How do I convince someone that they are not a good person?

It’s all well and good telling people they are sinners and asking them to repent and believe in Jesus, but I have found that there are so many non-believers who think they are good people.

How do I convince them otherwise?

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@dilane85 Great question :slight_smile: I think the answer is simple: you don’t. The only one who can convict someone of unrighteousness is God’s Spirit; we do not have that power. Our job is just to share God’s truth with and be Jesus to that person.

Also, think about all of the different reasons a person may come to Jesus besides fear of judgment.

  • Jesus is the home we’ve always been searching for
  • Jesus can satisfy the deepest thirsts of our soul
  • Jesus can heal our wounds of loneliness, fear and shame
  • Jesus gives us hope beyond the grave
  • Jesus offers us a story in which to live our lives - a purpose
  • Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares for His sheep (as opposed to the ruler of this world who abandons the sheep when danger come)

I’m sure you can think of more! The point is that different people are at different places in their spiritual journey and not everyone is at the point in their life where they need to say the sinner’s prayer (as counterintuitive as that may seem). Trying to force them to do so may only push them away from God rather than drawing them near. Sharing Jesus requires wisdom to know what to say and when to say it; to understand people and to try our best to show the love of God and speak His truth at the right time and in the right way. The Holy Spirit is the One who convicts the world of unrighteousness; not us.

Personally, I like the Engel scale as a tool to help us consider the complexity of witnessing. I don’t think it is the right way, but I think it does help me consider where a person may be at in their journey as I prayerfully consider how to share God’s love with them in a given situation.

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Dilane,

Several years ago a man named Ray Comfort wrote a book called The Way of the Master. In it, he evaluated the way in which Jesus interacted with true seekers and came to the conclusion that recognition of being sinful and guilty before God is what led people to repentance and salvation. He developed a method that used the OT law and Jesus’ NT teachings to lead people to the conclusion that they were guilty sinners, if the Bible is in fact true. Having read the book, watched the videos and used the method, I have found it works. I have seen people become convicted of their sin and realize they need help, that they need a savior.

Check out the material for yourself to see, if it might be helpful to you. Hope this helps!

Kevin

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Hi Dilane,

I understand exactly what you mean. I am a missionary and live in Madrid, Spain. This post Christian secular society has no fear of God or conviction of sin. Sometimes I feel like I’m offering medicine to people who don’t know that they are sick…and actually not sick, but dead. Spaniards are not sitting at home wringing their hands wishing that someone would tell them about Jesus. When I talk to my lost students most of them respond by saying that they never have really thought about God or the afterlife. Many are atheists who don’t believe in either one.

The Engel Scale that @SeanO recommended is always a good reminder that most of the time when we encounter people in societies like Madrid, they are no where near at the “0” on this scale. Most are -11, and are unaware that there are any other viable options. The Ray Comfort book that @kumquat recommended is a great resource, and I have used it successfully here. Another resource that has been helpful for me over the years is a book called I Once Was Lost by Don Everts and Doug Schaupp. It is a little dated (2008), but it is available in a digital copy and is an excellent resource. It interviews Christians who became believers during their college years, and explains what led to their conversions. It is especially helpful to teach you how to evaluate an individuals spiritual condition (find them on the Engel’s scale), and consider what needs to happen to bring them one step closer to faith.

Of course, Sean is absolutely correct, ultimately, it is the work of the Holy Spirit who brings conviction. We can’t change hearts, only He can. But there are two things that fall under our purview as believers. First, we have a responsibility to pray. Prayer changes things. (James 5:16) Secondly, we need to be as prepared as possible to give an explanation to lost people, no matter where they are on the scale.

So…prepare yourself with these and other resources. Keep talking about the gospel. Don’t give up. Learn to rejoice over the progress that is being made, even if it is just a little tiny step in the right direction. Pray for God to show you how He is at work in others. He is faithful. The Scriptures tell us that He is always at work (John 5:17). Our job is to join Him in that work.

Blessings, Lorri

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@dilane85 Thank you for prompting this great conversation—I love the perspective shared here by @SeanO…I have actually never encountered the Engel scale in all my years of ministry! Thanks for that. It is an insightful tool to help us break out of a narrow concept of evangelism. Also, thanks to @lorrisegraves for sharing your personal experiences in a more explicitly post-Christian context.

What has been really freeing for me in evangelism was coming to recognize and duly value the whole journey by which God is drawing individual people to himself. Just because we know the meta-story of the gospel—and know it is relevant to every person—does not mean we know how this reality will connect personally with the person standing in front of us. This universal relevance of the gospel should make us both confident and bold; it should not make us disregard personal context. It is a privilege to participate in any chapter of someone’s story—they all matter to God.

