One of the things I often struggle with in settings like work and school is how much of my faith to share. I’m not an evangelist sort of person, and trying to convert people who don’t know Jesus yet is never something I’ve felt a strong calling to do. I’m much more comfortable–and feel I’m using my gifts far more effectively–when working with an audience of people who already have some kind of Christian framework for how they view the world. I also want to be respectful of other people’s time, personal beliefs, and conversational boundaries. Yet at the same time, I’m not ashamed of my faith and I want to live it out boldly the way I see heroes of faith doing in the Bible. At the very least, I want to let others see that faith is a central part of my life.
This struggle is one I think many Christians today can identify with, particularly as pressure to keep your beliefs to yourself increases. Many Christians in the Western world aren’t facing overt, clear, and violent persecution the way our brethren are in other parts of the world; we’re facing a more subtle, seemingly less dangerous pressure to not talk about Jesus in public, or say “God bless you,” or mention anything which may offend those who believe differently. Yet when we look at the examples of people in the New Testament, we see the apostles and other disciples risking ostracization from their communities as well as death, beatings, and imprisonment rather than be quiet about the gospel. At the same time, though, we’re also told to be wise about how we navigate the world around us. How do we balance all that? And what scriptures might help us figure out the answer?
Loving and Obeying
As we approach this question, I think we need to start from the position of seeking, “What does God ask of me?” and “How can I love Him more fully?” Beginning this sort of studying by wondering how low-profile we can be while still meeting the bare minimum requirements for Christianity would mean prioritizing what the world thinks of us over our relationship with God. We certainly don’t want that, so let’s start our search for answers by putting our relationship with God first.
As I wrote about more extensively last year in a post called “Do I Love God Enough To Obey Him?“, it’s impossible to overstate how important it is for us to know and be known by God. Love is a central part of that relationship–both God’s love for us and our love for God and for the people around us. The Apostle John’s writings make it clear that this love must involve obeying Jesus and the Father. Our relationship with God should change the way we live, and the form that change takes can be described as obedience to God’s commandments on a spiritual level. We’re to love God’s law and become righteous in the same way that He is righteous.
Obedience is not our means to righteousness; it is the clearest expression of our devotion to Jesus. … If we truly love Him, as we say we do, what He says will matter to us profoundly. We will not follow the acceptable parts of His teachings and ignore the objectionable parts. We will not approach our relationship with Him as though we are trying to get by with the bare minimum behavioral changes. We will devour His teachings, turning them over in our hearts, meditating on their application, and living them as clearly as we can.Chris Tiegreen, 365 Pocket Devotions, Day 159
With that background, the question of how to live out our faith in this world becomes secondary to the question of how we ought to live our lives in close alignment with God. It is as a result of our relationship with God that we have “good works” which we can let shine as a light before all people (Matt. 5:14-16; Phil. 2:15; 4:5; 1 Pet 2:12). We’re supposed to be fully-engaged in living for God, and if that is truly our focus it will be obvious to the people around us. We should want others to notice that there’s something different about us so they will realize God deserves all the glory and praise for whatever is good about us.
Wise, Harmless, and Bold
When looking at scriptures that talk about how to share your faith, there are a few key points that stand out to me. The first is how many times the New Testament talks about boldness when preaching. That description is used over and over in the book of Acts, where the disciples kept talking about Jesus even though they faced threats of imprisonment, beatings, excommunication, and even death for sharing the gospel (Acts 4:29, 31; 9:27; 14:3; 18:26; 19:8; 28:31). Paul also writes about speaking boldly. He encourages others to be bold and asks for prayers that he might speak with boldness (2 Cor. 3:12; Eph. 6:19-20; Phil. 1:14, 20; 1 Thes. 2:2; 1 Tim. 3:13). We should not let fear hold us back from talking about Jesus but being bold isn’t always easy; even Paul wanted the support of prayers so that he could keep preaching the gospel.
Behold, I send you out as sheep among wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you. Yes, and you will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the nations. But when they deliver you up, don’t be anxious how or what you will say, for it will be given you in that hour what you will say. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.Matthew 10:16-20, WEB
While we are supposed to be bold and courageous, not worrying about the possibility that we’ll face resistance or prosecution for our faith, we’re also supposed to be wise. Part of that is knowing when to speak and when not to speak. Peter says we should always be ready to give an answer if someone asks us about our faith (1 Pet. 3:15), but that doesn’t mean always speaking up when you haven’t been asked. The world is not a safe place. That fact should never terrify us, especially since we know God is on our side, but it should make us exercise wisdom. A wise person thinks before they speak. They seek God’s help in figuring out when to “hold their peace” and when silence is not an appropriate option (Est. 7:3-4; Prov. 11:12; Is. 62:1; Acts 11:18). As we seek to live rightly and shine Jesus’s light clearly, we also ought to be “wise serpents” and “innocent doves” who are careful to do no harm.
I know that conclusion doesn’t really give a clear answer to the questions we started with about how much you should talk about your faith as society increasingly pressures Christians to stay quiet about their beliefs. Still, I think Bible studies like this one help us keep our priorities clear. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day-level worries about how people might respond to us or whether or not we said the right thing in a conversation. We ought to take a more big-picture approach, seeking first to honor God and letting all the other things fall into place around that central relationship.