“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives,” (1 Peter 3:1, ESV)
You can’t nag sinners to Christ. I think we all know that, but it doesn’t stop us trying, does it? Such logic often interrupts the efforts of Christian parents in pointing their children to salvation. Spouses can also easily fall into the same trap when it comes to witnessing to their ‘bitter’ half (1Peter 3:1ff). The thought process goes something like this: “I love this person so much. They seem to be completely insensible of their spiritual need. If I can scold them harshly enough, perhaps I can awaken in them a desire to come to Christ. I mean, what are they, stupid? And, as we all know, heaven helps those who help themselves, right? So, how will God save (insert loved ones’ name), if I don’t encourage in them a desire to cry out to God for help?”
But that’s the point, unconverted people are stupid in the worst, and most densely dead kind of way. They are spiritual corpses (Ephesians 1:1). And, yes, while God does use the truth and power of His word to birth life into such souls (1Peter 1:23). He does not use human anger and frustration to do it (James 1:20). Sinful anger almost always has the exactly the opposite tendency.
Let me encourage a different method:
Pray for your loved one. Didn’t Augustine credit his mother’s prayers for his salvation? In particular, pray in a manner that honors the Sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners. Remind yourself this person is dead in their transgressions, that they are a slave of sin, they cannot come to Christ unless the Father draws them. Call upon God to do for them what they cannot do for themselves: “Open their eyes Lord, for the things of the Spirit are obviously foolishness to them. They cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Send Your Spirit to convince them of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come. Do for them what you did for Lydia, open their hearts that they might understand the gospel.”
Notice I said, “Remind yourself…” God needs no reminder, though he likes to be asked in a way that shows we haven’t forgotten our theological P’s and Q’s. We are the ones who need reminding and often.
Pray for grace not to make a bad situation worse. “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:4–5, ESV). At first glance this proverb sounds contradictory, but it’s not. Solomon is simply saying: talking with a fool is not only difficult, it is also hazardous. Take care, lest you leave in a worse state than you arrived. Folly is catching. A cookie cutter approach will not help. We need great discernment, and we will not find that on our own.
When you do speak, address the big picture rather than nickel and diming the person to death, listing each of their peccadillos. Be a spiritual sniper (one shot one kill. Don’t fire too many bullets. Remember, you want to live to fight another day!!). When someone is dead in sins, it’s probably going to manifest itself everywhere. Care must be taken (and you are responsible for taking it) not to allow the relationship to deteriorate into one marked by constant scolding and fault finding. This sin often besets the Christian home. Take every effort to express love for your unconverted spouse or child. Live a life that shows the loveliness of Christ and the things of God before them. Pray for opportunities to speak warmly of Christ in their hearing, of what he means to you— but not in a weird way! When you sin against your child or spouse, confess your fault humbly with no buts, ands, or ifs, and ask for forgiveness. When you do address the error of their ways, go after the root sin: express concern regarding their heart attitude towards God, and the trajectory such defiance, neglect, etc. tends to produce.
In all this, do not forget the sovereignty of God. I leave you with the testimony of St Patrick of Ireland:
“I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, of the settlement of Bannavem Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation. And theLord brought down on us the fury of his being and scattered us among many nations, even to the ends of the earth, where I, in my smallness, am now to be found among foreigners.
And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.
The God of St. Patrick remains the same, yesterday, today and forever! When we spend more time talking to sinners about God than we do talking to God about sinners, we are probably forgetting this lesson.