the issue of religion comes up. Having just met them, you don’t know the religious beliefs of the others around you, so you bring up the teachings of Jesus. You make the claim that the teachings of Jesus are worthy of consideration and tell those gathered around the table that Jesus has changed your life, both now and forever. Someone at the table asks why Jesus is so important, so you tell him that Jesus claimed to be God’s Son.

You go on to explain that only through faith in Jesus can a person’s sins be forgiven and, immediately, the conversation gets heated. One person exclaims, “I’m not a sinner.” Another says, “You’re not God. You can’t tell me how to live.” A third person responds, “Just because a person doesn’t know Jesus doesn’t make him bad. There are good people in other religions. They don’t need Jesus; they’ve got their own way to God. Don’t be so one-sided and intolerant. Leave them alone.”

Their reactions surprise you and leave you helpless, hopeless, and drained.

Accusations of intolerance, unfairness, and bigotry — and the thought processes leading to those proclamations — are common whenever Christians talk about Jesus as the only way to God. Christians often don’t know how to respond to such accusations, and may even wonder if the objectors, like those in the conversation above, are right. Maybe people in other religions really are OK. Maybe they really don’t need Jesus. Maybe God has provided a way for members of other religions to be saved. After all, it’s not fair that a person needs to hear about and know Jesus just to get into heaven, right?

In order to think through these issues rightly, we must answer three specific questions. First, why should Christians be concerned about spreading the teachings of Jesus, especially to persons involved in other religions? Second, what is the message of Christianity? Third, how should we present the teachings of Christianity to non-Christians? Lord willing, the discussion that follows will help you understand why there is a need, what the message of Christianity is, and how to present that message in the most effective way possible.

Why be concerned?

Why should Christians be concerned about spreading the teachings of Jesus, especially to people involved in other religions? This is an important question for all Christians to answer, and a few New Testament passages will help answer it.

The first passage is 1 Peter 3:14-15. In this passage, Peter writes:

“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

Peter notes that obedient Christians will likely face suffering, and such suffering should be received as a blessing, because the believer has the honor to suffer for the sake of Christ.

Verse 15 is most instructive for our purposes. Peter writes that we should honor Christ, or set him apart, as Lord in our hearts. The way to honor Christ is to be prepared to talk about Christ at any moment. Anytime a non-Christian asks a Christian why he is so happy, joyful, and hopeful, the Christian is to be ready with a response. Also important is the manner in which Peter instructs Christians to answer non-Christians: with gentleness and respect. Christians are not only to talk about the mercy and grace of God in Christ, but also to show the mercy and grace of God in Christ with our actions and words. When non-Christians ask us to defend our hope, we are commanded by Scripture to give an answer, and we honor Christ when we do so. We’ll discuss what that answer should be later.

The second passage is John 14:6. John records the words of Jesus: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” This verse is crucial for the non-Christian, especially for the member of another religion. Put simply, Jesus declares that the only way to God the Father is himself, Jesus the Son. Notice Jesus does not say he is a way, a truth, or a life; He says he is the way, the truth, and the life. Here, Jesus tells his listeners — and us as readers — that he is the only way to get to God. Jesus is not just one way among many; he is the only way. Indeed, Jesus is the only road leading to God the Father.

The third passage is Acts 4:12, where Luke records Peter’s sermon after Peter and John are arrested for spreading the gospel. Concerning Jesus, Peter declares that “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Peter affirms that, similar to John 14:6, Jesus is undeniably the only way to find salvation. Salvation is not found in the teachings of any other religious figure or religious leader; salvation is found only in and through Jesus.

So, Christians should be concerned with the spread of Christ’s message to members of other religions because (1) it is a means of honoring Christ, (2) other religions do not follow Jesus, and (3) though members of other religions think they have found salvation, they have not found anything.

This post is an excerpt from the Guide to Evangelism edited by Southern Seminary. It is used with permission. You can purchase this resource in its entirety here.