By Will Green
Sometimes it can be a bit hard to talk about Jesus to some people because in most of the situations they are in every day, they do the right thing. So when people hear from let's say, a fiery preacher that they are 'liars', 'haters', 'coveters' and other negative stuff they may think 'Well that may apply to some people but not really me'.
How should one think about presenting the gospel to a non-Christian who is an extremely nice, loving, self-sacrificial person who almost always looks out for the interests of others? I believe it has an added degree of difficulty that is not present if you are talking to someone who has done some really awful stuff in their life.
Here are a couple of important points to think about on this issue.
The first is that there are some people who are good enough to do the right thing in most of the situations which they are in every day. But this does not mean that they would do the right thing in really, really challenging situations. So when God looks at such a person, He sees not only that they would do the right thing on most days, but also that if they were put in a really challenging situation that they would fall short and do the wrong thing.
An example of this kind of possibility can be found from the Stanford prison experiment (link
). When people do the wrong thing, it's often not that they are 'bad apples' as much as apples that have been put into 'bad barrels'. In the prison experiment, the professor got a group of normal college students together and gave some of them great power over the rest. The nasty results showed what can happen when people are put into extraordinary situations. A similar thing might be going on with the goodness we have every day versus what goodness we would have under a lot of pressure.
So when God looks at us He sees our failures in situations that haven't occurred yet, and which may never occur, but which still apply to us because it's how we would act. We shouldn't be willing to do the wrong thing in these not-yet-occurring situations, but we are. Thus, if you hate someone, you are a murderer in a situation where you have absolute power. If you lust after people other than your spouse, you are an adulterer in a possible situation. If you are tempted to lie, you are a liar in a possible situation. So God sees these potential sins, and thus we can be sinners in a pretty big way but about potential stuff rather than actual stuff.
A second point to remember is that one way you can talk about the gospel is that we are all horrible sinners and so on, but another way is a lot gentler. The point of the gospel was ultimately to get humans to hang out with God and be perfectly happy forever. Happiness in heaven is about experiencing the happiness of God. See Psalm 16:11
, and Romans 14:17
which says: "For the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." If someone isn't willing to meet God's standards then it's hard to see how they could have access to God's happiness in the Holy Spirit. It would be hard for that person to live with the Holy Spirit, and for God to live with that person, if they don't want to meet God's standards. So the deal is: not being willing to meet God's standards = you can't experience God's happiness through the Holy Spirit, and so you can't go to eternal life.
God's standard is perfection as shown by the life of Jesus (not our own idea of perfection), and the only way to meet that standard is to accept that you can't meet it and that you need God's help. When Jesus died for us "our old self was put to death on the cross with him" (Rom 6:6a
) and "It is no longer I who [faces situations where I cannot avoid sinning] but Christ ... living in me [who faces those situations and will always do the right thing]" (Gal 2:20a
). Thus, anyone can meet God's standards because Jesus can do everything related to meeting God's standards in someone who accepts him, and so they don't have to worry about it at all as long as they genuinely trust Jesus.
So the gospel doesn't have to be about how everyone is a horrible, horrible sinner necessarily. Although I think that we usually overestimate how good we are, so maybe we are worse sinners than we think, even the really, really nice non-Christian. Presenting the gospel can be more like, "Well I know you're a really, really nice person, but getting to heaven isn't about being really nice. It's about being willing to meet God's standards, which is a perfect standard. Because eternal life consists in experiencing God's happiness in the Holy Spirit. And you can't experience God's happiness in the Holy Spirit if you aren't willing to meet God's standards, because the conflict between you two will be too great (or something like that). However nice you are, this is a situation that can't be gotten around. So to make it to eternal life you either need to meet God's standard, or accept you can't meet it and that Jesus took all of our wrongful intentions towards others onto himself on the cross."