How can you turn an everyday conversation with your unbelieving friends into a gospel-centered discussion? Christians know that evangelism is an important part of following Jesus, despite many not feeling like “called evangelists” (Eph. 4:11). Some have created lists of “bridge questions” to direct such conversations toward the gospel. Yet, I personally struggle to use such bridge questions without it appearing forced and unnatural. If a bridge question seems unnatural to me, it will probably seem unnatural to my unbelieving friend or acquaintance.
Enter the early chapters of Genesis.
Since Genesis 1–11 provides so much of the foundation for why everyday life is the way it is, this material is uniquely suited to reach the unbeliever. When truly presented as God’s revealed Word, the explanations contained in those chapters help unbelievers begin to understand why the Bible and its claims have any impact on their lives.
1. One common method of evaluating whether a presentation includes the full gospel is to examine whether it consists of all four of the following elements: the bad news (the problem of sin), the good news (the gospel message), the cost (what following Jesus will entail), and the call (calling on someone to repent and trust in Christ). The first of these five examples doesn’t get much farther than addressing the bad news. But if your conversation leads an unbeliever to wrestle with the bad news for the first time in his life, that can be considered a success in some ways and can serve as a launch point for future conversations that lead to the gospel message.
In that light, here are five simple examples that use material from the early chapters of Genesis to generate evangelistic opportunities in your everyday life. Not every one of these examples leads immediately to a full gospel presentation, but at the very least they expose people to humanity’s greatest problem. The hope is for these conversations to serve as starting points for future, fuller conversations.
1. The Origin and Purpose of Work
Do you work with unbelievers? If so, you know that people routinely complain about their work. Work has become such a hated concept in western culture that we are bombarded by tantalizing prospects of “early retirement” and delusions of making a living by methods that require little to no work.
Here’s one highly practical conversation starter: the next time you hear a co-worker complain about his job, you can ask him: “Do you know why we have to work?” followed up with, “Can I share with you what the Bible says about work?” If he doesn’t shut you down right away, you can explain:
Work is something God gave the first human, Adam, to do. Adam worked even while the world was still in its perfect state, with no sin, no effects of sin, and with his daily needs provided for (Gen. 2:15–16). But after Adam and Eve sinned, one consequence was that God cursed the ground, after which work became painful toil necessary to have enough food to survive (Gen. 3:17–19).
Work is actually a gift from God, and because of the curse, which will not be lifted until Christ restores all things (Rev. 22:3), most people will have to work to obtain food by the sweat of their face for most of their lives.
2. One possible way of continuing this conversation in a gospel fashion would be to explain that, while we are required to work in order to survive on this earth in its current cursed state, our work cannot earn our justification before God (Isa. 64:6). Only the substitutionary, sacrificial work of Christ on the Cross, graciously applied to our account, can satisfy the demands of God and effect our justification (Rom. 3:21–26; Eph. 1:7; 2:8–9).
2. Clothing and Nudity
Clothing is another area where you can turn a normal conversation into an evangelistic one. Whenever the topic turns to clothing, you can ask your friend if he understands why we wear clothing. Now, if you live in North Dakota as I do, most of the year we wear clothing so we don’t freeze to death! But even in northern climates the weather can get hot during part of the year, and so from a purely evolutionary perspective, clothing should be seen as optional.
But Genesis 2:25 and all of chapter 3 explain why people went from originally walking around naked to eventually wearing clothing: to hide their shame before God and each other because of their sin (vv. 7–12). And their own contrived fig-leaf garments weren’t enough. God had to kill an animal and clothe them with its hide to demonstrate that their own efforts to deal with their shame were not good enough; God had to solve the problem himself (Gen. 3:21). This information can propel you directly into a discussion of the bad news: the requirement of shed blood for the forgiveness of sins (Heb. 9:22), and from there into a discussion of the good news that Jesus shed His own blood for the forgiveness of sins and the covering of shame for people like you and me (Heb. 9:14).
One outstanding way to reach especially children in our still somewhat Christianized culture is to ask them if they’ve ever celebrated Christmas or Easter. If they have, ask them why we celebrate those holidays. Then take them quickly through the overarching storyline of Scripture: God’s perfect creation, the intrusion of sin, the need for a sinless savior, the reason that this savior needed to be virgin-born (Christmas), and why he voluntarily suffered and died to pay the penalty for sinners like us. His resurrection (Easter) was thus a vindication of his perfect life and sacrificial death.
