28 October 2016
Can I just be a good person?
There is a chap in my local community who walks around the streets getting to know people. No matter who they are, he will go up to them, start a conversation, and turn that conversation to what they believe, finding out their perspective on God, and whether he can pray for any aspect of their life. He is well-known – and actually very well-liked – in the community, and his efforts bear fruit – not only is he a natural evangelist, but he loves to take other believers with him, help them to share their faith with others, and to pray for the sick. I find that inspiring. When it comes to natural evangelists, look up Todd White – you can find his Lifestyle Christianity series on YouTube. Within one day he will typically have seen someone healed of an illness, led them and their family to Jesus, paid for all their shopping, and baptised them within the following few days. I find people like that inspiring - and incredibly challenging.
Let's look at the question: I suppose it is asking that as Christians, can we just be a moral, upright person, and care for other people, without having to share our faith?
It all depends on the context. You would not expect an anaesthetist who was a Christian to ask a patient: "Do you know where you are going when you die?" just as she puts them into a deep sleep. You would not expect a politician who was a Christian to challenge a constituent on the doorstep with the gospel along with their party's latest manifesto.
One question I would ask is: "Why do you 'just' want to be a good person?" Perhaps you are fearful of offending someone, or saying the wrong thing, of being insensitive. I can fully understand people's apprehension in speaking out about the gospel. In fact, when we talk about 'speaking out about the gospel', I too, would be somewhat apprehensive. That sounds so formal, so far removed from everyday life.
The first key is to be truthful to yourself, and to start with what you have: your own story of what Jesus did – has done – and is doing – for you. We can all look at people like my friend in the local community, or Todd White, and say: "I can never do that." Yet as Polonius said in Shakespeare's Hamlet: "Above all else, to thine own self be true" (Hamlet, I, iii). I can't suddenly grow dreadlocks and become Todd White (try as I might); the key is to be secure in my identity in Jesus, and to be sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit as I go about my daily routines. If I have a friend who is struggling with particular issues in their life, as well as offering practical, relational help and just being there for them, I might pray and ask God: "What aspects of my story might help that person?" or "how do you want me to show your love to them?" My witness may be spoken, but it may also be demonstrated in acts of love. I could reassure them that I will be praying for them, and perhaps, I might offer to pray for them there and then – many people are surprisingly receptive to offers of prayer.
I used to be an actor, and many years ago was in a dressing room. We were getting ready to go on stage, and the room was filled with the adrenaline-fuelled babble of thespians about to perform. Someone asked me a question about my faith, and so I quietly answered her question, so as not to draw too much attention to myself. Before long however, I realised that the entire room had grown quiet as the other members of the company were straining to hear what I had to say. It was a wholly unexpected moment, and it didn't last long, but it taught me a valuable lesson.
The second key then, is always to be ready. As Peter says: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…" (1 Peter 3:15, NIV). He doesn't say always find a way to turn the conversation to salvation and repentance, or look for every opportunity to win an argument. He talks about always being prepared and, as Paul adds: "In season and out of season." (2 Timothy 4:2). You never know when you may be called on to tell your story, so make sure you are able to tell it! As part of that, it really does help to be able to explain the significance of the crucifixion and resurrection, not just from a biblical standpoint, but also from the perspective of your daily life – people frequently find this fascinating – how can an event from 2,000 years ago affect your daily life in today's world?
The third key is love. No matter what else we may do, we must be motivated by God's love, empathy and compassion for others. Paul is quite eloquent on this point: "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1). If we are to avoid coming across like that dreadful gong, we need to be motivated by love. Outreach exists happily within the context of loving friendships and relationships. If your friends truly matter to you – and possibly more importantly if you matter to them – your constant, faithful witness will bear fruit. It may take time. It is especially important that your friend knows the relationship is not dependent on them becoming a Christian, and that your love is unconditional.