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TELL THE TRUTH: Wrestling with Scripture #9

There’s a famous quote, perhaps falsely attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, that says, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” I know I’ve said something similar to imply that Christians can testify with their lives even if they don’t put their faith into words, but too many of us use this mindset as an excuse not to verbally share the Gospel with our unbelieving family and friends.

Our logic goes something like this. They know we go to church regularly, wear a cross, and pray over our meals. Isn’t that enough to show we love Jesus? When we’re patient and kind, loving and forgiving, aren’t we displaying Christ-like behavior to a watching world? If we’re full of joy, thankful in all circumstances, and rejoice amid suffering, won’t people notice and want what we have?

Maybe, but I think we’d have to be supernaturally good at the last three to arouse much beyond mild curiosity, and despite what we might think, unbelievers can be just as loving and patient, generous to the poor, and committed to their friends and families as we are. If the aforementioned quote does belong to St. Francis, Catholic theologians probably agree that he meant at those odd times when we can’t verbally evangelize, our actions should be consistent with the message we’ve shared in the past and intend to share in the future.

Consider Romans 10:13-14: “… for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” and “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).

Given the stakes, why are we so reticent to share our faith? We might all have different answers, but there’s probably only one—fear—and it typically falls into three categories. First, we adherents to Midwestern nice are afraid to offend or alienate anyone. Second, we’re afraid to step out of our comfort zones where we could be challenged, ridiculed, or rejected. And third, we’re afraid we won’t use the right words and our ineffective efforts might do more harm than good.

Considering the horrendous abuse Jesus endured for us, the first two reasons should be fairly embarrassing for the thinking Christian to even consider. How much do we love Jesus? Do we believe the Bible when it says that perfect love casts out all fear? Are we careful not to offend or alienate others at the risk of offending God? Are we more concerned with our comfort and social connections than with our relationship with Jesus?

1 Thessalonians 2:13 leaves little wiggle room. It says we’ve accepted the Word “not as a human word, but as it actually is, the Word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” If we believe the Bible contains the very words of God, the Creator and Sustainer of everything that exists, that it’s the only revelation of God’s plan for the redemption of mankind, how can we keep silent?

To me, the only fear of sharing Jesus that has any validity is the fear of dishonoring His name by witnessing without a clear grasp of the Good News or by saying something clearly unbiblical. Does that mean we need to know Scripture cover to cover or have hundreds of verses and cites memorized? (I confess I’ve used this excuse. Although fairly confident the Holy Spirit will bring a passage to mind, I’m far less so that I can find it if asked.)

But is that what’s meant by 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV): “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”? I don’t think we have to be able to quote chapter and verse or have the perfect answer to every imaginable question people might ask. It’s okay to say we don’t know or that we’ll look it up and get back to them.

Finally, go back and reread that verse. We only need an answer for our faith. Evangelism is not a flawlessly crafted presentation or even leading someone in the “sinner’s prayer.” It’s our personal testimony and the evidence we’ve found to support it. All we truly need to witness is to be able to articulate what we believe and why we believe it. That sounds simple because we know the church lingo, but keep in mind that Christian buzzwords will sound like a foreign language to the lost and “because the Bible says so” will be meaningless to someone who doesn’t see Scripture as the inspired Word of God.

I challenge you to write out your personal statement of faith. Put it in your own words, think deeply about the “whys,” and avoid the usual theological jargon like grace, atonement, sin, and redemption. You might have to get out your Bible and dig into some familiar verses. Some of you won’t bother. I hope some of you will.

Everyone we meet needs rescue. Scripture says unbelievers are dead in their trespasses and sins. Trust me. Dead people are not going to walk up and ask us to share our faith no matter how nice we are. We need to open our mouths and share why the Good News is the only truth anyone needs to hear.

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