Astute observers of the Christian faith notice that it does require a wholesale life change. If your conversation partner makes this objection, then you can take heart in their acknowledgement that it is a big deal. Personal autonomy is one of (if not the) most important values for this student generation and they view any traditional religious structure as confining.
Following Jesus means following a list of rules, most of which I will not want to follow.
I am currently free to do whatever I want, and converting to a religion would impose boundaries on this freedom.
Any rule is inherently bad.
To respond to this objection, it’s best to challenge one or both of these underlying assumptions.
Ask if there are rules they consider important and generate a list of “good” rules.
If your friend is having trouble, suggest “Don’t kill,” “Don’t steal,” and “Don’t lie.” (Then let them know that these are some of the 10 commandments!)
Next, gently challenge their understanding of what it means to follow Jesus by asking what types of rules, exactly, do they think Christianity imposes. After they respond, ask if they know what rules Jesus himself invented.
(This is somewhat of a trick question, because all he did was repackage the Old Testament law).
Don’t get sidetracked by their response but tell them that from what you’ve read, Jesus said all of the law (rules) can be summed up into a two-part command: Love God and love people. If your friend is a staunch atheist they may find this unpalatable, but most people will agree that this doesn’t seem so hard on the surface of things.
You can continue the conversation by discussing how we live those principles out and how some people’s idea of loving God turned into unnecessary rules over time.
The second assumption assumes that we are free, but the Bible teaches that we are dead in our sin and unable to do good.
(Note: “Good” here means good in the eyes of God, of course any person saved or not can accomplish something other people would identify as “good.”)
We can challenge this assertion without coming off as arrogant by sharing some of our personal experience. If we are really free, then the guiding principle behind our actions would be part of an overarching worldview that we have chosen for ourselves. However, in my case, self interest was always the motivating factor for me before I chose to follow Christ and still factors into my decisions more than I wish.
If we want to act in one way, but always find ourselves acting in another way that is seemingly out of our control – that is tantamount to bondage of the will. An illustration that might help is a smartphone. We think they will help us by giving us the ability to store contacts, message on the go, notate ideas and keep our schedules but we end up tethered to them and experience anxiety if we go for extended periods of time without “checking in.”
The counterintuitive truth of the Gospel is that we aren’t free until we trust Christ who frees us (it is for freedom you have been made free!) This will be a difficult concept for a non-Christian to agree to, but when coupled with the first argument makes for a compelling case.