The Pilgrims’ Guidebook: Christian witness

I Peter 3:13-17

“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” (verse 13) As a general rule, Christians who are living genuinely holy lives can expect most unbelievers to respect them (Proverbs 16:7). But that will not always be the case. At the time Peter was writing, the great imperial persecutions were only just over the horizon. All Christians, whatever their situation, need to be prepared to face persecution, confident in the knowledge that God is always with us (Isaiah 50:7,8) and that suffering and blessing are not mutually exclusive (Matthew 5:11,12). We must not allow ourselves to become discouraged, or to be frightened into compromising our faith. The fear of God – who is more awesome and terrifying than anyone or anything on this earth – puts all other fears into perspective (Luke 12:4,5). If Jesus Christ, our God and King, is more important to us than anyone or anything else, then we shall fear letting Him down more than we fear what other people may think or do (Mark 8:38). This will give us the necessary boldness and humility to fulfil our calling to show the preciousness of Jesus to others.

If we are always preaching at people, they will find it offensive. But if we are living dynamically as Christians, our lifestyles will provoke those around us to challenge us, or to ask why it is that we live as we do. “Evangelism” then becomes our answer to this type of question. A good life is therefore an essential prerequisite for Christian witness – but it is not enough on its own. We need to be able to articulate verbally the ideas that inspire our behaviour. All Christians therefore need to have a working knowledge of the Gospel and to know why they believe it. We need to be ready with polite, careful and well thought-out answers, so that we can respond to enquiry or criticism with courtesy and humility – even if we feel threatened.

Nobody can witness effectively with a guilty conscience (Matthew 10:16). So we must strive to follow Paul’s example (Acts 24:16). The watching world is very sensitive to hypocrisy; just a single moral lapse can give people an excuse to ignore the Gospel for ever after. But personal integrity and a good reputation are a powerful advertisement for the Christian faith. If we are to be persecuted, it should be for the right reasons. No Christian should invite the justified scorn and hostility of unbelievers by deliberately causing offence.

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