To the World and the Skeptics at Home

I have been reflecting a lot lately on sharing the gospel in my own family, and it has caused me to notice details in stories that I have likely overlooked. For example, John’s Gospel - after its cosmic introduction - opens with three very short, personal stories.

The first begins with John the Baptist standing with his disciples (John 1:35-39). He points to Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples of John start following Jesus immediately. It’s a simple story.

A teacher said, “Look, here he is!” People had faith because of it. 

The second story involves two brothers. One of the disciples from the previous story, Andrew, goes to his brother, Simon, and shares with him the Good News. “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:40-42). Simon comes to Jesus and becomes his disciple at once.

‌A family member said, “Look, here he is!” People had faith because of it. 

In the third story, Jesus personally calls Philip to be his disciple. Philip goes to tell a friend named Nathaniel. “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:43-46a). However, Nathanael responds with a sneer, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46b)

A friend said, “Look, here he is!” There was no faith because of it.

Why didn’t it work?

This experience is familiar to most Christians. After we find our faith, we are on fire to share it. We share it with anyone who will listen but people rarely respond with immediate acceptance or any acceptance at all. We are dismayed! How can something so clear to us not be clear to everyone?

The same experience happens in the Christian home. We live with miniature versions of ourselves that we call children, and it seems inevitable that they would share our faith and values. But often they don’t. We blame ourselves, the culture, the church, their youth minister, and anything else we can think of.

People of faith are often surprised to encounter skeptics close to home. Our surprise comes from forgetting that the little people who live with us are, in fact, their own people, not clones. Yes, the DNA is similar, but the spiritual journey God has in store for them is unique. Our families will not share every pitstop and detour that we did.

Another way of thinking of this is that sharing the gospel is not magic. Magic in myth and legend is the control of supernatural powers by way of spells or incantations. If you say the right words, then the result is guaranteed. Or if you hold your wand correctly, then the spell will always work. “Swish and flick,” Hermione explained.

Faith is not magic. There are no words that you can say that are so powerful that they will grant you mastery over another person’s heart and mind. The penetrating words that shaped your faith may glance off another person ineffectually. An observation that means next to nothing to you may provide the insight that changes another person’s life.

Faith is not magic or even science. It is an act of God in the individual human soul. It is a gift of grace not a product of a program. Faith is not the sum of an equation we can master—even in our own home.

On top of all that, there are forces at work in the world opposing the growth of faith. Nathaniel came equipped with a healthy dose of skepticism before he ever heard a word about Jesus. He demonstrated prejudice against any person from some grimy town like Nazareth. Maybe, beneath it all, we can detect a little hopelessness in Nathanael’s voice. Maybe he believes no good thing can come from Nazareth because there is no good coming from anywhere. It is hard to believe the Good News when you are already convinced that there is no such thing as good news at all.

What should be our response to these obstacles?

Philip demonstrated exactly how to do this when he said, ‌“Come and see.”

I am a Christian apologist, and as such my kneejerk reaction to all skepticism is a clever argument or imaginative illustration. Philip does better by just remembering that Jesus will do all the work. Whether in our homes, with friends, at work, or even complete strangers, our task is to make an introduction to Jesus. We have to trust in him to be worth knowing. We have to get out of the way and let him be known.

Jesus does not disappoint. Now now. Not then. He was ready to meet skeptical Nathanael long before Philip did any legwork (John 1:47-48). Jesus knew what Nathanael needed then, and he knows what my children need now.

Here at last we notice the truth underlying each of these three simple evangelistic stories. John the Baptist did not produce faith in his students. He pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold.” Andrew did not instill faith in Simon Peter. He said, “We have found the Messiah” and brought Peter to meet him. Philip did not produce faith in skeptical Nathanael. He simply said, “Come and see.”

‌Our methods do not convert people. ‌The church’s teachers must point to Jesus. ‌The family must point to Jesus. ‌Every friend must point to Jesus. He and he alone is the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

Dr. Benjamin Williams is the Senior Minister at the Central Church of Christ in Ada, Oklahoma and a regular writer at So We Speak. Check out his books The Faith of John’s Gospel and Why We Stayed or follow him on Twitter, @Benpreachin.

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