Sometimes, the truth is hard. Sometimes, the truth is painful. Sometimes, we don't agree on what the truth is. Some people think that when Christians don't agree on what the truth is, they should not talk about it. It can become troublesome. Unbelievers and those of weaker faith may not understand, they may be turned off and turn away from the truth. They say we should keep those kinds of conversations private. You know, the two things that one should never discuss in public are religion and politics, even if those are the only two things worth talking about, at times.
Personally, I think that the truth gets to be such a problem because people don't talk about it enough. Too many people are uncomfortable with the truth. They don't believe it. They want God and reality to be different than they are. The problem is so bad that there are people making up stories about why they hate the truth to hide the truth about their hatred of the truth.
For example, I had always heard that people objected to Christianity because it was so limiting. We have all those laws and rules and people feel constricted by the Law of God and so they avoid it. Now, I cannot say that there are no people that feel like that, but I have found, in my lifetime, that most people are cool with the Law. The don't keep it, mind you, but they recognize it, usually agree that it is true and valid, and have little trouble facing it - - and then ignoring it. What people have trouble dealing with is the Gospel!
Recite the law to someone and they will nod their head. Tell them that their sins are freely forgiven for Christ's sake and you will have fight on your hands. People get angry with the notion that God will forgive them for Christ's sake, and give them eternal life if they simply trust Him.
I know, weird, eh?! God can't do that, they say. You gotta do something! You gotta give up something, or toe the line, or measure up in some way. They want to argue how unfair forgiveness is. They will challenge the concept of a God who would put His Son to death in such an inhumane manner in exchange for the death and eternal condemnation of others, let alone everyone else! What kind of God would do that?
The real One, is my answer. A God of grace and compassion. A God who is truly worthy of being worshiped. A totally unexpected God would do that. He is nothing like I would be, in His place - which is the idea, I think. But I doubt that it is the question of what Kind of God that has them troubled. I suspect that they are troubled because the Gospel suddenly takes their salvation out of their hands entirely, and places their damnation there, instead.
Think about it. If God has redeemed you (which, by the way, He has), and freely forgives sins, and gives eternal life to each and everyone who simply takes Him at His Word and trust Him to do what He has promised to do for Christ's sake, and He is the author, founder, and power of faith itself (all of which is true), then your salvation is not about you. You receive it, but it is all God's doing, and so we owe Him thanks and praise. Our part is passive. We simply receive. The only thing we can do, in and of ourselves, is refuse the gift and grace of God.
So, if you go to hell, that is all you (Yay!?). The issue of your salvation rests upon this great and wonderful God who rescues and redeems and pours out forgiveness, and life, and salvation, and all you have the power to effect on your own is your damnation. The human ego does not take kindly to being relegated to the back seat. God can rescue us, but only if we give Him permission first, at the very least. It is not usually the law that offends, but the Gospel.
What started me thinking about this was a conversation on Facebook. Someone was trying to dismiss Baptism in a comment on another person's posting, and it drew gentle remonstrances from several pastor-types. The individual took umbrage at being corrected and set forth a brief defense of typically bad Protestant theology about Baptism and conversion. When bad theology was met with correction, the individual took refuge behind the reliable intimidation of, "I sure hope no unbeliever is reading this exchange!" The suggestion was that reading a discussion of theology (which unbelievers generally don't bother with), particularly where the offended writer was being instructed away from error, would turn the unbeliever off and they would lose the missionary opportunity of the 'thread'.
Now, that might be true. If so, it would be worse if anyone were being rude and insulting in the course of the discussion, but no one was. But even so, what if an unbeliever were offended by the truth? Would pious error be better? The commenter was taking the "I think I am right, and I don't want anyone to correct me" approach to what seemed to everyone else to be an open discussion of theology. Would one be better advised to avoid such an uncomfortable confrontation by simply not saying anything?
Jesus said, "whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven." It is probably better to avoid being unnecessarily contentious while contending for the faith, but nowhere are we instructed that error will save anyone. Jesus said that the truth shall make you free. Sometimes, the truth requires that you stand up and confess it. That confession should be as winsome as possible, but just the fact that it is the truth is going to drive some people around the bend.
We stand on the truth, confessing Christ and the Gospel. But what is it that we confess? We confess that if a man (or woman) trusts in the Lord, believing the Gospel, they have everlasting life, and will rise from their graves, on the day of the resurrection, to everlasting life of both body and soul. Without such faith, they will rise, but not to life. They will rise to eternal death, torment of body and soul, and misery and regret beyond our ability to comprehend. If we stay silent when we have the opportunity to speak of Christ and salvation, we withhold the opportunity for one who does not know the truth to hear it. We don't condemn them to hell, nor does our silence assure that they will not be saved. Their lives will be filled with other opportunities to hear and believe. At least that is a possibility.
