By Jeff Smelser
Standing in a store, another customer and I exchange polite greetings. Comments concerning the weather, the high costs of merchandise, etc., may follow. If circumstances permit, the conversation eventually becomes more personal, my southern accent is noted and my fellow shopper asks, “What are you doing up here in Ohio?”
“Hallelujah!” he exclaims. Then he begins to recite his own “conversion experience,” or perhaps begins to tell of the many ways in which the Lord has blessed him since he “accepted Jesus Christ as Lord.”
But what has happened? Only minutes earlier, our conversation was in an entirely different vein. This individual who moments before was content to talk about the most mundane things is suddenly hardly able to contain his “testimony,” and his joy in the Lord. And this change has been wrought simply because I stated that I am preaching. But preaching what? He hasn’t a notion as to what it is that I preach. But no matter. That isn’t the point. He can fairly safely assume that I don’t preach Satanism (I don’t look the type), and about all that is left is what the world calls the gospel. Exactly what doctrines I preach are irrelevant. The question comes to my mind, what is relevant to this individual? Could it be that the only important factor in producing this sudden change is that I have given myself away as someone who most likely will not scoff at one who claims to be a Christian? Could it be that my new friend is prompted to give his “testimony” simply because I seem to be a safe auditor?
Or consider a co-worker with whom you have had a casual acquaintance. He has not said anything about the gospel of Jesus Christ until one day, he discovers that you are a Christian. Henceforth, not a day passes without a greeting of “Hallelujah, Praise the Lord” from your suddenly zealous for the Lord co-worker. The point is certainly not that people should keep the gospel to themselves. Nor is the point that a Christian should subdue his joy if he unexpectedly finds that an acquaintance is also a Christian. Rather the point of these observations has to do with what being a Christian involves. To some, being a Christian seems to consist of nothing more than giving testimonials, primarily to people who won’t ridicule them; that is, to safe people.
With that thought in mind, I make mention of a woman named Pat with whom I have been studying the Bible. She has some acquaintances who love to testify. Some of these I have met, and have discussed the Bible with them in Pat’s presence. On points of disagreement, their defense was a testimonial, and usually a long one. I listened. Pat later apologized for the behavior that some of the testimony givers had exhibited and complemented my behavior saying, “you listen, so patiently!” I can’t help but wonder if perhaps my listening made such an impression on Pat because all her “Christian” friends are such lovers of testifying that they rarely listen to one another. To them, Christianity isn’t abiding in the doctrine of Christ (as in 2 Jn. 9); doctrine isn’t important. Christianity isn’t keeping the commandments of God (as 1 Jn. 5:3); they were saved by faith only and they have an “experience” to prove it! For these people, Christianity is primarily reciting their conversion “experience” and the wonders that God supposedly works in their lives furnishing further evidence of their salvation. Christianity is not a way of life, but a topic of conversation. But, how does the saying go, “Actions speak louder than words.”
Indeed, every Christian ought to be eager to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. But this readiness to share the gospel ought to be more than a facade. It ought to characterize the Christian even when an unbeliever is his auditor. And his “testimony” should not be concerned with what has happened to himself, but with what Jesus Christ did and said. The individual who professes to rejoice greatly in Jesus Christ and yet sets aside the doctrine of Christ in favor of his own “experience” has a superficial joy. One will surely rejoice if he loves the lord (John 14:28). But if he is not concerned about the Lord’s words, or commandments, he does not truly love the Lord (John 14:15, 21, 23) and his rejoicing is in something other than Christ.
Having said all that, perhaps we might be moved to look at our own lives. How extensively does Christ pervade our lives? Paul said, “It is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me” (Gal. 2:20). Does Christ live in us only to the extent that we speak of the gospel only when talking with a safe person? Having discussed some element of biblical teaching with a safe person, do we feel that we have fulfilled our duties as a Christian? If we desire to convert people, we must first learn to be Christians, no just talk Christ. Then we must learn to initiate conversation concerning the Bible without fear of being ridiculed by an unbeliever. “Boldly” is the term used to describe the manner in which Paul preached at Damascus (Acts 9:27), in Jerusalem (Acts 9:29), in Iconium with Barnabas (Acts 14:3), and in a Jewish synagogue in Ephesus (Acts 19:8). Paul said he “ought” to speak boldly in the gospel (Eph. 6:20). He was not ashamed of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). And in Paul’s life we see that Christ not only spoke through him, but He did indeed live in him. No, we shouldn’t browbeat someone with the Bible when they have made it clear that they are not interested. But we should not assume that they are not interested before we even broach the subject. Most won’t be interested. A few will be. And if Christ truly lives in us, He will teach these few through us, boldly!
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 2, pp. 49-50
January 20, 1983