Nervous about sharing your faith? Try doing what Cliffe Knechtle has done: preach for more than 20 years on university campuses to students who often are antagonistic and full of intellectual objections to the Gospel. Knechtle’s experience with witnessing in tough situations can help us to overcome our own anxiety and proclaim the message of Jesus with boldness.
Albert Camus was an atheistic, existentialist thinker and writer. Because he believed that God did not exist, he thought that life was meaningless and absurd. In the late 1950s, he met and began to dialogue with Howard Mumma, a guest minister at the American Church in Paris. Camus, who had begun to doubt his own beliefs, swore Mumma to secrecy. He told Mumma, “I am searching for something I do not have, something I’m not sure I can define.”
Rather than argue with Camus’ views, Mumma empathized with him, expressing his own inability to understand the mysteries of life. But he also gave Camus a Bible. One day Camus asked, “Howard, do you perform baptisms? And what does it mean to be born again?”
Mumma defined baptism as a symbolic commitment to God and being born again as receiving forgiveness because you have asked God to forgive you of your sins. Camus replied, “Howard, I am ready. I want this.”
Mumma would not agree to a private baptism, however. He encouraged Camus to study the Bible further. They parted company at the end of the summer of 1959 with Camus saying, “My friend, mon cher, thank you. I am going to keep striving for the faith.” Several months later, in January 1960, Camus was killed in a car accident.
I’m grateful that Mumma chose to listen to and empathize with Camus. We don’t know if Camus ever put his faith in Christ. But Jesus knows, and I hope that one day we’ll see Camus in Heaven. I also pray that we, like Mumma, will be faithful to tell others the Good News about Jesus.
Motivated by Love
The first motive for communicating Christ to people is love. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
While attending Gordon-Conwell Seminary, I would go to Boston on the weekends to talk with people one-on-one about Christ, often in bars. Sometimes while I was sharing my faith, a half-drunk man would stand up and curse God at the top of his lungs. And I would think, if you can stand and curse God at the top of your lungs, then I can stand up and say something positive about God at the top of my lungs.
So I decided to go and preach in a bar instead of simply talking to people individually. I chose a location, parked my car and walked toward the door. With each step, I became more intimidated. I walked around the block for an hour, trying to muster the courage to tell the men in that bar about Christ. Paralyzed by fear, I returned to my car.
As I was opening the car door, the Holy Spirit brought to my mind the great men and women of faith in Hebrews who were sawn in two and thrown to the lions because of their faith in God. In contrast, I was paralyzed by the fear of being kicked out of a bar. Convicted of my lack of faith and motivated by love for people, I turned around, walked into the bar and spoke loudly so that everyone could hear: “John writes in 1 John 4:10, ‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.'” After explaining God’s love to the people there, I walked out under my own strength–without receiving a single threat.
That began regular weekend preaching in the red-light district of Boston. Seminary friends would join me; I would preach, and they would enter one-on-one conversations with men in the bars.
The challenge in evangelism is to allow our fears to motivate us to depend more on Christ, not to paralyze us. Perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). How much do you and I have to hate someone not to tell them about Christ? The love of Christ motivates us to tell people about Jesus.
Motivated by Truth
The second motive in evangelism is truth. The best reason to believe something is because it’s true. Jesus said, “I am the truth” (Cf. John 14:6). Peter wrote, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). And Paul wrote, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Conviction that Jesus is trustworthy motivates us to tell people about Him. Often I am asked questions I do not know how to answer. That fact used to make me insecure. Then I learned to give one of the best answers I have: “I do not know.” Not only is that answer honest, but it also smashes the stereotype that a Christian is someone who acts like he or she has all the answers.
I have found that honesty and vulnerability win the ear of people. And I know that in 2,000 years nobody has yet asked a question that knocked the underpinnings out of faith in Christ. It is a privilege to say, “I do not know the answer. I will go and find one. Can we meet again later and continue this conversation?” Then I go back and read and call Christians more intelligent than I will ever be.
Motivated by Obedience
The third motive to tell people about Christ is obedience. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Because Jesus is trustworthy, when He tells me to jump, the question is not why, but how high. From Genesis to Revelation we have the record of how God reaches out to all people around the whole world. Evangelism is the result of allowing God to give you His heart for people who are alienated from Him.
A person coming to faith in Christ is like a chain with many links. Usually I have the privilege of being a first or middle link. Occasionally I have the privilege of being the last link. Our position in the chain does not matter; the goal is for people to put their faith in Christ. It is a grand privilege to be one link in that chain of a person passing from death to life, from guilt to forgiveness, from despair to hope.
Many of us come to Christ in a quiet, carefully thought-through manner. Others of us have radical spiritual experiences. Blaise Pascal was a brilliant, 17th-century French physicist. Upon his death in 1662, a note was found sewn into his jacket that read, “In the year of grace, 1654, on Monday, 23 November, … from about half past 10 in the evening until about half past 12, FIRE. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace. God of Jesus Christ.”
I am grateful that faithful followers of Christ had communicated the Gospel to this brilliant thinker. God’s Holy Spirit overcame Pascal’s skepticism and drew him to Christ. And I pray that God will use us in our frailty to point others to His power and love. D ©2011 Cliffe Knechtle
Cliffe Knechtle is senior pastor of Grace Community Church, New Canaan, Conn., and is founder of Give Me An Answer, a ministry that seeks to introduce people to Jesus Christ and to teach them to follow Jesus as Lord of every area of their lives. Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version ©2011.