Most Americans go to church and believe they are “Christian.” Many believe they are even “born again.” But helping people to see where they really stand before God can be tough. Even when laying out law/gospel for someone I have found it helpful to draw a diagram that gives him or her something to look at. It takes me one minute to draw it, and 5 to 10 to talk someone through it. Check it out below (here is a larger version).
I explain that everyone in the world is somewhere on this diagram. That, in fact, we all start in the same place: spiritually dead, not interested in the things of God. Some never move forward, others may do so early because of family or friends, and some later. These move from uninterested to interested, and some make progress to actually seeking God as they hear the Gospel. Those who are seeking God sense that they do not have a relationship with him, experience conviction over their sin, are perhaps attending church, reading the Bible, praying. Yet none of this eases their conscience. They remain spiritually dead, separated from God. They are not yet converted. I sometimes explain the concept of God drawing people to himself while in this section. It all depends on the person and how close I believe they are to believing.
Fewer still move forward on the diagram and are “converted.” I explain the ends of this doctrine immediately. God changes the heart (regeneration/new birth), and makes us spiritually alive. This produces faith and repentance. I spend a little time explaining the result of the change. And then how God typically gives assurance of salvation at or around the same time easing the conscience with peace. In other words, you not only have eternal life, but you know you have eternal life.
After this people begin to grow in the faith, change, and become who God wants them to be.
I then ask them to show me where they think they are on the diagram. “Put a mark where you think you are.” I am sure it will happen some day, but so far no one has placed himself or herself in the “alive” section when not a Christian. No one has presumed to say/believe he is a Christian after getting the big picture. Some say they are not interested, but in my experience most say they are starting to seek God. I ask them to explain this to me. Talk about it. I always want them to use their own words. So far, I have not told anyone they are going to hell. They have all told me. Each person has shown me where they believe they are, and conclude they are separated from God. We talk about the consequences of this reality.
Once they get some clarity on where they are we talk about what they need to be doing. Seeking God becomes their priority. The means of grace are explained and encouraged. I pray with them and they take home the napkin, or piece of paper the diagram is drawn on. We meet regularly to talk about where they are in their seeking. I urge them to believe, expressing the need to respond to Christ at the moment. Yet the whole time they are being connected to the church. All of this is a brief summary, I am leaving a lot out because formulaic approaches do not work. I draw the same diagram every time, but talk people through it in somewhat different ways.
In the last post in this series I will explain what it looks like as they make progress through the chart, and how God has given assurance to those he brought through this process.