Sunday, September 18, 2005

An Often-Asked Question

Miss O'Hara does an excellent job of bringing up something I hear fairly often (though not stated in such a balanced and thoughtful way as Miss O'Hara did, frankly): how should we interact with people who don't know Jesus? Specifically, how do we convey the Gospel? Should we communicate it with our lives or with Scriptures?

Miss O'Hara quoted John 8:42-47, with an emphasis on verse 47:

John 8:42-47
Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don't you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."

She then comments,

In a nutshell, Jesus is saying they don't believe Him or even hear Him because they are of the devil, and not of God. You can't be in-between, now - either you belong to God or you don't. It's your choice, so if you don't choose God, you've chosen the devil.

This made me wonder about the wisdom of using the Bible - which is God's Word - in witnessing to people. Ever notice that non-Christians just do not like to hear stuff from the Bible? And it's a violent reaction, to boot, similar to the one you get when you say, oh, abortion is murder and should be illegal.

Considering that along with Jesus' words (I recommend reading the whole chapter...poor Jesus, going in circles with those pesty guys!) - could Jesus also be saying that just throwing Bible verses at folks isn't the best way to get the message across?....I'm not saying not to use the Bible (I'm not sure I'm saying anything - I'm just pondering things!). Not at all. You and I are, more likely than not, hardly ashamed of the Gospel at all! I am curious, however, as to whether or not quoting directly from the Bible is the way to go, at least right at first. (Emphasis Kristen's)

Here's my take. It's more nuanced than it might seem at first.

I think we should never underestimate the power of the Word of God. By "Word," I am not just referencing the Scriptures, although we know that they are God-breathed and "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Tim 3:16). I mean the logos of God. That's the Greek word that is translated "Word" in the New Testament. It is used of Jesus Christ in the first chapter of John:

John 1:1-3
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

It is from this text that I justify saying that the Scriptures are the Word of God, but Jesus is the Word--the logos--too. When we speak under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to an unbeliever, it is the Word of God to them. And in my experience, Scripture is nearly always a part of that talk. Maybe not in our first conversations with them, but eventually.

When I say "under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit," I am not talking about a prophecy or word of knowledge (though I don't have a problem with that). I mean that when we speak to an unbeliever about the Lord, we should be sensitive to what the Lord is doing in that person's life, and what He wants us to do right now.

That is why this question can't be either/or. The question really isn't, "Should we use Scripture when talking to unbelievers?" or "Should we just live our lives and hope they become curious enough to ask?" The question is, What is God doing right now with this person, and what does He want me to do?

I have interacted with non-Christians who really weren't ready for any Scripture right at that moment. They wouldn't have understood it, or it would have made them angry. Sometimes they need to be opened up and healed to some extent first by experiencing the love of God through us. Most often, in my experience, the relationship must come first.


We must, must use Scripture in a Spirit-led way. Nothing has the power to convict someone and bring them to their knees like the words of God Himself! Can we hope to compete with that?

1 Cor 14:24-25
But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!"

The context of this verse is spiritual gifts, which I am really not addressing in this post, but it's also talking about the Words of God and the effect of those words on a sinner.

Before I served the Lord, I met a woman named Kimberly who had the courage to share the Words of God with me. She was faithful to share hard truths with me. I could have gotten angry and rejected her, but I was ready to hear what she (and God) were saying. But she combined those hard truths with a passionate love for me--and I will never forget her. I hope to celebrate in Heaven with her.

I would not have listened to her if she hadn't loved me, and simply thumped her Bible.

I would not have listened to her if she just loved me and hadn't a Bible to thump (that is, if there had been no power of God behind her words).

In case all of that hasn't been clearer than mud, I sum up:

1. I think the answer to this question regarding any individual person will be a bit different. God knows where they are and what they need, so ask Him.

2. We should never, never underestimate or disregard the power of the Scriptures. They are the text the Spirit uses to convict the hearts of man about sin and redemption. In our relationships with unbelievers we should always be waiting for the Spirit to speak God's Words to that person through us.