Sweaty hands and a gnawing in the stomach. Nervous thoughts that can’t sort themselves out fast enough. The all too cognitive sense that the words coming out are forced, a formula you’d rather memorize than fumble through.
If you’ve ever tried to intentionally share the gospel with an unbeliever, you might relate to such an experience.
Throughout college, and especially this past year in Central Asia, it has been a journey trying to discern how to point a dying world to the living Messiah. When I have found myself in situations feeling prompted to share the gospel, too often I have landed upon one of two methods: saying nothing, or saying something really awkward that might even come off as insincere. Both approaches have left me more than a little frustrated with myself. I want to be intentional but natural, bold but organic, and I’ve often been caught in this distressed dance of trying to conjure authenticity.
Introducing a Person
If you’re like me, often what trips us up is the anticipation that someone’s reaction to our bringing up matters of faith will spawn a wave of interrogating questions we can’t answer. When we don’t have the answers, we worry that we’ll give Christianity a bad name, as if by talking at all we’ll do more harm than good. I wonder, though, if we have created so much pressure for ourselves to deliver a paradigm that we fail to introduce a Person.
What if in our interactions with unbelievers, we stopped fearing that we might misrepresent Christianity, getting caught up in explaining away the Crusades and analogizing the Trinity, and instead just talked about who Jesus is? What if we simply introduce people to the Jesus we know, and let him speak for himself?
If we know anything about the Jesus we follow, we ought to know that he can handle things — that he is the sovereign Savior who always knows exactly what he’s doing. Look at the Gospel accounts and you won’t see a man pining for a following (John 6:66–67). You won’t see a man hesitant to dissuade the apathetic from the cost of discipleship (Matthew 19:16–22). You won’t see a man beating around the bush afraid to offend his listeners (John 6:60–65; Luke 9:57–62). What if we are simply called to make this Jesus known and let God be the one to draw his own to himself? Russell Moore explains,
You need not be intimidated by unbelievers, as though what you need is a more nuanced “worldview” to protect the kingdom of God from their threats. Yes, we engage in apologetic arguments, but those aren’t at the hub of our mission. . . . We should talk about those things lovingly, but not so we can defend the faith. We engage others only so we can get to the only announcement that assaults the blinding power of the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4). The gospel is big enough to fight for itself. (Tempted and Tried, 110–111)
His Purposes, Not Ours
Rarely are we quick to imbibe Paul’s methodology, forsaking eloquence and superior wisdom to only know Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1–3). We tend to forget that even the most compelling arguments, the most logical defenses, cannot draw a heart to Jesus, because it is Jesus who draws a heart to Jesus.
In the presence of unbelievers, speak freely. Tell stories about Jesus from the Gospels. Talk about how he is at work in your life. Ponder aloud what you admire about him. And then leave it in their court. There’s a time to press the conscience, but it doesn’t need to be every time. If Jesus intrigues them, encourage them to read more about him in Scripture. If they are averse to Jesus, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It’s not about your ability to convince anyone of anything. It’s not about you at all, actually. It’s about a man — the God-man — who came to redeem, restore, relieve, reform, forgive, challenge, convict, rebuke, and sometimes even confuse (Matthew 13:13–15).
Get out of the way and let him do his work.