Are You Far From God, or Near to God?

evangelism islam

We opened our eyes after Daniel had finished praying for a miracle. He was about to ask the question.

The family whose living room we were sitting in was still taking in the moment. We had bumped into them while walking through their apartment complex. After some polite conversation, they invited us inside for tea. They were immigrants from Lebanon and had not lost their sense of hospitality since moving to Charlotte. After talking about life, they mentioned they were Muslim, and we shared that we were followers of Christ. Daniel asked if there was anything he could bring to God in prayer for them, and they shared some of their struggles. So he boldly prayed that God would meet their needs and reveal the truth of Jesus to them. Then he asked:

"Do you feel far from God, or near to God?"

The father thought about the question before he answered. I thought about it too. Had I been leading the conversation, I might have focused on their Islamic faith and asked questions about the differences between our beliefs. Daniel had wisely made the conversation about something simpler and more telling. He had prompted them to reflect on their relationship with God rather than relying on a label (in this case, "Muslim").

Since that day, this question has become one I love discussing with people. I live in a part of the world filled with what I've come to understand as mostly nominal Christianity. While I feel more comfortable discussing faith with people of other religions, I am mostly surrounded by people who claim to follow Christ but do not. This question is valuable in such conversations because it forces a person to reflect on their standing before God, not just on an aisle they walked or a prayer they prayed as a child.

Those Who Answer "No"

Most people you ask this question will answer with a "no." How do I know this? Because most people are far from God and would like to be near to Him. The sooner we realize this, the more effective we will become as evangelists and missionaries.

Be honest—some of you reading this feel far from God right now. That doesn't necessarily mean you don't have a relationship with Him, but answering this question with "no" indicates that something needs to be remedied. Something needs to be addressed.

Hearing that answer, the questioner can share why they are close to God. Not by their works, but by the saving work of God and the grace He gives us to live in a true relationship with Him.

Those Who Answer "Yes"

Some people will answer this question by saying they do feel close to God, or whatever version of god/gods they follow and worship. This answer should not discourage us; in fact, it should be expected. I often meet people in other faiths who are happy and fulfilled in their religious beliefs. We must keep in mind, though, that simple happiness is not the goal of Christianity. The message we carry goes far beyond "feeling" close to God; it is about actually being close to God.

The questioner again has the opportunity to share that they at one point did not feel close to God, and the way they saw that change was through hearing and believing the Gospel—that Christ took our sin and made us righteous, giving us a privileged standing before God.

The "yes" answer is not an obstacle, but a bridge. Much of evangelism is about giving people the opportunity to find out who they are and where they stand before God. It is the job of the evangelist not to convince but to enlighten the hearer as to the very real truth of who God actually is and who we actually are. We are people who are far from God in our sin, but because of the way God has made for us, we can come near. If someone feels close to God, it does not mean they actually are. This is true in Christianity as well. Just because we leave a worship service feeling close to God, we might have only been pacified by a moving worship time or a convicting sermon. It is not until we come to God in the way He has called us to, through the lordship of Christ, that we actually become close to God.

The Living Room

"Allah demands reverence and submission. I do not feel close to Him, but I still serve Him," the father answered.

Curiously, I looked at Daniel to see how he would handle what seemed to me a roadblock. My mind filled with questions about Allah, the Qur'an, and Islam, but Daniel did not seem fazed like I was.

"There was a time in my life where I felt far from God too..."

Daniel then quickly shared his story of coming to Christ and realizing the truth of the Gospel. He ended his story by asking the father if he would want to sit down together and read the Injil (Arabic for "Gospel") to learn more about Jesus and how to come near to God.

"Yes. You should come again tomorrow for dinner," the father said.

I was amazed. Had I been more involved in the conversation, we might still be bogged down in discussing the differences between Islam and Christianity, and the merits of the Christian claims about Jesus' resurrection. I was sure those things would be discussed in this living room eventually, but first something amazing had happened. This family had heard a follower of Christ share their story of being rescued from the same sin they were seeking rescue from. They had heard of the journey from death to life and from distance to nearness with the God of all creation.

All because of a simple question that invited them to reflect on their standing before God. Since that day, this question has become one of many other small tools I use when discussing faith with all sorts of people. It is also a question I find I ask myself from time to time. We all have an answer to it, and our answers tell us more than our religious labels ever can.

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