Bearing Witness to the Gospel
If someone were to ask you, a neighbour, a fellow worker or fellow student, ‘What exactly is the gospel?’ what would you say? Perhaps I could ask you to stop reading this article, pick up a pen (or turn on your computer), and write in a few brief sentences what is the heart of the gospel. It would be a good exercise, and perhaps a sobering and salutary one, to crystallise your understanding of the gospel.
So, where did you begin? Where should anyone begin? I suppose it depends who asked you the question. Did they have a ‘Christian’ background? Were they nominal or militant atheists? Were they Muslims, or Hindus? Were they Dawkinsian secularists? I would guess that what you say would, in measure, depend on where your questioner was coming from. One danger, however, is that you become intimidated by your questioner: ‘I don’t know much if anything about Islam, Hinduism, atheism, secularism. I have no training in apologetics (defending the faith). My understanding of “pre-suppositional philosophy” is nil.’ But do you have to be trained and well-read to be an effective witness to your Saviour? Certainly, it can be hugely helpful to read good books and listen to insightful teachers. We are called to give a ‘reason’ for the hope that is in us. But effective Christian witness is not dependent on having theological and philosophical training!
Our Lord Jesus said on one significant occasion to his disciples, ‘You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden . . . let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’ (Matt. 5:14-16). At the heart of effective Christian witness is a godly, Christ-honouring, ‘do-gooding’ life. What God is most pleased to use for his glory and the extension of his kingdom, is not a well-stocked mind but a Christ-like life (the two, of course are not mutually exclusive – but you get my point). What the Holy Spirit blesses is not well-constructed arguments and deep learning but humble-hearted, prayerful dependence upon him – who alone can unstop deaf ears and illumine sin-darkened minds. Again let me say that an educated mind and a Spirit-dependent heart are not mutually exclusive, far from it. But too easily we are guilty of de-spiritualising gospel witness. What I mean is that we underplay the mighty, sovereign, sin-vanquishing power of God the Holy Spirit as we open our mouths to testify to our Saviour. Too often we are more conscious of our own inadequacies than of the grace and power of the One for whom nothing is impossible.
At the Cambridge Presbyterian Church we have an evangelistic booktable ministry. Every Saturday we spend time around Market Square giving out literature and engaging passers-by in conversation. All who help in any way would be first to say, ‘Oh that I had a better mind and deeper understanding.’ But our great ‘booktable need’ is prayerful, humble dependence on God the Holy Spirit. That is your great need as you seek to answer the question, ‘What is the gospel?’ Your words may be few and stammering; but ‘It is not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.’
So, who knows what God might be pleased to do with a few simple words of testimony, backed up by a life in which Jesus Christ reigns in grace? When someone asked John Knox to account for the remarkable success of the Scottish Reformation, he replied, ‘God gave his Holy Spirit to simple men in great abundance.’
Ian Hamilton is Pastor of the Cambridge Presbyterian Church, now worshipping God on Sunday mornings in All Saints’ Church, Jesus Lane, Cambridge and in the Lutheran Church, Huntingdon Road, on Sunday evenings.
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