NASHVILLE (BP) — Can you confess that the Spirit of Jesus dwells in you? Does He bear witness with your spirit that you have a personal relationship with Abba, Father?
These questions have become second nature to me the last few years. But it wasn’t always so.
Mentored in the Gospel
The first time I asked someone if he would like to pray to receive Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord, I was unprepared for his answer.
Seven weeks before, during the final week of my sophomore year in high school, I had become a follower of Christ. On that Monday in May, I acknowledged that I was a sinner and placed my faith in Jesus. Thirteen days later I was baptized as a believer in Jesus Christ.
Gary Bryant, home for the summer from college, approached me after my baptism and asked if I had any plans for that Thursday. We met at the church building and I embarked on my first evangelistic visit as a Christ-follower.
Throughout the summer, Gary and I met each Thursday, visiting a few dozen high school students in the neighborhood. In early July, as a teenager opened the door at our knock, Gary stepped down from the stoop and said to me, “It’s your turn to talk.” Taken aback, I stammered around a bit. After a few minutes, Gary stepped in and shared the Gospel with clarity and power.
Now, two weeks later, I had just shared my first complete Gospel presentation, asking a fellow teen if he would like to receive Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord. I was prepared for rejection; I was unprepared for his “yes.”
Since that day, I’ve had the privilege to be present at the spiritual birth of many individuals. But, in recent years, even though I have learned numerous evangelistic methods including the Romans Road, Evangelism Explosion, Faith, Continuing Witness Training, Lay Evangelism School and Share Jesus without Fear, it has seemed more difficult to engage people in meaningful conversations about the Gospel.
In our changing culture, many people no longer have even a general awareness of the Gospel, although they still hunger for spiritual things. I began asking the Lord for a new “entry point” to engage people with the Good News of Jesus Christ, one that would create natural interest, opening doors for meaningful conversations on a deeply spiritual plane.
I found myself drawn again and again to Galatians 4:6, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!'”
“Abba” — a relational entry point
The first time I used this text was when I shared the Gospel with a young mother. Active in church, she knew all the right answers to the traditional Gospel presentation. Grasping for an entry point that would move past “religion” to the Gospel itself, I finally asked, “Does the Spirit that is ‘life in Christ’ dwell in you? Does He bear witness that you have a personal relationship with Abba, Father?” She looked at me for a long moment before saying, “I’m not sure what you mean, but, no, I don’t think so.”
I shared with her that Abba is an Aramaic word still used by Jewish people in their homes. It calls to mind the image of a healthy, wholesome, pure relationship between a loving dad and a trusting child. The child runs to her father, shouting with glee, “Abba! Abba!” much the way my own daughters would run down the hallway crying out “Daddy! Daddy!” when they heard my voice as I came in the door from work.
A daughter intuitively knows she is safe and secure in her father’s arms when he swings her up and around and gives her a big hug. A son knows he is accepted and respected when his dad laughingly swoops him high into the air and calls him by name.
This young mother’s response was so typical. “I’ve been a good person and tried to do the right things, but I’ve never had that kind of relationship with God.”
A few minutes later, she bowed her head in prayer and confessed her faith in Jesus Christ. Her husband, listening to the conversation, said, “What you’ve said really resonates with me. I was baptized when I was young; but a couple of years ago, after a morning worship service, I prayed to receive Christ. I need to get my baptism on the right side of my conversion.” Two weeks later, I had the precious privilege of baptizing both husband and wife as believers in Jesus.
Galations 4 –- the Gospel in a nutshell
In conversation with an engaged couple two years ago, it was apparent that his nominal Baptist upbringing and her nominal Methodist upbringing had prepared them to give “right” answers to basic questions about their relationship with Jesus.
Trying to move us forward, I explained Galatians 4:4-7, elaborating briefly on each phrase:
— The perfect timing of God – but when the fullness of the time had come . . .
— The full deity of Jesus — God sent forth His Son . . .
— The purposeful humanity of Jesus — born of a woman, born under the law . . .
— The redemptive mission of Jesus — to redeem . . .
— The problem of personal sin (compare Romans 8:3-4) — those who were under the law . . .
— The saving act of Jesus — that we might receive the adoption as sons . . .
— The judicial declaration of Jesus — Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son . . . And because you are sons . . .
— The indwelling presence of Jesus — God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts . . .
— The restored relationship through Jesus — crying out, “Abba, Father!” . . .
— The eternal promise through Jesus — and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ (NKJV).
By the time I asked them individually if, in their heart of hearts, they could confess, “I know that Jesus Christ is my Lord, and that, by faith, the Spirit of Jesus lives in me,” the atmosphere had changed. Pretense evaporated. Resistance to the Gospel faded away. His eyes rimmed with tears as the reality of Christ gripped his heart … and his life was changed. Her demeanor softened and, for the first time in the conversation, we connected spiritually.
The continuing power of the Gospel
Over the last few months, I have seen the Lord continue to use the “Good News from Galatians” as a key to unlock conversational doors about the Gospel.
— Newlywed Monica, adopted as an infant, was hooked when I quoted from verse 5, that we might receive adoption as sons. Her husband Josh, raised in the Catholic tradition, took it all in.
— Calvin, a high school senior from Hong Kong, raised in a nominally Buddhist home, was captivated with the concept of the Spirit of Jesus living in us. After our conversation, he promised to look up and meditate on the idea of a God who wants to have a personal “Abba” relationship with us.
— Kyle, an unemployed 25 year old traveling through Nashville with two friends, Karlie and Matthew, prayed to receive Christ as the reality of Galatians 4:6 gripped his hungry heart.
— Maggie, a first-year orthopedic surgery resident who has recently confessed her faith in Christ, was strengthened at this reminder of God’s unfailing love and care for her during a time of tremendous marital, physical and spiritual stress in her life.
— Jordan, a corporate executive whose confession of faith in Jesus as an 8-year-old boy seems distant, is finding renewed energy and vitality in his relationship with Christ through the Spirit of Jesus.
— Katharina, a Ph.D. student from Nuremberg, Germany, raised in a nominal Lutheran home, was drawn in by the image of God as “Abba, Father.”
I could mention others — a family-practice physician whose life has unraveled; a homeless man whose eyes were so empty, but now shine with hope; a hotel clerk who confessed his faith in Christ after promising to meditate on Galatians 4:4-7 for one week; a Hindu wife and mother who, new to our neighborhood and with only the barest acquaintance of the “regulations” of Christianity, listened attentively to her first exposure to the message of God’s grace through Jesus Christ; a single-parent banking executive whose new faith was reinforced through considering the open arms of her heavenly Father.
The apostle Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes …” (Romans 1:16).
Perhaps your witnessing efforts have grown stale. Perhaps you have bumped into conversational barriers in your efforts to share the Gospel. Galatians 4 has such a compelling message! How refreshingly uplifting to be reminded that God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts crying out, “Abba, Father!”
Roger S. Oldham is the SBC Executive Committee’s vice president for convention communications and relations and executive editor of SBC LIFE (www.sbclife.org), journal of the Executive Committee, where this article first appeared.