…showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. – Titus 2:10
In my conversations with atheists, skeptics, and former Christians, one problem has surfaced repeatedly. In my experience, the most common problem that people have with Christianity is not the problem of evil, or conflicts between science and religion, or the exclusivity of the gospel. The problem is their experience with professing Christians. Behind all the arguments, behind all the objections, there often lies a seething ocean of resentment and pain. People have been disdained or excluded. People have seen Christians live lives of materialism, greed, and selfishness. People have been hurt by gossip and by hypocrisy. Therefore, as an amateur apologist, I find myself returning over and again to the issue of our personal witness and spiritual formation. The best defense of the gospel that we can make is the one that we live. An apologist can have all of the answers, but if the church is full of darkness, those answers will fall on deaf ears and hardened hearts.
In this post, I want to urge all of us to consider our behavior not just in light of Jesus’ commands, but in light of our role as witnesses and ambassadors. It ought to be enough for us to do what Jesus commands simply out of love for Him. But if we need another reason, this is it. Our behavior can adorn or disgrace the name of our Savior. If only for the sake of those who don’t know him, we ought to strive to honor Him, obey him and follow him. Let me consider five ways in which we can do so.
Remember who we were
Perhaps all of the problems in our witness to the outside world can be traced to a defect with regard to our understanding of the gospel. What is the gospel? The good news that Jesus saves sinners. Paul never forgot this truth and at the end of his life, he proclaimed: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” Who were you when Jesus rescued you? Were you pure and holy and righteous? No. You were defiled and wicked and sinful. But now that Jesus has rescued you, you are pure and holy and righteous, right? Wrong. Paul does not say “I was the worst” but “I am the worst”. You are the worst of sinners. You break God’s Law every day. You fail to love God with your whole heart and you fail to love your neighbor as yourself. You deserve wrath and judgment, not blessing and honor. But Christ stood in your place. Christ stands in your place. “Jesus sits on Zion’s hill / and receives poor sinners still.” Having been saved from utter ruin by the sacrifice of Another and being cleansed and purified and loved by God’s sheer grace, how ought we to respond to those outside of Christ? If we remember who we were and who we are, we will be filled with love, compassion, and gentleness towards others. Every shred of self-righteousness, pride, and superiority would be gone if we only remembered what we deserve and what Christ did to rescue us.
Show hospitality to strangers
There are many lenses through which we can view the gospel and many ways in which we can understand who Jesus is. He is the light of the world that enlightens every man. He is the bread of life on which we can feed and be satisfied. But one of the images presented to us is that of a shepherd pursuing a lost sheep. Each year at the Summit, hundreds if not thousands of new guests walk through our doors. Many of these people are already Christians, but many are not. Many have come to a new church seeking something. What do they find? They ought to find generous, sacrificial and unstinting love. We all know what it feels like to come to a new place where you don’t know anyone, where you feel awkward and alone. Every week, there are dozens standing in our lobby and sitting in our pews who feel the same way. The gospel ought to make us run out to them with open arms. We were once strangers to Christ, but he came out to us and brought us in. Therefore, let us do the same for others.
Show mercy to the needy
There is a huge divide in the American church today. In the early 20th century, many churches abandoned traditional Christian orthodoxy in favor of a message of social justice and philanthropy. But in response, evangelical churches which retained orthodox Christian beliefs, often abandoned the cause of social justice and compassion. This response is not only misguided, but sinful. Many non-Christians in the world today care for the poor and the oppressed. They see the Christian church as a bastion of materialism and greed. Too often, they are right. Jesus did not only come to give bring us forgiveness from sin. He came to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. He commanded us to preach the gospel not only with words but with deeds. Words are vital because they tell us of our guilt, our need for forgiveness and God’s provision of a Savior. But deeds are vital because they are visible, tangible signs of the presence of God’s Kingdom. On the last day, Jesus will look at his people and say “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,I was a stranger and you invited me in.” When we serve the homeless, the poor, the lonely, and the at-risk, we not only obey Jesus’ commands, but we honor Jesus himself.
Repent of our sin
Every one of us sins. We sin in public and in private. We sin in word and thought and deed. We sin weekly, and daily, and hourly. But there are two equally wrong responses to our sin. The first is to cover it up. We claim to be without sin and we live out our lives as holy, righteous, moral church-going people. We become hypocrites. But the other wrong response is to wallow in our sin. Because we know that hypocrisy is wrong, we instead claim to be “authentic” and “real” and “honest” by openly living a life that is utterly opposed to Jesus’ commands. Neither of these responses is right and both are deeply dishonoring to God. On the one hand, there will always be a huge degree of disobedience, sin, and hypocrisy in our lives. No one fully lives up to the call of the gospel. That is why we need a Savior. On the other hand, a real gospel-centered life is one that abhors both sin and hypocrisy. We do not enjoy and exult in the fact that our sin breaks the heart of God. Rather, we are completely honest and transparent about our sin yet grieved by its presence. The only option for the Christian is repentance. Going to God day after day like a poor beggar seeking our daily bread or a spiritual leper seeking the Great Physician. The gospel purchased not only delivery from the penalty of sin but from its power and presence. God will conquer the sin in our lives. He asks us to repent and to trust, to fight sin and to place ourselves in his hands.
Stay close to Christ
Finally, the greatest need for us as Christians is to stay near to Christ. All of the exhortation and instruction we can give to others or to ourselves will be ultimately useless without his presence. He is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from him, we can do nothing. We can strive for holiness, we can aim to present a good witness. But if we do so in our own strength apart from Christ’s empowerment, it will amount to nothing. If we want to see the church beautified, if we want to clear stumbling blocks, if we want to see our communities transformed, if we want to see people come to Christ, then we need to pray for what the Puritans called a “visitation”. We need God to send his Holy Spirit into our hearts to break them and remake them. The good news is that God is sovereign. His Word will not return to him void and the gates of hell will not prevail against the gospel. Notice that it is “the gates” of hell, not “the assaults” of hell. Hell is being stormed by God. He has laid siege to it and has sworn to overthrow it. God will rescue his people. Let us pray that he will use us to do so.