Defeaters

Have you ever hesitated to share the gospel because you didn’t want to be impersonal, treating people like a spiritual project? Or perhaps been slow to talk about Christianity because you were afraid you wouldn’t have the answers to difficult questions? Have you ever encountered someone who held a belief different from yours, and in an effort to be respectful and tolerant, chose not to bring up your spiritual views? Or maybe you wanted to avoid being preachy, so you quieted down to steer clear of the impression that Christianity is condescending?

If you think about it, each of these concerns communicates something that contradicts the gospel—a religious, shallow, intolerant, self-righteous Christianity. We should take these evangelistic concerns seriously by squeezing as much wisdom out of them as possible. If we don’t, we will misrepresent the gospel and fail to represent the true Christ to others. Our concerns will devolve into defeaters, defeating us from sharing fantastic news about the stunning person and work of Jesus.

Let’s explore these defeaters, one by one.

If we don’t address evangelistic defeaters, we will misrepresent the gospel and fail to represent Christ.

Impersonal Witness

Have you ever had an opportunity to share your faith but hesitated because you didn’t want to be impersonal? Perhaps you lacked a relationship with a co-worker, were new to the neighborhood, or didn’t want to offend a person burned by Christians. Or maybe you consistently share your faith, but do it out of a sense of evangelistic pressure? Pressure evangelism is graded on a checklist.

  • Not saying anything about Jesus earns a ✓-
  • Saying Jesus’ name in conversation earns a ✓
  • Mentioning what Jesus did (on the cross, for your sins) earns a ✓+
  • Giving a “whole gospel presentation” earns a gold star. ★

This kind of evangelism is distasteful. It lacks the punch of authenticity and the flavor of credibility. It leverages people for spiritual worth. Name-drop Jesus, and we feel good. Wimp out and we feel bad.

How do we address this genuine concern to move forward with a winsome, personal witness? Quote: Pressure evangelism lacks the punch of authenticity and the flavor of credibility.

Pressure evangelism lacks the punch of authenticity and the flavor of credibility.

Preachy Witness

Another reason people find it difficult to share their faith is because they don’t want to be seen as being “preachy.” What does it mean to be preachy? Think of snarky, self- righteous Angela from The Office. Quick to judge everyone at work, she jumps on every opportunity to be right and show everyone else they are wrong.

Angela isn’t the only person who is self-righteous. If we’re honest, we all have a bit of self-righteousness in us. We might think some people aren’t worth our time, or perhaps even beyond the grace of God. Self-righteousness isn’t just a turn-off; it’s the opposite of the gospel. Preachy self-righteousness says: “If you perform well, God will accept you.” But the gospel says, “God already accepts you because Jesus performed perfectly on your behalf.”

The difference is staggering. It’s the thing C.S. Lewis said set Christianity apart from all other religions—grace. People need to hear grace: audacious, seems-too-good-to-be-true but so-true-it’s-good, grace. If we truly believe the gospel, we’ll have a humble faith that insists on grace.

The gospel produces humble faith that insists on grace.

Intolerant Witness

I was right in the thick of a discussion about the gospel when Brian leaned in and objected: “What about the Muslims? I mean, they’re serious too. They are willing to die for what they believe. Are you saying they won’t go to heaven?”

People don’t choose their beliefs willy-nilly. Many religious or spiritual people are sincere about their faith. How should we respond to people who have deeply held beliefs? All too often, Christians respond by judging other religions without understanding them. Alternatively, we may avoid talking about religious differences. Either way, we are intolerant.

Classical tolerance has always maintained that any belief has a right to exist. We should grant people the dignity to believe whatever they want. Jesus didn’t lead campaigns against Greek philosophy or the Roman imperial cult. He tolerated others’ beliefs, while also seeking to persuade others of the gospel of the Kingdom.

How can Christians cultivate a persuasive tolerance?

Uninformed Witness

Speaking up about our faith can be intimidating, especially when we don’t have control over how people will respond. What if we don’t know what to say to their objections? What if they inquire about a part of the Bible we don’t fully understand? How do we face the fear of not knowing what to say?

When these fears arise, we need something to give us security. There are two kinds of security that can free us to engage in winsome, thoughtful evangelism. The first is intellectual security, which we can gain from studying the rich history of apologetics that has faithfully defended the faith for centuries.

The second kind of security goes deeper than our intellect. Consider Peter’s words, which are often quoted out of context: “have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in 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” (1 Peter 3:14–15).

Before instructing us to have reasons for our hope, Peter says, “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.” All too often we set apart what others think of us as holy. We are beholden to the opinions of others instead of emboldened by what God the Father thinks of us. In Christ we are loved, accepted, secure. The gospel offers us a deep security that frees us to share the gospel, regardless of what others think.

Don’t be beholden to the opinions of others; be emboldened by the opinion of God the Father.
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