Christians know that we are to gather others to Jesus or we will scatter (Matt 12:30). The mission of the church is to make disciples of all the nations baptizing them and teaching them all that Jesus commanded (Matt 28:18–20). This article will draw wisdom from Jesus in asking questions to encourage thought, defend against attacks, and open the door for sharing the gospel. The apostle Paul encouraged the faithful, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5–6 ESV).
When Christians think of sharing the gospel with others, we often reflect on Jesus’s parable of sowing the seed and the types of soil. Some ground was hard, rocky, or thorny and so not ready to receive the seed that is God’s Word. Jesus taught, “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). However, we are often surrounded by hard hearts and limited by social expectations. We are wise to learn from others what they think. Jesus commanded His disciples in sending them out, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
An effective approach to evangelizing is to ask questions to get others thinking especially in a restrictive environment or in a difficult circumstance. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus asks questions. “And behold, a man came up to him, saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.'” (Matthew 19:16–17). Jesus’s questions are still affecting people today. Christians are wise to use these questions in the right way rather than ask questions today like the Pharisees did in an accusative way. This study will help us to ask the right questions in the right way and counter possibilities for disbelief.
#1 – Ask This to Encourage Thinking
Anytime that someone comments on a current event whether you agree or not, you can ask, “Why do you say that?” to gather information about how they support their position. There are other ways to ask these questions like “How did you arrive to that conclusion?” For instance, if someone says that she does not believe in talking about religion, you can ask her, “How did you come to avoid talking about religion?” and, or “What reasons led you to that position?” The question that Christians should constantly ask those who differ is “Why?” to draw out the person’s thinking and reasoning (if they have thought about why they believe what they believe). Then you can direct a conversation by asking her to clarify what she means by “religion” and why she does not talk about religion. Ironically, that can lead to a friendly discussion about religion, faith, and the gospel of Jesus’s resurrection.
Immediately after Jesus fed the 4,000, some Pharisees came testing Jesus by asking for a sign from heaven. Jesus replied, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” What fruit would come from Jesus asking that question? They did not understand that they just missed a sign from God and they know how they would have responded. After this occasion, Jesus’s disciples were discussing not having bread other than one loaf while traveling on the sea (Mark 8:14–16). To get them to think, Jesus asked, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” (Mark 8:17–19). A simple goal is to get others thinking about the obvious works of God.
Jesus used this question in various ways to teach and challenge antagonists:
- In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenged listeners, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).
- When Jesus knew that some were questioning His ability to forgive sins, Jesus knew their thoughts and challenged them, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” (Matthew 9:4).
- When some of the disciples were skeptical of the woman who anointed Jesus’s head, He replied to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me” (Matthew 26:10).
Jesus was always asking challenging questions and so turning the tables over on those challenging God’s authority. Likewise, Christians should follow Jesus’s example and ask others to account for their beliefs.
#2 – Ask This to Challenge a Conclusion
Another question to challenge others to consider is to ask: “How can you say that?” There are certainly other ways to ask this. Jesus asked this question with an addendum of “when…” so that He asked, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:4).
There are various ways that this question can be used:
- In evangelism, Jesus taught Nicodemus, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12).
- When antagonists challenged Jesus, He responded, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44).
- Jesus responded to unbelievers, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:46–47; cf. John 8:43; 14:9).
- When challenged by Pharisees, Jesus replied, “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).
Christians can apply this question in many settings to challenge others to think about likely contradictions in their thinking. For instance, when someone challenges Jesus’s command for baptism to become a follower of Christ, you can ask, “How can you say that you became a Christian by saying the the sinner’s prayer when Jesus taught to make disciples starting with baptism?” You can further respond with: “I did not become a Christian that way.” This will most often open the door for them to ask you how that you became a follower of Christ. Then you can tell them how God raised you from burial in baptism from a dead life as believers are baptized into newness of life (Rom 6:3–5). If someone claims that baptism is not essential in becoming a Christian, then we can return to the question, “Why do you say that?” They may assert that baptism is a work. Again, we can ask, “How can you say that baptism is a work when no one baptizes oneself?” The Christian can eventually ask an ultimatum like: “How can you say that baptism does not start the Christmas life when Jesus and His apostles taught Christians to submit to baptism by faith and repentance?” When the chief priests demanded an account of authority for Jesus cleansing the temple, Jesus responded, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” (Luke 20:3–4). A question as an ultimatum is a good conclusion to leave someone with a challenging thought.
#3 – Ask This to Open the Door for Evangelism
In teaching, Jesus asked the most essential and challenging question that all Christians should answer and try to ask of everyone. After Jesus asked His disciples about who the people thought He was, Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16; cf. Luke 9:20). Christ encouraged the right answer, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).
As the church of Christ, we should imitate Jesus by asking questions that will draw out the thinking of others or cause them to pause and reconsider. This can open the door for telling the message of Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection. The apostle Paul taught, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col 4:5–6).