How Do We Go Out and Get People to Fall in Love with Christ? 14 Solid Answers
[Editor’s Note: This past month, a TIME magazine feature story focused on a new crop of young men preparing for the priesthood. These passionate Catholic Millennials may be more evangelical than many evangelicals. But the question in the title of David Bryant’s blog post this week represents a non-denominational concern voiced by many of them.]
The Rise of Millennial Messengers
The June 19 issue of TIME magazine begins its six-page story on spiritual renewal inside the Catholic Church with these intriguing words:
Every morning they rose at 5:30 a.m. and prayed. Then they visited abandoned children with disabilities and dug an irrigation trench to protect the kids’ homes from flooding . . . [one young man said], “I’m much more confident that this is something that the Lord wants me to continue to pursue.”
Pope Francis refers to the USA’s new crop of nearly 2000 Millennial seminarians preparing to serve Christ as “living signs of God’s merciful love.”
These messengers of Christ are marked by a deepening prayer life, heart-stirring encounters with God in worship, and a sense of mission focused on outreach. In some ways, says TIME, they are more “evangelical” than a lot of evangelicals!
Their One Driving Ambition
A seasoned church observer reported to TIME that “the big talk” among these emerging leaders comes down to this core concern: How do we go out and get people to fall in love with Christ?
That’s the question all Christians should be asking.
Thankfully, the New Testament has solid answers. Right off the bat, for example, within only three tiny verses in 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul provides 14 of them! And Paul certainly knew what he was talking about.
Daily in his own ministry, Paul exhibited the same ambition TIME found in these young men. For example, he writes:
It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known” (Romans 15, NIV).
Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others . . . For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all . . . (2 Corinthians 5, NIV).
Desperately wanting to help everyone he met to fall in love with Christ, Paul lived out the secrets to developing this way of life—truths that energized him to encourage people, both believers and unbelievers alike, to devote themselves to Christ as their preeminent love in everything.
Paul’s secrets are highlighted by these few words in 2 Corinthians 2:
But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life (2 Corinthians 2:14-16, NIV ).
Let’s take a look at Paul’s wealth of insights.
14 Keys From 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 to Help You Help Others to Love Christ Fully
1. Let Jesus capture you first (vs. 14).
Paul’s metaphor of a “procession” refers to how the Caesars returned to Rome from recent conquests with a parade of captives in chains trailing behind him. Even so, those who share Christ with others best are those who have become thoroughly captive to Christ themselves.
2. Let Jesus lead each step (vs. 14).
Again, the picture of a “procession” reminds us we’re part of a movement in which someone else is determining the direction and setting the pace. Every day that we go into the world to help people know and love Jesus we do so by following him. Jesus goes before us into every conversation; he goes before us into every ministry. Jesus makes a way before others for us so that we can have a say with others about him.
3. Remain close to the Source (vs. 14, 15).
Paul makes sure we understand that we’re captive “in” or “in union with” Christ—not bound up in chains but bound up in him. Again, Paul says that believers are an aroma of Christ—or better said, full of Christ. In both phrases it is clear that Jesus’ love is the source and substance of our ministry. To help others see Jesus and love him, first we must become more intimate with him.
4. Gladly become a tool (vs. 14).
It says in verse 14 that God “uses” us (some translations say he works “through” us) to spread an aroma of Christ—that is, to make Christ both obvious and attractive for others (the way perfume dominates our senses). In fact, what the Bible implies here is that we are God’s “incense burners.” The incense is Christ. But something needs to cradle the incense to bring it to where it can permeate the room. If there is no burner, there is no burning, and therefore no fragrance. To bring others to Christ, God desires to use us to bring Christ to others. Functioning as his tool in the transaction is essential.
5. Expect to prevail (vs. 14, 16).
This procession—the gospel movement—is a triumphal one, we read. No matter how disheartening the setbacks, no matter how many times people seem to turn away from Christ, no matter how often your heart is broken when there seems to be so little love for Christ, we must remember we are part of a mission that will ultimately bring an innumerable multitude of people from every tongue and nation to a fervent passion for God’s Son that lasts forever (Revelation 5, 7). Paul guarantees that because of our efforts there are those who will move toward Christ and toward life. As you invite people to see Jesus as worthy of all their love, be confident that ultimately numbers of them will say yes.
6. Be hopeful when you fail (vs. 16).
This is the other side of the coin. Unfortunately, there are others who will close their hearts to Christ. The invitation of the gospel may repulse them initially and drive them even deeper into hopelessness and destruction. So, be ready for rejection, but be prepared to work with it.
Rejection of Christ is always more promising than indifference to Christ, just as our Lord observed in Revelation 3: “ . . . you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” In other words, everyone’s conscious response to Christ, even if for a time it appears to be cold toward him, represents a personal interaction with Christ that holds the possibility of one day turning around to become hot toward him. It’s hard to keep indefinitely ignoring a fragrance like Jesus! In every rejection there is reason for anticipation.
7. Remain patient (vs. 14).
Like a scent traveling on air currents until it gradually causes everyone to notice its presence, even so, making people aware of how wonderful Christ is so they can begin to “fall in love” with him usually takes time. Don’t give up on anyone. Gently and persistently, like incense on a Sunday morning filling a sanctuary, let the excellencies of Jesus be seen and heard in you. Wait for the Holy Spirit to carry that witness on currents of God’s sovereign grace into the hearts of those to whom you’ve reached out. Remember: For most of us sinners it takes time to fall in love with Jesus— because of who we are, not because of who he is.
