Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Helps for Witnesses for Christ

[During yesterday's meeting with the Women of Saint Matthew, I did a presentation meant to help those who want to share their faith in Christ with others. It wasn't written out beforehand. After the presentation, one member of the group wondered if I would take on some "homework," putting everything in written form. I thought others might be interested in it as well. So, here it is: Helps for Witnesses for Christ.]

Why witness?

The eternal destiny of every human being hinges on belief in Jesus Christ.

[Jesus says:] "For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:16-18)

Martin Luther called John 3:16, “the Gospel in a nutshell.” Simply taking this verse under consideration, we see that while God loves and wants to save all people from sin and death, God will not force Himself or His grace and forgiveness on them. They must receive Christ by faith. That is, they must trust in Christ.

Now, faith in Christ is a gift from God. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we have the ability to confess that Jesus is Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3).

But faith in Christ only comes to those who are willing to receive it.

Remember the man who told Jesus, “I do believe; Help my unbelief?” Here was a man who had heard the Word about Jesus and wanted to believe, though, as is true for us, trust was foreign to Him. But Jesus took that willingness to trust in Jesus, answered that man’s prayer, and gave him faith.

Paul writes in Romans 10:17 that “faith comes by hearing.” But just as in Jesus‘ parable of the seeds scattered on different kinds of soil with differing results, people can hear the same Gospel word, resulting in some believing and some not. The mission of every Christian is to keep scattering the seeds of the Gospel. 

What this means for those who have never heard of Jesus is not something the Bible tells us about. But we can trust the God Who came to earth in Jesus and died and rose out of love for the world to take account of that reality. Any questions we may have about those who haven’t yet heard of Jesus and His Gospel should give more urgency to the Church’s pursuit of the great commission.

This leads to a second reason for every Christian to witness for Christ: Jesus commands that we be His witnesses.

[Jesus says:] “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20)

What exactly does it mean to have faith in Jesus?

The only sermon by Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Mark is found in Mark 1:15. It summarizes Jesus’ mission on earth and the Gospel--the good news--itself:

[Jesus said:] “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15)

Jesus came into the world to bring His kingdom to us. We enter it by faith. 

To have faith means two things:

1. To receive the gift of repentance. In the Greek in which the New Testament is written, the most common word translated into English as repent is metanoia. It literally means change one’s mind. It doesn’t come naturally any human being to think God’s way. Instead, we’re born sinners. When we receive the gift of repentance, we’re able to turn from our sins and turn to the God revealed in Christ. God forgives our sins and grants us the Holy Spirit to confront and guide us to continue walking on what Jesus called “the narrow way” (Matthew 7:13-14), the way of following Him as God makes us more like Christ Himself (2 Corinthians 3:18).

2. To trust in Jesus as our only Savior and God. The word usually translated into English as believe is, in the Greek of the New Testament, pisto. It denotes absolute trust.

When I believe in Jesus then, I trust Him as I repent, not to use my sins against me to judge me, as I deserve, but to gracious forgive Him.

I trust Him too, to make me righteous and worthy of eternity not by my merits, but solely because of His grace--His charity--which I receive by faith in Him and His Gospel.

How do we witness?

Read John 1:35-46, part of an account of Jesus’ early ministry:

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, "What are you seeking?" And they said to him, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" 39 He said to them, "Come and you will see." So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas" (which means Peter).

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." 46 Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."

Notice how it was that people came to follow Jesus. John the Baptist tells two of his disciples that Jesus is the Lamb of God. And they follow Jesus. Andrew tells his brother. Philip tells Nathanael.

Witnessing that results in faith in Christ doesn’t happen in a vacuum. John the Baptist, for example, had a relationship with the disciples. They knew him. They valued him and invested what he said with credibility. John’s relationship with them earned him the opportunity to be a witness for Christ.

Witnessing for Christ is most effective, authentic, and believable when the person doing the witnessing is someone we know. Witnessing is relational.

Witnessing, at its best, is also invitational. Jesus didn’t try to argue the two disciples of John the Baptist into following Him. He simply invited them: “Come and see.”

