When life is what you’re offering, there’s lots of opportunity to give. What, specifically, do you offer to Rick, the guy you’re talking with right this minute? Depends. What is the opportunity before you? Is he terrified that he will go to hell? Offer him assurance of eternal life in Christ, and calm his fears.
But suppose Rick hasn’t said a word about heaven and hell. He came over to talk with you about his marriage, which is falling apart right before his eyes. How do you offer Rick life? Well, you’ve unfortunately had evangelism training, so you tell him that he needs Jesus, and you set out to share the gospel in the conventional way: heaven, hell, Jesus on the cross, all that.
“Look, man,” Rick says to you, “I’m already in hell. Heaven will be when Trina and I can spend a whole day together without getting into a screaming fight.” What do you say to a guy like this?
Isn’t it obvious? A starving man in agony from a scorpion sting doesn’t really care, right that minute, that the starvation will kill him in a week or so. In the abstract, food is more important — he might survive the scorpion sting, but lack of food will get him, for sure. But so what? If you’re responsible for helping the man, you give him the antivenin now, and then later, the food.
So you ditch your canned-spam evangelism training and just talk to Rick about his marriage. You ask what the problems are. He says he walks in the door after work, and five minutes later they’re screaming at each other and he can’t even remember how the fight started. So you show him Ephesians 5. You tell him that Jesus is his model, and he should be willing to die for his wife (by inches, if necessary) as Jesus died for us. You tell him that this means when he goes home today, he must not counterattack, no matter what she says or does. You warn him that the first thing she’ll do when he doesn’t counterattack is move in for the kill. “Rick, man, I’m not gonna lie to you,” you say. “This will probably be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. But you’ve got to sacrifice yourself for her, and you’ve got to keep sacrificing until she realizes you’re not fighting with her anymore.”
Tell him that if he does not do this, he will kill his marriage. On the other hand, if he can pull this off, then he will see things happen in his marriage that he’s never dreamed possible. But there is a catch, you say. Tell him, with a wink, that God will probably let him have enough success that he can see what a benefit it would be, if only he could really do it — but there’s only one way to really do this, and he can’t do it on his own; he won’t be able to.
“Naw, I get it now. I see how it’s supposed to work.” Rick is smiling for the first time in the conversation. “I can do this.”
“Okay,” you say. “Give it a try. But I’m telling you, man, the day is coming where you can see where it would work if you just did it, but you just can’t bring yourself to sacrifice one more time — and you won’t do it. When that day comes, don’t you come back and tell me this doesn’t work — I told you, right up front, that you can’t do it alone.”
Rick just grins at you. “You just watch me.”
When you talk with him next, Rick is dejected. “I just couldn’t do it, man. I love Trina, but you can’t believe how she gets. I couldn’t take it. I had to tell her to back off, and as soon as I did, we were back into the screaming fight, just like before.”
“Hey, Rick. Remember how I told you you couldn’t do it alone?”
“Okay, well, here’s the rest of the story.” You tell him that there’s only one person who ever could live that kind of life — Jesus Himself. Only Him. “But Rick, if you let Him, He will give you the ability to do this. In a way, it won’t be you, it’ll be Him living His life in you. He wants to give you life — eternal life, in fact. Rick, man, you’re dying here. If you take what Jesus offers, you don’t die while you’re still alive, and even when you die, you live forever with Him. All the hell that you’ve been going through, Rick, and all the hell that you’ve got coming to you in the future — Jesus took it all into Himself, died for you, was buried, the whole thing, so you wouldn’t have to go through any of it. And He rose from the dead three days later to show that it’s over — He conquered it all, and He’s alive, and He offers you His life. He’s been offering you life this whole time, and He’s still offering it now. When you trust that offer, Rick, it’s yours, and it’s yours forever, absolutely free. You couldn’t earn something like this, and there’s not enough money in the world to buy it, but it’s yours, just for the asking.”
“Man, I’m desperate here,” Rick says. “I’ll do anything. What do I gotta do?”
“Rick, man, haven’t you been listening?” you say. “It’s a gift. You trust Him for it, it’s yours. That’s the beauty of it.”
His brow furrows in confusion. “Just like that?”
“You got a better idea?” You punch his shoulder. “Of course, just like that.” You pause to let that sink in. “If it makes you feel better, you can say something to Him out loud, but you don’t have to — He sees your heart. Does that make sense to you?”
Rick’s brows are still furrowed up. “Yeah, I guess so…” He looks up at you. “It’s really free? Seriously?”
You laugh. “Of course it is. You think you could buy it? What do you have that God could want?” Your face grows serious. “Just trust Him, Rick. He’s got it taken care of.”
“Okay,” he says. “Okay.” He nods. “I think I do want to say something.”
“God, I, uh, I don’t know how to pray, but nothing I do is working out, and everything I touch in my life turns sour. This thing you give, this life–I want it. I want all of it. Please give it to me.”
A year later, Rick is a growing young Christian. Trina has seen changes in Rick that she never thought she’d see. She’s not convinced Christianity is for her, but she’s certainly interested. They still fight, and sometimes it’s still pretty bad — but it’s not as frequent as it was, and Rick is quick to forgive, and to confess when he’s been wrong.
Do you know for sure whether Rick was saved that day when he first asked God for help? Maybe not. Did he really understand enough about what he was asking for? There’s no way to know for sure. But who cares? We’re making disciples here, and that’s what Jesus said to do.