As a student of History and English Literature at a public university, the classroom is one of the clearest opportunities to interact with those who have completely different beliefs than me. I don’t mean that my classmates are apathetic or atheistic.
Many of them are deep thinkers, careful analysts, and individuals who are troubled by the injustices they see in the world. Most of my classmates are more than willing to share their opinions, and most of my professors often address the claims of Christianity as outdated—if not offensive.
Recently, I heard a classmate comment on “the Old Testament God.” This turn of phrase struck me, and I asked her what she meant by it. Her eyes lit up with the excitement of getting to explain her thoughts. She responded, “You know, like, the God that’s super harsh and brutal. He punishes people who disobey him, and if people are immoral, they will be killed.”
I could feel her watching my reaction. Would I affirm this idea, or be defensive? Would I breeze past the statement, or correct it? Despite the space for discussion such comments provide, I am often frustrated by the fact that there is no evangelistic formula to respond in this kind of setting. When a thousand words fly through my mind to share, which are the right ones? How do I evangelize with love?
Exposing Our Hearts
Small moments like this expose more about me than my classmates or professors. When I reflect upon the many conversations like this one, I must ask myself difficult questions. What is my first reaction towards these provocative statements? Am I being hardened or softened? Do I become self-defensive? Or, do I lay down the impulse to make my point to share the gospel and evangelize with love?
It is easy to become incensed. My pride swells at the opportunity to retaliate against claims that I know are unfounded or misrepresentative. In some ways, it is right to be angered by God’s name being blasphemed in these ways. God is holy!
The Psalmist is right to sing, “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!” (Psalm 146:1). The familiar story of Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3 reminds us of God’s holiness. His holiness, pictured as a consuming fire, reminds us of our unholiness.
This same God who is perfect and unfathomably holy is also the one who graciously draws near to us in our sin and weakness.
This God who chooses one man to save many is the “God of the Old Testament” that my classmate despises. In the words of my pastor, “the God of the burning bush is also the Christ on the cross.”
Knowing God’s Heart
In Jesus Christ, we see an even more vivid image of a God whose heart moves towards those who are full of sin and have nothing to offer him. Philippians 2:6–8 describes Christ’s condescension this way:
“…though he [Christ] was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
If the one who was “in the form of God” submitted to becoming human and dying on the cross for sins that were not his, how much more should we be moved to compassion for fellow sufferers and sinners—those who need the gospel of grace just as desperately as we depend on it daily.
Imaging God’s Heart
When we humble ourselves to treat our neighbors and classmates with this kind of love rather than scalding retribution, we are imaging God’s heart for his people. Through the Spirit, we should seek to move toward those who are inconvenient or even hostile to reach. In doing this, we can evangelize to those around us with love.
We should pray as we study the Scriptures. They testify to “the great love with which [God] loved us” (Ephesians 2:4) in Jesus—that the Spirit would continue to renew our minds (Romans 12:2) to humbly consider others, even those who seem to despise our Lord, as “more significant” than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
Respond With Love and Humility
Every day there are opportunities before all of us to be watchful and patient in explaining Jesus to our neighbors. Not every conversation calls for the same response.
In my classes, many conversations arise where I have the chance to talk about Jesus and to be bold. There are also spaces to simply ask questions, listen, and pray. It’s not always easy to know how to respond in a given situation. Regardless, it’s critical that we respond in evangelism with love and humility.
These day-to-day conversations and relationships are gifts that are used to refine us. Though they often expose our coldness, they are an opportunity to remember the warmth of Christ’s heart for us. They remind us to evangelize through loving our neighbors—not only in words, but “in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).