Philip didn’t have all the answers to Nathanael’s questions. He simply invited this man he clearly already knew to, “Come and see.”

The best witnessing then, is relational and invitational. As Christians, we should pray that God would help us develop relationships with people not yet in relationship with Christ and His Church so that, with credibility, we can invite them to, “Come and see”: Jesus in our church, Jesus in our lives, Jesus in the Bible, Jesus met in prayer.

How do you witness? By being a friend to those for whom Jesus died and rose and inviting them to come and see Jesus!

What if I don’t know a lot about the Bible?

1 Peter 3:15 says:

“ your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect...”

None of us is expected to know more than we actually know about Jesus and God’s Word. (Although that should never be an excuse for not knowing Jesus or God’s Word better!)

The best way to be prepared to “give a reason for the hope that is in you” through Christ is to cultivate a personal relationship with God. This is best done through what is sometimes referred to as “means of grace,” highways by which the God we know in Jesus promises to come to us, encourage us, teach us, chasten us, and renew us. These would include:

1. Holy Baptism. In Baptism, God claims us as His own children. God makes a covenant with us to be our God. We, in turn, are called to live each day affirming our participation in that covenant by honoring God, loving Christ’s Church, loving God and loving neighbor, and sharing the Gospel whenever and however we can.

2. Regular worship, including regularly receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion. One of the things that most pleases me about life at Saint Matthew these days is that people have the opportunity to receive Christ’s body and blood every week. In the Sacrament, Jesus Christ comes to us--body and blood--and brings us His presence and forgiveness. It is food for our journey until that day we meet Him face to face with all the saints in the heavenly banquet hall.

3. Regularly reading and studying God’s Word, the Bible, with other Christians. The Bible isn’t just another book. It is God’s inspired--literally meaning God-breathed--word given to us through many Biblical witnesses (2 Timothy 3:16). When we take in the Word of God, we imbibe breath, life, from the only One Who can give it.

4. Regularly praying, yielding our whole lives to Christ. This includes the discipline Martin Luther called “daily repentance and renewal.”

5. Regularly obeying to Christ’s call to serve others in His Name. This includes, but isn’t restricted to, serving the members of your family and the people in your community. As someone has said, “Charity may begin at home. But for the Christian, it doesn’t end there.”

What are some basic truths I might want to cover with a friend I want to invite to “come and see”?

We all need Christ because every human being is a sinner.

“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5)

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Romans 3:10-11)

Simply put, sin is a condition into which we all are born. It is a condition of separation from God. To be separated from God is to be separated from righteousness and from life. We commit individual sins because we are sinners. As I’ve said before: “Plumbers plumb. Teachers teach. Sinners sin.”

We sin because we can’t help ourselves. That’s who we are. That’s why we need Jesus Christ, the Savior, to erase the separation that exists between us and God.

Sin will only earn us eternal separation from God, no matter how good we may try to be. But life with God--salvation from sin, death, and hopelessness--is given freely to those who believe in Jesus Christ.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

God’s Law, seen in the Ten Commandments and explained in many other places in the Bible, find us guilty for our sin. They can show us the will of God for human beings. But they can’t save, because none of us is capable of observing God’s Law with perfection.

In Jesus, God took on human flesh and kept the law perfectly for us so that, in His undeserved death, He could take the punishment for sin we deserve. And in His rising, He makes new and everlasting life with God available to all who trust in and follow Him. God makes righteous those with faith in Christ.

“21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” (Romans 3:21-25)

We can only be certain of Jesus’ resurrection victory over sin and death--the truth on which our hope as Christians rests--by faith.

God, as someone has said, is a gentleman; He will not force us to faith in Him. But, for people who make themselves available to believe and ask God to give them trust in Him, “ is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). On the other hand, many clear-eyed, practical people who knew Jesus risked their lives in the face of persecution to affirm that Jesus rose from the dead.

[Paul wrote some twenty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection:] “3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

All who believe in Christ have a freedom and joy that nothing can take from us, in this life or in the next. Neither sin, the accusations of conscience, or the unkindness of others can harm us.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

I hope that you find this helpful. God bless!

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