Warning: This post is a little longer than usual.
In this post we really wanted to address how we (as Christians) are to approach people with different beliefs. It’s a hot button issue inside the Church with an array of different methods to either interact or share Christ with people of different beliefs. This post was written mainly by Rob with Tim writing a little bit here and there to polish off the edges. How we interact with people outside the Christian faith is of utmost importance and we see Christ be an amazing example, as well as the disciples, apostles, and other people in the Bible. In a world of talking points, political rhetoric, and more talking points, it is important that Christians stand out not just in the things they say, but how well they love with their lives. People are watching and waiting to see how followers of Christ are going to handle a lot of the hot button issues of our time. Here are our thoughts.
Interactions with Non-Christians
Interaction with those of a different religion, theory, or idea is something that can’t be avoided in the world today. Nor should it. However, this should be prefaced with a few things. There is no “one-size-fit-all formula” and we should not expect a certain number of converts in a certain time period. Evangelism is not Christians persuading non-Christians to join their theology. We aren’t to be watching numbers and setting time based goals. These are humans we are talking about, not our personal projects. God wants to save every single person (1 Timothy 2:4) to be saved from their sins for His glory and their blessing. Evangelism is really Christians following the leading of the Spirit of God who works sovereignly with people in His time and purpose. We are reaching real people with real needs in real circumstances. But how do we do that?
In Love: Without Condescending The Individual
Spreading the gospel is something that every Christian has the responsibility of doing. If not for the direct command of Christ “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15) we could rely on our inherent love for other humans to dictate this commission. As Christians, we cannot avoid that anyone who does not accept Christ as their personal Savior will spend eternity in Hell. This should touch the heart of every Christian reading this blog. Our mission is to reach people with a message that can save them for all eternity. Therefore, everything we do should be out of love not condescension and care not inferiority. Paul was such an effective evangelist because he never lost sight of the fact “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). Had it not been for the grace of God in my life I would be in Hell for all eternity. We, as Christians, are only looking to share how God’s grace has changed us and offer that same hope to others in Christ Jesus.
I’ll tell you what love isn’t. Love is not using every opportunity to tell every person you met how terrible of a sinner they are and how they only deserve Hell. Probably not a good conversation/relationship starter. The best evangelist we have is Jesus himself. Now, we don’t have God’s omniscience but we do have His example. In each situation where Christ would evangelize He first developed trust and a relationship. Think about the woman at the well (John 4:4-42). First, it was unbelievable to that woman that a Jewish man was even speaking to her (+1 right there). She was a Samaritan and a woman. However, He took the initiative and went to where she was. Ever wonder why she was coming to the well at that time of the day? It wasn’t the typical time. She most likely wanted to avoid the other women because of the life she was living. Christ came to her where she was. He then tells her what He can do for her; He can give her living water! There is no doubt that the kindness of this man spoke greatly to this woman. She already sensed that she was valued in the eyes of the man before her. Our relationships with others won’t be built in a specified amount of time. I don’t believe we have the full story of the conversation between Jesus and this woman. Perhaps it will be days/weeks/months/years of friendship before the proper door opens to share the gospel. The point is that we should be displaying the attributes of Christ’s love long before we share the message of the gospel. I heard a saying that goes “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” There is a reason that Christ sat and ate with sinners. Because it is sinners He is trying to reach. No better way to build a relationship then over some food and/or coffee. That is what sitting and eating with sinners is all about. Want to build a new relationship with an unbeliever? Grab some food/coffee and listen. Ask what is going on with their life and actually listen to the answer. Don’t worry about telling them their sins are taking them to Hell. Remember this is all about God’s timing; not ours. If we are sensitive to the leading of the Spirit we won’t miss a good opportunity to speak the gospel but when we try to force it down their throats it does nothing but look bad on Christians. Care about the person because I can assure you that God loves them regardless of their belief.
But what about when the opportunity finally comes up and perhaps our friend here asks us about the Gospel? How do we share it?
In Truth: Without Compromising His Message
This one can be a little more difficult. This is one of the major reasons that Peter says “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Gentleness and respect is what we are talking about when we say “in love.” The first half of that verse says “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.” Interesting. What I am reminded of is that this gospel is unchanging. The gospel deals with the holiness of our Savior and therefore we should not alter it in any way. We don’t need to change the message to make it more acceptable or to take an edge off it. We need to present the truth. Let’s go back to the woman at the well. She and Christ have a relationship now and Christ in His omniscience sees the opportunity to face this woman with the truth of the message. Her sin. He asks her to go get her husband. He confronts her with the issue she was looking to avoid by going to the well at that time of day. But because He already established the relationship she didn’t throw the bucket of water on him and run back to her home. Christ didn’t cover up the “ugly” part of the gospel to make it easier to swallow. When our friends ask us about the gospel the issue of sin must be addressed. Now, I wouldn’t suggest calling out the wrong you see in everyone else. That would be the wrong way to go about it. Christ had the lady confront her own sin before he spoke about it. If it looks like someone is getting uncomfortable and upset about the topic and no longer wants to discuss it that would be a good time to let it go and talk about something else. Too often Christians get the “Gospel Mode” going and can’t get out of it. Just because someone asked you about an attribute of God doesn’t mean you have to point out the fact that pre-marital sex is wrong. God is the one who is working with hearts/souls/minds and we are just “clay vessels” carrying the message of salvation. Let God do His work and we must be faithful to present the uncompromised message of salvation. Not this “feel good gospel” because that won’t save anyone from Hell. But the reality that Christ died on the cross for sins and only a sinner can be saved. Christ said “I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). Sinners are the ones who need Christ (thankfully I am definitely one of those which makes me eligible for forgiveness).
So the question then arises: Well, if I am supposed to witness to nonbelievers and Jesus sat and ate with sinners, shouldn’t I go to the strip clubs, bars, and night clubs so I can relate to them? We should go to where they are right? How do I do that?
In Life: Without Contradicting My Testimony
As a messenger of the gospel my life is the greatest message being given. If my life doesn’t display the love of Christ then no one will care what my lips are speaking. This is why we stress the attitude of Christians so much on this blog. The world around us is watching us to see if we practice what we preach and all too often Christians are coming up way too short. I was once told “we represent a giving God so when we go to others we better go giving.” Whether that is money, food, time, or whatever I think there is a lot of truth in it. So first, our lives must reflect our Savior; not deny Him. I will defer to the words said before an old DC Talk song “What If I Stumble.”
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him with their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
Tim & Rob