Law or love?
Let’s not fall prey to the notion that only one of these two is the correct starting place when Christians speak with unbelieving friends.
When Jesus confronted Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), the pressing need for Saul was to see his violation of God’s law. Jesus knocked him to the ground so that he would understand his guilt. He asked “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
On the other hand, when Jesus met the woman at the well in John 4, he offered her living water as the starting point of their discussion.
In the case of Paul, Jesus soon spoke words of grace and love. With the woman at the well, Jesus soon identified her sin and guilt. Many facets of the gospel must be presented and understood for a person to be converted. However, there is no biblically prescribed starting place for all people. Though we cannot know what is inside a person’s heart, the Lord gives us insight and leads us by his Spirit as we engage with people.
When we are dealing with arrogant, self-sufficient people, it may be best to lead the discussion by focusing on God’s law and his righteousness. Those who are spiritually tough sometimes need to be broken by the law. If we start by focusing on the rich grace of God, it might lead to further presumption and self-righteousness.
Others, who know their guilt and shame might be driven away or crushed in despair by a friend drilling down on God’s anger over sin. Those who are tender sometimes need to hear that living water is offered. Perhaps their greatest experiential need is to know that there is a God who loves and cares.
This short article obviously oversimplifies the matter. For one thing, law and love are not disconnected or opposite one another. We must also remember that God is sovereign, and it is not up to us to find the perfect formula in speaking good news.
But, it can be helpful to think in the categories presented here so that we might have a greater awareness of how God works, and how we might respond as we speak with our friends. Personal discussions with those who do not yet believe in Jesus can begin with the strangest topics and often wind all over the place. Sometimes these discussions last hours, days, months, or years. When we love the one to whom we are speaking, every facet of the discussion has meaning. We want to be as sensitive and flexible as possible to meet the need of the hour. We want to minister the way Jesus ministers to people.