The following article is a continuation of “Meeting God in the Saloon.” In that article, Eric explained that the first thing we need to do is talk to God about those He’s put in our lives. Prayer is the beginning and power of our mission, Eric says, but we can’t just pray. We need to live and we need to talk.
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:5-6).
Paul tells us to live wisely toward outsiders so as to make good use of the time. He’s challenging us to live a distinctly different life. Elsewhere he challenged us “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.” In other words, as we live our lives in relationship with people who don’t know Jesus the world should get a glimpse of Jesus and His character from the way we live. We are billboards for Christ — billboards that reveal something of His nature. And that He is worthy of all our life.
When a person who doesn’t know Jesus scratches the surface of our life and witnesses our actions, our motives, our decisions, how we use our money, our time, our energy, our pleasure, as well as how we handle our sin — that person should be struck by how glorious Jesus is and how amazing the salvation He offers is.
A life that’s been transformed by the gospel is a powerful tool in the hands of the Father. The Spirit’s transforming power as evidenced in our lives is one of the most strategic and effective tools for evangelism. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, self-control — all of these things will provoke outsiders. A joyful Christian walking through testing and trial will provoke people who are watching.
It’s not about winning points. It’s not about a 12-step program to a better you. It’s about sincerely looking like Jesus to those who don’t know Him yet. After all, a holy life is God’s proof to a dying world that His kingdom really exists and living in His kingdom through Christ is far more satisfying than any life this world has to offer.
I’m not advocating a Christian holiness that’s disconnected from our culture. I’m also not advocating a holiness that is self-righteous. I am, however, advocating a holiness and distinctiveness that, while culturally aware, is also unashamed of the power of the gospel to change a life.
Being “relevant” is important, but it’s certainly not as essential as communicating the truth of the gospel itself. The truth of the gospel is essential. Relevancy is just the package.
I’m not saying that learning about the culture is a waste of time, or that we’re not called to relate in some ways to our culture. We are. But we must learn to discern which parts of culture we should adapt to, and which parts of culture we must reject. And in this we must also learn to discern our own hearts and make sure that any attempts to be relevant aren’t just a thin veneer of worldliness justified by a “heart to evangelize.”
The thing is, if an unbeliever gets to know you, opens the package, and finds love, joy, and humility, it’ll open up a whole new world for them. That’s pretty relevant. As you talk with them about the grace of Jesus Christ as shown on the cross and how His grace has changed you; and as you talk to them about what you were — about your anger, your pride, and how those things manifested themselves in your life; and as they get to know the real you, while also hearing about what Jesus did, grace will become amazing to them.
God calls us to live distinct lives among a specific culture of people.
How can we be effective and relevant missionaries? Simple. Have conversations with unbelievers. We share our lives with them. And in time we share the gospel.
How? First, we’ve got to make sure that our conversations are understandable.
A few years ago, I was talking on the phone to my uncle whom I love but who does not yet know Jesus. We were talking about my dad, who at the time was having a heart transplant surgery.
It was a hard time for our family, and I said to my uncle, “You know, my dad is so relational and relatable.” There was silence on the other end of the phone. Then I heard my uncle say, “What the heck does that mean? Did you just say ‘relational and relatable’?”
I responded, “Oh, that’s bad pastor talk. I’m sorry. You know I’ve got that pastor hat on sometimes.” I told him that he had to correct me every time I do that.
I need to learn how to communicate better. Sometimes what works in my church doesn’t translate “out there” — what’s up with terms like “relational and relatable”? When that happens, I have to confess to my non-Christian friends, “I’m sorry. That’s just Christian talk, here’s what I mean….”
Second, our conversations should be humble and gracious.
At times I get concerned when we emphasize boldness in evangelism. I’m all for being bold. Sharing our lives and Jesus with unbelievers does take boldness. But sometimes I think in our desire to be bold, we can be arrogant.
Scripture would teach us be bold and be humble. Every time we speak to an unbeliever, may we concentrate on how we say things as much as what we’re saying. May we concentrate on our attitudes and your motives. May the words I speak be marked by a humble — not arrogant — orthodoxy. I need to remember that my motives need to match my message.
