“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” -2 Corinthians 5:14-15
Living in a northeast American city sets me in the intersection with more people who don’t identify themselves as Christian, than those that do. Don’t hear my wrong. I am not saying that people in my sphere are disinterested in things of faith or in Jesus. Quite the contrary, I find that most people today are curious and often seek spiritual truth at some level. But for various reasons, many are not connecting to Jesus, the church or organized religion. Hypocrisy, irrelevant hollow teaching, and painful past experiences in a church impact many.
Over the last 16 years my wife Teresa and I have established deep friendships in Philadelphia. Many of these friendships are with people that reflect the general sentiments on faith in our region. This naturally creates exciting opportunities for interesting conversations.
I find that at least three ingredients are typically necessary to help a friend move toward faith in Jesus:
1) a relationship with at least one authentic Christian (it actually often takes many such relationships).
2) ongoing conversations that address their questions and objections to faith.
3) the work of the Holy Spirit gently opening their hearts and minds to the Gospel.
A lifestyle of love exudes the work of God spattered with His transformative power. This helps compel our friends to consider Christ. Most people need to see tangible glimpses of Jesus in us before they will consider the prospect of giving their lives to HIm. In other words, they need to experience Him firsthand in us before they will seriously consider following Him. Apologetics and imparting truth alone, seldom convinces a person into the Way of Jesus.
Our words need accompanied by a transformed life.
All too often, Christian’s set out to win others over to Jesus by trying to change their thinking or through preaching against destructive behaviors and “the ways of the world”. But if our propositions are void of the love of Christ, and a genuine relationship they will seem hollow. What are we trying to convert people to: a relationship with Jesus, or a set of beliefs and behaviors? Don’t misunderstand me. There are essential beliefs that serve as companions for a person coming to faith. And one’s behaviors do change as the Holy Spirit begins to convict and work in a person. But at the core, the Christian faith is a relationship with a person, and not just a set of beliefs and behaviors.
His love is what compels people to faith. And we best experience His love through people who know Immanuel- God with us and who practically share His love through their lifestyle and words in the flesh.
As Francis of Assisi once said,
“It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching… As for me, I desire this privilege from the Lord, that never may I have any privilege from man, except to do reverence to all, and to convert the world by obedience to the Holy Rule rather by example than by word.”
St. Francis never set out to exalt action over speaking in the work of preaching the Gospel. But neither did he believe that the Gospel was only a message to communicate with words. Francis understood the Gospel to be all consuming as the work of God restoring all Creation to Him for His glory. He believed that the teeth of the Gospel he shared with his words was made credible to his listeners by the nature and character of the life he led in Christ.
Perhaps the Gospel of Jesus would spread more effectively today if Christians married their words with active love.
Words are important. Thoughtfully addressing a friends spiritual questions and their objections to faith is critical. I am reading Richard Simmons’ newest book, Reflections on the Existence of God. I recommend it. It’s chock-full of thoughtful content. And it reads like an encyclopedia of the greatest Christian minds in theology, philosophy, literature and the sciences. It’s a helpful resource for your conversations with friends who are skeptics. Simmons, addresses a lot of the deepest questions and objections people have with theism and Christianity. And he does so, through quotes and the testimonies of people in different disciplines.
Because faith is the work of the Holy Spirit, we need to pray for God to reveal Himself. He has to open their eyes to see the truth of the Gospel. We should also pray for God to give us opportunity for conversations and the right words delivered in gentleness and respect.
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. 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…” -I Peter 3:15
MIKE HARDER – CONCENTRIC PRESIDENT