God’s Story and Your Story

The world God made is one that has a plot line.  That is to say, all history is going somewhere. We live within that great story – we are characters in God’s narrative.

When we turn to God’s Word we get a glimpse into just how incredible the story is. It starts with Creation, with God standing over and against all that he has made, and yet relating to it intimately, particularly in his relationship with people made in his image. Mankind was to be a co-ruler with God – spreading his presence and glory to the ends of the earth. But man fell from God in Adam’s sins and rebellion, which was our sin and rebellion. In time though, God would slowly put his grace to work and overcome all the rebellion of man with its cursed consequences, like a patient farmer tilling the soil, planting a crop, and tirelessly pruning and weeding the ground before a great harvest. The climax of the plot is the death and resurrection of Jesus, the God-man, who stepped in where we failed, and as the second Adam, became the new representative and leader for the new humanity. The great narrative concludes at a wedding feast in a new paradise on a new earth, where every song, every taste, and every face is a witness to the glorious consummation of God’s earlier promise: “they will be my people, and I will be their God.”

God’s story then is creation-fall-redemption-restoration. It is the story of all stories.

The tragedy for those who reject God, however, is that they need to substitute their own great story. In very generalized terms they might go something like this:

  • For the atheist, the story is something like nothingness-angst-hedonism-nothingness.
  • For the Marxist, the story is resources-inequality-fairness-peace.
  • For the Muslim, the story is power-rebellion-submission-glory.
  • For the environmentalist, the story is matter-pollution-stewardship-harmony.
  • For the Eastern religious thinker, the story is oneness-disintegration-actualization-integration.

Everybody is living out their days along some plotline, some narrative that speaks of some form of salvation from some ultimate crisis or evil.

When we come to terms with this, we have discovered a powerful insight into the human condition. We are all in some story; we are all trying to find deliverance from some original sin; we are all motivated by some form of ultimate hope. Take it a step further: we are all worshipping some deity – some Great Deliverer.

When sharing our faith in Jesus, one of the things we need to try to do then is to graciously but sternly confront the false narratives we find that others hold to. That is because the resurrection of Jesus is ultimate reality and the ultimate climax of history.

In other words, “Our God is alive – and yours is dead.”

But then we need to confront the false salvation narrative at the personal level.

We may have a certain philosophical narrative we are holding to, but it may or may not be what we are personally and experientially holding to. For example, many Christians believe in the resurrection but think that the real deliverer from trouble is money. Likewise, many atheists believe that there is no ultimate saviour, but their functional deliverer is a romantic relationship.

If you are a Christian, God’s grace has gone to work in your life in a different way than it has gone to work in mine. Of course, we all share a common salvation for God has saved us by faith (and is saving us) and has given us the same Spirit and the same baptism. Yet the particular sin and struggle that Jesus is overcoming in your life is different than the particular sin he is overcoming in mine. For this reason, we need to consider our “testimony” at a deeper level. What is God saving you from right now, present tense? Maybe you were a poser now finding your true identity and confidence in Jesus. Maybe you were a womanizer now finding true and lasting beauty and pleasure in Christ. Maybe you were an addict now finding true freedom in Jesus.

Maybe like me, you suffered from a success-motivated, status-driven perfectionism that God is changing into deep joy and contentment in any circumstance.

Consider God’s grand story.

Consider how God’s story is working out in your story.

Consider how that intersects with the stories of others.

That’s the first place to start.

“Win the man, not the argument”

1 Corinthians 13:1-7 (ESV):

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

In this passage, the Apostle Paul reminds us of the absolute importance of having love as your driving motivator in ministry. The same is true, especially, when it comes to sharing the good news of Jesus’ victory over sin and death and hell with people in your life. That good news of Jesus’ accomplishment is what makes guilty sinners like us righteous before the Holy God and Creator of the universe. It overcomes our greatest need, which is to be saved from death, and it fulfills our greatest desire, which is to be truly known and fully loved by God. 

This will be the second post, of four, on sharing faith. The big idea in this one is that all our proclamation, argumentation, and conversation needs to be coloured by the love of Jesus.

I heard an old line that originates I believe from Jim Wilson, who said when declaring the gospel the goal is to win the man and not the argument.

