How Receptive are Your Unbelieving Friends to the Gospel?
When you begin to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with an unbelieving (non-Christian) acquaintance, which of the above facial expressions appears on his or her face?
And what do you do? Do you stop at a “red light” or plow recklessly ahead? Do you run through a “yellow light” or maybe stop just assuming it’s turning yellow? Do you cruise appropriately through a “green light,” or perhaps slow down and stop even though the light is green?
In other words, how do we and how should we respond to various receptivity signs flashed at us when we attempt to tell unbelievers about Jesus and the salvation he offers them?
The Understanding-Receptivity Matrix
The 1999 “cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction” movie—The Matrix—has overshadowed the traditional use of the word matrix. If you don’t believe me, try Googling the word.
Prior to 1999, matrix simply meant a “rectangular arrangement of rows and columns.”
For example, here is what we call the Understanding-Receptivity Matrix.
In Matthew 13:23 Jesus said that “good soil” for God’s Word is the person who clearly understands the gospel. That’s primarily a head-kind-of-thing. And there are really many different levels of gospel understanding, many more than we have depicted on this simple Good Soil Scale. The previous article—How Much of the Gospel Do Your Unbelieving Friends Understand?—attempts to explain the Vertical Dimension of the scale.
The Horizontal Dimension of the Good Soil Scale is the “angry-to-happy faces” dimension. It’s the heart-thing in Mark 4:20—the “good soil” is the person who warmly embraces the gospel.
Every unbeliever is somewhere in this Matrix!
Let’s take a look into the four corners of the matrix and see who’s there:
The Gospel-Ignorant and Unreceptive Person
Toward the lower left-hand corner of the matrix is the person who knows virtually nothing about the gospel and is staunchly resistent to hearing and learning about it. It’s not uncommon these days to find born-in-North America folks who fall somewhere at or near the lower-left. But in very-pagan or anti-Christian worldview cultures, the kinds of places some of our boldest missionaries go, is where you would find them in mass.
What they need: Time, love, patience, prayer, and godly examples, as well as “entry point” opportunities to tell them about Jesus and the gospel.
The Gospel-Understood and Unreceptive Person
He or she is in the upper left-hand corner. Let’s call this person “Uncle Robert,” one of my dear uncles who attended a gospel-preaching church all of his life. He could probably have explained the gospel to you as well as many Christians. But he was not a heart-believer and had become hardened over the years. He wasn’t angry-hardened (not a -12), but you might as well witness to a stump in the yard as to try to break through his gospel-resistance.
What they need: Love, kindness, prayer and gentle non-preachy but candid nudges to open up to Jesus and the gospel.
The Gospel-Ignorant and Openly Receptive Person
A missionary friend of mine was doing a presentation in a church in New Jersey, using the Good Soil Scale as a visual. After the service, a man from India walked up to him and asked to have a copy of the matrix. The missionary said, “Sure, that’s not a problem!” But, he added, “I’m just curious as to why you want a copy of the scale.” The Indian man responded, “Because I’m -11 on the scale and I want to track my progress up the scale.” Gospel-ignorant, but openly receptive.
What they need: Prayer and clear teachings about God’s BIG redemptive story and how they can become a member of God’s family.
The Gospel-Understood and Openly Receptive Person
The “sweet spot” on the matrix is the upper right-hand corner. These are people who understand the gospel clearly enough to respond by faith and are receptive, maybe even eager, enough to learn about the final two-sided step of repentance and faith. If you are blessed with the opportunity to meet an unbeliever at this location on the matrix, don’t fail to give credit to the “whoevers” who have tilled his/her gospel soil and sown the gospel seed in his/her life previously. You can be certain that you are not the first Christian to have had gospel input into this person’s life.
What they need: Loving guidance, encouragement, prayer, as well as assurance that they well never regret their response to place their trust is Jesus to be their Savior.
Now, Your Assignments
- Think about your life when someone first tried to share the “good news” of Jesus with you. Where were you on the matrix and what was your response? And why did you respond the way you did?
- Think about non-Christians you know and see if you can place them on the matrix.
- Think specifically about how you have responded or should respond to each of these non-Christian acquaintances when you realized where they are on the matrix.
Good Soil Evangelism and Discipleship Training
The Good Soil seminars are specifically designed to help you present the gospel—wherever they are on the scale of Bible knowledge and gospel understanding.
The Story of Hope An Evangelistic Bible Study for People Wherever They Are on the Scale
The Story of Hope evangelistic Bible for non-Christians who know nothing, little, or even much about the Bible’s redemptive story—the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is available in more than 30 languages, with more being translated all the time.