What brings a person to faith in Jesus?

BY: J.B. Tanwell

What Does It Take for Someone to Come to Faith_

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that we are all about steps. Not the 12,000-a-day kind. But steps of faith that we encourage each other to take with the people we live, work, study or play alongside in our everyday life.

If you’ve been a Christian for any amount of time the chances are you’re familiar with this idea. Maybe your pastor has encouraged you to step out in faith in your neighborhood or within your church.

But what if steps of faith are not just for believers? What if the process of becoming a Christian can also be understood as taking one step of faith after another?

How people with no faith take steps of faith

A few years ago I was working in full-time ministry among college students in Europe. It was my job to train believing students how to communicate their faith to their classmates. They would then hopefully bring their friends to the point of making a decision to begin a personal relationship with Jesus.

I was struggling. People were unreceptive, and often antagonistic toward the ideas I shared about Jesus.

Then a friend doing ministry in Canada told me about “I Once Was Lost” by Don Everts and Doug Schaupp. This book changed the way I thought about what I was doing.

Everts’ and Schaupp’s ideas grew out of interviews they conducted with 2,000 postmodern college students who became Christians. Although each person’s experience of God is unique, the interviews revealed a path many take as they move toward God. This path is full of steps of faith people begin to take — what the authors describe as “thresholds” people cross.

The five steps of faith look like this:

    1. Trusting a Christian.
    2. Becoming curious.
    3. Opening up to change.
    4. Seeking after God.
    5. Entering the kingdom.

I’m not going to explain the book here. But I encourage you to check out “I Once Was Lost” or some of the resources created by the authors.

As a MissionHub user and someone who wants to demonstrate the gospel where I am, I think understanding what it takes for someone to come to faith is vital.

Why it’s worth understanding the steps

If you are going to share the gospel with the people in your life, or build relationship with them in a loving way, it helps to understand where they are on their spiritual journey. What barriers do they need to overcome to receive the message you hope to share?

You need to ask God for wisdom and insight about what your friend’s or family member’s next step toward faith might be. If you ignore the barriers that person has to faith, there’s always a danger that you’ll end up reinforcing those barriers.

So let’s think about the steps I’ve described in relation to the people in your life.

Step 1 — Trusting a Christian

Just because you think you’re a trustworthy person does not mean that someone else is going to trust you. Trust is hard to win and easy to lose. This is especially true when it comes to getting people to talk about their spiritual beliefs.

The sad truth is that people have negative preconceptions about us as Christians. They often expect us to judge them. Or they suspect we’re just waiting for an opportune moment to recite our scripted presentation of the gospel.

Think about the people you are focusing on in MissionHub. As you create your steps of faith, remember that the first step for those people will be trusting you enough to talk about why they believe something different than you do. How can you make them feel safe? Maybe it’s about being patient and knowing when to wait, when to ask a question, and when to listen.

Step 2 — Becoming curious

What can you do that will help others become curious about your faith?

The way you live makes a difference. The people in your life must see that your time, money and energy are driven by a different agenda. You can sprinkle your conversation with references to things you are involved in, like church events. Or you can reference how you view things because of your faith in Jesus.

How can you help them take a step of faith to express their curiosity? I am a big believer in the idea that you reap what you sow. You need to be deeply and consistently curious about the people in your life. So ask open-ended questions.

What are they passionate about? How has their life shaped the way they think, and the things they give themselves to?

Being transparent about the questions you have wrestled with will also cultivate someone’s curiosity about you.

Deep down most people want to be known. But first they need to feel safe to be known. Your genuine curiosity about someone, free of judgement, is likely to inspire that person’s curiosity about you.

Step 3 — Opening up to change

This was the idea that fascinated me most in the book “I Once Was Lost.” Someone’s curiosity about your faith, and that person’s genuine openness to change, are not the same thing. But the two are frequently mistaken as synonymous.

This misunderstanding often happens when we’re communicating with people from cultures other than our own.

I used to meet students from other countries in my work. I found that they were usually more open to hearing me explain the gospel than students from my own country. It was easy to get overly excited about finally meeting people who were willing to talk about spiritual things. But I learned that just because they said yes to the conversation, it did not mean they were anywhere near to saying yes to Jesus.

As you share your faith with people in your life, you’ll have incredible conversations in which you see them moving toward God. Just remember to ask them occasionally whether they feel like they want anything to change in their life.

They might not say, “Yes, I want Jesus to enter my life today.” But they might talk about what’s missing, or how they wish something was different. That’s them taking a very real step of faith toward you, and ultimately toward Jesus.

Step 4 — Seeking after God

You cannot make someone want God any more than that person already does. I wish that was not the case. There are people in my life — including one of my best friends — who are stuck at step 2.

Maybe you know people who are interested in why you hold your beliefs. But they are not ready to change what their life is centered on, and they do not consciously want God. They certainly are not happy with the idea of giving him control of their life. That just sounds like madness to them.

What do you do if you’re focused on someone who shows no sign of seeking God? You can pursue a deeper relationship with that person. You can love, pray for and demonstrate the gospel to him or her.

How do you know when those around you are seeking God? In my experience, you begin to see them craving time with God. You notice they are exploring the Bible for more than intellectual reasons. They start examining their own life realistically, in relation to Scripture. You sense a hunger for relationship with God, and a “counting the cost” of what that will involve.

Step 5 — Entering the kingdom

What if there are people in your life who seem ready to accept Jesus? They’ve asked all their questions, resolved their doubts, and consistently want to know more about having a relationship with God. What now?

It’s easy to rush into having them say a prayer to give their life to Jesus. But in my experience, when I let my excitement drive matters, I can neglect to ask some vital questions. I recommend asking your people the following:

    • What do you think it means to give your life to Jesus?
    • How do you feel about the idea of giving Jesus control of your future — your career, relationships, etc.?
    • How do you expect your life to change if you become a Christian?

Simply getting the people you know to verbally commit their life to Jesus is not the goal. Saying those words with their mouth but not surrendering their life will only give them a false sense of where they are on their journey.

But if you believe they have an accurate understanding of the decision they’re making, then it’s time to help the person take this step of faith. Explain what it means to turn from their old way of living. Discuss what it means for them to put Jesus in charge of their life. And do not forget to rejoice as they accept the new life Jesus is giving them.

Helping someone authentically turn to Jesus is one of the most joyful things you can experience. We hope you’ll see that happen soon and often.

Use MissionHub to take the next step

MissionHub exists to help you think carefully about and then act lovingly and boldly toward the people God places in your life.

Are you stuck for an idea about the next step of faith to create in MissionHub?

Why not think about someone you identified as uninterested or curious in the app. If you have not done that yet, ask God to bring someone from your life to mind.

Now create a step of faith to take with that person. God is waiting to help you do this.

So ask him to show you what that person’s next step of faith is toward trusting you and knowing him.

Interested in reading more blogs like this?

Try: Are we only interested in people who are interested in God?


Photo by Gaelle Marcel

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J.B. Tanwell lives in Europe where he confuses the locals with words he picked up while living in the southern states of the USA. He’s passionate about helping Christians talk honestly about what following Jesus involves.