HOW TO TALK ABOUT JESUS
Written by Doug Ponder on July 31, 2016
Talking about Jesus
In America today three out of five all adults (60%) and more than four out of five atheists and agnostics (83%) believe it is “extremist” to share your beliefs with others in the hopes of changing their mind. (We know these stats because the same people tell us their beliefs in the hopes of changing our minds, but let’s look past the inconsistency for a moment.)
The simple fact is that Jesus asks his followers to tell others the good news about him (Matt. 28:18-20). And when we understand what the good news is, it makes since that he would ask us to share it. For who could possibly want to keep such good news to themselves?
Understanding what Jesus asks us to do is one thing, but actually doing what he commands has proven much more difficult. Many of us don’t even know where to begin. So here are simple things to remember when talking with someone about Jesus.
No one ever had to tell me to spread the word about Jamón Ibérico de Bellota. Every molecule of that deliciously marbled meat is infused with a nutty flavor imparted by the acorns of the Spanish countryside where those pigs forage for food. The ham is so well-streaked that it makes bacon look like a poor man’s cut of tough, lean scraps. Just taste it, and you’ll become the next evangelist. The same goes for the wonders of Blue Bell ice cream and the glories of the Great British Bake Off (which is easily the best show on TV right now). No one ever had to tell me to spread the word about any of these. That’s because what Jesus says is true: “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
In short, talk about what we love. And when it comes to talking about Jesus, there is simply no substitute for genuine passion, excitement, and gratitude over what he has done for us. Let your love for Jesus be what drives you to talk about him. For the more the gospel is good news to you, the more you will find a desire to share this good news with others.
Love listens before it speaks. Even Jesus, who knew the thoughts of the people he spoke to (Luke 5:22; 9:47), still listened intently to others. That’s because love to others, caring about them as real people and unique individuals made in the image of God. It can take time (and effort) to get to know others—love is patient (1 Cor. 13:4)—but this will never happen unless we learn to listen.
That’s why the apostle James says we must be “quick to listen and slow to speak” (Jas. 1:19). Do not be so slow to speak that you never open your mouth (see #4 below), but be sure to actually listen, not just wait until the other person is talking so that move ahead with your prepackaged presentation. Listen to their hurts and their hang-ups. Ask about their fears and their hopes. Listen for the echo of eternity placed in their heart even if they don’t recognize it for what it is (Eccl. 3:11). And above all, listen because the person you are talking to as someone that Jesus died to save.
The saying about ‘actions speaking louder than words’ exists for one purpose: rebuking the hypocrisy that says one thing but does another. The Bible wholeheartedly agrees; in fact, God said it first: “Dear children, let us not love merely with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18). In order words, when Jesus said, “Love your neighbor,” he meant that you should actually show them love, not just say that you like them. Practically speaking, this means meeting people’s needs (which requires listening), and going out of your way to serve.
But we don’t only serve “in order to gain a hearing,” as if our service is a veiled attempt to ‘give our Jesus pitch’ and then never serve that person again. On the contrary, we serve because Jesus himself “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus is our example, and our acts of service not only imitate him but also show the world the power of the gospel to change lives.
Serving others is necessary at all times, but it may be especially necessary in a culture like ours where Christians are stereotyped (somewhat unfairly) for preaching and not for serving. That said, the gospel is a message, and messages are communicated with words. All your acts of service and love, no matter how consistent and how sacrificial, cannot by themselves communicate the truth of the gospel to anyone. We have to use words. “Faith comes by hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Rom 10:17).
But when you make sure it’s the gospel that you are sharing! It’s not a message about cleaning up your life. It’s not a message about abortion or politics or your view of creation and evolution. No matter how important those things may be, they are not the gospel. The gospel is the good news that Jesus is Lord (and nobody else, thank God). It’s the good news that Jesus died for sins and rose from the grave in victory over death. It’s the good news that Jesus has launched an eternal kingdom where he reign will bring peace and justice and joy without end. It’s the good news that Jesus is making all things new for everyone who receives his grace. The gospel is the good news about Jesus. That is our message for the world.
An old adage says, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” The same goes double for trying to change hearts. Apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit, our hearts are as hard as stone (Ezek. 36:26). Human persuasion can’t change this; only the Holy Spirit can. This is a hard pill for some to swallow, but I’ve seen it happen again and again. I especially recall watching a close friend argue circles around some unsuspecting guy concerning the resurrection of Jesus. When my friend was done, the beleaguered man said, “I don’t have a good response to what you say. In fact, it’s probably all true. I just don’t give a $#!7 about it.” And then he stormed off.
You can’t change someone’s heart, but you can share with them the message God uses to change hearts (Rom. 10:17), and you can pray like crazy. Pray for their wellbeing. Pray for chances to serve them. Pray for opportunities to share the gospel with them. And pray that God would use the gospel to open their eyes and change their hearts. Pray that they would come to see Jesus for who he is and to trust him for all that he’s done.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is a regular contributor to RE|SOURCE. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.