3. Display the love of Christ, instead of only demanding it.
We must be willing to display both Christ’s grace and holiness in our lives, being honest and vulnerable about our own sin—its odiousness, its stubbornness, its power and its seduction. This can be incredibly difficult when we are talking with someone who casually confesses the crown of Christ. If they are not genuinely wrestling with sin or being regularly refreshed by his grace, then we should not be surprised when our struggle seems either insignificant or incredible to them.
Nonetheless, it is by being honest and letting them see our love of Christ, our joy in him, our frustration with sin and our struggle to apply God’s word that they can begin to sense that something may be out of kilter in their own walk. We are not looking for Christian exhibitionism here (making a big deal of sin and grace in public when it has no meaning in private) but rather Christian realism (that being a Christian does entail work—wonderful, but hard).
4. Remain patient.
We should be willing to be in it for the long haul. It’s rare to see immediate change; it usually happens over months and years, not a single evening. In the normal course of relationships, we have multiple opportunities to close doors and walk away. We are sinners in community with sinners. We hurt each other, and unfortunately we do it regularly. But just as Christ has loved us and does not give up on us (Philippians 1:6), neither should we give up on our brother or sister.
Paul tells us that a little leaven leavens the whole lump (Galatians 5:9), so if we have a hunch that someone who professes to be Christian is deceiving themselves, should we not walk away?
Gross sin, however, is not the same as a lack of fruit. If someone claims to be a Christian, but continues in blatant, unrepentant sin, then you may need to walk away, in some sense, in order that you would not be caught up in it (Galatians 6:1), and perhaps few need it more than those who can’t tell the difference.
5. Commit your time with them to Scripture, prayer and worship.
We must be willing to help point them to their need of Christ’s grace and holiness in their life. There may be little-to-no appetite for things of a spiritual nature, or what appetite there is may not have its anchor in Christ. Therefore, it can become easy to let the spiritual things slide in the name of comfort, convenience or kindness. But what they need most can only be found in one place: God’s word. No tightly argued apologetic or perfectly choreographed “gotcha!” moment can trump the effect of time in Scripture.
We must be willing to study God’s word with them, pray God’s word with them and worship in God’s word with them. It is by finding engaging opportunities to set them in Scripture that the gospel can do its dual work of comfort and conviction.