How often do Christians feel that reaching out to unbelievers is something just for the typecast “evangelists” to do? Maybe we feel like we lack the words, the knowledge, or the platform to witness for Christ. Or maybe it’s just easier, sometimes, to stay in the safe place of a Christian-only circle. It’s easy to point to verses in Scripture that seem to justify this exclusivism: “What fellowship does light have with darkness?” “Don’t be unevenly yoked with unbelievers!” It can honestly be a breeze to act like God designed Christianity to be a gated community just for those lucky enough to already be “in the fold.”
But if a house is inside a gated community, how does it shine its light to the world?
I used to be one of those Christians you might see portrayed in a sitcom (none of which seem to really get the heart of Christianity at all—or maybe they just reflect the heart that some of Christendom portrays): I only wanted to associate with other Christians. I guess I missed the part where Jesus sat with tax-collectors and prostitutes. Oops. Uh, next verse!
In part, my attitude was due to fear. I’ve always suffered from crippling social anxiety. I didn’t know how to order fast food without embarrassing myself, much less how to argue my faith. “Let someone else bring up Jesus to them,” I figured. “I’m bad at it. How would I even do it? I’m slow of speech!”
Pardon me, I’ve caught a bad case of Moses-mouth.
The thing is, Jesus didn’t always take people to a scroll to convince them of the Father’s love and the righteous path. He couldn’t, because the Scriptures weren’t readily available to the common people at that time. Jesus’ life and ministry were a reflection of God’s heart, so much so that when one of Jesus’ disciples asked him to “show him the Father,” Jesus was able to say “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Imagine if we imitated Jesus so closely that we could say the same.
Imagine if our words weren’t our sole witness. Our very lives were.
Risk and Reward
A few years ago, the Lord brought my bad attitude into clarity, uncomfortable as that always is, when I started befriending people who weren’t Christians. Between their kindness and the dynamic we shared over common interests like writing, I felt loved—something I was lacking in many ways at that stage of life, even from my Christian friends.
I let my new friends know what I believed right off the bat; I wasn’t going to take Jesus off the front shelf in my life, but I also wasn’t going to force my friends to have him on theirs. They’d already been preached to, been told they were going to hell for this or that. They didn’t want my words, my “Jesus script.” They’d heard it all before, and frankly, after being harassed and bullied to “believe or burn,” they didn’t feel like they were missing out on much. The Jesus they’d heard about was hyper-critical, narrow-sighted, and damning of everyone—just like the people who were portraying him.
So I had to decide pretty early on that I was hanging in there with them, and that I had to do the simplest yet most challenging thing imaginable—I had to show them Jesus through my actions, not my words, holding myself to the creed of my Lord so tightly that I could be a living example that reached beyond where the words of others had failed. In short, I had to let the image of Christ speak for itself, through me.
Of course, I’ve failed many, many times at this. I haven’t always shown Christ through my actions. But when you’re representing The Man you believe in, the one whose message is worth fighting for, you course-correct and get back in the arena. Jesus becomes the lens through which you view everything—grievous circumstances, daily annoyances, a request for advice. The goal is to portray the same image of love that Jesus painted; he hung in there with people, even when things were tough or awkward, when people were stubborn. We’re not going to reach people’s hearts by tapping out in the first round.
The Long Haul
Our ultimate goal is always to lead people to Christ, and that doesn’t necessarily happen through sitting them down and taking them verse-by-verse through Scripture. However, showing Christ to people through our actions is also not a simple thing that exists on a timetable where if we hang in there for just two-and-a-half years, we will miraculously win someone over to the Lord.
A close friend of mine has been friends with a woman for years who is not a believer. Even though this woman is not a Christian, she and my friend share a deep bond over godly core principles, and I’ve seen how this woman has gained a respect for my friend’s unwavering stance on the Word despite their differences of opinion. My friend is willing to tough it out in the long haul to be the only glimpse of Jesus this woman may ever see…and that’s the exact kind of “labor of love” I believe Jesus expects of us. It requires patience, perseverance, and a willingness to step out of our corner in order to love and embrace those who don’t see eye-to-eye with us.
With this endeavor, there always comes the risk of rejection, misunderstanding, awkwardness…all things that humans naturally avoid. But the payoff is literally life or death, and in the end we spare no one by keeping Christ to ourselves. Casting Crowns portrayed this wonderfully in their song, If We Are the Body: “Jesus paid much too high a price
for us to pick and choose who should come.”
