I didn't grow up in the church; I became a Christian in my late 20s. I got the sinner part of the equation quite easily. It was easy for me to see the gap between (as Kevin puts it) "God's righteousness and my own weakness." I accepted that Jesus bridged the gap, but amazingly enough, that wasn't enough to make me a Christian.
What did was understanding about God's unconditional love. Understanding that soften my heart--yes, I felt convicted as a sinner, but not condemned. It wasn't the end, but the beginning of a new life full of blessings (despite occasional hard times). Love made all the difference for me.
Jesus approached people where they were spiritually, emotionally, and physically, and gently guided them to the truth.
Now, this may not work for everyone. For me, acceptance was an issue--once I realized God accepts me where I am, it was easier for me to embrace Christianity and to move forward and learning how to become more Christ-like. Others might need something else to get to that point.
That's why I liked that Jesus approached people where they were spiritually, emotionally, and physically, and gently guided them to the truth. I think that's probably our best chance of letting people know about our faith.
I have enjoyed reading the different perspectives on this issue. Thanks again for all the food for thought!
Holly says: Two of my friends, a married couple I'll call the "Evereadys," have been dealing with a leaky roof for more than a year now. They've consulted with numerous inspectors and contractors, and spent a good deal of money trying to plug up the source of the leak. Many of the professional opinions they've received, and the resulting repairs, haven't helped resolve the Eveready's leak one bit.
I grew up in a home with a leaky roof, and remember my parents' frustration trying to fix something when they didn't know where the hole was. It's easy to say, "There's a hole--just patch it up." In reading Tina's comment, I once again realized I often apply my own experience when offering counsel to others. That's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, God has allowed each of us to have particular experiences for a reason. And our experiences are the ones we know best. We can speak of what we know with honesty and authority.
However, one patch doesn't work for every hole. We may share our faith to the very best of our ability, but (as you well know) it rarely causes hearers to instantly proclaim, "That's it! That's just what I needed to hear to follow Jesus!"
That's a good thing. If there were magic words or actions to change someone into a Christian, we'd probably begin relying on that process instead of patiently waiting for God to reveal himself.
After living with that leaky roof for many months, the Evereadys had a good idea of where the leak was coming from. They'd spent time with it. They'd observed it. What they learned helped inspectors pinpoint the leak.
In the same way, as Tina pointed out, we can help plug the God-shaped hole in others by spending time with them, learning where they're at spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
Thinking about our own experiences can help, too. Sometimes we forget what it took for us to follow Christ. Sometimes we don't reflect on why we continue to follow Christ. We may simply tell others, "Yeah, Jesus filled the hole in my life." Wouldn't it mean so much more to tell someone exactly where that hole was, and how Christ continues to fill it?