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I interact with non-Christians regularly. Many of these unbelievers know that I’m a Christian. Sometimes an unbeliever will come to me for counseling. Counseling a non-Christian is a different counseling context that requires a different way of thinking about and approaching those who don’t know God’s Word.
I’m sure you could add several more Bible verses to this list to show the difficulty in bringing God’s Word to bear on an unbeliever. Nevertheless, let’s say the unbeliever is coming to you, a Christian, looking for help to overcome or work through his problems.
The first question you must ask is, “Can I counsel a non-believer?” If you mean, “Can you bring God’s Word to bear on his life,” it is an easy question to answer. Of course, you can. We all were unbelievers at one time, and God’s Word was brought to bear on our lives in our pre-regenerate condition (Romans 10:17).
We should be full of God’s confidence when we approach unbelievers with God’s Word. The better questions are, “How can you use God’s Word when helping an unbeliever? What are you to do? How are you to approach this opportunity?”
As I have pondered these questions, here are a few things that I do to help the unbeliever get to Jesus, where real help can indeed take place. While evangelism would be the main point and purpose of these opportunities, I would still like to work with him with the hope that God would save him.
Part of my initial goal would be for him to see, know, and even experience what Jesus Christ is like through the wisdom of His Word. Here are a few things to consider.
You will notice how my website does not have “Christian stuff” on it like crosses or fishes. While it would not take a reader long to figure out my passion for God, I have deliberately chosen not to place potential hindrances in front of anyone before they get to know me.
Too often, Christians parade their “Christian style” before the unbeliever in such a way that it confuses them or even turns them away too soon (1 Corinthians 14:23). I realize it is unavoidable at times, and I would not suggest deception to make it easy for an unbeliever to hear the gospel, but there are other times where a “softer appeal” is a wiser approach.
Experiencing Jesus through your wisdom is more persuasive than your bracelet. Everything we do does not have to be “in your face.” Christ, for example, looked more like the unbelievers that He was engaging.
His primary approach was for them to get to know Him. He warned against the other religious folks of His day who looked religious and felt it necessary to wear their religion on their sleeves (Matthew 6:1-18).
I want my unbelieving friends to see Christ in me as displayed by the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) more than my religious garb or “social-out-of-touch ways.” As much as is reasonable, I don’t want my religious customs to be a stumbling block to those who do not believe.
The unbeliever cannot live godly because God is not in him. It is practically and theologically impossible for him to put off (his) old self, which belongs to (his) former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of (his) mind, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (See Ephesians 4:22-24)
He is not a believer and cannot be permanently changed. As every Christian knows, the real Counselor is the Holy Spirit of God. Real-life change is not possible for someone who rejects, grieves, or quenches the Lord from his life.
But you can offer him hope through the wisdom of God’s Word, and it is possible for him to apply “some truths” that could change his life in a limited sense.
If an individual can apply tips from Dale Carnegie or Stephen Covey to his life, there is no reason why he could not implement ideas from God’s Word to his life. The irony about popularized business and self-help books is that if there are good things in them, those things are paraphrases or derivations of God’s Word.
We’re talking about useful tips for behavioral changes. The Bible is amazingly practical and full of wisdom. My hope would be for him to find encouragement from the wisdom found in God’s Word. The Bible is the most profound, powerful, and transforming “psychology” book known to humanity, and it speaks directly to our universal core problems.
Though he may reject God, he can still be affected by His Word. Nothing is neutral, and the Word of God most certainly is not neutral. My purpose for behavioral modification would be to stir up interest in God, with the hope that God draws him to Himself in regeneration.
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (John 12:32).
The essence of evangelism and discipleship is to “stir up interest in God.” What I am speaking of here is how to do it in a context where the unbeliever comes to you with an interest in transformation.
This perspective is not a call for “easy believe-ism,” and while he may be “temporarily benefiting” from God’s Word, I would simultaneously be introducing him to Christ with the hope of his regeneration.