The heart of God in this verse says to us to be gracious with our speech. He wants unbelievers in our lives to get a taste of grace as they get to know us. Those who stand nearest to the cross are some of the most effective evangelists. Why? Because those who have been forgiven much love much. I’ve been forgiven much, so I’m compelled to share the good news of Jesus Christ with much love.
When I share the gospel of Jesus Christ I need to share it fully. I need to be honest and I need to share it with an urgency. But my tone should be one of care and grace and motivated by love.
Third, may our conversations be marked by joy.
Paul also says to let our conversations be seasoned with salt. That means we’re to be “witty and full of life.” What a great command! Let our conversations with unbelievers be witty and full of life. Let our joy come forth so that they’ll see it.
In other words this passage is saying talking about Christ to others is and should be joyful and full of life.
Let me tell you about one of the guys in our church. Mike one of the most joy-filled missionaries I know. One day Mike was scheduled to lead an evangelistic Bible study at a local college campus. When he entered the room they had reserved, though, instead of being empty, the room was occupied by eight gamers. They were wearing black trench coats, black eye makeup, black fingernails, black everything. I know that sounds like a huge stereotype of gamers, but it’s just the way it was.
So Mike walked in, and said in a friendly tone, “Hey guys, it’s our turn. Can I have the room?”
In response, a tall man in a trench coat screamed, “No!” Then he ripped his shirt open and bared his chest and yelled “NOW” to which his girlfriend came over and stuck a pin in his chest.
Then he stood up, looked at Mike, and said, “I wanna eat your soul.” (I’m not exaggerating; this really happened.)
Here was Mike’s Spirit-led salty remark: “Well, don’t fill up on soul, because we’ve got plenty of free pizza.”
Immediately, the man’s buddies started falling over themselves with laughter. That salty remark defused a scary situation. And the gamers? They all stayed for the Bible study.
I’m fairly confident that this scenario isn’t going to happen for most of us. But the point is clear. Joy and wit diffuse even the most tense situations. God’s call on us is to be joyful when we communicate the incredible news of life with Christ. When we talk about eternal life, the call of God is to be full of life.
Why does Jesus want our conversations to be salty and gracious? Because most of the time God intends for us to be seed-sowers rather than reapers when it comes to sharing the gospel. God wants every encounter of ours to be a moment where that unbeliever experiences grace and joy as they listen to the good news of Jesus Christ. Let’s do the next Christian a favor and not ruin it for them by being arrogant and hostile when we communicate the gospel.
I remember a young lady named Colleen whom a number of us from our church were reaching out to at Starbucks. She didn’t know Jesus, but she loved to be a part of our campus planning meetings. I would say to her, “Colleen, come on over and tell us what we Christians are doing wrong. We need your input.”
Then I added, with a wink in my eye, “We’re just trying to save you anyway.”
And she loved it. She loved the people, and she loved hanging out with us. We got involved in her life. We gave her money to participate in an AIDS walk. It was a genuine friendship.
Eventually, though, she moved away and went to New York. I didn’t see her get saved, and it broke my heart.
Three years later, I was greeting people at the door of our church and I saw Colleen walk in. Before, she would never have set foot in a church. But there she was walking right toward me with a huge smile and a tear in her eye.
She walked up to me and said, “Eric, I’ve heard that it takes a person 85 times to hear the gospel before they’re saved. Well, it took 86 for me. Thank you for telling me about Jesus.”
I didn’t lead Colleen to the Lord, but I was part of it. One more person transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. Grace is so amazing. God will use our simple conversations with people. Let’s make sure we are giving them a taste of his grace.
There are folks throughout our communities just like Colleen. Great people who just haven’t turned to the Lord for salvation. They are the people right next door who truly need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. Good news about abundant life in Christ, communicated in an abundant life kind of way.
And how do we reach them? We pray, we live and we talk to them. We pray for opportunities, trusting that God is going to open them up for us, and being ready when they happen. We live a distinct life amongst a specific culture. And when we do talk, we do so with grace.
Copyright 2008 Eric Simmons. All rights reserved.