How to Share Your Faith

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : 1 Peter 3:14-15

Most of us love to talk to others about the things which most excite or interest us. So why is it that so many Christians have trouble talking to people about Jesus?

The impulse to share a wonderful experience is hard to resist, isn’t it? Who can catch a glimpse of a gorgeous sunset without wanting to cry out to anyone near, “Look, look there!” Who of us can taste an especially delicious dessert without exclaiming to those around the table, “Here, try this!” You’ve read a story that moved you or you dissolved in tears over some tense drama. You’ll want to say to people, “By all means read this.” Or, “You have to see it!”

It’s that way, I’m convinced, with all who truly meet Jesus Christ. It certainly was for me. From the night in my late teens when I was introduced to the Savior by a friend, I felt a strong desire to share, to communicate what I had found. Trusting Jesus Christ brought to me a sense of being loved and forgiven. It opened a fountain of joy for me, and gave me a sense of destiny. I knew in the depths of my being that I had found the way and the truth and the life. I wanted other people to make the same discovery. And now some 50 years later, I still feel that way, more strongly then ever. There’s a longing inside that never goes away – Oh, that everyone would know and serve this Lord! And I dare say that if you’re a Christian, if Jesus Christ has become real to you as your Redeemer and Lord, you feel that too.

But if you’re at all like me, the mention of this may make you uncomfortable. Why? Because we haven’t always followed through on that impulse to share. We want other people to become Christians, certainly. We know we have something surpassingly great to share. We know that passing on the riches we have in Christ is an obligation as well as a privilege. But in spite of all that, we often fail to do it. At least, I fail. I wince when I remember times when I could have spoken for Christ but didn’t, when I could have told someone near me the good news, but somehow didn’t get around to it. I’ve often felt heartsick about that, defeated, ashamed. What kind of a witness am ? I’ve wondered, that I’m not more bold and constant in sharing my faith. Why don’t I do what I know I should do – even what I deeply want to do? Have you ever felt that kind of frustration?

I still don’t have a final answer for those troubling questions, but I have received some light and help along the way. I think I see more clearly now what some of the obstacles are to free, effective Christian witness. I know some of the dynamics that help people to share their faith. Let’s think about some of them now. Listen to these words from the apostle Peter’s first letter, chapter 3, verses 14-16a (niv):

Do not be frightened, but in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

When I ponder those words, I find in them real help. Here are five vital elements for anyone who wants to pass along the Christian gospel. They all begin with “C.” I hope that will help you remember them! Here they are:

  • contact with non-Christians,
  • comprehension of the gospel,
  • confession of what Christ means to you,
  • compassion and courtesy in presentation, and finally,
  • courage, the conquest of fear.

Now it’s important to recall that in the effective communication of the Christian message, everything ultimately depends on God. He is the One who speaks through us. It’s by his power that the hearts of others are opened to receive the Word. So the first requirement for a Christian witness is to be a prayerful believer, filled with the Spirit of God. That’s basic. But these five elements that I’m talking about still need to be cultivated. And as we grow in them, we will be good witnesses.

CONTACT

Think about the first one. In order to share our faith, we need to have a meaningful contact with non-Christians. Peter writes here about people asking us the reason for the hope we have. It’s hard to imagine other people inquiring about that if we don’t have significant, sustained times with them. We can’t share our faith with others unless we get to know them, unless we build bridges of relationship toward them.

Now that’s obvious, and I would hesitate to mention it if I didn’t know so many church people for whom it’s a problem. Many believers that I have known live in what might be called a Christian ghetto. All their friendships are with those of the same faith. All their social contacts are with fellow believers. If you ask them to name three non-Christian families with whom they’re well acquainted, they draw a blank. Now if that’s the case with us, who will ever ask us about our hope?

We sometimes forget that as followers of Jesus we are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We’re to be a powerful preservative against the corruptions of our society and a lamp to shine in dark places. But salt can never preserve meat to which it hasn’t been applied. And a lamp that’s under a bed or covered by a bushel basket doesn’t shed much brightness.

If it’s our calling to win non-Christians to Christ, and indeed it is, then we must have a calling to become their friends, to show interest in them, to go out of our way to serve them. And if we really want to communicate the most important of all messages to them, we will surely want to understand their world.

Joseph Bayly has a hilarious but humbling little book called The Gospel Blimp. It talks about the way in which a family of Christians decided to evangelize their neighbors by using fog horns and dumping leaflets from a blimp. He was poking fun, of course, at our painfully indirect methods. Bayly wants to say that it’s a lot better to invite neighbors to your house, or go shopping with them, or take them to a ball game or on a fishing trip. When they get to know you, when they see Christ’s seeking love in you, then maybe, just maybe, they’ll want to ask, “How come?”

