How to Talk to Sinners

I recently saw a church sign that said, “Sinners welcome!” I like that! Is it true in your church? Too often, the church becomes a social club – not necessarily for the upper crust but anyone who is not a member will recognize that they are not exactly welcome.

At our church (Agape’ Fellowship) we determined that our major goal for 2008 was to live up to our name – to live God’s Agape’ love. The practical definition of Agape’ love is captured in the phrase, “I love you too much to allow you to die and go to hell.”

However, many times people who wish to be used of God ask the same question that the repentant people asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” (Lu 3:10,12,14). In that case, the issue is not whether I love the sinner and want to see him (or her) be saved, the question is HOW do I go about it. In Colossians 4:5 Paul advised the church that if they showed Agape’ love to others, there WOULD be opportunities to share the gospel, “Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”

Then in Colossians 4:6, he gave us a plan of action: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” From this, I understand three steps in how to conduct our “conversation” – which translates roughly into “how to live our life in front of sinners.”

  1. Our conversation should always be full of grace
  2. Our conversation should be seasoned with salt
  3. Our conversation should provide answers

First, we must always be ready to testify of God’s grace in our lives. But I believe that Paul was directing us to speak WITH grace – rather than speak ABOUT grace. We must speak with truth, faithfulness, sincerity, love, in a cheerful, pleasant & courteous way (the definition of the word “grace”.) The real issue is that we DEMONSTRATE grace – rather than talking about it.

Second, our conversation must be “seasoned with salt.” The defining characteristics of salt are:

  • Salt makes food savory & desirable
  • Salt restrains decay & corruption
  • Salt melts frozen ice
  • Salt makes people thirsty

It is pretty easy to see how most of these characteristics find parallels in the lives of Christians. I particularly find the last to be fascinating: An old proverb says, “You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink.” Anyone familiar with horses knows that to be totally false! If you want the horse to drink, take him by the salt lick first. He will lick the salt block and becomes so thirsty that when presented with water, he will immediately begin to drink. That is exactly the form that our conversation must take: Our lives must make others THIRSTY.

Finally, our conversation must provide answers. Until a person is “disparate” and out of alternatives, they are not ready to receive the gospel. Last week, Eliot Spitzer had no need of a counselor but this week — after the call girl scandal — he decided to resign from the office of Governor of New York. Likewise, a person who has not been caught and convicted by the Holy Spirit is not likely to be receptive to an offer of “forgiveness.”Boy with a question

If we “force feed” the gospel to people (before they are ready and before they ask), we may do little more than immunize them against future exposure at a time when they might otherwise have been receptive. Peter said (1Peter 3:15) that we must always be prepared to give an ANSWER – which suggests that there was a QUESTION. If our lives are living up to the rest of the verse (“the hope that you have”), then an unsaved person (experiencing similar difficulties) is inclined to ask, “How is it that YOU have hope and I do not?” At THAT point, your life has made them THIRSTY for the Source of hope – the water of life (Rev 21:6; 22:1,17).

You can download my sermon notes here.

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About Ray

Ray Waldo is a retired pastor with a passion for sharing knowledge, understanding and (if possible), wisdom with everyone he meets. Prior to his retirement, Ray served as a local pastor and teacher to five different churches in two states. He also served as a short-term missionary, teacher, and crusade speaker to groups in Mexico, Kenya, Uganda & the Democratic Republic of Congo (while Congo was still in conflict). Ray is also a widely recognized teacher, writer and public speaker. He was the top-billed speaker to groups of over 10,000 people when he visited Africa. He is currently writing two books (online) that he expects to be published within the next two years.

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