Silence at such a moment may merely be an opportunity missed. Then again, it might not be the right time. I have been unable to speak at times when I intended to. I think that, perhaps, the Holy Spirit holds our mouths shut sometimes. He knows it is not the right time. More often, though, we don't speak because we are insecure, uninterested at the moment, unconcerned about the other, or we just don't know what to say that fits the moment. I do not believe that we should feel guilty about those moments, but we should consciously prepare ourselves to speak when we see the opportunity and know what would be fitting to say, in order to share the Gospel or confess our faith and our Lord.
What we have to offer is nothing short of life from death. When we speak the Word of God, the Holy Spirit is at work in those that hear us, and it is His job to determine the results, not ours. Christians speak the Word of God whenever they confess the Gospel. We don't need to be quoting a specific Bible passage. Saying in your words what God has spoken in His Word is still the Word of God from your lips, as long as you don't muddle the message by changing it with false doctrine or offering personal opinions contrary to the sense of God's Word. That is what commenter of Facebook was doing, by contradicting the clear words of Scripture in her testimony about how she claimed Christ and made herself a Christian, and dismissed Baptism as necessary or useful for anything but the outward show of an inward change she had made in herself.
But when you talk about Jesus, or mention forgiveness and the grace of God, or speak of your thankfulness to God for this blessing or that, you are speaking God's Word. You might consider it a translation, from the precise words of the Bible into your own life, experience, and faith. But it carries the same power as the finest sermon: the Holy Spirit's power. The truth has that sort of power to it. Especially God's truth!
Of course, if your life contradicts everything you say with your lips, the power of your words will be muted. I remember a former Elder in a previous congregation telling of the reaction of one of his co-workers on the job. He was talking about faith and church and such, and his co-worker said, "Sheesh! I didn't know you went to church!" The man's comment was not so much that he was unaware of his friend's Sunday schedule, but more to the effect that he was quite surprised to learn that his friend had any religion at all. One's daily vocabulary and the sorts of things one does or chooses to talk about will color other's perception of you. It was a lesson learned.
Still, when we speak the truth about Christ, or share the Gospel with someone, sometimes the truth will just elicit a negative reaction. It could be as mild as someone rolling their eyes, or turning away from you because they just don't want to hear it. It could be as powerful as a strong argument or rude noises and someone stomping off. In America, it doesn't usually go beyond that sort of thing. In some places, it could bring about physical violence, but I have never seen that in this country, and only heard about the rarest of occasions that happened. We should not be surprised if people don't want to hear it and react poorly. It happens.
You should not let that possibility stop you from speaking either. Just as they have a right to their opinions and their reactions, you have a right to speak your piece, and to do so unmolested by their preferences. They may not recognize it, but what you offer them when you confess Christ is a precious gift. If you get a strong negative reaction, it is probably a gift that they have declined in the past. Sharing it with them is still an act of kindness and love. You are, in a very real sense, offering them rescue and life. Just as a drowning man may try to pull the person who seeks to rescue them under water, usually done in panic, a person who has no real hope in Christ may well try to shame the one who speaks God's love to him or her and attempt turn you away from telling them that particular truth. It does not need to stop you. Remember that Jesus promised that when the time to speak comes, the Holy Spirit will lead you and give you the words.
Some people are more comfortable speaking to total strangers than they are to their families. Others are more comfortable speaking to people they know well. Then there are those who are not going to feel comfortable speaking at all. God made us all, so don't burden yourself with guilt over what you can or cannot do. That is a simple Gospel principle. Even if your were wrong to speak (although I don't know how you could be) - or wrong to remain silent - your sins have been forgiven. God wants you to be comforted in His grace and trust Him. Dwell on the Word of God and on your faith in your mind. Keep His Word fresh within you and what should come out, will. Keep Psalms and hymns in your mind and rehearse your Bible passages. The time spent dwelling on such things will be a blessing for you, and when God wants to use it, it will happen. It may not be that you are supposed to be an evangelist to the unbelieving, but a comfort among those that do. Each of us has our own role to fill, and God assigns them. He will also cause you to fill the role He has assigned you. That is how the body of Christ works.
Sometimes the truth is delightful, and we feel that delight. Christmas and Easter are such times, typically. Sometimes the truth is so big and overwhelming we must sit in silent awe of it. Times like that are great times to read your favorite Psalms and meditate on God's great goodness to you and to us all. Sometimes the truth just has to spring out of you - and when it does, not everyone may welcome it. I have spent a lot of my life having people tell me to back off, slow down, put a lid on it, and not share everything that I feel like saying (or writing) quite so freely. Sometimes that is my problem, and sometimes it is theirs. I just know that the truth is a good thing. Jesus is the truth. We should never be afraid of the truth, or ashamed of it. Jesus said, "If you abide in My word, you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Happy New Year!
Yours in the Lord,
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