Of course, the point is not to downplay the importance of the argument. God’s word indeed tells us to be ready to give a defense for the faith in 1 Peter 3:15: “…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; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (ESV). The word there for “defense” is apolagia – it is the word that we get “apologetics” from. We need to do apologetics. We need to use arguments and we need to seek to persuade. Truth matters.

However, we must remember that the goal is not to win the argument – the goal is to win the man (or the woman). We have already won the argument. The resurrection of Jesus is an event in history – the Christian worldview makes sense rationally and logically but fundamentally we are asserting a historical reality of a God who died and was raised. It’s not primarily a philosophical argument as much as it is a statement of fact that demands a response. Christ is presently reigning at the Father’s right hand whether you agree or disagree, believe or disbelieve. For this reason, even when people reject our arguments, there is no reason to get hot under the collar. You don’t need to try to be right. You already are right. The resurrection has already proven you right – so let God confirm the soundness of your words in the quiet whisper of their heart. Or let him harden them through their continued rejection of the good news.

Genuine love, that is confident and bold, must drive our engagement with people. This means letting  go of a debating spirit; letting go of cheap shots or snide remarks; and, for example, refraining from using words like “pagan” or a “heathen.” Yes – non-Christians are the sons of disobedience and the children of wrath, but how helpful is it to call them pagans? I’ve seen this language a fair bit lately. Sadly, some evangelists so deeply demonize the unbelieving man that even if their arguments are won, the man hasn’t been – he now wants nothing to do with you and even if he comes to saving faith in Jesus, he certainly won’t be coming to your church or home group.

Speak in love, show genuine respect and acknowledge any good or true points they make in the discussion, and then unpack the gracious confrontation of the gospel – there is a way of confronting people with the truth of gospel without being “confrontational.” That is what it means to win the man. We need to remember then that we are ambassadors of Christ and his love and grace (2 Cor 5:20). That doesn’t mean that we won’t deliver hard words, stern rebukes, or bold warnings, but fundamentally we need to get to the point where, in love, we truly want to accept and welcome this unbelieving man into the kingdom.

So win the man, not the argument.

Be Yourself // Forget Yourself

“For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-7 NET)

A few years ago I was at a conference by Alistair Begg and he discussed a few of the steps he takes in preparing to deliver a sermon. The final step is simple, and it is something I have to remind myself of often: be yourself and forget yourself. I am not writing about sermon prep, however – I want to share how important this is for sharing Christ in your everyday relationships.

Step 1: Be Yourself

The first thing you notice more broadly in this section of Scripture is that Paul is talking about himself a lot! He is explaining his ministry. He is given a very straightforward defense of who he is as God’s servant. But part of this is that he is very aware of his own weakness and insufficiency for the ministry he is called to. That is because, at a very fundamental level, Paul recognizes that God is the fundamental mover behind the gospel – persuasive and powerful people are unable to achieve any lasting spiritual results in the lives of others. God is the one who must create light out of darkness – just like he did in the beginning.

The wonderful thing in all of this is that Paul can then refer to himself as a jar of clay. He accepts his limitations and weaknesses. He accepts himself.

For anyone interested in sharing their faith, the first step is to be yourself. You are not Billy Graham. You are not Corrie Ten Boom. You are not Paul. But God made you, you. He placed you in this city. He placed you in your family and gave you a personality, strengths, and weaknesses, and a whole set of experiences to shape you to be his servant, and also his son or daughter.

So be yourself. 

God has ordained his strength to work through your weakness and through your personality quirks. That means that effective ministry involves accepting who you are. There is a classic definition of preaching, I think from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who said that preaching is “truth through personality.” God has chosen to use you and your weird personality.

I am a middle child. I am a little goofy at times. I am often insecure about a great number of things. Yet God has made me who I am. When you are you – God’s glory and beauty shine through you. Don’t try to be someone else.

 

Step 2: Forget Yourself

The next thing is so important too. We also need to forget ourselves. It’s not about you. Be you – and now that you are you – stop being so concerned all the time with you!

We need to accept how God has made us. We need to revel in the fact that we are his sons and servants, his daughters and servants. Reveling in this wonderful truth; however, should lead to God-focused humility and not self-focused pride. We need to learn to forget ourselves by increasingly, dumping our pride and self-centeredness when we see it cropping up. And it always crops up.

