…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…(1 Peter 3:15 ESV)
There will be many opportunities to share our faith in Jesus, and we need to be tuned in to those moments when he comes up in conversation. When friends or acquaintances ask what we believe and why we believe in God, we must recognize that something was stirred within them. The Bible says that God “put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) prompting thoughts about heaven and how to get there. People might ask, “Is there a God and how do I get to know him?” That would actually be the perfect conversation set up for Christians, but that is usually not the case, and in my experience, very rare.
Most of the time there is a struggle people are facing, and their souls are searching for answers. In a world filled with a multitude of philosophies and different religions, it can all be very confusing. So how do we know which one is right? And if there is a God, why does he allow bad things to happen? We’ve heard these questions before, and we have even asked them ourselves.
If we claim to be Christians, then we first need to let folks know about it. We don’t need to make a big announcement or immediately share our stories. We just need to be ourselves and allow time for others to get to know us. Additionally, we need to be comfortable in our own skin and confidently say that Jesus is Lord. People want to know if we are genuine and that we truly care about them, because these are the criteria that help them decide whether to hang out with us or run away.
By default, we as humans don’t like anyone telling us what to do; and we especially don’t like to hear that we are sinful and will be punished for it. Those neighborhood evangelists and street preachers bent on “speaking truth” without first understanding our backgrounds, may as well just speak into the wind because nothing they say will have any value; their words are often perceived and received as judgment and criticism. And if people really don’t know the Bible, they will most likely shut down because an argument is not worth having if they don’t know what Christians are talking about or understand the jargon. For these reasons Peter tells us to prepare ourselves and to share our beliefs in a way that is gentle and respectful.
Preparedness isn’t just about knowing scripture and doctrine. It’s also about having the ability to form supportive relationships where everyone benefits from the fellowship. I’ve learned that we have to earn the right to speak into someone’s life before we can ever delve into spiritual discussions and how they relate to personal issues. We need to meet people where they are and not force them into ideals, which are really just our preferences and not necessarily what God has planned for them.
The fact is that that we are all very different and look at the world through a myriad of colored lenses. We may live in the same neighborhood, but we all grew up in different families, cultures, and lifestyles. Therefore, we need to be sensitive to all of that because nobody, and I really mean nobody, wants to hear that their life is all wrong and that they are destined for hell if they don’t accept and believe in Jesus. While that may be technically true, the lack of tact will get either get us beat up or blacklisted from their contacts list.
So what is the most sensible approach? I say, just have a sincere interest in people and don’t be goofy by acting more pious than what you really are in private; just be yourself and don’t carry an ulterior motive. Aim to become a good friend or at least a trusted acquaintance, because when you think about it, the gospel needs to be shared out of love for others. If you don’t have a real love for people, then you just sound like a preachy know-it-all, or as the Apostle Paul described it, “a noisy gong or clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). You may not even be the one to land the plane and lead that person through the sinner’s prayer. Maybe you are 1 out of 20 people that God lined up to be a messenger. And if that is the case, then it is much more important to speak truth in love, lest you be the one to dissuade them from ever coming to Jesus.