Practically, this kind of perspective puts questions at the forefront. What story have we stepped into? When we hear someone’s story, what they love, fear, hope, and long for…then we see a dozen ways the gospel speaks to the beating heart of their life. We see how the meta-story connects with their story—and can witness to that. In Mere Apologetics, Alister McGrath does an excellent job articulating the many gateways through which people are drawn to consider faith is Jesus. A sense of conviction of sin is not many people’s first entry point (though eventually all roads run through that narrow passage). Even in the gospels, many people came to Jesus for healing etc.—conviction of sin was a fruit of their encounter, not what drew them initially.

The Lord draws us in a multitude of ways, and not everyone we meet or engage is standing on the brink of the sinner’s prayer, as it were. But it is important that we listen well and discern what brink they are standing on so that we can participate in what God is doing to reveal himself, meet them, and draw them along in that journey. This perspective has been freeing for me, and has made evangelism joyful, surprising, a place of personal connection, and a place of divine fellowship as I get to participate with our Father in what he is doing—a gift and a joy.

How does this understanding of being witnesses direct the urgency we feel for people’s eternal destiny? What scripture, experience, or theological insight has helped you trust in God as the agenda-setter for your personal evangelism?

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I know many folks who fall into the category of good. If you observed them you would agree they are good. But when the subject of good comes up I remind them that ‘better’ is always the enemy of ‘good’. If good is never good enough in this world how can it be good enough it the world to come?

The book of Hebrews seems to be addressing a similar theme when it compares the good works of Moses with the better works of Jesus

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Hello Dilane @dilane85. It is frustrating when, as a Christian, you know unbelievers are not “good” when they think they are.
I was reading C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” last night and came across this paragraph addressing the difference between a Christian and an individual who is trying to be good:

That is why the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or__if they think there is not__at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because he loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.”

Perhaps, in casual conversation, you can incorporate C.S. Lewis’ comment on the difference of being good for a believer and an unbeliever. I doubt, were he alive today, Mr. Lewis would have any problem if you borrowed from his analogy of the greenhouse.
Perhaps, in gentle conversation, you could ask your friends if they think they are a good person. If they respond in the affirmative, ask 2 questions:

  1. By what standard do they call themselves “good”? That could lead into a discussion about Objective Morality, meaning, an external, universal Source of moral behavior where there must be a standard by which we use the term “good”; and Subjective Morality, where each individual or culture makes up their own rules for behavior. Again, “Mere Christianity” is an excellent read for the subject of morality and its source.
  2. You might ask your friends why they are good. For what purpose? I think these questions, and any that are sparked from them, would be sufficient to get your friends thinking without your saying, “You are not good because you don’t know Christ”. That would, indeed, send them the other direction.

The aim of asking penetrating questions is to get your friends to start thinking. Then, as others have pointed out, the Holy Spirit can start directing their thoughts. It may take a long time, but your aim is to reach their hearts when they will be open to the gospel. But patience will be a virtue here. Let them see the goodness in you that comes from the true Source. You won’t necessarily have to say a word. (Matt. 5:16)

I also encourage you to have your mind tuned to be able to answer tough questions. We are to love the Lord, our God, not only with our hearts, but also our minds.(Matt. 22:37)
Two excellent resources to get you started for training your mind to think are “Cold-Case Christianity” and “Forensic Faith”, both by J. Warner Wallace. (I happen to really love this author right now because he is teaching me to think more critically, too.)
RZIM Academy is a powerful way to learn how to address the culture today.
Above all, hold your friends up in prayer.

You’ve asked a penetrating question on Connect. I hope you have received answers to help you reach your unsaved friends and loved ones. Blessings.

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It seems to me the problem lies in the definition of good. Only God, demonstrated by Jesus, is the only one that is truly good. So perhaps the starting point is , "What do you think is good? Suppose someone else thinks that a different definition is better than yours? How can all those definitions of “good” be right or be possible to apply to any one person? There is only one that is truly “GOOD” as revealed in the Bible so it has to be the final definition that prevails - God’s definition. We aren’t accepted on the basis of being good, but by our casting ourselves on His Mercy and Sacrifice.

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Dear all, thank you so much for your poignant and powerful responses. I have just bought a load of books and fortunately for me, I love reading!

Yes indeed, I am not able to convince someone they are not good, but I will make every effort to establish them in a dialogue, sensitively. The latter is something I really need to focus on.

I am also doing a talk to my church youth group in a couple of weeks and will have the opportunity to preach the gospel, and plan to incorporate something about sin and God’s wrath so you’ve given me plenty of food for thought.

Keep doing what you are doing! Thank you again.

