The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news of having eternal life (salvation), knowing it (assurance), and living that life abundantly (revival). It starts with salvation, therefore, when seeking to discern a person’s real need, begin with the gospel of salvation. Start with something else and you can easily misdiagnose and offer a wrong cure.
For example, what should you do if you meet a teenage young man who looks and acts ungodly but claims to be saved? The answer is simple; start with the gospel of salvation. Did he ever come to a point of understanding sin is the problem, judgment is the consequence, and Jesus is the answer? Did he agree that he is a sinner in need of Jesus? And did he depend on Jesus to save him? If not, lead him to Christ. However, if he claims he has truly believed in Jesus, what’s his need? It’s not assurance for he claims to have eternal life. His need is revival. He needs to be restored to spiritual life, to life in the Spirit. Teach him to walk in the light by coming clean with God and to walk in the Spirit by trusting in the Spirit’s power to obey the Spirit’s will.
Conversely, what would be an appropriate course of action when meeting a teenage young man who carries his Bible and has a clean appearance but doesn’t know whether or not he is saved? Again, the answer is simple; start with the gospel of salvation. Did he ever come to a point of understanding sin is the problem, judgment is the consequence, and Jesus is the answer? Did he agree that he is a sinner in need of Jesus? And did he depend on Jesus to save him? If not, lead him to Christ, but if he claims he has truly believed in Jesus, what’s his need? Revival? No, for he is seeking to live right. Assurance is his need, so teach him to focus on the record of what God says. Show him that when you believe in Jesus you have eternal life—because the Bible says so.
In ministering to others, always begin with salvation and proceed from there. More specifically, always start with the person’s understanding, the first side of the triangle of the soul. Move on to the second side, the affections (the individual’s agreement), and conclude with an examination of the will (their decision to depend on Christ). You don’t necessarily have to detail all this, but you do need to ascertain from the testimony whether the person has depended on Jesus for salvation.
If you discover that salvation is lacking, lead the individual to believe in Jesus. But if they claim to have already believed in Jesus (not just about Him) and in Jesus alone (not in Jesus plus something else), then you must conclude the person is saved. Obviously, we don’t know the heart and there is the potential for someone to lie about their true state. However, if someone has truly understood gospel truth, agreed, and transferred dependence to Jesus as Savior, then God says they’re saved. With this great truth now established, you have a basis to proceed. When assurance is lacking, lead them back to the sure word of God. If living the abundant life is wanting, lead them to the revived life in Christ.
John Van Gelderen