8. Remain aware (vs. 14).
This passage tells us the fragrance can and does go everywhere. In other words, there are no limitations to its impact—geographically, ethnically, generationally, educationally, etc. There are no firm predictions on who might ultimately trust Christ for salvation and fall in love with him. Your efforts to share God’s Son and make him “fragrant” for others holds far-reaching potential. So watch for responses to Christ from the most unexpected directions and most unlikely people. It was the least likely who first gave themselves in love to the Master in the days of his earthly ministry. If while we’re serving others we remain open and willing and ready for anyone from anywhere to become a lover of Christ, before long we will be amazed at who steps forth.
9. Share Christ by your presence (vs. 15).
The operative word in verse 15 is “among.” Seeking to win people to Christ requires that we become part of their lives and their communities—whether working with those who respond immediately (those who are “alive”) or those who initially reject the opportunity (those who are in “death”). We must get out among them all, sharing Christ in the midst of them all. It can’t be done remotely. If we love people enough to become a part of them only then will we be able to help them love Christ enough to become a part of him.
10. Share Christ by your person (vs. 15).
Here’s an overlooked point of the fragrance metaphor: There exist many kinds of aroma produced by all kinds of incenses. A combustible bouquet can be composed of a whole variety of aromatic plant materials, often combined with a wide selection of essential oils. In other words, each of us brings others into a love relationship with God’s Son based on how we see and share him through our unique personalities and ways of communicating. Simply strive to be the witness you have become in Christ—nothing more or less—and the results will follow. How Christ is known by others uniquely through us is related to how Christ has been formed uniquely in us for the sake of others.
11. Share Christ by your proclamation (vs. 14).
Did you catch that prepositional phrase Paul uses in this passage—“the fragrance OF THE KNOWLEDGE of Christ”? Christian witness is not only a matter of showing the saving glory of Christ before others, but it also involves speaking the saving message of Christ to others. The aroma of Christ that Paul has in mind is the penetrating perfume of the truth about the greatness of our Redeemer. As Romans 10 tells us: “So faith comes from hearing the message. And the message that is heard is the message about Christ” (NIRV, emphasis added). For the aroma of Christ to be disseminated where we live, the message about Christ must be declared where we live. In order for people to fall in love with Christ, first of all people have to learn about Christ.
12. Share Christ together (vs. 14-15).
Did you notice how this entire passage is corporate in nature? We read: God uses “us”; “we” are the aroma. Everything outlined in the previous 11 insights for helping other people fall in love with Jesus works the best and touches the deepest when it rises from a team effort—when believers are reaching out together to bring others into a love relationship with the Savior. Learning to know and love Christ is most meaningfully experienced by outsiders when they are loved by a community that itself is in love with Christ and each other.
13. Stay focused on the larger drama (vs. 16).
The J. B. Phillips translation states verse 16 like this:
We Christians have the unmistakable “scent” of Christ, discernible alike to those who are being saved and to those who are heading for death. To the latter it seems like the very smell of doom, to the former it has the fresh fragrance of life itself. Who could think himself adequate for a responsibility like this?
Falling in love with Christ is not simply about how one responds to him in this life; it is about one’s grand destiny of loving Christ forever. When we seek to win people to our Lord Jesus, we’re inviting them into a radical, divine drama, where people are moving toward either eternal hope or eternal doom. In one sense, this plot line is way over our heads (we’re totally inadequate for this mission, Paul says). And yet the Church has been called to help write the narrative by our witness to the nations, calling others to see and savor God’s Son starting right now. What motivation this is! Bringing people into a love relationship with Christ weaves them immediately into the everlasting story that’s based on his kingdom’s cosmic purposes.
14. Do all of it as an act of worship (vs. 15).
I’ll bet all along you thought this passage—and this blog post—was about what we should do for others. And secondarily, it is that. But primarily, according to verse 15, all of these previous 13 steps are “to God”—meaning all of them unfold before his eyes, for his pleasure, and to minister to his heart by bringing him the joy of seeing the way his Son is being shared and received more and more by sinners everywhere. If we want to bring people into a love for Christ that leads them to adore him as Lord, then we need to regard all of our efforts to do so as primarily a way of adoring him ourselves.
Asking the Main Question One Other Way
Toward the end of the TIME article, as a part of an interview with a group of seminarians, one student expressed another concern shared by all. Recounting their current ministry to abused children, he wondered out loud about this and every form of serving others for Jesus’ sake, asking: “How do we make sure we are approachable and people can trust us?”
Do we have any answers for him? You bet! We can share with him the very same 14 insights we’ve just explored to answer the initial question:
- Let Jesus capture you first
- Let Jesus lead each step
- Remain close to the Source
- Gladly become a tool
- Expect to prevail
- Be hopeful when you fail
- Remain patient
- Remain aware
- Share Christ by your presence
- Share Christ by your person
- Share Christ by your proclamation
- Share Christ together
- Stay focused on the larger drama
- Do all of it as an act of worship
These steps are how any of us can become, in the words of Pope Francis, “living signs of God’s merciful love” poured out through Jesus our Lord.
About the Author
Over the past 40 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ-proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI) and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to ChristNow.com and to Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ-awakening movements. Order his widely-read book at www.ChristIsAllBook.com.