Some followers of Christ seem to find it natural to talk to others about their faith. Normal conversations, even with strangers, turn into spiritual encounters. They anticipate obstacles along the way, graciously answer objections, and often end up with a story of another changed heart.
From the sidelines, many of us envy such persons. We wish we had the ability to talk freely about the One who died for us. We hear others say that if they can do it, anyone can. Few thoughts are more disturbing than the suspicion that if we’re not leading others to personal faith in Christ, we’re ashamed of Him or don’t really love others.
In addition, we know that the Bible says, “Go . . . 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” (Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV).
But what if we are not personally making disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to do all that Jesus told us to do? Does that mean we are not taking seriously the Great Commission of Jesus?
When we ask the questions that way, the answer is obvious. Jesus asked His followers to make disciples of all nations together, rather than as individuals. In the process, He also made it clear that it is only by His Spirit that we can be the kind of witness He is asking us to be (Acts 1:8).
One of Jesus’ closest friends learned the hard way not to think that being faithful to Christ is easy. Within hours of saying that he was ready to suffer and die for his Teacher (Luke 22:33), he not only caved into his fears but also repeatedly denied that he had anything to do with Jesus (22:54-62).
A few weeks later, however, the same apostle discovered that what he could not do in his own strength, he could do by the power of God. After being empowered by the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, Peter risked his life and fearlessly spoke to large crowds on behalf of his Lord (Acts 2:14-40).
So, did Peter conclude that if a failure like him could confront religious leaders with their need for Christ everyone else should be able to as well? Actually, Peter’s own writings seem to call for a witness that leads by example rather than by fearless confrontations. He urged followers of Christ to endure tough circumstances with attitudes that would give others reason to begin asking questions (1 Peter 3:15).
By calling for a witness rooted in changed lives, Peter called for more of what he saw happen after his Pentecost message. The same text that records his courageous call to believe on Christ goes on to describe what happened among those who joined Peter in believing what the crucified Son of God had done for them. The book of Acts describes how thousands first turned to God in grateful prayer and praise. Then it describes how those same worshipers began to generously respond to one another’s spiritual and material needs (Acts 2:41-47).
Later, in his first New Testament letter, Peter used that same principle of giving out of what has been first given to us as the basis for a life that points to Christ. Long after the Pentecost crowd had gone back to their own homes or been scattered throughout the world by persecution (1 Peter 1:1), Peter taught the principle of using what we have been given for the sake of others. He wrote, “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another [so that God’s generosity can flow through you]. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ” (4:10-11 NLT).
Imagine the credibility of the gospel when those who have been given the grace to speak are supported by a community of faith that has a reputation for that kind of love and service to others.
At the same time, imagine how much false guilt and needless feelings of spiritual defeat we have put on one another by assuming and insisting that we are all called to be the same kind of witness.
Father in heaven, please give us the wisdom to know how and when to say what is in our hearts, and when to let the hope and love You have given us quietly do the talking. —Mart De Haan