A few weeks ago, someone in my timeline posted a link to a Business Insider article from last summer. In it, Benny Lewis wrote about the time he spent traveling throughout the United States. He listed 17 things that surprised him about day to day life in the United States.
He described the piece as a “rant” and pointed out some legitimate concerns about trends in the United States that we often miss. Our cities are not walkable, the portions in our restaurants are too generous, we are a generally unhappy people who force out fake smiles, and we wrongly stereotype other countries. I completely agree.
As a follower of Jesus and a pastor, I paid the most attention to his 11th thought about life in America. I’ll allow him to speak for himself.
“Look — I grew up in a religious town in Ireland, went to an all-boys Catholic school, and some of my friends in Europe are religious. Even if I’m not religious, it’s up to everyone to decide what to believe. I find religious people in Europe to be NORMAL — it’s a spiritual thing, or something they tend to keep to themselves and are very modern people with a great balance of religion and modernism.
But I can’t stand certain Christian affiliations of religious Americans. It’s Jesus this and Jesus that all the bloody time. You really can’t have a normal conversation with them. It’s in-your-face religion.”
Have you ever heard something that was intended as a critique, but you took it as a compliment? This is the way I felt after reading Lewis’s dismissal of Christians who talk about Jesus “all the bloody time” and are not “NORMAL” like the Christians he knows in Europe.
(As an aside, I have the privilege of knowing some European Christians who would also fall under Mr. Lewis’s critique. They love Jesus and speak about him often. This is also true of Christians I know in South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. God bless them and may their tribe increase. The desire to talk about Jesus is not a uniquely American phenomenon, but one that characterizes every follower of Jesus.)
I don’t know where Mr. Lewis’s travels brought him in the great state of Alabama, but if we would have gotten a chance to speak, here’s what I think I would have said about this particular observation–Christians keep talking about Jesus because we can’t stop talking about him. When you consider who he is, what he has done, and how he has changed us, how could we ever stop talking about him?
Jesus’ First Followers Spoke about Him Often
The book of Acts recorded the spread of the Christian message and the growth of the church in the years after Jesus ascended into heaven. Early in the narrative, the Apostle Peter healed a lame man in front of the temple and then preached the message about Jesus. The captain of the temple and the Sadducees arrested the apostles because they were “greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” (Acts 4:1-3)
The arrests did little to squash the effects of Peter’s message, for the number of disciples grew to more than five thousand that day. The apostles found themselves standing in front of the ruling council and they instructed them to no longer speak in the name of Jesus. Peter, answering for the rest of the group, informed the council that what they were asking them to do was an impossibility. He told them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)
The Apostles, the eyewitnesses to the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, could not stop talking about the things they had seen and we have their testimony recorded for us in the pages of Scripture. Because we have seen these great things about Jesus in the Bible and have experienced the change he brings in our own lives, our hearts resonate with the words, “we cannot but speak.”
We Speak about Jesus for the Good of Others
Christians speak about Jesus because we have experienced the great joy he brings us. We were dead in sin and bound for the wrath of God. Jesus died in our place and rose from the dead to bring us life. When we come to know Jesus, we are adopted into the family of God, cleansed from our guilt, and given a hope beyond anything we could have ever imagined.
This is not the only reason we speak about Jesus though. We speak about Jesus for the good of other people. We believe the Bible when it reports that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) We know that people who die in their sins apart from Christ stand under the judgment of God and that the time is short before they will keep that appointment.
At the same time, we speak because we know what can happen in the lives of people who believe. The great blessings of the Gospel–adoption, forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope–come to every person who believes. People cannot believe unless they hear this good news and they will not hear unless someone tells them. (Romans 10:14-17) We seek to be the one who tells them because we love people and want them to know the joy the Gospel gives.
Every Christian Heard about Jesus from Someone Else
I don’t remember the first time I ever heard about Jesus. People told me about him all the time as I was growing up. Christians told me about Jesus even when I did not want to hear it, but they did not stop talking. Then, a few months short of my twentieth birthday, I believed and experienced the change that only Jesus can bring.
This is, in some measure, the testimony of every Christian. We know Jesus because someone else could not stop talking about him. It may have been a parent, a pastor, a friend, or a neighbor, but someone who loved us enough to keep speaking.
Jesus uses his people to spread the message about him. He could write the good news in the sky if he wanted, but he sends his people out as his ambassadors to tell his story. Every time we speak about him, he speaks through us. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
The message about Jesus changes people and brings them back to God, so we cannot stop speaking and by God’s grace, we won’t.
“Watching Our Words in an Age of Outrage“
For Further Reading:
Evangelism by J. Mack Stiles
Evangelism in a Skeptical World by Sam Chan