Nothing is more impressive than the sound of someone telling the truth. Nothing is more jarring than the sound of someone peddling a lie. The great obstacle to faith in Christ is the disharmony between his messengers and their message. We promise hope with doubt in our minds, peace with trouble in our souls and grace with bitterness in our hearts. Too often, Dallas Willard says, the trouble with evangelism is that we’re selling a life that we don’t live.
John has a very curious description of Jesus in hind sight. He remembers him as a man full of grace and truth. It was the kind of personhood that was comfortable in the company of social outcasts and dauntless in rebuking religious hypocrites. He restored promiscuous women and lashed out against self-righteous pharisees. He would not be popular in churches today. But there was a singularity to his life and message. His words and his life sang in perfect harmony. He was inseparable from the truth He was telling.
The great burden of evangelism is the fear of falling short – the fear that we are not worthy of the message we have been given. Its true. We are not. So what? We don’t have to pretend to be perfect. We don’t have to win every argument. We don’t have to be right every time we talk to someone. But the one thing we need to do, we must do, is tell the truth. About everything. Even, and especially ourselves.
Genuine evangelism doesn’t demand flawless people, but it does require genuine people. To be a credible messenger of truth, you have to tell the truth about everything, not just Jesus. The more we tell the truth about ourselves, the more we prove ourselves trustworthy, the more we earn the right to be heard. The most important qualification for evangelism today is not stainless purity, but vulnerability and brokenness.
Vulnerability involves telling the truth about ourselves. David and Saul separated themselves from each other by the way they related to their inner life. Saul tried to conceal it and bribe his way out of conviction. David brought it boldly into the open and threw himself at the feet of God. It was the desperate and remorseful tax collector who went home justified before God, not the pious, self-confident pharisee.
But its tricky business to tell the truth about ourselves in India. A recent study revealed how different cultures relate to wrongdoing. India was among the ones that operate with the twin engines of shame and honor. We bring shame to our families by our wrongdoing and we honor them with our success. They are proud of our accolades and humiliated by our folly. We are a communal culture where we must work for society’s approval or face the social consequences of failure. As a result, community becomes controlling and individuals become dishonest. We are a culture that doesn’t give much room for error. Yet, ironically, that might be our greatest error.
When it comes to telling the truth, an individual’s addiction to pornography is not a problem. But its a problem to conceal the addiction. A community’s disgust with pornography is understandable. But its refusal to provide loving support to confessing captives, remains an ungodly attitude. We will answer to God for our disdain. In our nation, as individuals, we need to ask ourselves whether we are telling the truth about our inner life. As communities, we need to ask ourselves whether we are purposefully creating ‘grace environments’ for confession of sin and expression of doubt.
Brokenness involves telling the truth about questions that weigh heavily on our souls. Telling people about Jesus begins with wrestling with the big questions of life, for ourselves, instead of hiding from them or blindly parroting someone else’s ideas. Too often, we argue with people about their questions without admitting that we have the same doubts. Timothy Keller, in his book The Reason for God, writes, “A faith without some doubts is like a human body without antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic.”
Doubt is the way to a stronger faith. When we refuse to go the way of doubt, we end up with a weak faith that can’t stand up to scrutiny or personal tragedy because we refused to scrutinize it ourselves. To tell the truth about Jesus, we need to be true to ourselves. If you have a question, look for an answer. Beat on every door. Hunt in every corner. Chase down every clue. When you find it, you’ll have a message to share with conviction because you heard from God for yourself.
Recently, our church initiated a seeker ministry, through which we’ve had the opportunity to engage in long conversations with people curious about Jesus. Its a relief to talk about Jesus without the burden of pretending to be holier, smarter or more spiritual than anyone else. In fact, it’s through the freedom of vulnerability and brokenness that we found the way to thrilling conversations about Jesus and His purpose for humanity.
We live in a world of deceitful politicians with false promises, duplicitous leaders with secret sins and two-faced decision makers with personal agendas. In such a world of pretenders, the sound of truth has the satisfying flavor of freshness, regardless of your religious preference. Evangelism needs ordinary people who are vulnerable and broken, more than charming people who are deceitful. God desires truth in the inward parts, more than a microphone. The trouble with India is that we are living out a half-baked Gospel. We tell the truth about God without truth in our lives. Until our individual and communal lives reflect the truth we confess, we will be like soldiers professing peace, hiding war inside a horse.
Image Credit: j.