With every blessing, Dilane

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Dilane,

I just saw that Ravi endorsed Ray Comfort’s TV show based on evangelism using The Way of The Master method. He said, “A timely and gripping series giving passion to the Church and feet to the Gospel," said Ravi Zacharias, founder, and president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, in a statement. “This is truly a ‘wake-up call’ to every Christian to come to terms with his or her mission in this world.” David Jeremiah and John McArthur were also endorsers. The method is built on the fact that the Bible says we all have a conscience and that the presented Law acts in conjunction with the conscience to bring conviction of sin/not being a good person/not being ok with God at which point the message of Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s forgiveness makes sense. I see it as a great complement to the weighty apologetics training I get through RZIM and other places, as most people I interact with do not have a structured, researched worldview that involved deep, thorny questions.

I used TWOTM method yesterday when witnessing to a Hindu in a local store with interesting results.

BTW, if you look at the online Way of the Master YouTube episodes with Kirk Cameron, “A timely and gripping series giving passion to the Church and feet to the Gospel,” said Ravi Zacharias, founder, and president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, in a statement. “This is truly a ‘wake-up call’ to every Christian to come to terms with his or her mission in this world.”

I used TWOTM method yesterday when witnessing to a Hindu in a local store with interesting results.

If you look at the online you tube videos, I’d suggest skipping episode 1 and starting at episode 2 - episode one is a very very slow introduction that you won’t miss.

Anyway, enjoy your reading!

Kevin

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The way of the Master is the method we use. It’s by far the most effective and it’s what Jesus did. Plz, keep up the good work. :smiley:

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HELLO,

If I may comment as well. A great deal of valuable and insightful comments on the matter of “good” have been offered here and ALL of them have great value. . However, unless I missed something, not one person mentioned the reason for the lack of good in man. Good meaning Gods good not comparative good between men. We go to hell because we are spiritually dead born in Adam. Christ came to make dead men alive not bad men good. Our sin is the consequence of the fall in the garden. In that fall man died spiritually as a result of disobedience. That disobedience brought death to all men in Adam. That death is the consequence of sin and hence the penalty paid by Christ on the Cross. So I fully understand the need to demonstrate that man is not good when compared to God and that we can only have relationship with Him eternally through His Son. Its the Death Burial and Resurrection work of Christ which restores the lost spirit to men who receive that gift by faith by believing in Christ as He asks us to. Thats why we are to be “born again” (John chap 3 Jesus talks with Nicodemus about the second birth) and while I know we have to re-educate the lost to the fact that they are not good enough on their own works, we must not lose sight that they are spiritually dead to God until they are reborn by faith in Christ. It is this truth that explains why in 1 Cor 2 : 10 - 16 with 14, 15 emphasis Paul points out that spiritual truth can only be discerned by those who have the spirit in them which in context refers to believers as opposed to unbelievers… Have you ever reflected back on why once you accepted Christ you could understand things that prior to conversion those same spiritual or biblical truth things made no sense?
Anyway, I just wanted to add another layer of thought on the subject and not to forget the order of things. Death is the consequence of sin and we need regeneration in Christ. The subject of good is definitely real and valid and that needs addressing absolutely when it comes up but I am always reminded what has caused the unbelief first. It helps me to organise my responses to a person. I can’t speak for anyone else but upon reflection, I have never ever been asked about why I am so good that an unbeliever comes to me to ask why. We are supposed to have them come to us and ask the reason why based on our peace, love and inner strength. The reason for the Hope within us that affects how we live. These are the qualities that stick out and while good is always part of that mix as it were, people should ask us because they seek those strengths in us. Of course that is Christ manifested in our lives through rebirth in Him. We must make it clear that the inner peace and love etc they seek is not from another human system but from the Saviour Jesus Christ ALONE. People are all at different stages in their life. For the most part, I have found most of those I speak with never really think deeply on their beliefs until you ask them. So many people are just occupied making a living and looking after the kids that they lose sight of the bigger picture until something like a major illness or tragedy intersects their life. Thats when belief systems get tested and thats when one needs to be very sensitive and thoughtful about answers on the matter of God, man and Good. Not sure if this has helped or not. I just felt the need to comment that the thing to overcome is spiritual death. The matter of good and bad is real for sure but I found that most people seek reassurance, love and hope of better things once we get past the good bad stuff. Jesus Love and unconditional acceptance draws men to Him above all other things.

Lorri, I agree our roles as Christians are small at times, but big in importance. God has placed us where He needs us to work, to build His kingdom. Every time we share whatever we have to offer in word or deed, for the Glory of God, no matter how small, can add to another’s growth in Christ and understanding of how sinful we really are and in need of His Grace.
We are saved by Grace when we believe in Christ as our Savior and Redeemer.
What a Beautiful Gift man was given!
God is Good to All. Psalm 145:9. Fred Proch