Witnessing through the model of our lives

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.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • fw

    I literally got goosebumps reading this post.

    I daily am forced in my vocation ( ok i am a sinner and do few things that are NOT self centered by choice) to deal with and witness to homosexuals, transgenders, drug addicts, very religious pentecostals who are in reality terrified of God, truly good and pious people who do not have Jesus and all those other people who look exactly like me in some way or other.

    I feel utterly unprepared, unworthy and deficient for this task.

    What you write is wonderful. Tell us more please. Can you share some personal experiences of what this looks like to you in practice?

  • fw

    I literally got goosebumps reading this post.

    I daily am forced in my vocation ( ok i am a sinner and do few things that are NOT self centered by choice) to deal with and witness to homosexuals, transgenders, drug addicts, very religious pentecostals who are in reality terrified of God, truly good and pious people who do not have Jesus and all those other people who look exactly like me in some way or other.

    I feel utterly unprepared, unworthy and deficient for this task.

    What you write is wonderful. Tell us more please. Can you share some personal experiences of what this looks like to you in practice?

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I agree. I heard someone quoted (it might have been Ed Veith) once as saying that good works give testimony to our own virtue. Our words give testimony to the grace of Christ.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I agree. I heard someone quoted (it might have been Ed Veith) once as saying that good works give testimony to our own virtue. Our words give testimony to the grace of Christ.

  • Richard

    Amen and Amen! I get weary of hearing Christians talk with concern about how they’ve “blown their testimony” to unbelievers through their sins. Hello!! How about testifying to the grace of God through your brokeneness instead of through your false piety?

  • Richard

    Amen and Amen! I get weary of hearing Christians talk with concern about how they’ve “blown their testimony” to unbelievers through their sins. Hello!! How about testifying to the grace of God through your brokeneness instead of through your false piety?

  • S Bauer

    But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base (!) things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:27-31)

    (thought I’d see if tags would work)

  • S Bauer

    But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base (!) things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:27-31)

    (thought I’d see if tags would work)

  • Arfies

    I had one person come to me because of the faith, not the perfection, of his employee. “I want what he has,” said the employer. After that the employer and his family became members of the church and were active. Eventually, however, they drifted away again, mostly, I think, because of the behavior they observed in other members of the congregation. Or maybe the soil was too thin or rocky, or the weeds too thick. Anyway, the start came through conversation that pointed to faith and hope and forgiveness; but of course the start has to be followed through and built upon.

  • Arfies

    I had one person come to me because of the faith, not the perfection, of his employee. “I want what he has,” said the employer. After that the employer and his family became members of the church and were active. Eventually, however, they drifted away again, mostly, I think, because of the behavior they observed in other members of the congregation. Or maybe the soil was too thin or rocky, or the weeds too thick. Anyway, the start came through conversation that pointed to faith and hope and forgiveness; but of course the start has to be followed through and built upon.

  • Don S

    To be fair to the author of the article, I don’t think he was saying that it is our Christ-likeness which evidences our faith, but rather our increasing desire to be Christ-like which provides that evidence. There is a big difference. This is clearly a Book of James emphasis, and is straight out of the John MacArthur line of thinking. I don’t agree with this, as it is clear that our assurance of salvation is through our faith in Christ, which we know whether or not we possess even if we cannot remember a specific instance where we first trusted Him. If we are relying on increasing Christ-likeness for our assurance, then I know that I would have many periods of great doubt!

    Regarding lifestyle evangelism, I think it plays a role, but as you state, it is a starting point — it can potentially lead to an opportunity to share with others, but others will not become saved solely because we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Sooner or later, we need to boldly take the opportunities we have when the door is opened to discuss spiritual things with our friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

    Where I think you are missing it is in emphasizing legalism (I don’t drink, smoke, dance, etc.). Those who seriously promote lifestyle evangelism do not advocate legalism as being something which attracts nonbelievers. It is clearly the fruit of the Spirit, evidenced in our lives, which leads to the sharing opportunities. Love, kindness, mercy — how we treat those around us. These are the traits that get noticed. And it is clearly not what WE do, but what Christ does within us, through the Spirit. We are vessels. I have never heard a genuine Christian, living out their lives in obedience to Christ, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit and freely and humbly admitting when they fall short of Christ’s standards, labeled as a hypocrite by their non-believing associates.

  • Don S

    To be fair to the author of the article, I don’t think he was saying that it is our Christ-likeness which evidences our faith, but rather our increasing desire to be Christ-like which provides that evidence. There is a big difference. This is clearly a Book of James emphasis, and is straight out of the John MacArthur line of thinking. I don’t agree with this, as it is clear that our assurance of salvation is through our faith in Christ, which we know whether or not we possess even if we cannot remember a specific instance where we first trusted Him. If we are relying on increasing Christ-likeness for our assurance, then I know that I would have many periods of great doubt!

