Sharing Your Faith Might Look Different Than You Think

Many Christians, even those with a longstanding belief in Christ, are unenthused or even intimidated by the thought of sharing their faith with others. And while there can be several reasons for this, I’m convinced that some of them have to do with expectations. More specifically, I think many of us have thoughts about what evangelism entails that fall short of the full breadth of biblical teaching.

And why is this important? Because when you understand the larger biblical picture, you just might find that you’re more capable of and excited about influencing others for Christ than you think.

There’s a lot to say here, but today I want to concentrate on our perception of how someone becomes a Christian.

For example, we often associate coming to faith with a particular event or experience—a church service, a breakfast meeting, a youth group retreat, a crisis situation, a specific conversation, etc.—through which a person hears and embraces the gospel. Walking into such situations, the people in question are not believers. After, they are. Seems simple enough.

For example, think of the apostle Paul. If ever there was someone who came to faith suddenly and as a result of a powerful experience, it was Paul. Paul (then called Saul) appeared to be diametrically opposed to Christianity. In fact, just prior to his conversion, he was actually traveling to Damascus to persecute Christians. Before he reached the city, however, he  was struck blind in an encounter with the resurrected Jesus himself. Shortly thereafter, God restored Paul’s sight through a follower of Christ, and he began preaching the faith he had been trying to oppose (Acts 9). Again, seems pretty simple. Paul went into the encounter with Jesus violently opposed to him. He came out as a believer.

But what if we looked at Paul’s story through a wider lens? His conversion is certainly sudden, but the Bible gives us clues to suggest that much of groundwork for his faith had been laid previously to his Damascus Road experience. We know from Paul’s own accounts in Acts that he was a Pharisee, a member of a strict sect of Judaism. This meant he was intimately familiar with what we know as the Old Testament. He would have embraced God as creator, as the rightful Lord over all creation, as concerned with and acting on behalf of his people, etc. He was an expert in the Mosaic law and its many ramifications, including the holiness of God and the seriousness of sin. He believed firmly in a resurrection, and had an expectation for a Messiah.

You might say the many, many hours that Paul had trained as a Pharisee had given him an extensive theological education. And while Paul had not yet connected all the dots, so to speak, what he did know was vital for his eventual understanding of the Jesus and the gospel.

In addition to this had seen firsthand people living out an authentic Christian faith, even to the point of death. He heard Stephen speak before holding the garments of those who stoned him. He had also seen the resolve of many Christians to hold firmly to their faith even as he threatened and imprisoned them.

All of this meant that much of the basic architecture of Paul’s faith was already in place when Jesus appeared to him on the way to Damascus. Rather than completely replacing what he knew, Jesus’ dramatic appearance caused Paul to see much of what he believed in a different light, and to embrace things he once opposed. He now knew that trusting in Jesus wasn’t heresy or foolishness, but the one hope he had for the forgiveness of his sin and eternal life with God.

The important point surveying Paul’s story is this: his experience in Acts 9 wasn’t the sum total of what God did to bring Paul to faith. It was rather the culmination of a larger and longer process in which God used any number of people and experiences in his life.

We often talk as Christians about growing in Christ after we’ve come to faith. But we might also legitimately speak of growth toward Christ before a person’s conversion (whether that person is aware of it or not). With that in mind, effective outreach will not be limited to opportunities to share a gospel presentation with someone—(though hearing and believing at least the basic message of the gospel will always be a necessary step in anyone’s process of coming to faith; see Rom. 10:14). Rather it will involve anything that helps someone move closer to believing in Jesus.

Needless to say, this understanding broadens the ways we can make a positive impact for Christ. Sometimes we’ll be called to take part in the process in a way that sows seed or cultivates the soil. At other times we may have the joy of reaping the harvest (see John 4:35-38). Next week we’ll look at more concrete examples of the ways God draws people to himself.

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