Coming from Somewhere
What does the Bible teach us about how people become Christians?
In Sam Chan’s book, Evangelism in a Skeptical World, he identifies three types of converts that we find in the New Testament. We’ll call them the Rebel, the Zealot, and the Lifelonger; and examples are seen in the prodigal son, the apostle Paul, and Timothy, respectively.
Conversion only happens by repentance and faith, upon a person hearing the gospel of Jesus (see Romans 10:17). The gospel is spoken; the gospel is heard; and the hearer responds by turning from his or her sins and putting their trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus. That is how we must be saved, every time, and yet, not everyone’s story is the same.
Chan’s explanation of the different types helps us make sense of the variations.
As for the Rebel, this is the man or woman who is reckless in their sin and relentless in their wanderings. This is the person who feels little remorse for their sin, at least in conscious, observable ways, and they pursue the path that leads to destruction. Think of the prodigal son. He took the money and ran ... until he hit rock bottom. That’s a common piece to this convert. They are often drawn to Jesus after they find themselves dangling at the end of their rope, or eating pig slop.
As for the Zealot, this is the man or woman who is consumed with self-righteousness. They think they are pleasing to God because they check all the right boxes. There is little air for grace with these people. You either line up or you don’t, and so it’s no surprise that they tend to look down their noses at others. For the most part, they keep the rules and stay out of trouble, but they can be difficult relationally. Think of the former Paul, the Jewish Pharisee who hunted down early Christians in the name of religious devotion. Most of these people adhere to a certain religion such as Islam and Judaism, or even a form of Christianity. They are sincere, but misguided, trying to earn God’s favor while actually alienating themselves from him.
As for the Lifelonger, this is the man or woman who grew up in a Christian family and heard the gospel countless times. This is the person who doesn’t have a “dramatic” conversion story, largely because they don’t have gnarly sins in their past ... because they were like six years old when they were baptized. Think of Timothy. We know from Paul’s second letter to him that he was raised by faithful Christians, his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice (see 2 Timothy 1:5). Timothy was likely baptized as an older kid upon the profession of his faith, but because of his upbringing, his faith has been basically lifelong. He can’t remember a time in his life when he didn’t trust Jesus.
Now, all of us have stories that resonate with one of these three types. Sometimes there are overlaps. For example, maybe you started off as a Lifelonger but then veered off in high school to become a Rebel. Maybe you were a Lifelonger who became a Zealot; or maybe a Zealot who got sick and tired of the pretense and decided to go reckless. We could be all over the place, but the more we think about it, we definitely resonate with one of these types — and so does every person you meet.
Every person you meet is either coming from one of these places or they’re smack dab in the middle of it, and so is every person who gathers with us on Sunday mornings.
Consider that for a minute. This goes for every person. There is always some story, some context, behind each person we encounter. God makes our paths cross with a hundred people everyday from all over the place, and the one thing we all have in common is that we need the gospel. We all — you, me, every Rebel, Zealot, and Lifelonger — we need to hear the gospel.
That is how Rebels become former Rebels, and Zealots former Zealots. That’s how the Lifelongers persevere.
For the Rebel, they need the gospel of God’s new creation, that in Christ they are made new (2 Corinthians 5:17). For the Zealot, they need the gospel of God’s justification, that in Christ they are set free from everything from which they could not be freed by their religious observance (Acts 13:38–39). For the Lifelonger, they need the gospel of God’s securing grace, that in Christ God is sure to complete the work that he began (Philippians 1:6).
This is the gospel we need, and the gospel we speak.
Take a minute and pray for our corporate gathering this Sunday. We regularly have neighbors visit our services, and they all have different stories. You’re going to cross paths with these people on Sunday (and before!). How might you be an instrument God would use to bless them?