Last time we looked at the four steps to witnessing success, how having a simple plan helps overcome our apprehension in witnessing. Now I want to take a closer look at you. What does a Christian witness look like, in their daily life? What is the task at hand, what responses can we expect, and how do we meet them? Here are four things every Christian witness must know if we are to be faithful and effective.
1. You Are Not Alone
It can seem a lonely business, offering yourself up as a Christian witness for heaven before a sceptical world. That is why it’s important to remember there is always more going on than at first seems apparent. You are far from alone in your efforts. In his letter to Christians in Colossae, Paul brings a poetic description of Jesus as Lord of both creation and redemption. It is a marvellously full description of all creation, ‘in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions or rulers or authorities…’ (Col.1:15-20)
Of these ‘authorities’ there are those that oppose, and those that sustain, but Christ is Lord of them all. In his letter to Ephesus, Paul explains God’s purpose and will, ‘to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.’ (Eph.1:10) God’s purpose is that, ‘through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made know to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.’ (Eph.3:10) We don’t see everything in subjection to him yet, but we see Jesus, ‘crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death…’ (Heb.2:8-9) We realise and proclaim to those rulers and authorities the inevitability of his triumph and their subjection.
There is opposition in our present age to what we do in his service. At the same time, there is support, a power we can draw upon in that service. What we don’t see, what we often fail to recognise, is that hearts are prepared, seekers are drawn, truth is established, living Scripture is testified to by the work of the Holy Spirit. Authorities in heavenly places that are already gladly subject to him work tirelessly alongside us in his service, even as we do the same. Heaven stands with the Christian witness as we open the door, seek to share, earnestly tell and testify. Remember, there is always more going on than at first seems possible.
2. You Won’t Get it Wrong if…
‘Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to give make a defence to anyone who asks for the reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.’ (1 Peter 3:13-16)
With rulers and authorities, some opposing, others sustaining, it’s important to know what our part is, and if we are playing it to the full. Peter helps us identify key characteristics of a Christian witness playing their part in telling the good news.
v13 Are you eager to do good? Most Christians I speak to seem very eager, but doubt themselves. If you are eager to do good no one can ultimately harm you, though for a little while we may suffer. ‘If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?’ (Ro.8:31) Do what you are eager to do. Heaven is on your side.
v14 Do you suffer for righteousness sake, suffer rejection? This is the common lot of all those who step out into this fallen world to share Jesus. Dark places don’t appreciate light being shone into them. Rejection is not a sign of failure, on the contrary, it means you are speaking heavenly truth to a fallen world. You will be blessed, and have no need to fear. God is at work, hearts are being prepared, seekers are being drawn, truth is being established, living Scripture is testified to by the work of the Holy Spirit. Don’t doubt it.
v15 Are you ready with an answer (not all answers) when asked the reason for your hope? Do people see hope in you? More often than not, there will be issues for which you are not prepared, answers you wish you had at your fingertips. You cannot possibly have all the answers, but then you are not playing a game of one-upmanship. You are bringing hope, something the cults don’t know. The first time I listened to a gospel message it was with my nephew, a new Christian, who had neither my experience, nor my answers. But hope shone through him and that first step led me along the road to Christ.
By all means, as Peter writes, ‘always be prepared to make a defence’. One of the ways to do that is to learn from those encounters when you were not prepared. Don’t beat yourself up, go back to God’s Word and be better equipped next time. You may be surprised how exhilarating and faith-building the experience can be, finding yourself truly ‘owning’ truth because you have worked so hard to make it yours.
v15 Is Christ set apart as Lord in your heart? Are you gentle in your witnessing, uncompromising in your faith? We can sometimes be so gentle in our witnessing we forget to be bold, at other times so uncompromising we forget to be gentle. Peter charges us to witness with gentleness and respect. I suggest our gentleness should show towards others, while our respect should be reserved for our message. We should not aim to be offensive, as some people seem to do when they quote Paul (1 Cor.1:18), but neither should we dilute the message for fear of causing offence. It is Christ we are bringing, not an argument.
If these things are true of you then you have what works; you won’t get it wrong. The only question remaining is how they will respond. That is a question for them to answer.
