There is a quote—often attributed to Francis of Assisi, a 13th-century monk—which you have likely heard over the years: “Preach the Gospel always, and when necessary use words.”
I understand what Francis was saying (if, indeed, he said it). His desire was to see Christians live in such a way that people could recognize Jesus in them. A modern way of saying this may be, “Don’t just talk the talk. Walk the walk.”
And there is much to be said about living a life that pursues righteousness and honors Christ. In fact, we are repeatedly instructed to do so throughout Scripture. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
Unfortunately, it seems many Christians today believe that if they just live a good life, they don’t need to verbally share the love of Jesus with others. This is sometimes referred to as “lifestyle evangelism,” and when it is put into practice without a verbal witness, it becomes an eternity-altering lie.
Let me state this plainly and clearly: You cannot be good enough to get your friend into Heaven. You cannot live such an upstanding, righteous and hope-filled life that your loved one will get a “buddy pass” into eternity. After all, if you can’t earn your own way into Heaven (see Ephesians 2:8-9), how would you expect to do that for others?
The answer is not found in living a good life. A Biblical witness for Christ involves actions and words. You need to open your mouth and share the truth of Scripture—the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus—and give them a chance to respond to the free gift of forgiveness that Christ offers.
Let’s look at Romans 10. In this passage, the Apostle Paul writes beautiful truths about salvation, saying things like:
“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (verse 9).
“For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame’” (verse 11).
“For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’” (verse 13).
But Paul follows this with a multilayered problem in verses 14-15: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?”
First, you can’t cry out to Jesus in repentance if you’ve never had the opportunity to believe in Him. Second, you’ll be hard-pressed to believe in Jesus if nobody has ever told you about Him. And finally, how would you hear about Jesus if nobody is willing to stand up and open their mouths to share the hope of Christ?
Paul caps off and emphasizes the thought a couple of verses later when he says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
You’ll notice that faith does not come by mowing your neighbor’s yard or raking your neighbor’s leaves. Faith does not come by attending church every Sunday, and it does not come by generous philanthropic endeavors. These are all worthwhile things, but they won’t bring salvation to anybody.
Faith comes by hearing! And, specifically, by hearing the Word of God, the truth of Scripture, proclaimed.
Now here comes the uncomfortable part for many of us: This is a burden and responsibility we share as followers of Jesus.
You may say, “How can that be? I’m not a ‘preacher,’” as Paul references in Romans 10:14-15. However, as one who has repented, surrendered and embraced the hope that Christ offers, you are indeed called to “preach” the Word to those with whom you interact.
While you may not preach in front of hundreds or thousands, you should still be able to put into action the words of 1 Peter 3:15: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”
Some of the most incredible soul winners I’ve encountered haven’t attended a single seminary class, but they are so passionate about Jesus that they can’t help but tell others about Him. It doesn’t require education, per se, but it does require intentional effort. You can’t live with both feet in the world and expect to reach others with the Gospel.
If you are truly going to share the hope of Jesus, you must have your head and your heart prepared for every opportunity the Lord puts in your path.
First, spend time in the Bible. Remember, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” So study it. Know it. Memorize it. Anchor yourself to it. As you embed Scripture in your heart, the Holy Spirit will bring it back to you and equip you to share it with others.
Second, spend time in prayer, entering into the presence of God. As you do this, God will change and soften your heart, and you will grow closer to Him. You’ll be drawn to live a life that honors Jesus, which, again, is important and worthy, while also having a sensitivity and confidence to open your mouth and verbalize your faith when the door is opened.
Remember, it is important to behave in a way that opens the door to conversations about our faith. Our actions should affirm our love for Christ and not be a stumbling block for others. But, on top of that, be available and ready to share the Good News. “Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest’” (Matthew 9:37-38).
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Above: Will Graham preaches in Fairmont, West Virginia.
Photo: Ron Nickel/©2021 BGEA