COMPREHENSION

My second “C” is comprehension of the gospel. If we’re going to do what Peter recommends, that is, be prepared to give an answer, we need to know what our faith is about. Now you would think that people who have been around a church for a good part of their lives, who have heard sermons and talks and Bible studies by the hundreds, would be able to tell you what the Christian faith is. But do you know what I’ve discovered? Many church people can’t begin to do this – even intelligent ones who have sat under effective communicators. When I taught seminary students, I discovered that, in some cases, even they had serious difficulty in articulating the faith, in telling another person what the heart of the gospel is.

Perhaps part of the problem is that we tend to listen in the church very passively. Think of how it is with teaching. If you will have to teach someone a body of material, you will listen to the presentation quite differently than if you don’t have that responsibility. If you’re going to pass it on, you have to grasp it. But many of us in the church listen to sermons and attend classes without the slightest thought that we will then tell someone else. So we can hear for years without hearing, and supposedly learn all kinds of things without learning. I’d like to challenge you today, either by yourself or with help from someone else, to write out a summary of the Christian faith as you would present it to someone else. Then practice doing it. Read it aloud until it becomes familiar. Make up your mind that if anyone does ask you what the hope of the gospel is about, you will be ready with an answer.

CONFESSION

Number 3 – confession of what Christ means to you personally. There’s more to being a witness than reciting the content of Christian faith. To be a witness is to be involved, to be speaking from the inside, as it were, to be declaring what you most heartily believe. It is often true that a simple sharing of your experience is more magnetic and winning than the most elaborate of arguments. We need to know, as we’ve seen, what the gospel means. But casual onlookers may be more impressed, at least initially, with what the Christian hope means to you.

It’s a good thing when we can prepare ourselves for this by sharing our witness with other Christians. I hope there’s some provision for that in the church to which you belong, if you’re a church person. We all need structured opportunities in which we can become accustomed to telling our own stories. When we can do that among those who share our faith and are sympathetic, we gain confidence for trying it among those outside.

Let me encourage you especially to think through just how the gospel has touched your life. What are the distinct life experiences through which God has brought you and in which the Christian message has become powerful and meaningful? In other words, what is your special witness?

I remember flying on a jumbo jet some time ago when I struck up a conversation with a man in the seat beside me. He turned out to be a professor of psychology from Arizona, studying the effect on families who had handicapped children. Because our son Billy was brain damaged at age 7, I could begin by telling him about our family experience. In that context, I could say something about my faith in Christ and the resources I had found in him for coping with our family difficulties. Each one of us, though we all believe the same gospel, has a special, unique witness to bear because it’s come through the prism of our personal experience.

COMPASSION AND COURTESY

The next “C” is compassion and courtesy in presentation. Peter talks about giving our answer “with gentleness and respect.” He’s saying that the manner of our communication is important, as well as the matter. Harshness and manipulation are out. We are to treat others as persons worthy of respect, to be dealt with kindly. Listen to what Paul says about that in one of his letters:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting opponents with gentleness.

2 Timothy 2:24, nrsv

There is a definite offense to the Christian gospel. It is offensive to our all-too-human pride. It shatters our pretensions; it exposes our idols. It humbles us with the knowledge that only the death of God’s Son on our behalf can make us right with God.

But that offense is not always the reason why people do not respond to our witness. There’s a difference, as someone has said, between preaching the offense of the Cross, and preaching the Cross offensively. We can badly misrepresent the gospel by our tone, our approach, our manner. Charles Spurgeon once said that from some preachers the gospel seems more like “a missile shot from a catapult than like bread from a Father’s hand.” Part of being a witness to Christ lies in treating people with such sensitivity and genuine caring that we win the right to be heard. We commend the gospel to them.

COURAGE

Here’s the last, and it’s a big one – courage, the conquest of fear. If you add up all the other reasons why we don’t share our faith more freely or frequently, fear would probably outweigh them all. What is it that we’re afraid of? Not usually persecution or violence, though that may sometimes result. More likely, we’re afraid of what others may think. Maybe we don’t want to be considered fanatics or religious nuts. Maybe we’re afraid of rejection. We don’t want to put our hearts, as it were, out there before people, for them to step on. Maybe most of all we fear ridicule and derision. So we keep quiet.

Peter says, “Don’t be frightened.” “Easier said than done,” we object. But he offers also a basis for courage. “Do not fear what they fear. Do not be frightened, but in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord” (1 Pet. 3:14,15, niv). He’s alluding to an Old Testament passage in Isaiah (8:12) where the prophet says in effect, “All these people are afraid of a conspiracy. They’re worried about this. They’re anxious about that. Don’t you fear what they fear. No, you fear the Lord.” Peter is saying in like manner, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” Be conscious of his majesty, his authority, his presence, and his command. Then, when you truly fear the Lord, the other fears won’t seem so large any more. The big fear drives out the little ones. Why should I be timid or apologetic? I’m a spokesman for the King!