“If this gospel is good news, we should not shy away from sharing it, but we might have to be creative at how we steer our conversations in a hostile world.”
It can be easy to talk about the things we love. If you want to see me light up, just ask me about my nieces and nephews. But you might not be as excited to hear me talk about some of my pet peeves. Just because we are passionate about something does not mean that others will be interested in it as well.
Even something as wonderful as the gospel can be difficult to talk about, especially with people who are not interested in hearing our beliefs. Some unbelievers are not only disinterested in Christianity, they are hostile toward it. This may cause believers to shy away from sharing their faith.
Last month we looked at the story of the Samaritan woman at the well and discussed the power of the Gospel to dramatically change someone’s life. This month, I want to reexamine the text and discuss how to navigate the challenges of communicating our faith in a hostile world while intentionally steering people toward the good news about Jesus Christ.
The first thing the woman at the well says to Jesus after He strikes up a conversation with her is to point out their differences. She was a Samaritan woman. He was a Jewish man. This established the difficulties they would have to overcome to find any agreement. It’s like if someone were to come to New England and strike up a conversation about the success of the New York Yankees or the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jesus was in foreign territory and this woman made sure to point out the cultural
There are a lot of negative perceptions of Christians today. While unbelievers may not know the gospel, they certainly know where they stand against Christianity. Whether it is the way that Christianity is portrayed in media, the news, politics, or an unbeliever’s past experiences with some negative Christians, getting past the objections to actually present the good news of the gospel can be rather difficult.
Once, I was sharing my faith with a friend who thought all Christians were hypocrites. He told me about the various professing believers who had hurt him in the past and I responded with, “Praise the Lord!” This only inflamed his rage and he shared more stories. I repeated, “Praise the Lord.” After a while he asked me why I kept responding that way. I told him, “I don’t know who these people are, but they have certainly demonstrated one of the most important Christian doctrines. They’re not saved by their works, they’re saved by grace.” Stunned, he asked, “What’s grace?” This opened the door for me to share the good news that we are saved by the grace of God, through faith, and not our own works.
I could have tried to argue with my friend and defend Christianity, but my purpose was to get to the gospel. He needed to hear the good news, but all he wanted to talk about was the bad news. While he was attacking my faith, I was steering the conversation to share the love of Christ.
It can be easy to get so caught up in defending ourselves that we neglect to share the good news. We need to remember that we are just blind beggars who have found bread. If our goal is to communicate the gospel, we won’t be worried about looking good. In fact, our problems only give credence to the power of this gospel. We were all once outsiders, but God has made us His own through the redemption that is found in Jesus Christ.
The woman at the well had an air of confidence in how she spoke to Jesus. She addressed Him directly and even bantered with Him about the “living water” He was talking about. But underneath it all, there was a reason why this woman was coming out to an unused well during the heat of the day. She was hurting and broken; she was an outsider.
Jesus, being God, was able to see right through her demeanor. He knew her deepest, darkest secrets and her inner struggles, but He loved her anyway. This woman was in desperate need of grace. Surely Jesus could have counselled her on how to live her best life, but what she really needed was to be saved.
There are three important principles in this. First, hurt people don’t always appear to be hurting and needy. If nothing else, social media has affirmed this for us. People will often share edited photos and positive messages that do not reflect the struggles they are facing in order to mask the pain that they are feeling inside.
Secondly, this story does not give us license to go around and point out all of the faults of our neighbors. Jesus knew exactly what this woman needed to hear to understand that her problems could be answered. Yes, conviction of sin is important, but many of the people we come into contact with are already overwhelmed with guilt and shame. We are not there to judge them. Instead, we can point out the log in our eyes so they can see how the grace of God can affect the speck in their own.
Thirdly, the solution to their problems is not to fix their issues in life. We are not advocates for self improvement. It can be easy to get stuck in the mess of someone’s life that we never actually offer them the primary solution to their problems. They need the gospel. Jesus did not get caught up in scolding the woman at the well. Jesus shared the gospel because that is the message she truly needed.
After Jesus draws the woman’s pain and secrets to the surface, she tried to turn the conversation into a partisan debate. Pointing out the proper place of worship was a hotly debated issue that not only had religious connotations, but political ones as well. Notice that Jesus does not delve into the debate even though He had mountains of arguments on His side. Instead, He addressed the heart of the problem and continued to steer the woman toward the gospel presentation. This woman would have never understood the significance of a place of worship before she knew the One who was worthy of her praise.
Conservative evangelicalism has taken a front row in politics and the mainstream media, and it hasn’t always been represented positively. Non-Christians may not be familiar with the gospel, but they have an impression of Christianity and a strong rejection of anything that resembles a conservative way of life. This is exactly how the Samaritan woman reacted to Jesus. She knew about the Old Testament Law and yet, by the evidence of her way of life, had rejected God’s standard of righteousness. Here, in her first encounter with the gospel, she
deflects the conversation to
I once had someone try to witness to me without realizing that I was a Christian. I thought I would play devil’s advocate and let him try to win me to Christ. I answered all of his questions honestly. He asked if I had ever sinned. I said, “Yes.” He asked if I knew that sin was wrong. Again, “Yes.” I had been making it easy for him, so I decided to throw him a curveball and I asked him a political question. What followed was a passionate discourse on cultural affairs that never wrapped back around to the gospel. At the end of the conversation I was disappointed, but he seemed pretty confident that he had done a good job.
We are all prone to fall into the trap of endless debates, but correcting someone’s logic does not win the heart. We may be incredibly passionate about our opinions, but the gospel is not an opinion, and it is not up for debate. It can be accepted or it can be rejected, but one thing is clear, it will not be accepted if it is not shared.
I’m convinced that the reason many people have rejected Christianity is because they have never actually heard a compelling gospel message. They may know the name of Jesus, a bunch of Christians, and a few stories from the Bible, but it is quite possible that no one has unpacked the plan of salvation for them. If this gospel is good news, we should not shy away from sharing it, but we might have to be creative at how we steer our conversations in a hostile world.
Rev. Adam Miller is the President and Host of Songtime and can be heard daily on the Songtime Radio Broadcast.
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