People who claim to follow Christ but don’t act like Christ turn others away from the Savior. Jesus calls these types of people hypocrites and blind guides (Matt. 23). This morning, my wife sent me an article written by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, a former “leftist lesbian professor” who despised Christians. You can read it on Christianity Today’s website.
Rosaria’s general perception of Christians was of uneducated, poor readers, who were not willing to have challenging discussions about faith. She writes, “Stupid. Pointless. Menacing. That's what I thought of Christians and their god Jesus.” So how can Christians reach out to nonbelievers who are ardent in their position against Christ?
Tip #1: Ask questions.
Rosaria published an article attacking Christians in 1997 and, as a result, received a substantial amount of hate mail. But one pastor wrote her a letter filled with kindness and questions. “How did you arrive at your interpretations? How do you know you are right? Do you believe in God?” The pastor asked Rosaria these and other questions to get her to think about her own beliefs and reasoning. This should remind us of Jesus’ interaction with the nonbelievers of His day. For every attack Jesus responded with a thought provoking question.
Mark 10:2-3 (NLT)
Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife?” Jesus answered them with a question: “What did Moses say in the law about divorce?”
Matthew 17:24-25 (NLT)
On their arrival in Capernaum, the collectors of the Temple tax came to Peter and asked him, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the Temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” Peter replied. Then he went into the house. But before he had a chance to speak, Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Peter? Do kings tax their own people or the people they have conquered?”
Most have heard the phrase “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” One of the best ways to show you care is not to force the truth on an unwilling person, but to ask them questions about what they believe and encourage them to challenge their preconceptions.
One of the better books on witnessing through questions is Share Jesus Without Fear.
Tip #2: Bring the church to the lost.
Somewhere along the line many believers got the idea that witnessing was simply inviting people to church. There is nothing wrong with a polite and timely invitation, of course. But it is too often an excuse to not share the hope that we have in Christ directly.
Rosaria says that the pastor spent two years “bringing the church to me.” Along with his wife, the three became friends and spent a lot of time talking. These conversations were not always about the gospel, but they did eat together, pray together, and talk about God together.
Again, this should take us back to the life of Jesus, a man called the friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19). Jesus didn’t expect every person to come to Him. He travelled and brought His message to the people. At the end of His time on earth He also commanded His followers to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). Every believer should be taking Christ to the lost.
Tip #3: Don’t argue, engage.
Rosaria’s perception of Christianity was based on mockery and judgment. While a future judgment and God’s justice are very real truths, the Bible never tells us to mock or argue with nonbelievers. When Jesus confronted the adulterous woman at the well in John 4, He did not start by condemning her for her sins. Instead, He struck up a conversation by saying “please give me a drink.” After the two talked, Jesus addressed her sin but not by holding up a sign telling her she was on the highway to hell. He asked her a question which got her thinking and led to a spiritual discussion. Then, and only then, did Jesus reveal to this woman that He was the Messiah. Jesus engaged with the woman not to argue but to challenge and inform.
2 Timothy 2:23-26 (NLT)
Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.
ConclusionIf we really believe that people in this world are dying and going to hell while we know the only way to salvation, we must share this message with others. The content of our message is important. But the delivery is clearly important as well. If our presentation is abrasive, arrogant, and self-righteous, we cannot claim to be following the examples of Christ or the Apostles.
Christ shared His message by asking questions and forcing people to think. He didn’t expect everyone to travel to His hometown to hear Him, He brought the message to them in their homes, streets, and community gatherings. He did not rudely argue with the lost over their beliefs, He challenged their preconceptions and engaged them in conversations about truth. I’m thankful to Rosaria for sharing her personal story of transformation and the God-honoring approach taken by the man who shared hope with her.