I’m Not Where I Need to Be.
Christ is the most important matter in the world, and we are to seek his kingdom over all else (Matthew 6:33). He has asked his followers to tell others the good news about him and his kingdom. This series of posts is exploring the barriers that hinder us from doing so (see here). Today we will explore the barrier of feeling or actually not being where we ought to be spiritually.
Usually when we are concerned that we are not where we need to be in order to talk to others about Christ it is related either to us not living right, not having an adequate understanding of the message or struggling with doubt. We’ll look at each of these below, but first we need to acknowledge that these are concerns we should be addressing even if we were not thinking about reaching out to others. We may not resolve everything about our lifestyle, understanding, and faith, but God does want us to be growing in all these areas. They matter! So we should be tending to them.
In addition to the general need to grow in these areas, however, our calling to reach out to others is another reason we should do so. Scripture instructs us to “be prepared” to give an account of the reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15), so preparation is called for. Being ready to give an account includes addressing the concerns we have about our lifestyle, understanding, or faith. So let’s consider how we might grow in each of those areas.
As to the lifestyle barrier, if we believe we are not living well enough to represent Christ, I want to urge you to take strong action. It is easy to get comfortable with ourselves where we are, leading to spiritual dullness, then hard-heartedness, and then even falling away from the faith (Heb 3:7-13). If that does not concern you, it could mean your heart is already getting hard. In that case I urge you to take urgent action. I realize we don’t often talk this way, but the Bible does, and we need to follow its guidance. Drastic action may include actual repentance, confession, prayer, and re-pledging loyalty to our King.
Regardless of whether our situation is drastic, one of the key resources for living a life worthy of the kingdom is to live by the Spirit (Romans 8:5, 13). The Spirit of God is a personal, powerful resource who can help us live as God wills. To live by the Spirit means to cooperate with him as he seeks to transform us into the image of Christ (Galatians 5:25). Some ways I am doing this are to regularly 1) pray to be filled (more fully) with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), 2) act on any good desires he gives me (Galatians 5:16-18), and 3) meditate on Scripture, asking God to renew my mind with the healthy truths of his word (Romans 8:5-8; 12:2; Ephesians 4:23; 6:17; and Jeremiah 31:33 with Psalm 40:8). Note that a more Christ-like lifestyle will not appear instantly but will emerge over the long haul as we persevere in doing things like these. (For more on living by the Spirit see post.)
As to the barrier of feeling like we don’t understand enough, the first thing we need to do is clarify just what our commission is. The above-mentioned passage tells us to, “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Some versions translate the word “answer” (apologia) as “defense,” and this has led some people to believe we must be skilled in apologetics to be able to talk to non-Christians about Christ.
There is certainly a place for some people to practice good apologetics. What the verse tells all Christians to be ready to do, however, is not to become skilled in the field of apologetics but simply to give a defense (or answer or explanation) for “the reason for the hope you have.” The reason we have hope is not that we have explored all possible questions about Christianity and have researched satisfactory answers to them. Rather, it is that we believe Jesus is the Christ whom God sent to deliver us. In other words, we need to be able to give an account of the gospel. That is the reason for our hope (Colossians 1:5, 23). That Jesus is the Christ is also the message that the believers were speaking in the book of Acts (2:36; 5:42; 8:5, 12; 9:22). If the message of the gospel is not clear to us, we do indeed need further preparation (see the ten posts on the Good News Told in Acts starting here). But if it is clear, we are ready to speak.
I realize some of us have a fear that people will ask us questions about other matters that we can’t answer. We’ll address that in a future post in this series. For now, however, it is helpful to realize that all we need to understand in order to talk to others is the death, resurrection, and identity of Jesus as the Christ. If we can also share something of how he has authentically changed our lives, that will add some “evidence” that is also helpful.
If you are a member of some social or service organization, it’s not asking too much for you to be able to tell the primary purpose of that organization and how you became a member of it. If people need more information than that, the membership chairperson can help, but any member can tell them the basics. So with Christianity.
The third way we may feel like we’re not where we need to be in order to talk to others about Christ is that we may have doubts about some part of Christianity. It’s helpful to realize that many believers have passing doubts. Such ploys of the Evil One do not disqualify us. A man whose son was possessed by an evil spirit confessed to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 11:24). Jesus healed his son anyway. Perfect faith is not required.
If we have larger doubts, or even with passing ones, we certainly want to grow in faith. A quick summary of some helpful ways to do this are to honestly pour out your doubts to God, find a trusted and mature Christian you can discuss your doubts with, and keep reading Scripture humbly and often (Romans 10:17). I also encourage you to make sure you are actually serving and doing Christ-like things, as opposed to “staying in your head.” It is with the measure you “use” that it will be measured to you, not with the measure you think about and analyze (Mark 4:24). Again, these are not instant cures but matters to persevere in.
I also want to remind you of something mentioned above, namely, that sin can lead to unbelief. It is difficult, if not impossible, to hold on to devotion to God while we are blatantly defying him in our lifestyles. When we hear or remember his word, we either open your heart to it or harden our hearts (Hebrews 3:7-13). If we love our sin more than we love him, we will end up hardening our hearts and abandoning the faith. Belief is a matter of the will as much as it is a matter of the mind.
To sum up, if we are living with complete disregard for God and his word, do not understand the gospel, or have extreme doubts, we are right to postpone talking to non-Christians about Christ. Instead, we need to get sustained help from God and our brothers and sisters to overcome these conditions. We must also be aware of the deceit of intentionally remaining in our struggles as a way of keeping ourselves on the “inactive” list.
It is also important to recognize that we don’t have to have a perfect lifestyle, perfect understanding of Christianity, and a perfect faith in order to talk to others. An honest reading of the Gospels shows that the twelve were far from perfect when Jesus first sent them out. God can work through weak vessels and even seems to delight in doing so (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). What’s more, our sins and struggles will help us minister to others gently (Hebrews 5:1-2) and help non-Christians feel like God could accept and use someone like them as well.
These things should not cause us to get lazy or stop growing, of course. Instead, they humble us, make us more dependent on God, and affirm that we can still be useful to him. And we do need to keep growing.
Finally, many people, including me, have found that talking to others about Christ invigorates their own faith. That is the meaning of the old expression “evangelism is the lifeblood of the church.” As you look into someone else’s eyes and tell them about the absolutely most important matter in life, it will reinvigorate your own faith and devotion. Though you do not have to be where you ought to be in order to speak to others about Christ, speaking to others about Christ in itself will help you get to where you ought to be.