In the previous article we noted how the Lord opened and maintained conversation. He changed the Samaritan woman’s view of Himself by initiating the conversation, and by His attitude towards her. He spoke attractively of the gospel and its value. This resulted in the response, “Sir, give me this water that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw” (John 4:15). She is involved in the conversation but is still thinking of physical water. Her concern is her physical thirst. To engage her in spiritual conversation the Lord must awaken a spiritual thirst.
If conversation is to become more than intellectual, if it is to become personal and spiritual, the conscience must be stirred. When the Lord said “Go call thy husband,” His normal request was a reminder of her sin. She admitted, “I have no husband.” Then the Lord agreed with her, exposing more fully her sin (vv16-18).
The Lord knew her shameful past and set out to bring this to her conscience. He dealt in specifics – there was a sin which He brought to her memory. He led her to consider the problem rather than merely accusing her. This is the turning point in the conversation, producing awareness of sin and thereby creating spiritual thirst.
How can we do this? Every person has a shameful past, and we must set out to bring this to their conscience. To do so, we must speak in specifics. We should lead a person to admit their guilt, rather than accuse them.
One simple method is to use the law of God. Paul teaches that “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20) and “the law is good if a man use it lawfully” (1Tim 1:8). God’s law is intended to make sin appear sinful and judgment appear just. If we are to use the law “lawfully,” we must use it for that purpose. People understand how law works. Breaking a law is a crime, committing a crime makes me guilty, and being guilty means to deserve punishment. When correctly used, God’s law makes a logical bridge between sin and God’s judgment.
We must face people with God’s law, and ask them how they stand in relation to it. A well known method of doing this is to ask, “Have you ever heard of the ten commandments?” Then explain that they are God’s law and to break one is to be guilty before God. After this, you can ask them about the individual commands. “One of the commandments says you shall not bear false witness – you shouldn’t tell lies. Have you ever done that?” Most will admit to having done so. “So if you were to stand before God and be judged by that law, would you be innocent or guilty?” They admit that they are guilty. This can be repeated using other commandments. People often become concerned, suddenly realizing their guilt before God. Once guilt is admitted, you may speak of God’s just punishment, and, as the conversation progresses, introduce the Substitute.
Importantly, we have followed the Lord’s example. The person’s conscience is stirred about a shameful past, they are faced with specific sins, and they recognize and admit their guilt, rather than being accused of it.
When the woman says “Sir, I perceive that Thou art a prophet” (v19), she admits to the correct rehearsal of her history. Then she makes a challenge, “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship” (v20). She knew that Jews and Samaritans had differences in doctrine so she brought the challenge: Who was right, Jew or Samaritan?
How did the Lord respond? He did not ridicule or avoid the question, nor did He impute bad motives to the questioner. “Let your speech be always with grace” said Paul, “seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col 4:6). A pleasant, helpful attitude should be maintained. We should be tactful and truthful. To call a person a fool or a liar will not help your conversation!
The Lord’s answer was both comprehensive and clear. He was ready. Genuine questions deserve good answers. Peter instructed believers to “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1Peter 3:15).
Many questions challenge the very foundation of our faith. Why should I believe the Bible? Has science disproved God? Why does God allow the suffering in the world? There are satisfactory answers to these questions, but do you know them? To be ready always to give an answer requires work, but it leads to profitable conversations.
Jesus commenced with a request for water and concluded with self-disclosure: “I that speak unto thee am He” (v26). A foundational principle for evangelism is to get our start from the sinner, and set our sights on the Savior. We must know where we are going and keep our focus.
The glory of Christ was communicated throughout the conversation. His sincere, spiritual interest in the woman was first revealed. We must also convey to people His interest in them. We can do so by demonstrating the same attitude as the Lord did, and by telling of the ultimate evidence of His interest, His sacrificial death on the Cross.
His identity was also disclosed. As the conversation developed, so her understanding of His identity increased. He was a “Jew” (v9), then “Sir” (v11), then “Prophet” (v19), then “Messias” (v26). When Jesus said “I that speak unto thee am He” (v26), she was ready to rightly respond to Him. We must also convey to people the true identity of Christ. He is not merely a man, a moral teacher, or a prophet. He is God manifest in flesh, the only Savior.
He also gave an invitation. She should “ask of Him” (v10), and should drink of the water that He was offering (v14). She should make salvation her own. Simple imagery communicated the importance of the personal reception of salvation. So we must impress upon people their responsibility to the gospel.
You can engage in personal evangelism. Our brief consideration has revealed some basic principles. May the Lord help us all to engage more fully in this work.