Southeastern Seminary, where I work, challenged all students, staff, and faculty to share the gospel at least once a day during the month of September. Based on my experiences that month, in addition to years of sharing Christ with family members, here are my thoughts about why my family and friends struggle with believing the gospel.
1. They have never really heard the gospel. The more I speak to people in North America, the more I realize this truth: some folks on our continent are just as distant from the gospel as unreached people groups around the world. Within the shadows of our church buildings are people who have never heard the truth.
2. They struggle understanding the Bible. Even for those who are willing to read the Bible, the content is often new – and challenging. If genuine believers wrestle with interpreting the Bible, it shouldn't surprise us that non-believers face the same battle.
3. They see the gospel as too good to be true. The story of the gospel really is quite astounding. That the one and only creator God would forgive our sins, make us whole, place us in His family, and indwell us is hard to fathom, especially if the story is new. Nobody I know – believer or unbeliever – fully grasps God's work of salvation.
4. They see hypocrisy in the church. I've heard this general excuse for years, but more recently I've heard the words with specificity. "I don't expect people to be perfect," a family member told me, "but if _______ represents what a Christian is, I don't want to be a part." We may defend the church all we want, but we must not forget that watching unbelievers see the reality in our lives.
5. They hear other messages more loudly. Even if a non-believer hears three one-hour Christian sermons per week (which seldom happens), he still hears dozens of hours of other messages throughout the week. The media emphasizes moral stances in opposition to Christian teaching. Preachers of false gospels dominate the television. Political correctness reigns – and the gospel gets clouded in the process.
6. They are enjoying their sin. There's no other way to describe this obstacle. Sin can be fun (at least for a while), and some of the people I know are having a good time. Following Christ, they assume, would cost them too much fun. Combining this reasoning with the next reason, they see no need to turn to Christ today.
7. They believe time is on their side. This is not always the case, of course. Some of my older family and friends are now more willing to talk about eternal matters as they see their own generation passing away. Those who are younger, though, have been more interested in waiting to consider Christianity. No urgency drives them to consider life and death matters now.
8. They still fail to see their lostness. Their reasoning is neither new nor unique. "I treat people well, and I try to help my neighbors." "Let me tell you some of the good things I've been doing." "I just don't believe a good God will send good people to hell." "I don't do anything that's just evil." Folks who see no need for forgiveness seldom seek it.
9. They cannot understand the preaching. Obviously, this reason assumes non-believers who have attended church (as does the next one). A family member told me, "I like hearing _______ preach, but I don't really understand him." Granted, the Spirit of God helps us to understand the Word, but this message is nevertheless clear: we who preach the Word are not there to impress; we are there to communicate the life-giving message of the gospel. Clarity is a must.
10. They are overwhelmed by Christian follow up. Frankly, this response has surprised me. Occasionally, a church fully committed to outreach and follow up has been so faithful to the task that they have frightened off a non-believer. I am grateful for churches this passionate, but it's worth remembering that non-believers may not be prepared for our zeal. Sensitivity matters.
I suppose there are few new findings here, but I needed this reminder. Obstacles to the gospel have not changed much, at least in my experience.