1) Be honest and forthright about your beliefs.
There are two harmful tendencies that I think characterize many of our conversations with our lost family members. The first is our tendency to trivialize our doctrinal convictions. Very often it is easy to withhold discussion of our beliefs, especially those related to the doctrine of sin, from our conversations for the sake of maintaining the status quo. When we “reveal our cards” by explaining our beliefs about the wickedness of men—and, by extension, our own wickedness—there can be a personal backlash. So, the tendency is to minimize the offense by making little of our presuppositions, worldview, and convictions. The problem, of course, is to not talk about sin is to not talk about the Gospel. It is to elevate the comfort of maintaining common ground over the discomfort of sharing the hard truths that are desperately needed. And while I’m not advocating for creating an unnecessary offense, I am saying that to consistently withhold the truth may very well be tantamount to bowing down to the idol of comfort.
...to consistently withhold the truth may very well be tantamount to bowing down to the idol of comfort.
Our second tendency is to make excuses for the lost family member. No mother wants to think of her son in a bad light. It is hard to admit that a son or spouse or sister is a guilty sinner in rebellion against God. Thus, the excuses start rolling in: “He just got around the wrong crowd.” “She’s a good person but her life has been hard.” Ok, he may have gotten in with the wrong crowd and she may have had an awful life, but those concerns are really secondary to the real issue. Namely, there is a sin problem. Until that is taken care of, nothing will change in any meaningful way. We have to be honest about this.
2) Be honest about the love of God.
A pastor I know once said “You can’t get someone saved, until you get them lost.” What he meant by that was that people need to realize the dire situation they are in before they can respond to the Gospel. The Good News isn’t good until the reality of one’s sin sets in. To balance his statement, however, let me say this—when someone is saved, it is not simply because they are running from judgment; it is that they are running to Christ. The terror of the reality of condemnation elicits an existential crisis and that crisis is the fertile ground in which Christ’s love is revealed in its full effect. Be honest about sin, yes, but be honest about sin with the intention of exposing the true meaning of the love of God.
3) Be thankful that they are not a nominal Christian.
The family member that openly rejects the Gospel may be better off than you think. In my estimation, it is far better to be open in your rejection of the Lord than to play church, call yourself a believer, and have a false sense of security. You know where they stand and you don’t have to guess. The agnostic/atheist family member has drawn a line in the sand and taken a side. If and when they do come to Christ, you will know it! There will be a definitive change.
4) Prepare yourself to answer their objections and explain the faith meaningfully and accurately.
Spiritual conversations are those instances in which you’re able to talk about the Lord with the other person. Have these conversations! If you aren’t having them, try to have them! If they aren’t wanting to have them, keep looking for a chance!
Someone once said “Preach the Gospel, and when necessary, use words.” I completely disagree with this statement… The Gospel has content that needs to be communicated with words. It is true that we need to back up what we preach with our lives, but don’t distort that principle by abdicating your role in giving the Gospel. Have those conversations whenever you can and talk about spiritual things.
...be honest about sin with the intention of exposing the true meaning of the love of God
Of course, this means that when you have these conversations and when you give the Gospel, you’ve got to be able to explain what you believe and why you believe it. It may very well mean that you need to brush up on the family member’s specific objections or perspective. Don’t just brush off their perspective—interact with it. Push back. Truth is on your side.
5) Abide in Christ and intercede persistently.
Don’t forget that we are at war! We have real spiritual enemies that do not want to see your family member come to know Christ. One of the greatest weapons we have is prayer. When we are abiding in Christ, our intercessory prayers are powerful! I don’t mean wimpy, lackluster, or dry prayer. I’m talking about persistent, daily, thoughtful, specific, and tearful prayer that treats their spiritual condition as seriously as it is. Claim Scripture’s promises. Pray hard.