The Three Circles Gospel Illustration

Sarah Bowler's picture

In J.P. Moreland and Tim Muehlhoff’s book The God Conversation, they write “The thoughts and questions our friends have about God and the Christian faith require careful answers. Our answers require study of the Scriptures, reading of Christian thinkers and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. They also require vivid illustrations to make our answers clear and memorable.”

Why do they make such an assertion about illustrations? Research suggests that most people forget half of a typical conversation immediately afterwards. When it comes to our teaching or our faith conversations with our children, good visual aids and illustrations can often be the key to helping things stick.
One gospel illustration that I particularly like is the “Three Circles Illustration” from EvanTell, which helps illustrate who we are trusting in for our eternal salvation. Part of the beauty of this illustration is that you can use it almost anywhere—in a classroom with a white board or even one on one with a napkin and a pen. It is particularly helpful for those who believe that Jesus died on the cross but our having trouble connecting all of the dots.
To begin draw a row of 3 large circles. In the first circle, write a “W.” In the second circle, write a “C+W,” and in the third circle write the letter “C.”
Underneath the “W Circle” write the word “Works,” and explain that some people trust in their good deeds to get them to heaven. If doing this with a class of kids, you might ask them to give you some examples of good works.
Then, under the second circle, write “Christ +Works,” and explain that some people trust in Christ plus good things that they have done to get them to heaven.
Finally, under the third circle, write “Christ,” and explain that some trust in Christ alone to get to heaven.
(If you are speaking with someone one on one, this is a good point to ask them which circle they identify with the most.)
Go back to the first circle and write the word “Unnecessary” underneath. Those of us who try to get to heaven by our good works our basically telling God that Christ’s death was not necessary. There would have been no need for Christ to die if our good works alone could obtain our salvation. What a waste!
Under the second circle put the word “Disappointing.” Those of us who try to get to heaven based on our good works plus trusting in Christ our saying that Christ’s death was disappointing. Basically, it wasn’t enough because we still have to do part of the work.
Under the third circle put the word “sufficient.” When we trust in Christ alone, we believe what the Bible says—Jesus Christ’s work on the cross was sufficient to pay for all of our sin.
To see an example of this illustration being drawn, see Larry Moyer draw and explain the "Three Circles" on youtube.

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