I find it’s relatively easy to talk about “God” with people. Aside from athiests, of course, it seems most people have constructed some view of a higher power, someone they pray to when life gets really hard or when they really need something. We like the idea of a greater cosmic force out there—someone watching out for us, someone loving and kind, something connecting us all together. A sort of spirtual Santa Claus, one we think about in the dark, cold seasons of life, who gives us good gifts if we’re good people. “God” is so big and abstract, universal. He can be any number of things to anyone.
Lately I’ve been listening to podcasts by Timothy Keller, and I can’t recommend him enough, whether you’re a Christian or not. In particular, his sermon on the woman at the well (John 4) entitled “[Rise] Public Faith” has got me thinking.
Some background: Jesus comes to a well and finds a woman there to draw water. He begins to engage her in conversation. Now, the woman is there at an unusual time of day. Most women came to the well early in the morning, and instead she is there midday, most likely to avoid people; the woman had been married five times, and was living with a man who wasn’t her husband. The talk of the town, I’m sure.
So Jesus strikes up conversation with her, and she’s completely caught off guard. He’s a Jewish man and she’s a Samaritan woman. They shouldn’t be talking. Interactions between the opposite sex and these races in particular violated social norms. But Jesus talks to her anyway. He tells her about living water, fountains springing up into everlasting life. He pinpoints her earthly struggle with men, that she keeps coming up empty-handed, thirsty. He sees right into her soul and offers her something to drink, something otherwordly, that she may never thirst again.
The woman then leaves the well, goes back into the city, and tells the people there about Jesus. “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (v. 29)
In essence, the woman had an encounter with Jesus. He saw straight to her depravity and brokenness and then revealed Himself to her—that he was the source of life, of deep satisfaction, the Messiah. And her response was to go and tell. “Jesus! Let me tell you about him! Come and see!”
This is what we’re supposed to do as believers. This is what it means to live the Gospel. We go and tell. We share with those around us what Jesus has done for us. Simple, right?
Keller explains in his sermon that, as Christians, the natural course of any relationship is to talk about this life-changing encounter with Jesus:
If you’re not public with your faith…if you’re not willing to give testimony, it’s because you’re hiding who you are…you’re hiding what’s going on inside your heart. You’re lying about who you are. Why? Because if you’re a Christian, Jesus should be central…and if that’s the case, then testimony is nothing but natural…if you’re a Christian and you’ve got…friends who find Christianity implausible and you’re not talking to them about your faith, what it means is you have short-circuited the normal course of a relationship…you’re guilty of relationship malpractice.
I’m guilty as charged. I’ve had many relationships and interactions over the years in which I’ve left out Jesus, withheld my story of redemption. I’ve talked objectively about God and church and Christian things, yet I’ve hidden the subjective, intimate work of Jesus in my heart. Why?
I’ve been pondering, probing, and analyzing. On the one hand I think, my situation is different from the Samaritan woman—I came to faith in childhood, and though I’ve had defining moments in my Christianity since then, I didn’t have my first Jesus experience as an adult, and therefore the sharing of my faith is different. Or similarly I think, my redemption narrative is not that exciting. There was not a momentous occasion or a-ha moment that I can yell from the rooftops. But then again, the Samaritan woman didn’t have some crazy experience either—it was outside the norm, peculiar—but not spectacular. He simply looked into her soul and brought revelation.
I’ve also reasoned that it was easier for her to share Jesus with the townspeople because Jesus was there in flesh and blood for everyone to come see and talk to. But even this thinking is flawed, because claiming that some man you met at the well is the Messiah, when you’re not even a respectable person in society as it is, probably sounded pretty absurd to those around her. Today we have history and archaeology, scrolls and theologians, linguists and apologetics, and endless resources at our fingertips to prove that the God of the Bible is true and real, which means I have a lot more going for me in sharing Jesus than the Samaritan woman did.
So what is it then? Why do I find this go-and-tell-about-Jesus thing so hard?
Because Jesus draws a line, demarcates. Jesus implies all sorts of absurdities: a virgin birth; God incarnate; a perfect, sinless life; a man crucified, taking the wrath of God and the sin of mankind in his body and putting it to death while hanging on the cross that I might live eternally; his bodily resurrection from the dead; his ascension to the right hand of God; atonement; peace with God; reconciliation. Furthermore, by giving testimony, I’m saying that this same Jesus who met the woman at the well over 2,000 years ago has revealed himself to me, has told me of living water found only in him, that nothing else—no one else—will satisfy or save my soul. Jesus gets real specific, deeply personal, and undeniably bloody in the otherwise loose and blank construct of “God” as defined by wordly, universal sprituality.
This is both terrifying and liberating. Terrifying to stake such provocative claims, but liberating in its simplicity—that I don’t have to have all the answers, or try to convince people of Jesus, or argue about facts and philosophies, or drag people to church, or insist they read some book about Christianity. I just have to tell those around me how Jesus has transformed my life in a such a profound, personal, an intimate way. To give testimony of his goodness and faithfulness. Because no matter how subversive, at least it will be real and authentic. And if we were all a little more genuine in sharing the Gospel, perhaps it would be received a lot differently by those listening.
There is much more to be developed on this topic, namely that from the patriarchs to kings, from the prophets to apostles, all of them struggled to share a Gospel counter to their culture, subversive to the spiritualities of their time, to proclaim the absurdities of God. And there are countless scriptures exhorting the people of God to be brave and fearless in their witness to His Kingdom and glory.
So for now, if you’re like me and you don’t know how to share your faith or where to begin, as Keller states in his sermon: “Jesus!…one word. [Tell people to] Go see Jesus. Meet Jesus. Rely on Jesus. Figure out who he is. It’s very simple.”