When I was preparing to serve as an overseas missionary, one of my primary worries was not having the answers to people’s questions. After all, my position was as a Bible teacher.
Certainly I needed to know how to answer my students’ questions so they could understand and know who God is! What would they think of my faith and witness if I didn’t have answers for them? But perhaps the better question would have been to ask myself, What would they think of the Christian faith if I taught them that faith meant cerebral knowledge and perfect understanding and that it was my answers that could convey salvation?
Witnessing as a Face-to-Face Action
God chose to accomplish the salvation of the world through the incarnation. He had already revealed Himself to His people through the Word and the prophets. They knew about Him. Yet the full revelation was given in the flesh, face-to-face. God’s act of salvation was fleshy, earthy, relational. How could our witness be anything different?
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son. (Hebrews 1:1–2)
How we share Jesus with other people says much about what we believe to be the nature of faith and the nature of God. If our Gospel proclamation is primarily about knowledge, then we are suggesting that faith is cerebral and God is most pleased by our theology. For those who love academic study and the pursuit of learning, this might be very comfortable. It puts faith into a neat package that we can wrap our minds around and present to others. For those who are less academically minded or who struggle deeply with questions and doubts about faith, this can feel like a heavy burden.
Speaking Your Faith Plainly
It surprised me, when I served in Taiwan, to realize how disconcerting I found it to lose comfortable theological vocabulary. Whether I was talking about faith in simple English for second-language learners or in even simpler Chinese, I often had to forego the polysyllabic expressions that allowed me to believe I had a firm grasp on divine mysteries. I had to trust that the power of salvation came not from my eloquence or theological understanding but from the power of the cross.
This reliance on God’s power rather than our knowledge is deeply freeing. It allows all the saints to be part of God’s mission to speak the Gospel to the world, rather than reserving this most important Christian work for only the scholars and seminary graduates. To be a missionary, both abroad and among people we see every day, is to know and love Jesus and to know and love people who don’t yet know Jesus. This doesn’t negate the importance of study or good theology. None of us wants to put up barriers to the Gospel by our own ignorance or misunderstanding! But this truth puts our trust where it belongs—in God Himself and in the power of the cross and the empty tomb.
It is also critical that just as the Gospel message itself is relational, so our sharing of the Gospel must happen in relationship. God’s plan for salvation was relational: Jesus took on flesh, lived among people, and called individuals to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. And the message of salvific reconciliation that we share is inherently relational: Christ offers a way for mankind to be reunited with the Father. In light of this, how could our evangelism be anything but relational? People know when they are a project, when we are seeking only to accomplish a task of conversion rather than to care for a person. On the other hand, true love and care for unbelievers cannot help but motivate passionate witness!
Showing Christian Love to Non-Christians
One of the hardest conversations I had in Taiwan was with my Chinese tutor. She was a Buddhist woman who had heard the Gospel for decades but didn’t yet believe, and we often had faith conversations during my lessons. However, she had recently had a Christian friend who, when my teacher told her she would probably never become a follower of Jesus, gave up on the relationship. My teacher asked me if I was going to stop caring about our relationship if she told me she would never be a Christian. In words that could have only come from the Spirit, I told her with tears in my eyes, “I will always care about you, no matter what you believe. But because I care about you, I will always keep telling you about Jesus because I believe knowing Him is the greatest thing you could ever have.” When I reached out to her for permission to include this story in this study, she told me she thinks often about this conversation and that my reply is what has allowed her to keep being friends with Christians in the years that have followed. I continue to pray that one day she, too, will know Jesus as Lord.
Blog post adapted from Together We Believe: A Study of the Apostles’ Creed, pp. 64–67 © 2022 Emily Belvery. Published by Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Study the Apostles’ Creed with a small group to see the beauty these words show for professing your belief in the one true God.