When we think of outreach, evangelism, and the like, we very often come up with thoughts of shiny new programs at church, awkward conversations, or those little track books. In many cases it seems to be accompanied by a great amount of production and fanfare. For some, it may raise a note of pride as they reflect on how many people they’ve “led to Christ.” Others may experience a sense of shame or regret at opportunities missed or avoided. Indeed, the Great Commission given by Christ Himself speaks to this very topic:
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
However, I believe a question we often wrestle with is how we go about doing this: how we share our faith with others. When we talk about this topic, we usually end up talking about marketing Christianity. More to the point, we talk about how to convince people to join church and the result is that our evangelism is more akin to a sales pitch than any sort of witness or sharing of Christ’s message. It is no accident that Christianity is treated and perceived as merely a club when it is presented as such by Christians themselves.
So what is the alternative? If not convincing others to become Christians, what are we to do? To begin, let’s take a moment to consider exactly what it is that makes a Christian a Christian, namely, our relationship with God. We have accepted God’s free-standing offer of grace and thereby been reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ. Through this reconciliation, our relationship with God becomes one in which, rather than resisting or being indifferent towards His love, we are free to receive and return that love. Our obedience in following Jesus’ example is an act of love, not an attempt to earn love. This mechanic of God’s love filling us and being manifested in our attitudes and actions lies at the heart of our lives as Christians. It is also this love that binds the Church together and makes it what it is: the body of believers across time and space. So at both the individual and group level, our relationship with God is what moves and sustains us; it is the beating heart of our faith. Thus, when we share our faith, the core of what we are sharing is this relationship.
With that in mind, we turn again to the question of how we go about sharing our faith. The introduction to 1 John provides us with some perspective and guidance:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life – the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us – that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”
-1 John 1:1-4
John’s aim is that the reader should join in the fellowship of believers, which is the fellowship shared with the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit. He grounds his appeal not on clever arguments or flashy displays, but on the declaration of what he has witnessed. John and the other Apostles testified to the reality of Christ’s resurrection through their eyewitness accounts and first-hand experience. Anyone who is a believer has a testimony to give of their experience with God, for we all have witnessed Him working in our lives.
The abstract ideas and concepts utilized in arguments are useful for understanding what we know about our relationship with God. However, they cannot, of themselves, show God to others. They can speak to and convince the mind, but they have no power to move the heart. At best, we can reach a kind of deism through these arguments, choosing to accept that God exists but remaining agnostic about His personal and ongoing involvement with His creation. In order to share our faith, we must speak from our personal experience with God, declaring what we, ourselves, have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, and what our hands have handled. In so doing, we let God speak through our lives.
As stated earlier, everyone who is a believer has a testimony to share and a relationship with God from which to draw. We should be prepared to speak of what we believe and why, but we need not be professional nor even gifted orators to speak from the heart. Christ does not call upon us to be salespeople or spokespersons, He calls upon us to be witnesses.