The following is a quote from atheist Penn Jillette, of the magician duo, Penn & Teller.
“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize (evangelize). I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this (the prospect of hell) is MORE important than that.”
Penn makes an interesting point here in asking “how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize?” Now, it’s not necessarily a matter of feeling hatred toward somebody, although this word choice does give weight to the situation fairly well. Rather, the reason we as Christians might be reluctant to share the blessing of salvation likely lies in a powerful sense of shame. Whether that shame stems from a lack of knowledge or a lack of belief in the power of God, it’s a powerful tool that Satan employs on us.
Paul said that he was not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power unto salvation (Rom 1:16), and Paul said to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Cor 11:1). Granted, the apostles were divinely inspired to speak and to write in ways that we cannot. But we have the totality of God’s Word available to us now, so it’s our responsibility to make sure we equip ourselves appropriately. Imagine all of the worldly scenarios that we make sure to be aptly equipped for; that we take the extra effort to ensure full preparation of. I think we can all relate to the shame that’s tied to walking into something unprepared despite knowing ahead of time how and what ought to have been done beforehand. Tests, sporting events, deadlines, birthdays, Mother’s Day…
Many of us don’t proclaim the gospel because we’re ashamed of it. And many of us are ashamed of it because we haven’t equipped ourselves. The inaction that results in being mal-equipped is the result of unbelief that the gospel is the power unto salvation. If we truly believe in something, we take action. As our atheist friend illustrated, if we truly believed that truck was coming, we’d ensure the safety of those standing in danger.
Most of us have close friends or family who are outside of the Church who may or may not know about God. Now as Christians, we don't want to see anyone go to hell, especially those closest to us. And while our lives should be a shining example of Christ to the world around us, it can often seem like our cause isn't always apparent to them.
I remember back in college sitting in the library on campus working on homework with a friend when she asked me if I was available to hang out that evening. It happened to be a Wednesday, so I let her know that I was meeting with the saints for bible study that evening. My friend looked a little surprised and told me that I didn't seem like the religious type and that she wouldn't have guessed me to be a Christian. That was quite the slap in the face for me! I thought I was doing a pretty good job shining as a Christian ought to. I don't cuss, I don't drink, or smoke, or engage in any of those socially immoral behaviors. And for some reason, I guess I thought that was enough. We’re not all obviously cut out to be preachers, but I realized that sometimes as a Christian, we can't always do everything in the passive. It’s important to not let God's Word be silent in us. In fact, it should burn in our bones like fire to get out (Jeremiah 20:9)!
Whenever presented with an opportunity to share the gospel message, I’m sure we’ve all had a rapid fire list of self-doubting questions shoot through our minds: They could think I’m a weirdo and judge me. They might not want to be my friend anymore. What if I said something inaccurate or stupid? Do I know enough to answer any tough questions? And what if that makes them think that all Christian's are just ignorant sheep who blindly follow the herd? The fear of rejection is the number one reason that Christians say they don't share their faith. To emphasize a previous point, this fear stems from a lack of confidence in oneself, and a lack of confidence is generally the result of not being prepared. There's a lot of pressure on us as Christians for when we do share the Word. The secular world, and even the denominational world around us is especially keen on watching us to see if we slip up so that they can discredit us, and many times they even show a greater knowledge of the scriptures than us! So we must always be ready to give a defense for the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15).
The knowledge to be had is here. God's revealed Word is available to us, meaning we can equip ourselves as much as we believe in the power of the gospel unto salvation (2 Timothy 3:17). If we aren't taking advantage of it and we end up in a situation shamefully ill-prepared, then shame on us indeed! Failure to self-arm isn’t so much doubt in oneself as it is doubt in the power of God, and this progression of logic ought to prompt us to action. We ought to be diligent in our priorities and meticulous in our studies. For those who desire assistance in arming themselves, there are members of the Church who would be more than happy to help us learn and grow and become better equipped. Spend time with those who are more knowledgeable and those who have the experience and wisdom. And to those members who are no longer babes in Christ, offer to help. This is a journey that we should all be taking together, not by ourselves. We ought to desire the ability to shine the light of Christ to those around us. We don’t want to see anyone not make it to heaven, and we should thus desire to be well equipped enough to give the correct answers, know truth from lies, and do right in representing Christ. It could mean the difference between a lost soul and a saved soul. Let’s work together to overcome shame with active belief.