How do you share Christ with someone from an Eastern religion when you are not familiar with that person's belief system? I was recently asked to do an overview of Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Islam for a high school student group preparing for a mission trip to a large city. Fortunately, they had a few weeks to digest my notes and do their own preparation, but even if they became experts in these religions, how much of that expertise would they be able to use in a brief conversation? And to what end – to win a debate or to share the gospel? So, what can non-academic Christians do in a situation like this? Here are four things that any Christian can do to send the conversation in a meaningful direction.
Step 1: Be able to quickly articulate the gospel
When asked what advice he had for young graphic designers aspiring to be in the advertising business, legendary designer/ filmmaker Saul Bass responded, "Learn to draw!" Just as drawing is the most fundamental skill of visual art, knowing and sharing the gospel succinctly is the most fundamental aspect of being a Christian. Unfortunately, in my experience teaching and presenting to Christian adults and students, very few can do this.
We sometimes shorthand the gospel message by saying, "Jesus died for my sins." This is true, however, it doesn't quite explain the gospel in a way that is relevant to people rooted in works-based religions. Yes, Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sin, but that only gets our spiritual bank account out of debt, i.e. back up to 0. Jesus also lived the perfect life we could not live, thereby gaining the moral merit (enriched spiritual bank account) and earning our access to God.
"Jesus lived a life I couldn't live and died the death I deserve," is a fair summary of the gospel message, with the understanding of 1 Cor. 15:1-4 in the background. But why should we believe Jesus?
Step 2: Know what Jesus said about Himself
It is difficult to find anyone not willing to say that Jesus was a good man or a wise teacher. But that's not what He claimed to be. He claimed to be God in the flesh. Many will dispute this because they insist that Jesus never said, "I am God," when He actually said it in a more specific and unmistakable way for his legalistic Jewish audience than skeptics realize.
Being able to recall a couple of situations from the Gospels in which Jesus does this is powerful. For example, in the familiar account of the men who lower their paralyzed friend through the roof of a house so that Jesus could heal him, Jesus first tells the man that his sins are forgiven (Luke 5:21-22). The Pharisees think to themselves, "Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Then Jesus miraculously heals the man to prove that He has this power. Proof that the Jewish leaders knew exactly what Jesus meant are their repeated attempts to kill Him for saying such things: "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30-31); "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working... he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God." (John 5:17-18); and "before Abraham was born, I am! At this, they picked up stones to stone him." (John 8:58 – a reference to God's name for Himself in response to Moses at the burning bush).
C.S. Lewis' famous "trilemma" applies here; anyone claiming to be God is not a good man (he's a liar), nor a wise teacher (he's insane), unless he is actually God.
Step 3: It's all about works
All religions, including Christianity, rely on works; the pivotal part is being able to explain when the works come into play. In Christianity, our works come last: Christians rely on Jesus' perfect work as the means to reach Heaven. We then do good works in appreciation for what He did for us (Eph. 2:8-10). In all other religions, works come first: one must fulfill the Eight-fold Path (Buddhism), abide by the Vedas and practice yoga (Hinduism), adhere to the 5 Khands (Sikhism), or submit to the 5 Pillars (Islam) in order to have a chance at liberation in eternity – but nothing is guaranteed. Ask your friend from another religion if he or she would like to be assured when enough has been done to pay for their eternity. But what would qualify as enough?
Step 4: Is love involved in your journey to eternity?
Besides revolving around a man claiming the moral perfection to merit Heaven, Christianity is distinct because the way to reach Heaven is love. Although Hinduism, Sikhism, and Islam may claim that they believe in a God who relates to them personally (this is debated in Hinduism while Buddhism is atheistic), their sacred texts reveal nothing like the intimacy that God has with His people as described in the Bible. So, walk your friend from another belief system through these simple questions:
Shouldn't the highest eternity require the highest ethic – love?
What's the highest form of love? Love for another.
Isn't sacrificial love (giving one's life) the highest form of love for another?
Does your belief system rely on that?
Remember that it is the nature of fallen people regardless of their religious attachment to try to reach God through their own ability. Give them the good news that Jesus' yoke is easy and His burden is light (Mat. 11:29-30), and invite them to enjoy that spiritual rest with you.
– Bill Foster is a Christian apologetics speaker, author, and graphic designer. He has published three books: Meet The Skeptic, How To Read The Bible "Literally," and How The Bible Works. He incorporates design into his books and presentations to make philosophical and theological concepts more accessible. Bill has a passion for showing why the Christian worldview has the best perspective of reality and how it answers life's big questions. For more information please visit: fosteronfaith.com.