32 "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.
33 "But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven."
Have you ever done something in the course of a day that you later regret as not being very "Christian"? You know, those times when you said something not very loving or did something out of spite or deceit? Or how about just playing along with someone who said something hurtful or inappropriate? Yes, we all do such things, some larger and some smaller, and they come back to haunt us later. We think about that crude joke we laughed at, we remember that bit of gossip we passed along, we reflect on the harsh words we spoke out of anger or frustration--we bring those things to mind and think, "Wow! That sure wasn't very Christ-like." It's not so much that we conceive of "Christ-like" as being equivalent with "nice." (Does a certain whip of cords wielded in a temple court come to mind?) Rather, we think about what Paul said: "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers." (Ephesians 4:29) And then there's Jesus' guideline: "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) We have come to think of love and grace as being essential parts of Christian behavior, and, in a way, we are right. But there is another part we often forget: the gospel.
Now, before anyone gets all defensive about why they don't evangelize every moment of every day, let me say that is not what I'm saying we need to do. If 24/7 evangelism were a requirement for being "Christian," then we would ALL fail. Rather, what I am saying is that even as we live out our lives of love and grace in the midst of believers and unbelievers, we must never neglect to consider opportunities for everyday evangelism. You see, when Jesus was sending out His Apostles to share the gospel and to do wonders in His name, He wasn't just expecting them to live nice lives--He was expecting them to talk about HIM while they did mighty things for others. Even as they shared the grace and peace of God with each town they visited, they were supposed to point back to the One from whom all these blessings flowed.
You and I may not be going about every day casting out demons and healing the blind and the sick, but that doesn't make the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15) any less weighty upon us. We are still called to bring others to Christ, still given authority to do great and small works in Jesus' name.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
My goal here today is not to write a guide to everyday evangelism, but I can give you a few simple examples:
•My work colleagues and my children will tell you that I sometimes take a question or remark that comes up in everyday conversation and I bring it back to the Word of God. It's not unusual for me to say, "In the Bible, Jesus says [Bible quote here] about that subject." Of course, such an action requires that you actually read and know your Bible.
•In the course of conversation with a new acquaintance, offer to pray for them right there on the spot.
•Whenever someone praises your work or abilities, rather than basking in adulation, take a moment to remember the One who formed you in your mother's womb. And then, with sincere humility, you respond to praise, "Thank you, but the credit really goes to my Father in heaven for what He has enabled me to do."
•Finally, we get to the HARD example: When someone offers to share gossip, or tells something hurtful or spiteful, or speaks in offensive language, you actually SPEAK UP and ask them why they said such a thing. Many will tell you that they're just repeating what others have said or they're just trying to make people laugh. Your response? "But was the subject of your gossip or spite really served by your actions?" Or, "Can't you think of another way to make people laugh?" And then comes the evangelism: "You know, Jesus told us to love our enemies, and elsewhere in the Bible we are told that being kind to our enemies is like pouring hot coals on their head. That seems like better advice to me than gossiping or being mean to someone."
It really is that simple, and there are many other examples. The point is to keep pointing back to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. In that way, even if we are not full-time evangelists, we can still be confessing Jesus before men.
But how is it that we can deny Him? We deny Jesus when we have the opportunity to talk about Him and we DON'T. We deny Him when our actions don't match our words. But most importantly, we deny Him when our actions are not infused with love for God, when we are little more than "sounding brass or a clanging cymbal." (1 Corinthians 13:1) Remember when I mentioned earlier that Jesus said all shall know we are His disciples by our love for one another? Well, that love we have for each other begins with the love we have for God.
1 John 4:19-21
19 We love Him because He first loved us.
20 If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?
21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
We deny Jesus when we do not love God and love ALL our neighbors. We deny Jesus when our mouths are full of hateful speech and prejudice and lies and gossip and cursing. We deny Jesus when we allow others to speak that way around us and do not speak up to stop such speech. We deny Christ when we allow others to claim they are doing something hateful "in Jesus' name" when we clearly know they are driven by their own paranoia and prejudice. We deny Christ when we stay silent.
Yes, we can deny Jesus verbally like Peter did. Peter denied Jesus three times on the night before our Savior died, and yet Peter was forgiven. Why? Because, although Peter spoke that night out of fear, he never truly forsook his friend and teacher Jesus. Peter spoke the words, but in his heart he was torn apart by that denial before men. (Matthew 26:69-75) Such torment was a sure sign that Peter still loved Jesus. Sure enough, Peter got a chance to counter that denial when the resurrected Lord asked Peter if he still loved Him. Three times, Peter responded, "Lord, You know I do." (John 21:15-17) And Peter never denied his Lord again, not even when faced with his own crucifixion. Would you or I have that much dedication to Jesus, to never deny Him even when faced with our own death?
Perhaps you and I will never face such persecution--or perhaps such persecution is closer than we think. Already, some church denominations are back-pedaling from the centrality of Christ and the inerrant Word of God, all in order to serve the vanity and sliding moral compass of men. Already, it is becoming "offensive" to speak the clear teachings of God from His Holy Bible. Already, we play the game of being "politically correct" and avoid mentioning our faith before others. Already, we stand on the brink of having the Bible's teachings being labeled as "hate speech"--even when we speak such teachings with love and grace. You see, the love and grace that we think is so much a part of our Christian lives is actually pretty common among men--believers and unbelievers alike. What truly sets apart the faithful in Christ is their refusal to deny that Jesus Christ is the center of their lives. And in a society that is drifting away from God, the centrality of Christ is offensive.
You have heard it said that living a life of grace and peace among unbelievers is a living testimony of Jesus Christ. Oh really? ANY person can be nice. Any person can show brotherly love. Any person can offer grace and mercy on their own part. We see it all the time among unbelievers. But the Christian brings something entirely different to everyday life: the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. What truly makes our lives a living testimony is that we confess Jesus as the source of our love and grace. If all we do is live nice lives, never speaking the name of Jesus Christ, when we are denying Him before men. And if we deny Him, then He will deny us before our Father in heaven.
As believers, our task is to always be confessing Jesus before others, never denying His presence in our lives. We are to walk as Jesus did, allowing God's Holy Spirit to so infuse our lives that we have no choice but for our lives to be full of love--and joy and peace and longsuffering and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) Whatever niceness and love and grace that is in our lives needs to be founded on the love of God in Christ, not on some manmade concept of what it means to live a "Christ-like" life. Yes, by all means, we should be self-critical of how we live our lives, but not just in critiquing how we show the love of God to others. We need to also examine our lives to find more ways to confess Christ before all men, not leaving Him in the background but making Him the focus of our lives. Then, if we confess Jesus before all men, He will confess us before His father in heaven. And that, my friends, is a whole lot better than having Him deny us before the Father.
Our Father in heaven, I do love You. You know that I do. How can I live that out in my life? Teach me through Your Word and through Your Holy Spirit. Give me the courage to speak the name of Jesus Christ before all people. Guide my heart to make the gospel part of my everyday life and the life I live among others, so that my life and my words become a living testimony of Your grace and love. Never let me deny You but always praise You. Amen.