Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com

Bible teaching about persuasion

The Bible teaching about persuasion is vitally important, because Christians are in that business. If you and I take a look at the Bible, we will be surprised at what is there. 

The Great Commission instructs us to, “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19), and that involves a great deal of convincing! Jesus said to, “Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in” (Luke 14:23). He had evangelism in mind. 

The word used for compel is (anankazo), which means to earnestly constrain by entreaty, imploring, or persuasion. Pretty strong! Jesus, in this story, is talking about evangelism. But, He didn’t mean to club people into Christianity.

Paul plunged into the issue, “Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Here, the word for persuade (peitho) means to prevail or win over. It is the earnest effort to bring a change of mind with the use of reason or moral deliberation. 

The contexts I have presented refer to evangelism, but Paul also used persuasion for Christians, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). 

Objections to Persuasion

Many times Christians object to the use persuasive techniques in Christian work. Normally, the reason is fear of rejection or the social disapproval of other people. To handle rejection, I refer you to that study. (link) Another reason is that people don’t want to be deceptively manipulated. 

It is true that deceptive manipulation is wrong. Paul wrote, “For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who examines our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:3, 4).

In other words, you and I are told to persuade people for Christ, but don’t be a lying, tricky, exploitive con artist in doing it. We need to use diplomacy, kindness, sincerity, and Christian courtesy in our persuasion – and most important, rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit. In the final analysis, it is He who saves, changes, and emboldens us. 

Truthfully, everyone uses persuasion: husbands, wives, children, bosses, union members, teachers, students, politicians, advertisers, girl scouts who sell cookies – everyone.

With this said, I set forth six laws, or principles, of persuasion that are used by successful marketing or sales – or anybody – who wishes to get us to comply to their objectives. These are common ideas taught in marketing and social psychology courses, and they work because that is the way God has made us. An excellent book that gives scientific backing to these laws is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Dr. Robert B. Cialdini.

Law One of Persuasion: Reciprocation

This simply means that when we give something, such as a gift, it is understood that the other person is to give something back. For example, in many American stores you will see people handing out free samples of items. Why do they do that? It is to get you to feel obligated to buy their product. 

Paul uses this motive, “I urge you therefore…by the mercies of God” (Romans 12:1). He is saying that since God has given us so much, we are obligated to, “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). 

Law Two of Persuasion: Commitment

This has to do with how our minds work. The values and beliefs we have stored in our mind tend to be consistent and complimentary, and also  consistent with our behavior. That is why if we commit ourselves to a little step or decision in a certain direction, we tend to continue in that direction. We don’t want to be seen as contradicting ourselves. It is sometimes called the “foot in the door” tactic.

James spoke of this principle regarding falling into sin (James 1:13-15). He said the first step is moderate temptation, the next step is a deeper commitment with enticement by lust, and the final decision is the full commitment to sin. 

Law Three of Persuasion: Social Proof

This principle is simple: if everyone is doing it, then it must be right. People want to have social approval; consequently, you and I tend to do what we think everyone approves of. This is why church and Christian fellowship is so important. When we see that others believe the Christian Faith, then we are encouraged to do so. 

This is why the writer of Hebrews wrote, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:25). That is why advertisers try to convince us that many people use their product; consequently, so should we. It is proof that their product is best.

Law Four of Persuasion: Likeability

We tend to purchase things or agree with people that we like. Would you buy a car from a salesperson you hate? Probably not. Tupperware parties use this principle. A host will invite her friends to a party, have good food and fellowship, and then the saleslady will present the Tupperware. People buy because they like the host who is their friend. 

Paul wrote of this law, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6). In other words, be a nice, likable person. It is like the old proverb, “You will catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

Law Five of Persuasion: Authority

People defer to and obey authority. For example, when the policeman or boss tells you or me to do something, we respond accordingly. That is why doctors have their diplomas hanging in their office: to remind you they are the authority in health matters. We comply. That is why salespeople wear suits, which are a symbol of authority. For example, when I walk through Nordstroms, all the men – even shoe salesmen – are wearing suits and ties. 

Our Lord used this principle, “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations’” (Matthew 28: 18, 19). 

Law Six of Persuasion: Scarcity

This principle deals with how our minds are wired. If we think we will never have a chance to again have something, we believe we must have it now. Sales people use it in slogans such as, “limited supplies…last chance to buy…this offer will never come again, etc.” It creates a sense of urgency to get it while we can.

Actually, the Bible uses this sense of urgency, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:28). In other words, if we want to be saved, we better do it now, because after death the offer is over – forever.

I have presented six laws (principles) of persuasion. Esmie and I trust that your sermons, Bible lessons, relations with others, and witnessing will have even greater influence to the glory of Christ. All the best to you.

Dr. Willis and Esmie Newman

BIBLE TEACHING ABOUT QUESTIONS

1. What principles on how to persuade do you see in Romans 12:1?

2. Which principle do you think Paul is using in 1 Corinthians 15:33?

3. What is your thinking on the issue of persuading others by a Christian?

4. What principle is Jesus using in John 14:1-6?

5. What does the Holy Spirit do in relation to humanity (John 16:8)? Explain your answer.

6. List and explain three principles of persuasion that you can use in a Bible lesson plan or sermon.

7. Construct a gospel message that incorporates all six laws. It need be only a paragraph or two.

8. The next time you hear a sermon, or go to a store, or talk to a salesperson, observe and pick out the principles they use.

9. If someone said to you that, “Christians should never use persuasion,” how would you answer the person?

10. What stood out to you the most in this lesson? Explain.

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