(Editor’s Note: This article is reposted with permission from Gospel Centered Discipleship)
A decade or so ago, Dr. John Pierce approached WDA about partnering with Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in a discipleship venture. The John and Lois Pierce Center for Disciple Building emerged and remains a significant destination for helping people progress to Christian maturity.
Early in the partnership, one of the Pierce Scholars approached me with a question about the centrality of the Gospel related to the process of sanctification. That day, Jonathan Dodson and I began a friendship that endures to this day. I heartily recommend Gospel Centered Discipleship as a resource for those who sense that The Good News is about more than justification. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus.” Robert D. (Bob) Dukes, President and Executive Director of WDA
This is the first in the series The Difficulty of Sharing our Faith by Jonathan K. Dodson.
Very often we find it difficult to share our faith. Whether we’re in the workplace, neighborhood, or a social setting, talking about the person and work of Jesus doesn’t come naturally. There are some good reasons for this.
After spending almost fifteen years in creative class cities, where Christianity is typically marginalized and misunderstood, I’ve noticed that each city possesses its own unique challenges to communicating the gospel. Some of these challenges have led Christians to quiet down and let their actions do the preaching. Yet, there remains an intellectual and spiritual responsibility to communicate what we believe to those who would hear us. Whether it’s cold, diverse Minneapolis, intellectually charged Boston, or creatively weird Austin, I’ve noticed that some reasons for not sharing my faith have travelled with me from city to city. In brief, I’d like to describe five reasons why I think we find it difficult to share the faith. Each reason will reflect a constructive concern and a critical response.
What if I’m Viewed as Preachy?
One of the reasons Christians find it difficult to share their faith is because we’re rightly concerned about being perceived as preachy. Preachy Christians often turn people off not onto faith in Christ. Think of Angela from The Office, the street preacher, or maybe the free speech fundamentalist yellers on campus in college. I remember watching them. They stood on a box to yell. Leading out with hell, fire, and damnation not grace, forgiveness, and salvation.
These Christians all share something in common—self-righteousness. If we’re honest, we all have a bit of this in us, but with these figures it’s amplified. We hesitate to talk about Jesus because we don’t want to be associated with them. We’re concerned it would turn others off. But preachy self-righteousness isn’t just a turn off; it’s the opposite of the gospel. This brings into focus our first, principal concern:
We should avoid preachy self-righteousness because it communicates something opposite to the gospel.
Preachy self-righteousness says: “If you perform well (morally or spiritually), God will accept you.” But the gospel says, “God already accepts you because Jesus performed perfectly on your behalf.” There’s a hell of difference between the two. The gospel sets us free from performance and releases us into the arms of grace. Self-wrought performance is a death sentence, but the obedience of Christ on our behalf is eternal life. What people need to hear is grace, audacious, seems-too-good-to-be-true but so-true-its-good, grace. Grace is God working his way down to us, so that we don’t have to work our way up to him. He comes down to us in Jesus. We need to make Jesus the stumbling block, not preachy self-righteousness or spiritual performance.
How Do We Change the “Preachy” Perception?
Now, there’s also a critical response to this concern. While it’s true that we should oppose preachy self-righteousness (because it obscures the gospel of grace), it is also true that the gospel offends our own self-righteous sensibilities. The gospel reminds us that we don’t have what it takes before a holy God, that Christ alone has what it takes, and that he’s died and risen to give it to us.
The gospel is offensive; it lifts up a mirror and shows us who we really are, but it’s also redemptive; it lifts up Christ to show us who we can become.
In the shining light of God’s glory, our darkness becomes quickly apparent. We can feel it. Deep down, something is wrong, bent, even broken. We’re in need of repair. We spend most of our lives trying to avoid this inner sense, which distorts us even more. The gospel helps us see ourselves as we are, but offers us an entirely new image, the image of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ. If we’ll give up on ourselves and give into Jesus, he’ll exchange our darkness for his light, our distortion for his beauty. This is news worth sharing. The problem, however, isn’t just that people think “preachy self-righteousness” when they hear the word “gospel.” It’s that our concern mutes the gospel. In thoughtful concern, we quiet down to let our actions do the preaching but, in the end, people hear nothing. When Christians press mute, people are left to make up their own versions of Christianity. We think our silence will remedy the perception of self-righteousness but silence, instead of sharing, does not remedy the preachy perception.
One day I was having a congenial chat with a man in Starbucks, until he asked what I was doing. I responded, “I’m working on a sermon.” He replied by waving his hands, one across another, saying “Oh, no. I don’t want to hear the sermon.” This was followed by a nervous chuckle. A sermon isn’t meant to mound up all your woes and make you feel guilt; it is meant to relieve your woes and remove your guilt through faith in Jesus. Similarly, the gospel doesn’t just show us who we really are; it shows us who we can become in Christ. Sure, it lifts up a mirror but it also lifts up Christ, lifting us up with him in hope. Our concern to avoid preachy self-righteousness is good, but we have not gone far enough to remove this religious visage.
How will this incorrect view of Christianity be corrected? Actions might remedy a perception of personal self-righteousness, but they can’t correct a religious view of the gospel. Only words can clarify the meaning of the gospel. Yet, there remain more difficulties in sharing our faith. In the next article, we will consider the concern that we first have a relationship before sharing the gospel with others.
Jonathan K. Dodson (MDiv; ThM) serves as a pastor of Austin City Life in Austin, Texas. This article is adapted from the book Unbelievable Gospel: How to Share a Gospel Worth Believing?” He is also the author of Gospel-Centered Discipleship and has written articles in numerous blogs and journals such as The Resurgence, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, and Boundless. Dodson has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others.
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