How do we share the gospel with cultural Christians? By “cultural Christians,” I’m referring to people who would claim to be Christians but are Christians in name only, which is obviously very common in parts of the United States. Now, obviously, none of us knows the condition of a person’s heart, but Jesus tells us that you will know a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:16–20). If there is no real fruit of faith in Christ, then there’s a real reason to wonder if there is faith in Christ.
How to Share the Gospel with “Cultural” Christians
How do you approach your supposedly Christian co-worker, friend, or family member who says they’re a Christian, but they don’t seem to bear fruit? And how do you share the gospel with them?
Ask Thought-Provoking Questions
First, ask thought-provoking questions. When you have the opportunity to enter into gospel conversations, ask questions that go below the surface.
“What is a Christian?”
The great English preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that when he was trying to get a sense of where someone was spiritually, he would ask them, “Are you a Christian? I mean, are you a Christian today?”
Many people would say back to him, “Well, I’m trying.” And Dr. Jones would proceed to share with them how their response indicated that they had no idea what Christianity was about. Maybe you ask someone, “How do you know you’re a Christian?” Many people respond with what they have done or are doing. This opens up an opportunity to share with them how we can never be restored to God based on what we’ve done or are doing. Becoming a Christian involves faith alone in what Christ has done.
Avoid Over-Familiar Terms
While asking thought-provoking questions, avoid, or at least clearly define over-familiar terms. One example would be “belief.” I’ve noticed that if you ask someone if they believe in Jesus, all kinds of people who are not followers of Christ will say “yes.”
Either use a different term or follow up that question with an explanation of what the Bible says “believe” really means. That’s why instead of asking, “Are you a Christian?” or “Do you believe in Jesus?”, I will often ask, “Are you a follower of Jesus?”
All this to say: it’s helpful in getting below the surface to either avoid or at least clearly define over-familiar terms.
Invite Them to Study the Bible with You
Even still, you may feel like you’re getting nowhere, and this is where I would encourage you to invite that person to study the Bible with you. If someone identifies himself as a Christian, then to invite them to study the Bible doesn’t seem like a very obtrusive thing at all. Perhaps you could go through some sort of Bible study that hits the essence of what it means to follow Christ.
This is exactly what happened in a church member’s life a couple of weeks ago. She invited her professing, but seemingly cultural, Christian friend to a Bible study she was leading. In that Bible study, the Word did the work and God opened this girl’s eyes to her need for Christ, and she trusted in him.
Expose Them to Gospel-Saturated Community and Resources
So you might invite them to study the Bible with you, and you might also expose them to good, gospel-saturated community and resources. Maybe you should expose them to a small group of believers or a church where the love of Christ is clear in action. Introduce them to a community of believers where faith is more than nominal adherence but rather joyful abandonment to Christ and his cause.
Perhaps you could give them resources that address the gospel in this way. I’m not trying to recommend my own book, but this is one of the reasons I wrote Follow Me. My hope is that it might be used to jar people out of nominal, in-name-only Christianity into what it means to really follow Christ.
Introduce them to a community of believers where faith is more than nominal adherence, but joyful abandonment to Christ and his cause.
I think about my wife’s mom. We prayed for years for her salvation. Heather had shared the gospel with her over and over again. She would have said she was a Christian, but the fruit was lacking. Then, all of a sudden, she reads a book that we had given to her and it clicks. Years of praying and sharing the gospel clicked. This is why we expose our culturally Christian friends to good, gospel-saturated community and resources.
Boldly Call People to Trust in Christ
Most importantly, boldly and graciously call them to turn from sin and trust in Christ. Faith is a posture toward God of turning and trusting. Similar to how you would love a Christian brother or sister enough to call them to turn from their sin and trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord, call a cultural Christian to the same thing.
Boldly and graciously call cultural Christians to turn from sin and trust to Christ.
Do this boldly and graciously, out of love. Their response will expose the condition of their heart. They may truly be a follower of Christ, and you’re calling them to turn and trust will awaken them to a deeper level of faith, and that’s a great thing. Yet, this may reveal a callous heart toward God that is not a heart of faith, the heart of a Christ-follower.
I think of someone I’m praying for who would identify themselves as a Christian, and yet the fruit is not there. In fact, the fruit seems to indicate that they want nothing to do with Christ. Recently, I urged this person, in a way that I hope was gracious and bold, to turn from specific sin and to trust in Christ as Savior and Lord. Unfortunately, they did not respond with a posture of faith and repentance. This leads me to keep praying and calling them, graciously, to turn and trust in Christ.
Editor’s Note: This excerpt is from David Platt’s message, The Necessity of Faith, and has been adapted for the purposes of this article.