    Regarding lifestyle evangelism, I think it plays a role, but as you state, it is a starting point — it can potentially lead to an opportunity to share with others, but others will not become saved solely because we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Sooner or later, we need to boldly take the opportunities we have when the door is opened to discuss spiritual things with our friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

    Where I think you are missing it is in emphasizing legalism (I don’t drink, smoke, dance, etc.). Those who seriously promote lifestyle evangelism do not advocate legalism as being something which attracts nonbelievers. It is clearly the fruit of the Spirit, evidenced in our lives, which leads to the sharing opportunities. Love, kindness, mercy — how we treat those around us. These are the traits that get noticed. And it is clearly not what WE do, but what Christ does within us, through the Spirit. We are vessels. I have never heard a genuine Christian, living out their lives in obedience to Christ, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit and freely and humbly admitting when they fall short of Christ’s standards, labeled as a hypocrite by their non-believing associates.

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer Theresa K.

    My only Christian testimony is that “looking to …Christ-likeness for the assurance of …salvation” is a sure path to death of faith. Finally(!) I’m doing something right: “… 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.” I seem to be quite talented at this. ;)

    I’ve come full circle in my life, from sinner to saint (self-perceived) and back to sinner. This time around I’m a sinner who is simultaneously a saint; I never heard that in my first 20+years as a Christian, but I hear it daily now. Still, I agree that I can’t use “sinner” as an excuse or license to sin; I would then be a picture of hopelessness rather than hope, if God ever chose to use me to proclaim His Word. For example, in a very practical application as the mother of teenagers how could I allow them to see sin rule their mother’s behavior?

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer Theresa K.

    My only Christian testimony is that “looking to …Christ-likeness for the assurance of …salvation” is a sure path to death of faith. Finally(!) I’m doing something right: “… 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.” I seem to be quite talented at this. ;)

    I’ve come full circle in my life, from sinner to saint (self-perceived) and back to sinner. This time around I’m a sinner who is simultaneously a saint; I never heard that in my first 20+years as a Christian, but I hear it daily now. Still, I agree that I can’t use “sinner” as an excuse or license to sin; I would then be a picture of hopelessness rather than hope, if God ever chose to use me to proclaim His Word. For example, in a very practical application as the mother of teenagers how could I allow them to see sin rule their mother’s behavior?

  • fw

    There is a raging debate going on over at Internet Monk´s site on theological brinksmanship:

    http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/my-theology-can-beat-up-your-theology-thoughts-on-always-saying-more-than-the-other-guyand-being-proud-of-it#comment-187630

    Please read the posts and see if there is any witnessing going on there by the posters to each other. What (Hint: Who) in their postings?

    Then read sister Theresa´s beautiful quote again here. The difference is slap-in-the-face striking to me.

    Theresa K. You must be one AWESOME mama to have. Your children will call themselves blessed.

  • fw

    There is a raging debate going on over at Internet Monk´s site on theological brinksmanship:

    http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/my-theology-can-beat-up-your-theology-thoughts-on-always-saying-more-than-the-other-guyand-being-proud-of-it#comment-187630

    Please read the posts and see if there is any witnessing going on there by the posters to each other. What (Hint: Who) in their postings?

    Then read sister Theresa´s beautiful quote again here. The difference is slap-in-the-face striking to me.

    Theresa K. You must be one AWESOME mama to have. Your children will call themselves blessed.

  • http://4scores.blogspot.com Cap Stewart

    Excellent post, Dr. Veith! In all honesty, I’ve ever thought about it that way before.

  • http://4scores.blogspot.com Cap Stewart

    Excellent post, Dr. Veith! In all honesty, I’ve ever thought about it that way before.

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  • http://planetaugsburg.wordpress.com catechismatic95

    When I read this post, I was reminded of Bo Giertz’s “The Hammer of God” where an older Pastor says something to this effect, “One ought not talk about ones ownself, it blocks the view of our Savior”.

  • http://planetaugsburg.wordpress.com catechismatic95

    When I read this post, I was reminded of Bo Giertz’s “The Hammer of God” where an older Pastor says something to this effect, “One ought not talk about ones ownself, it blocks the view of our Savior”.

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer Theresa K.

    “Your children will call themselves blessed.”

    FW – before or after I become old and senile? ;) You are kind and your words have greatly encouraged me. I’ll add more in the current thread.

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer Theresa K.

    “Your children will call themselves blessed.”

    FW – before or after I become old and senile? ;) You are kind and your words have greatly encouraged me. I’ll add more in the current thread.

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