Imagine if you were a part of the following conversation with someone you know is not following Jesus:
Al: Yeah, my friend and I went on this church retreat one time. She’s seriously the nicest person in the whole world. And they told her she was going to hell because she’s an atheist, can you believe that?
Bryten: Well, the Bible does say that if you don’t believe in Jesus, you won’t be going to heaven when you die.
Al: Yeah, but that doesn’t even make sense. I mean, I know lots of Christians who are mean. They hurt animals, they hurt people. They want us to go to war. They’re rude and horrible. It doesn’t make sense that they would go to heaven, and people like my best friend and my dad would go to hell. They honestly are the best people in the whole world.
What do you say?
Do you say, "Here, let me show you in the Bible - it says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and the wages of sin is death. But if you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in your hearts that God raised him from the dead, you’ll be saved."
Do you say, "Wow, I'm so sorry to hear that was your experience. What did you do?"
Do you say, "Wow. I'm so sorry that you had that experience. That must have been really hard. You know... I think Jesus might have told a story about something like that. This really rich guy who did everything right on the outside came up to Jesus and said, "Teacher, what must I do to make sure that I have eternal life." And Jesus said, "You know the things God commanded--do not murder, do not steal, etc." And the guy said, "I've done all of these since I was young... is there anything I'm supposed to do?" And Jesus said, "sell everything you have and follow me." What do you think about that?
Each of these responses will have a different effect on your friend's thinking and even their experience of your relationship. The first engages Al's intellect and comes from a authority-down approach. Basically, here's the Bible's answer to your question. But if you're coming from this perspective, Al has to share your assumption that Scripture has authority in your life. If Al doesn't, then you're not going to get anywhere with your argument. And even if Al does share your assumptions, you still haven't answered the questions of Al's heart.
The second response invites further relationship and further information from Al. But it doesn't really engage his intellect or the emotions.
The third response gives some information through a story that invites further reflection. It could engage Al's emotions, and it invites him to look deeper than someone's outward actions to the heart, because that's what Jesus was looking at. It might even open opportunities to talk about how hearts are transformed by Jesus and what that looks and feels like. It could be followed up with personal examples of how Jesus has changed your heart.
I certainly don't think there's one right way to interact with every person. But if you look closely at the original conversation, you can see how much emotion is tied up in the discussion. It's not just the Al's best friend he's concerned about, it's also his father. And an emotionally based question needs a response that engages a person at the heart level, not just at the intellect.
So what would you say? Do you have a personal story about God transforming your heart that you could share after the story of the rich young ruler?