3. Although the prophecy of the Messiah being born of a virgin appears in Isaiah 7:14 (see also 9:6), the reasons why this had to be the case come directly out of the material contained in the early chapters of Genesis. Because all mankind would be directly and inescapably tainted by Adam’s sin without God’s intervention, Jesus needed to be born of a virgin so that he would not inherit Adam’s sin nature. Later passages explain this in more detail (e.g., 2 Cor. 5:21, Heb. 7:26, etc.), but the later explanations answer the questions that follow from Genesis 3.
A lot of that material comes from the gospel accounts in the New Testament, but the answers to those questions—Why do we need a savior? What do we need saving from? Why did Jesus have to be born of a virgin? Why did he need to live a sinless life? and so forth—all originate in the early chapters of Genesis. And these answers pertain equally to children and adults.
4. Gender Issues
One topic becoming far more prevalent in western society is the confusion of sex and gender, especially among youth and teens. Yet, according to Scripture God created humans distinctly male and female (Gen. 1:27; 2:18–23). As in the case with work, God established this distinction before the fall of humanity into sin. We can even observe this foundational scriptural concept in human biology by noting that the distinction between male and female is encoded into every single human DNA-containing cell.
This original creation as male and female then connects to the gospel implication that “there is no male and female” from Galatians 3:28. While some people twist this verse to try to erase any male-female distinction, the force of Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:23–29 makes clear there is no barrier to saving faith in Christ based merely on whether one is male or female. Of course, there is also no barrier to saving faith whether one is Jew or Gentile, slave or free—one need only repent and believe in Christ’s finished work.
Opportunities to have such gospel-focused discussions abound today. The only question is whether Christians will seize these opportunities even when the societal cost comes with potentially harsh retribution.
5. One Final Example in Nature
More than twenty years ago, I had an opportunity to discuss the Bible with a short-term colleague of mine who was thoroughly steeped in skeptic arguments of the day, popularized by groups like the Jesus Seminar (this organization literally votes on what they think Jesus “actually” said in the Gospel accounts). As we walked along together outside, he pointed to a tree and asked me, his professing Christian friend, “Is that tree perfect?” I immediately said, “No.” A little puzzled at my response, he repeated his question, and I likewise repeated the same answer.
Seeing his confusion, I went back to the early chapters of Genesis. I explained that although God had initially created the world and everything in it and declared it to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31), that Adam and Eve’s sin and God’s resulting curse had marred the world in a way only God could restore. And although God has promised to do so, that restoration has not yet occurred. I then shared with my colleague how he could participate in that restored creation by repenting and trusting in Jesus.
He was shaken to the core. He had never heard that the Bible doesn’t claim our present world is still the perfect creation of God. He didn’t know that creation was “subjected to futility” (Rom. 8:20) and “has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth” (Rom. 8:22). He could no longer use the many imperfections we see around us today as a reason to discredit the Bible.
To my knowledge, my colleague never repented. But his unbelief does not deny the success of that gospel witness, provided we rightly understand “success.” Our understanding shows whether we recognize the difference between the Christian’s role in evangelizing and God’s role in regenerating hearts.
In two different parables (Mark 4:3–20 and 4:26–29), Jesus likens the kingdom of God to a farmer sowing the seed of God’s Word. The man is responsible for sowing and for reaping, but God is the one who causes the seed to grow. And whether the seed produces a harvest or not depends on what kind of soil the seed falls on. But the farmer faithfully and successfully sows no matter the harvest.
Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 3:6, Paul explains that, though he planted and Apollos watered (another human role—watering the seed that has been planted), God gives the growth. We should plant liberally. We should water profusely. We should pray for a harvest. And then we should trust God to give growth where and when and in whom He chooses to do so. Indeed, the role of the sower (us) and the role of the grower (God) are not at odds with one another; they work just like any harvest. All growth comes from God, and so we sow bountifully and evangelize expectantly.
The success of our evangelism rests in whether we obey God in faithfully performing our duties, not in whether we try to manipulate numbers and hearts toward a sham repentance that is not genuine.
When I use the early chapters of Genesis as an evangelistic tool, the most common result I see (and pray for) is that the person realizes he needs to take the Bible’s claims more seriously. In my eyes, that is a huge success, because I can then point him back to God’s Word and pray that the glimmer of knowledge he just received will produce the kind of growth only God can produce in a person’s mind, heart, and life. The God who spoke light into existence at the first creation may be pleased to do it again in the heart of a non-believer (2 Cor. 4:6) as you discuss the early chapters of Genesis.
4. Editor’s Note: This has been our aim all month. And we pray that the seeds sown in the essays on geology, theology, and biblical interpretation, to name only a few, will give you greater confidence in God’s Word, so that you can tell others the good news of creation and our need for a new creation in Christ.
May God grant you to recognize never-before-seen opportunities to evangelize the unbelievers in your life, and may he give the growth!