This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon on Jonah 3 preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday January 21-22, 2012.
Jonah’s hesitancy to share the gospel with Nineveh had nothing to do with self-doubt or God-doubt. Actually, it was just the opposite. Jonah feared that if he called Nineveh to repent that they would repent and God would forgive (4:1-3). Jonah simply wanted Nineveh to receive justice rather than mercy so he resisted introducing them to the God he knew.
While there are some Christians who allow laziness or animosity to prevent them from sharing the good news they found in God, that is not the only reason Christians fail to share the gospel. I’ll leave it up to the reader to guess at what percentage of Christian failure to share the gospel results from laziness ( _____% ), animosity ( _____% ), self-doubt ( _____%), and God-doubt ( _____%).
But I think the more important question is not weighing the percentages of the Christian population, but dividing the motives of our individual hearts. What percentage of your failure to share the gospel results from laziness ( _____% ), animosity ( _____% ), self-doubt ( _____%), and God-doubt ( _____%).
This post wants to reflect on the two forms of discouragement that come when we share our faith and people do not respond. Did I fail (self-doubt)? Or, did God fail (God-doubt)? It is a natural question. When I try do something and it doesn’t work, I want to know, “What went wrong? Who/what failed?”
Some Christians, usually in a legitimate attempt to be humble, begin to think they were the problem. “I didn’t say the right thing, know the right verse, pray enough before, tell a funny enough story, or read my Bible enough. Or, I spoke too soon or wasn’t cool enough to win their respect.” Whatever rational is created, the bottom line in self-doubt is: I am the reason that person is still going to Hell.
In the end, self-doubt always exaggerates the role of the witness in evangelism. After all, Jonah’s message wasn’t that impressive (3:4) – eight words in English, only 5 words in Hebrew, and his heart wasn’t in it. He simple spoke the truth about God to people who needed to hear it. Evangelism that is “done” by an impressive speaker or argument will be “undone” by a more impressive speaker or argument.
Further, self-doubt focuses our attention on self rather than the person we’re talking to and the God we’re talking about. Self-doubt reduces our genuine interest in the person we’re talking to (fear always causes preoccupation) and our passion for the God we’re talking about. That is probably the best possible recipe for making something simple seem difficult.
Other Christians, begin to doubt God when their evangelism is ineffective. “Maybe God doesn’t like me and doesn’t want to bless what I’m doing. God likes other people better so He gives more fruit to their ministry. Maybe God isn’t as good as I thought He was if He didn’t do what I expected Him to do.” The thinking process can take many forms, but it boils down to either God doesn’t like me or God can’t be trusted.
Either way, the result is that we stop praying (especially for specific lost people that we are burdened to share Christ with) and stop sharing. The activity that should drive us to God and His Word—evangelism—begins to be the reason to avoid God and His Word, or at least intellectualize and privatize our faith.
The worst part of God-doubt is not the lack of evangelism; that is only the bitter fruit. The worst part is the functional belief in a sterile, distant God who becomes a moral score keeper instead of tender Father making an appeal to His lost children through His children who have returned. We begin to live as if God accepted us as His hired labor (Luke 15:18-19) instead of interrupting our repentance with lavish love and affection (Luke 15:20-24). We believe the lie we feared before we knew the truth.
Self-doubt and God-doubt both forget who we were before God saved us (people who resisted the truth), what God has done to make salvation possible (bearing the penalty of our sin and offering us Christ’s righteousness by grace), and how simple the message really is (Jesus in my place). We quit sharing the gospel with others regularly because we quit reminding ourselves of the gospel daily. If you struggle with self-doubt or God-doubt, then remind yourself daily of who you were, what God did, and how powerfully simple the gospel is.