As the Body of Christ, we can’t keep our hands and feet to ourselves; we need to be reaching out, stepping into the messy, complicated situations of life, willing to fight for the salvation of those around us.
Radical Love Changes Lives
Even after we’ve decided to make the effort to bring people to Christ, the question that stalls most Christians I’ve met is, “How do I actually do this?” There are plenty of Christian resources that will tell you how to witness—from door-to-door evangelism to the people we sit next to on a plane—none of these are bad, but no one approach works all the time, either. Winning people for Christ isn’t a cookie-cutter endeavor.
Maybe a better question is, “How do I bring Christ to people?”
Jesus is the hero in a story written for the ages. He’s the one who swooped in and saved the people from the suffocating, heavy laws of the religious leadership. He was the crusader of the underprivileged, the voice of reason in a maelstrom of chaos that continues to this day. How could I not want to emulate him? How could I not want to speak of him like the dashing victor that he is, champion of the most profound epic of all time? So often, we burden our Jesus with the constraints of paradigms, frame him in the outline of our personal understanding, try to fit him in the box of our own design—and no matter if our position is really “right” or not, we can still complicate the Good News of Jesus Christ with it. But in order to be Christ’s ambassadors, we have to represent him the way that he truly was—back when he walked the earth, without two thousand years of opinions foisted on his shoulders.
The truth is, sometimes the voice of Jesus speaks, not in the citation of a chapter and verse, but in the sound of a whisper. In the godly advice that reaps a good outcome. In the leap of trust that profits greatly. In the compassion of a Christ who loved a leper the world pulled away from; who said “Your sins are forgiven”; who insisted he’d come for the sick, not the healthy.
One of the best ways we show Christ is through love. Both the ability to love and the desire to receive it are hardwired into us. Built into our hearts and souls, our very bones. Sometimes wrong doctrine, religion, and our own perspectives can shackle our ability to portray Jesus in the barrier-breaking, earth-shattering, revolutionary way that Christ himself did it: loving with no-holds-barred. Loving the sick, the broken, the degenerate. Loving to the point of pain—loving beyond what the human body can endure. We push ourselves. We love radically. We show them Christ through our ability to love selflessly in a world that tells us to put ourselves first, look out for number one, take care of our own needs above all others.
Even in a storm that would tempt us to avoid heartache and awkwardness by sticking to the safe route of the already-saved, the voice of Jesus calls each of us out of the boat, to walk above the waves of life, and to love like he did—at the tables of the sinners and the unsaved.
Living the Message Without Shame
Some time ago, two of my best friends came to visit me for the first time. They were among the group that I’d befriended at the low point in my life, the ones whose laughter and love helped me navigate some of the greatest trials I’ve ever faced. I’m still a Christian; they’re not. And that’s okay. The time I spent with them was amazing. I prayed before my meals; I read my Bible while they were here; we went on with our days together.
One night, the topic of Jesus came up—organically, the way that always makes it feel like God had a hand in it. They asked me why I believed in him. I told them it’s because I’ve witnessed too much to believe anything else. I told them about how Jesus felt like a friend to me, not a religious figurine on a bookshelf. One of my friends admitted, “I’m not against the thought. I think there’s something out there. Maybe that’s it. I just don’t know.”
It was a far cry from where we were four years ago. Maybe she’s met other Christians who are living Christ day-to-day, and that touched her heart. Maybe it was that one visit for a week that made her consider it. I don’t know. But there’s something about the light of Christ when it shines out of us, when we’re truly living it, that draws people in and makes them feel safe and loved. It makes them aspire to change. All of the things the Master inspired in those around him over two thousand years ago.
This isn’t a rarity, either. I’ve heard numerous accounts of people who shined the light of their trust in the Lord so brightly, unbelievers were drawn to “whatever they had,” divulging their life stories, asking for prayer, just wanting to bask in the presence of someone who showed them the Lord in the way they lived—just as he showed himself to his followers.
The message of Christ should live in everything we do. Not like a Tom and Jerry cartoon where we’re whispering over a secret, hoping people will crowd around us asking what we’re so interested in—but living it openly, weaving our love of Jesus into every choice we make, every step we take, so that the joy of the Lord stands as our undeniable witness. We can affect change when we’re willing to step outside our comfort zones.
Whether or not people come to Christ isn’t up to us. It’s between him and the individual. But what we can do is bring Christ to people. Through our actions as well as our words, through every move we make, our whole lives are a testimony of the One we serve, a reflection of the man Jesus was, is, and will always be. More often than we know, it’s not our words that will show people who Christ is…it’s our actions.
What story will yours tell?