3. The Message is ‘Jesus Christ and Him Crucified’
‘And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.’ (1 Cor.2:2)
What is the hope we have? Paul, writing to the Corinthians, reminded them of the message he brought; Jesus Christ and him crucified. In writing to Rome he wrote about ‘a righteousness from God apart from the Law,’ of justification before God by grace, through faith. (Ro.3:21-26) He wrote of ‘peace with God’ (Ro.5:1) because ‘Christ died for sinners, for the ungodly.’ (Ro.5:6-8) He taught emphatically that, ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ (Ro.8:1)
The reason for our hope is Jesus. In the cut and thrust of discussion, in our concern for God’s truth, It is easy to forget where our focus needs to be. People don’t need a winning argument, important as apologetics remains, they need a Saviour. All we do should be done with one aim, bringing someone to the foot of the cross of Christ. From that place a whole creation filled with truth is there to be explored but, until there is a losing of the burden of sin, a regeneration, a genuine change of heart, a real renewing of mind, the truth will never be fully realised.
2 Tim.3:14-16 makes clear the Scriptures make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ. It is not simply paper and ink but ‘God-breathed,’ of Divine origin, ‘living and active.’ (Heb.4:11) When people wish to know more about this hope, we bring them to God’s Word. Even when we don’t have a Bible in front of us, if we are well enough acquainted with the text that speaks of this hope, the speaking of it is as living and active as the reading, even if our speaking is not verbatim. When did we lose our faith in the Bible, in the Spirit’s ability to move people to accept it’s truths? We have every provision necessary for establishing and building faith right here.
2 Tim.4:1-2 One of the most solemn and serious charges in all Scripture is this, ‘preach the word; be ready in season and out of season.’ There should not be a time when we lay aside God’s word; in every season it should be at our fingertips to equip us for witnessing opportunities. Note carefully, ‘preach’ is not referring specifically to the pulpit. It refers to proclaiming, heralding, publishing, telling the truth from Scripture. We are to base our every word about this hope on God’s Word,that tells us this salvation delivers us from judgement into his kingdom.
John 5:24 The Bible truth most frequently under threat is the message of grace. This threat comes from two quarters.
- The cults, typically, insist on a salvation by grace and works, where the Bible speaks clearly of a salvation by grace for works. (Eph.2:10)
- In our zeal for the message of grace, which zeal is to be applauded, we may forget, however, God saved us for a purpose.
In 2 Timothy Paul writes of Scripture being a source of sound teaching, from which we may rightly rebuke, exhort, correct, encourage, and train for the godly life, ‘that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.’ (3:15-4:3) When we allow a salvation by works to prevail we rob the message of grace of its power. When we ignore the charge that Christians are now to be trained for a godly life, we rob the message of grace of its purpose.Paul’s words in Ephesians make clear we are saved when we hear and believe
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of salvation, and believed in him were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.’ (cf Eph.1:13-14)
The message of the cross is simple enough, but ‘it doesn’t work’ people say, feeling they need more sophisticated arguments to win souls by ‘eloquence or superior wisdom’ (1 Cor.2:2 NIV)
4. This Message is Unpopular
The message of the cross, remember, was so unpopular it attracted persecution. Why is this? The Bible warns us, ‘The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.’ (2 Tim.4:3)
Men will suit their own desires and so:
- People don’t want salvation into God’s kingdom, but salvation from discomfort.
In John’s great vision in Revelation, we read Jesus’ words to the church in Laodicea, ‘You say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realising that you are wretched, pitiable, blind, poor, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.’ (Rev.3:17-18) It is worth noting this is a letter, not to the world, but to a church; a church in the world that seems very much of the world.
- People want salvation from the judgement of others into a kingdom of plenty.
What Should be Our Response?
2 Tim.4:2 In response we are to remain faithful, to, ‘preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.’
2 Tim.3:15-16 Scripture must always be our guide, as we offer a full gospel for an empty world. If, in light of this, you get rejected, you are in good company.
Many rejected Paul’s message. People rioted, jailed him, flogged him, left him for dead, and sent him to Rome to be judged. Consider, the majority rejected Jesus after his controversial Bread of Life sermon in John 6.
It is thought, in many places today, that our task is to make the gospel popular, to win people over with smiles, pleasantries, and niceness. My answer to that is to repeat the words of Steve Jobs: if you want to be popular, go out and sell ice cream. This Jesus is not going to make you popular. Indeed, ‘the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are dying, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’ (1 Cor.1:18)
Be faithful, be hopeful, eager to do good, setting apart Christ in your heart, ready with an answer, sharing the simple gospel message. Expect rejection, scepticism; what else from a world so lost in sin and error? But also fully expect the Holy Spirit of God will do his part, and those who are being saved will taste and see that the Lord is good. Remember, there is always more going on than at first seems apparent. In light of all we do know, and of all we cannot possibly know this side of glory, don’t witness for results, witness for faithfulness’ sake and trust in God.
‘Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.’ (1 Thess.5:23-24)