by Alida Oegema
September 11, 2014
5 min read
Recently at St. Peter’s, we’ve been talking about how we talk about Jesus. This is an important thing to discuss, and we’ve decided to keep the conversation going on the blog. Addressing how we talk about God, faith, and Jesus is really important, but equally as important is the content and the context of that message. It is really, really important that we focus on both the how and the what when it comes to talking about Jesus.
But, if all we do is talk about Jesus, we’ve missed the point.
Words without a lifestyle to back them up aren’t enough. Words without action are empty. We cannot be people who confess that we believe in Christ with our mouths and deny Him with the way we live our lives.
Let’s be real. We hate inconsistency. Our society tears it apart, and for good reason.
Think of it this way, a significantly overweight nutritionist, an out-of-shape personal trainer, or an oncologist who smokes may dispense words full of valuable and necessary advice. However, it would be hard for us to take their words seriously. While their words may be true, the seemingly inconsistent application of those words in their own lives makes it seem like they don’t really believe what they’re saying.
So it is when we speak of a God who rescues us and extends love without condition, but we go about loving within the confines of condition. Or when we say we follow a Saviour whose love was characterized by generosity and community and sacrifice, but we selfishly hold tightly to our comfort and individual ambitions.
When the words don’t match the description, the rhetoric-reality gap drives us away.
So talking about Jesus demands that we be what we say we believe.
In the Gospel of Matthew, our calling in the world is likened to that of a lamp in a dark place. In a pretty obvious line of reasoning, Matthew says that if you’re somewhere dark, you don’t hide any available sources of light under a table. To do so would be like hiking after sunset and keeping your functioning headlamp or flashlight in your pack. That’s just foolishness. Instead, you bring the light out to where it can illuminate as much of the darkness as possible.
It seems pretty simple right? Where there is darkness, let there be light.
But Matthew goes on to say, “in the same way let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.” In the same way that a lighthouse shines over stormy nautical waters, live the kind of lives that illuminate the darkness. Live the kind of lives that show the contrast of Christ in us.
Talking about Jesus demands that we be what we say we believe.
And that means a lot of really practical things – both physically and emotionally. God says that we are His hands and feet – the very extension of Him to those who need to know of His love. This means we must live lives that bring light where there is darkness. Food where there is hunger. Water where there is thirst. Refuge where there is no shelter. Friendship where there is isolation. Love where there is hatred. Peace where there is strife. Grace where there is legalism.
Essentially, over and over we’re told to live lives that match the words that we speak: Live lives that reflect the character of the God we love. Be people who speak of love, yes. But even more so, be people who tangibly build lives characterized by love and peace and hospitality and grace and self-control and faithfulness and virtue.
It’s the simple reality that the world will know us by our love (or our lack-thereof). Full stop.
But, here’s the problem. Unfortunately Christians are well known for our inconsistency and our hypocrisy. And far too often, throughout history and in contemporary society, we deserve it. Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Those words sting and make my heart hurt. But the truth is, we do misrepresent Christ. I often hesitate to associate with the label “Christian” because of all the societal baggage it carries. But I don’t accurately represent Jesus either. I do not and cannot and will not ever live a life that accurately reflects how stunning and worthy Jesus is.
But that’s one of the (many) beautiful things about following Jesus.
We can’t believe the gospel or speak of Jesus without speaking of all the ways He loves us despite our inconsistency. And we cannot speak of this grace without knowing that we’re still a work in progress – always growing and learning.
Talking about Jesus requires two things from us then: humility and action.
We need to, as best as we can, live lives that reflect the God we love, so when people hear about Him, they’ll already recognize a glimpse of Him in us. And we need to approach all that we do and say about Him and about His work in our stories from a place of humility, readily willing to admit our own brokenness and failings and quick to acknowledge that we too don’t have all the answers.