When Paul was talking to the unbelievers on Mars Hill, he spoke to them, in part, from their perspective and their context. For example, he quoted their poets in Acts 17:28.
While Paul did not compromise his message, and we shouldn’t compromise ours, he was wise enough to know that he needed to connect with them according to where they were rather than where he wanted them to be.
This truth applies to any person that you are discipline, whether they have faith in God or not. I suspect if you have tried to help people, you have probably counseled unbelievers, who you thought were believers, or maybe they thought they were believers.
Sometimes biblical counselors make too much about counseling believers vs. non-believers as though they can genuinely know the authentic condition of their souls. Your job is to “counsel the Word” while trusting the Spirit to work in the heart of the individual.
It’s not necessary to overthink the condition of a person’s soul. Your job is to share the Word, lean into the Spirit, and don’t split unnecessary hairs. Being a believer or unbeliever does not hinder God’s Word from changing someone.
The issue for us is not so much about God’s Word and its effectiveness, but how we can relate God’s Word to real people who need practical answers. The essence of the gospel is about going to where people are and introducing them to Christ through means that they can understand, with the hope that God will draw them to Himself.
Christ came to where we were and became like us before He began transforming us into His likeness (Philippians 2:5-11). You see this “relational-relatability” of the Living Logos in many of His encounters with the people of His day.
When He met the woman at the well in John 4:16, He related to her where she was rather than seeking to get her to be like Him before He could make any headway with her.
A long time ago, I was part of a conservative religious movement called fundamentalists. No doubt, we were serious about the Lord. I have never questioned their passion or zeal for the Lord.
Sadly, I did not know the things that I’m writing here. I took a “separatist” position when it came to our culture. It was the equivalent of standing on the other side of a fence yelling at unbelievers, compelling them to come over to our team.
I’ll never forget one particular weekend when there was a country music festival at our local fairgrounds. It was your typical 90-degree July day in the humid south. The show was a big draw, and it seemed like an excellent idea to go and “evangelize the pagans.”
I put on my best “Sunday suit,” which included a necktie and a long-sleeved, starched shirt. I put on my fedora, grabbed my brand new Radio Shack, battery-operated bullhorn, and a stack of Bible tracts.
With my tracts in one hand and the bullhorn in the other, I began yelling, letting all the pagans know that if they did not turn to Christ they would go to hell. While my message was straight as an arrow, my method was socially awkward and off-putting.
I have reflected on that day many times and wondered how I was perceived. I don’t think about it from a fear of man (Proverbs 29:25), “what do they think of me” perspective, but through the lens of Christian immaturity.
They probably thought that if they did what I was saying, they would have to become like me, fedora and all. (See 1 Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 5:1) There were about 10,000 tattoo-wearing, beer-toting, rolled-up sleeve, long-hair, country music-loving fans who had the choice of listening to country music’s finest or putting on their long-sleeved starched shirts, with a necktie and fedora and begin yelling at each other regarding their eternal destiny.
If I had it to do over again, I would have modeled a clearer picture of the Savior rather than a strict sect of Christianity that had mostly lost its relevance. Christ mingled with the unbelievers, ate with them, related to them, and shared Himself with them.
When evangelizing, it is helpful to understand and relate to your audience while hoping to win them to Christ. I did not discern my audience, and I did not connect with them.
And they did not understand me and most definitely could not relate to me. I was a side-show carnival act for them to mock. Of course, I received their mocking and crude gestures as being persecuted for Christ.
Since then, God has mercifully shown me how to roll up my sleeves and sit with sinners, similar to what the Savior did, and show them the wisdom of God’s Word.
Unbelievers may not have the Spirit, but God made them in His image, and they do have a conscience that can respond to the power of God’s Word (Romans 2:14-15). It is possible for them to resonate with the truth when they hear it in common sense ways.
There have been times when God used behavioristic applications as a “lead-in” to draw a person to Christ. My appeal to you would be to unleash God’s Word in relational contexts that relate to where the person is so you can bring them to where they need to be.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).