A clip from US talk show The Late Show has been doing the rounds on social media recently. In the clip, host Stephen Colbert responds thoughtfully and winsomely to a question from pop star Dua Lipa about his faith (Colbert is a practicing catholic).
The reaction has been fascinating. Some Christians have praised the response for its authenticity, gentle witness, and as a great example of how to share faith with someone. Others have lamented a lack of ‘gospel’ content and dismissed the response from Colbert as being too vague about Jesus. There are likely to be a number of reasons for such divergent responses, but part of the problem is that we use the terms ‘sharing your faith’ and ‘sharing the gospel’ interchangeably and yet, they are distinctly different – yet complimentary – activities.
Let’s take a look at what makes these two types of ‘sharing’ different and why the distinction is more than just a game of semantics.
Sharing Your Faith is a personal reflection about your own understanding and experience of faith in Jesus. When you share your faith you might explain why trust in Jesus makes sense to you, what Jesus has done in your life and the difference it makes day by day (what we commonly call testimony), the hope you have in light of the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus and, the relating of your understanding and experience of faith to the experiences of those you talk to, or in response to the questions they raise. Sharing your faith, at its best, is an invitation for someone to hear, see and investigate what faith in Jesus Christ looks like in your life (and potentially what that could mean for them).
Sharing The Gospel, on the other hand, means explaining the story of the good news about Jesus Christ, the tenets of the truth about who God is, what he has done in the world and what that means for the world. It is the story of creator and creation, of relationship and rebellion; of the life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension and return of Jesus. It is an invitation to repentance – to turn from our rebellion back into relationship with God by trusting exclusively in Jesus as Lord and living accordingly in the power of his Holy Spirit.
Do you see the difference between these two things?
It is possible to share your faith without sharing the gospel. This is what we see in the Stephen Colbert clip, an expression of a personal faith journey without any significant gospel content. Whilst people may bemoan the lack of gospel, it is important to note that sharing faith can often be a positive step in a person’s journey towards faith in Jesus. It is also important to note that faith-sharing can be so vague that it actually misleads people as to the source and truth of our hope.
Sharing your faith in and of itself is not technically evangelism (to announce the good news) as it doesn’t proclaim the good news itself, only the effects of the good news in a person’s life, which is still an important and powerful thing to express. As an early step towards hearing and understanding the good news more clearly, this ‘pre-evangelism’ can be profoundly important in a person’s journey (and studies have shown us that people are overwhelmingly more likely to come to personal faith in Christ when they know a Christian personally, and this is surely not because their Christian friend only ever talks to them about the plain tenets of the gospel!).
Conversely, you can share the gospel without sharing your faith. The tenets of the good news are, and will always be, true, irrespective of your personal experiences of faith. The power of the gospel is not found in the credibility of a person’s faith journey, but in its essential and unchanging truth – the truth that will set people free (John 8:32). However, the gospel is often most persuasive when its effects are made known in the life of the one proclaiming it as a message of transformation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
What is ideal… is for people to have connection points from the unchanging truth of the gospel to their life today, helping to bring clarity from the word via the witness to the world. For this reason we would be wise and loving to share our faith.
But what is essential… is that people know the way of salvation: peace with God, true life today and forevermore through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. For this reason we must share the gospel.
If you see someone like Stephen Colbert sharing their faith, whatever platform and influence they may have large or small, be encouraged. Faith-sharing is a great stepping stone, so don’t panic if it doesn’t seem to have enough gospel content. Give thanks for what could be an important moment in a person’s life of being exposed to faith so that when the gospel is eventually proclaimed it may be more authentically understood in the life of the hearer.
Pray that the opportunity for the gospel to be shared will be taken at the right time with boldness and clarity. Wherever you can, encourage those who have shared their faith as to the role it plays, whilst also affirming the need to keep our eyes open for the gospel opportunities that come our way and asking God to give us the boldness we need to take them.
We should be honest with ourselves. If we are settling for faith-sharing to tick a ‘witness’ box in our Christian life but never actually express the gospel to anyone, we are not actually being witnesses of the gospel in the truest sense, and we are likely neglecting to offer what people need the most – not our faith, but their own in Jesus Christ through the power of the gospel of which we are not ashamed (Romans 1:16).
Finally, it is worth saying that the Holy Spirit is far more dynamic than the process outlined here. We trust him to lead us in all of the sharing that we do and to give us wisdom to respond in the right way in any given opportunity. It is the truth of the gospel that sets people free by the Spirit’s power and so we resolve to share the good news clearly from lives that give testimony to the power and hope of the gospel by its effect in our ongoing story.
Whole life witness – the sharing of faith and gospel in word and deed.
- What opportunities do you have to share your faith each day?
- Why is it important to understand the difference between sharing your faith and sharing the gospel?
- Why do some people find it easier to share their faith than the gospel, and vice-versa?