Notes to growing Christians
Looking for God
The start of this new year provides an opportunity for reflection and resolution on the impact of the gospel on our society.
There is a general malaise which many people feel today, due to the erosion of the values of trust and honesty in our culture, which can provide us with the possibility to build a bridge of relevance for the gospel to travel across.
Residual image of God
The reason we instinctively know that there should be a better world and that we should be better people is because of the residual image of God within us, in which we were made. Marred by sin and distorted by unbelief as all human beings are, yet we cannot escape the reality which Augustine spoke of, that because we were made for God, our hearts will always be restless until they find their rest in him. The vacuum within each human life is not amorphous; it is God-shaped.
As we witness to our faith, by picking up the challenges of our contemporary moment in history and seeking to relate them to the gospel, it’s important to have clearly thought through convictions about what we are hoping to achieve. Our aim is not just to say something ‘Christian’, so as to show that our faith is not yet extinct. Much more than that, we want to have the opportunity to introduce others to the person and claims of our Lord Jesus Christ. Any word for Jesus is valuable, but our key aim is that his words will find a lodging place in the minds and hearts of those we speak to.
So we need to look for every opportunity to explore the nature and character of God in our witnessing, since that will lead us directly to the Word made flesh. For some, the existence of the created world and all the universes beyond demands an explanation in terms of an infinitely wise and powerful Creator. For others, the moral imperatives of life require an ultimate reality beyond our selves which is both infinite and personal. ‘In the beginning God…’ And if not God, what? And why? As conversations of this sort progress, they soon lead to, ‘but how can we know, or be sure?’ questions and this is when the record of the Gospels and the person of Jesus cry out to be introduced.
Because people are made in God’s image, many have a natural inclination to believe in him. But in the absence of biblical revelation they will invent a god in their own image, after their likeness, with whom they can feel ‘comfortable’. ‘I like to believe in a God who…’ ‘I refuse to accept a God who…’ Gently, but firmly we have to insist that whether or not such an objective reality as ‘God’ exists is entirely independent of our personal preferences, even if they are held as ‘convictions’. Others, who deny his existence loud and long, may actually be very much aware of the reality of the ‘divine interferer’ whose influence they are so determined to ignore or oppose. Our job is to present the evidence, which will be a blend of the objective proofs of Scripture and the confirmation of that reality in our personal experience of life. The Bible is not true because it works; but it does work because it is true. So, for many who will later turn to Christ, the first positive steps forward are to give their time and attention to a mature examination of the evidence. It may take a lot of listening and patient reasoning to get there, but our aim should be to encourage them to read a Gospel.
For some, even this may seem a bridge too far. Even Mark can appear too long and daunting for someone who is not a reader. It is no good giving them a copy and leaving them to get on with it. You need to read it with them. So try to arrange to meet up with them on a weekly basis, for half an hour or so, to read it together. The best plan is to agree to read the next chapter in the week ahead, then to look together at all the questions, objections, insights it raises, no holds barred, no issues banned. There are some great study outlines available, like the new one on John’s Gospel, being produced for their work in the city, by St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate. But the most important ingredient of all is to let the Word do the work, as the person of Jesus steps off the page of Scripture and the Holy Spirit bears witness to him. All this provides the answers to foundation questions: ‘What is God like? How can we know?’ The one-to-one approach is especially helpful for men, who are often hesitant to reveal what they see as their ignorance, or embarrassing naivet?, in a group discussion context.
Remember always that the gospel is Christ and that our role is to introduce him, as our personal rescuer and ruler. Theological understanding of the person of Christ and the meaning of his substitutionary atoning death matter greatly, as do rational and biblical arguments confirming the truth of God’s self-revelation. But on the last day, the issue will be whether or not we have a personal relationship with him, through faith and obedience (Matthew 7.21-23). It is not essential to have all our doctrinal i’s dotted or our logical t’s crossed in order to fall with Thomas at his feet and declare, ‘My Lord and my God’. And that is the point of all our witness, for which we can work and pray with renewed commitment as we enter this new year of God’s grace.
David Jackman is the past President of the Proclamation Trust.