Picture this: you’re sitting across the table from your new friend, a woman who espouses another faith, when her words cause your pulse to quicken.
“You’re a Christian, right? What do Christians believe?”
Your eyes widen. What an opportunity! A smile breaks across your face—but then wavers. Where do you start? How much doctrinal depth should you include? Should you just skip the details and go straight for the punchline.
You see questions forming in your friend’s eyes, but you can only guess her thoughts. Maybe she’s wondering what sin is—whether it’s the same as bad merit, or karma, or simply a lack of true knowledge. Maybe she’s wrestling with the idea of how God could have a Son. Maybe she’s questioning why the removal of sins should require death—or why a loving God would create a world which includes sin, death, and suffering in the first place.1
How can you paint a clearer, more holistic picture of the gospel that anticipates some of these questions, concerns, and barriers? That’s not easy to answer for two reasons. First, your friend’s barriers to belief will probably have much to do with her own worldview—how she interprets her world through the lens of her current faith.
So, when you make a friend from another faith, you’ll likely want to take time to develop some familiarity with her worldview and culture. Besides guiding you to become a more sensitive friend, this will help you anticipate potential barriers the other woman might encounter when grappling with the gospel.
Second, presenting a more holistic gospel message is tricky because there’s no “one size fits all” formula for evangelism—especially to friends from multiple faiths. Instead, evangelism often requires attention to individual circumstances, patient listening, and a demonstration of love in the context of a consistent, Christlike lifestyle. The heart of evangelism must also beat in sync with the Holy Spirit, who alone has the power to convince, convict, and convert.
With these disclaimers in mind, let’s explore how to paint a more holistic picture of the gospel using the canvas of Genesis. It’s a canvas with space to address many key questions which friends from diverse faiths are likely to ask. And it’s a canvas that grounds the gospel in its very beginning. Here are three ways Genesis can help you portray the gospel to friends from other faiths:
From the very first words of Scripture, God reveals significant attributes of his character. These attributes help distinguish God from deities of other faiths, provide insight into why this God is worth serving, and anticipate multiple questions which people from other faiths may ask about him.
“In the beginning,” opens Genesis, “God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). These words introduce an everlasting God, a God who exists outside of time because he created time itself. There is no such thing as “before” in eternity, so no one and nothing could have been before God. Besides unveiling our universe’s origins, this verse also answers the frequently asked question, Who created God?
The reality that God created the heavens and earth demonstrates not only his authority over the whole universe, but also his unimaginable awesomeness. From the farthest swirling galaxy to the nearest blade of grass, every fiber of creation declares his glory. Romans 1:20 affirms, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
Across history, people of different faiths have attributed these “things that have been made” to vastly different types of creators. So, other questions which friends from other faiths may ask are Exactly which God or gods do Christians worship? Do Christians accept one Creator God, like Muslims and Jews, or multiple deities, like Hindus? Again, Genesis hints at the answer.
In Genesis 1:1, for example, the Hebrew name for God is Elohim. The ending “-im” makes this name a masculine plural noun. Yet the following verb, created, is singular. Still, in verse 26, God refers to himself in plural, saying “Let us make man in our image.”
So, what’s going on here? Genesis is introducing a Creator who is somehow a plurality within a oneness—in other words, a Trinity.
We see in Genesis 1:2 that part of this Trinity includes God’s Holy Spirit. But what about God’s Son? While Genesis doesn’t specifically name Jesus as belonging to the Trinity, John’s gospel unpacks this mystery by mirroring the opening of Genesis:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1–3, ESV)
When sharing the gospel himself then, John alludes to Genesis to frame Christ’s divinity, his relationship to God, and his role in creation.
The fact that God is triune, with a loving oneness existing between the Trinity’s members, reflects the truth that Christians worship a relational God. This relatability distinguishes him from the unknowable Allah of Islam, or the impersonal Brahman of Hinduism, or even the diffuse energies of New Ageism. Instead, God’s personability is woven into the very sinews of the Genesis account, which portrays a Creator who personally hand-crafted (Genesis 2:7), instructed (Genesis 2:16), engaged (Genesis 2:19) and even walked with his creation (Genesis 3:8).
As much as God delights in relationship with his creation, Genesis makes it clear that he can’t remain in a relationship with sinful beings. Sin, as revealed in the Garden of Eden account, amounts to rebelling against God’s authority. And Genesis first reveals what so many later Scriptures confirm: the consequence of sin is death. It’s cause and effect: God is the giver of life, so when we reject God, we reject life itself.
Where there is sin, something has to die—from the animal whose skin God took to clothe Adam and Eve when they understood their guilt, to the first sacrificial lamb which Adam’s son Abel brought before God, to Adam and Eve and all humanity after them.
The reality that all humans, as descendants of Adam, have rejected our holy, life-giving God responds to another key question which friends from any faith may ponder: If God is all-powerful, why would he create a world with so much death, suffering, and evil?
That’s a question which one of my own family friends from another faith recently asked us as we chatted around her table. In answer, my family turned the conversation to Genesis.
“You’re right,” we began, “death, suffering, and evil are problems for all worldviews and faiths to explain. The Bible teaches that when God created the world, he created it ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31). But so that humans would have the freedom to love God instead of being choiceless robots merely programmed to serve him, God gave us one boundary.”
From there, we explained the account of Eden, of Adam and Eve’s decision to reject their life-giving God, and of sin’s arrival into the world. Now, the consequence would be death. Now, humans would hurt one another. Now, nature itself would turn ugly, with even the tenderest rose stem twisting into a scimitar of thorns. Separation from God, according to Genesis, is the reason for the brokenness in this world.
This grave scene of brokenness, first expressed through the canvas of Genesis, provided my family a full-color background upon which to paint our friend an image of the cross.
“God loved the world too much to let us die in our sin-broken state,” we explained. “All along, he had a plan to step into it as a human being and take all of our sin’s effects—evil, suffering, and death—upon himself.”
Noteworthily, the first prophesy of this plan appears in (you guessed it!) Genesis: “I will put enmity between you and the woman,” God told Eve’s tempter, the devil, in Genesis 3:15, “and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
This passage casts the first forward glance towards Christ’s sacrificial victory over evil. We find a clear statement of that victory in 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, where Paul himself connected the cross back to Genesis:
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
All shall be made alive.
The Gospel knows no borders. Everlasting life in Christ is available for every descendant of the first man, Adam. It’s an invitation which extends to every individual, from every tribe, tongue and faith. And it’s an invitation which is grounded in Genesis.
In the end, then, Genesis provides an exquisite canvas for painting a wholistic picture of the gospel to friends of other faiths. This canvas introduces the character God, reflecting his attributes which both draw us to worship him and distinguish him from deities of other faiths. It explains the origin of sin, anticipating one of the most common questions which those coming to faith may struggle with: Why would a loving, powerful God create a world with death and suffering? By addressing this question, Genesis also provides the framework for answering why Christ had to die to redeem the descendants of Adam. Ultimately, Genesis is the backdrop of the gospel.
So, now, picture this: you’re sitting across the table from your new friend, a woman who espouses another faith, when her words cause your pulse to quicken.
“You’re a Christian, right? What do Christians believe?”
Breathing a silent prayer, you smile and answer, “Let’s start at the beginning.”