Related to yesterday’s post on people looking to their Christ-likeness for the assurance of their salvation is the insistence that I keep hearing that the best witness to the Gospel is the example of our lives. You know, all that “use words only if necessary,” but I-don’t-have-to-say-anything-about-Jesus-just-impress-unbelievers-with-my-virtues talk.
First of all, as the Bible explains, faith comes from hearing of the Word. Someone who sees a Christian do Christian things will have no idea what any of it is about unless he or she hears about Jesus through human language. And that Word of the Gospel has power. (I sometimes think about a reader of this blog who reads, say, our posts yesterday about the assurance of salvation or about Christ’s baptism and the gospel, and, penetrated by the true message of Christ, maybe passes from death to life.)
Second, I agree that a Christian might have an impact on an unbeliever through his life, causing the unbeliever to want to know what lies behind the hope he sees, leading to an occasion for proclaiming and hearing the Word, or, perhaps more effectively, taking the unbeliever to church, where he will hear that Word. In general, relying on how good we are is seldom a wise idea to impress others, since our true goodness is very limited. What unbelievers may well pick up on is that we are putting on a front of being good, when in reality we are not. The perception of hypocrisy is the big witness-killer.
Third, what we Christians often think of as our virtue and holiness is NOT impressive to unbelievers. They are not impressed by our pieties, even our sincere pious actions, or by individual behaviors that Christians often think are pious, such as not drinking or going to R-rated movies. Unbelievers are usually repelled by that sort of thing.
Fourth, we are indeed to live out our faith in our vocations by loving and serving our neighbors. This is, indeed, something our neighbor will respond to. However, many of our pious virtues have little to do with love and service to our neighbors. Rather, they often consist of feelings of moral superiority to our neighbor. That only antagonizes our unbelieving neighbor.
Finally, we might do better to present ourselves to our unbelieving neighbors as sin-prone and struggling, on the same level as the person we are witnessing to, so that both identify with each other. Applying the law to ourselves helps in applying the law to others. When one sinner tells another of his rescue and forgiveness through Christ, the message comes across as Good News.