Step One: Peace and Life
October 1, 2004 - Can four simple steps really make an eternal difference in someone’s life? Just ask Charlie Riggs, longtime Director of Counseling and Follow-up for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Without hesitation, Riggs says, “Yes!”
by Tom Phillips
Fifty years ago, while serving at the 1954 London Crusade, Charlie Riggs developed four remarkable steps and titled them “Steps to Peace With God.” Since that time, and in various printed and electronic forms, this succinct and clear presentation of how to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and experience peace with God has been translated into dozens of languages and shared with millions of people.
A Needed Tool
Devoted to sharing Christ with others and to discipling Christians to multiply by witnessing, Riggs saw “Steps to Peace With God” as a natural overflow from the message Billy Graham preaches. The challenge was how to translate that message into a tool that the counseling and follow-up team could use in training the lay volunteers who counseled inquirers at the end of a Crusade meeting.
The message that many people heard from the church in the 1950s was filled with images of hell, fire and damnation. While those are realities for someone not rescued by trusting in Jesus and should not be minimized, Riggs felt led to present the Gospel from a different perspective. He knew firsthand the impact of God’s love, forgiveness and plan for his life.
“God put a hunger and thirst in me to think about what happens if people don’t live for God,” Riggs explains when asked why he was he so positive during a time when the message of the church was not always so positive. “God had done so much for me and changed my life. His plan for us is peace and life, and the only way to have that peace is to accept Jesus. I had heard Mr. Graham preach this many times. I just took that message and made it into the four steps.”
God’s Purpose: Peace and Life
It is no accident that the first step in this tool is “God loves you and wants you to experience peace and life—abundant and eternal.” After training counselors for Crusades and personally sharing his faith hundreds of times, Riggs knew that the key place to begin was with each person’s innate need. Blaise Pascal talked about each person having a God-shaped vacuum. Nothing else can fill this hole except God. It’s clear that this is true in today’s world—just as it was true 50 years ago.
“People need to know that God loves them,” Riggs says. “Most people don’t think that God does, or that He has a real plan for their lives. People just line up and follow others who don’t know God because they don’t know any better. It’s sad when people think they’ve just been born to live and die, with no purpose but to follow daily routines. So many don’t have a concept of heaven, hell or eternity.”
By focusing the initial step on God’s desire for us to experience His love, peace and abundant life, anyone using this tool can open the door to a discussion with a basic question. Those who use this tool often begin by asking, “Do you know the steps to peace with God?” Those words, “Do you know,” immediately trigger someone’s intellectual curiosity and pave the way for an introduction to the fact that there is a God who desires a personal relationship with everyone. Hearing—maybe for the first time—that it is possible to have peace with God, the person is drawn to the Originator of faith, life and redemption—the Savior. This question often provokes a feeling that one ought to know something but does not. One might also ask the question, “Did you know that God has a specific plan for you?” Both questions help people realize they have a God-shaped vacuum. People become interested in finding out about these steps to peace with God.
A Living Example
These steps are a tool that any Christian can use to tell others about Christ. Riggs uses it nearly every time he leaves his home. Whether he’s ministering in a prison or eating dinner at a restaurant, those who meet him hear that there is a way to have peace; that we can have it only with God; and only through a personal relationship with Jesus.
One such person was an artist named Steve. Riggs and his late wife, LaRue, went to Steve’s house to look at some paintings. During their conversation, Riggs asked Steve if he would like to attend the upcoming Billy Graham Crusade. Steve agreed to attend, and though he didn’t go forward during the invitation, he thanked Riggs for taking him.
The next day, Riggs again visited Steve, taking along a copy of “Steps to Peace With God.” He suggested that Steve look it over. The discussion went something like this:
“Steve, do you know that God loves you and you can have peace with Him?” Riggs asked.
“That sounds like a great thing—but how?” Steve answered.
Riggs responded: “Only God can give it to you, when you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Do you believe in heaven and hell?”
“I do,” Steve said. “I hope I’m going to heaven. I go to church every Sunday.”
“You can be sure that you’ll be in heaven for eternity,” Riggs said. “It just takes putting your faith in Christ.”
With that, Steve exhaled a sigh of relief. “I do want to accept Jesus,” he said.
Riggs prayed with Steve and rejoiced to see how God could use four simple steps to change someone’s life.
Often, God uses this first step as a jumping-off place, giving a spiritual wake-up call even to those active in the church. During his years with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Riggs trained hundreds of thousands of counselors for Crusades. Much of that training centered on teaching potential counselors to use “Steps to Peace With God.” Like Steve, who attended church weekly, sometimes even those who attended counselor training didn’t understand God’s offer of peace. Lives were radically changed as people learned about God’s plan for them.
Though these steps were written over 50 years ago, they are still relevant today. This tool is now in the public domain, so there is no way to estimate the number of copies in existence. Riggs continues to use it in a vibrant prison ministry, helping inmates know, accept and grow in Christ. Other Christian organizations have adjusted the language to best reflect those whom they serve, reaching individuals in the United States and around the world. God took what began as a simple way to involve people in Crusade counseling and transformed it into a tool that drives His truth into the human heart and helps people find peace and life—abundant and eternal.