It comes out in our deep fear of rejection from someone who has already rejected Jesus. It comes up when we are uncomfortable. We will encounter tense moments and opposition and risky situations. We need to expect that. One of the hardest things for me is just finding the energy to push through a tedious task or chore. But in that too we need to cultivate humility – and forget ourselves

To share our faith we need to be ourselves and forget ourselves. We need to accept ourselves, as God accepts us in Christ but also cultivate the humility that it’s not all about us.

7 Things that Keep us from Sharing our Faith

Muzzle

As you know, sharing your faith in Jesus is not an easy thing. It takes wisdom. It requires courage and care, confidence and concern. But the Bible is very clear – you have been commanded to share your faith (Matthew 28:18-20); you have been given the Holy Spirit so that you can share your faith with power (Acts 1:8); and if you don’t share your faith people won’t be saved (Romans 10:11-15). So why don’t people share their faith? There are many reasons, but here are seven reasons that Christians muzzle themselves instead of sharing the good news of Jesus:

  1. Our Stupid Sin

Don’t you hate sin? Sin gets in the way of everything! It is so hard to share your faith in Jesus when your witness is compromised by sin. How can you witness to a co-worker when you are secretly bitter that they have the hours you asked for? How can you witness to your friends when you know that they know that you just spent hours watching Family Guy with them on Netflix? How can you share your faith with your mouth when your behaviour rejects the gospel of Christ? Sometimes the best way to start witnessing means you start by saying: “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me for _____?”

  1. We Forget the Gospel

The sad truth is that we all are so prone to forget the good news of Jesus. We decided to follow Jesus – we placed our trust in him. But then, by accident, we moved on. We became functional atheists. We forgot that the gospel needs to marinate us in all aspects of life. Sometimes the best way to start witnessing is to learn the gospel afresh and then revive your prayer life and your daily quiet time with God.

  1. We Live Inconsistent Lives

The tragedy of modernity is that it has relegated faith to ones’ private life. Consequently, we all need to do some hard thinking on what it looks like to do accounting, cleaning, lifeguarding, plumbing, nursing, Christianly.  Now there is wisdom here – often it is better to invite your co-worker out for coffee than to witness to them while in your uniform. But the reality is that your Sunday morning faith must translate into your Monday morning routine. Sometimes the best way to start witnessing is to start working as if God were watching (because he is). “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…” (Colossians 3:23 ESV).

  1. We Fear Man

“The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.” (Proverbs 29:25 ESV). How often do we keep our mouths shut about Jesus because we are afraid of being uncool? How often do we keep our mouths shut because we are people-pleasers instead of God=pleasers? Sometimes the best way to start witnessing is to forget yourself, be yourself, and fear God.

  1. We Have Absorbed a lot of Junk Teaching

For years I never said anything about Jesus because I believed that if I misspoke people would be turned off to God forever. That’s just bad theology. God is the one who saves. God is the one who chooses. “…when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48 ESV, emphasis mine). You have the responsibility to speak up – but only God will convict the unbeliever and call her to himself. Sometimes the best way to start witnessing is to rest in the truth that the pressure you place on yourself is not yours to bear.

  1. We Never Rub Shoulders with Non-Christians

You probably have Christian friends. You probably have Christian family members. You maybe even have multiple Christian events you go to every week. You need to interact with some unbelievers. Sometimes the best way to start witnessing is to say no to that church invite and go to that staff get-together instead.

  1. We Assume our Message will be Rejected

Often before we have even opened our mouths, we automatically assume that the people to whom we speak will reject our message. So we muzzle ourselves. But how do you know if someone has ever heard of Jesus? How do you know if they are interested in Christ unless you say something? Get to know how people think and what they believe. Are they Buddhist? Mormon? Atheistic? Agnostic? “Spiritual but not religious”? Sometimes the best way to start witnessing is to just take a risk, and ask some questions.

Sharing your faith is like learning to walk or write. It’s a life skill that takes time, practice, and wisdom. So don’t give up. God will bless you efforts. And, by the way, your success is guaranteed: “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).