In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus tells his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
As Mennonites, we haven't been known for our willingness to talk about our faith, much less share it with those who don't know God. We sometimes prefer to follow the old saying, "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." Although it is commonly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, there is no record of him having said it and it is unlikely that he would have felt that way. A man who would go from village to village and preach up to five times a days was not someone who was afraid to use too many words. This saying is also inconsistent with Jesus' mandate that we share our faith.
While it is important that our actions are consistent with our words, the words we speak also matter. Why don't we talk about our faith more? I think the main reason we can't talk about how Jesus changed our lives is because we're not really sure how Jesus changed our lives. We give intellectual assent to a belief system, but we credit our culture and upbringing for our good behavior. At the end of the day, we think we excel on our own at sin management. It's hard to tell people how to find hope and transformation when we think our own transformation is the result of years of hard work and discipline. In the end, we're not sure what the good news really is, so we focus on a personal relationship with Jesus and the hope of heaven after we die. And others of us react to the personalized salvation message and focus on the structural justice issues that need to be changed in society. Neither approach deals with the inner spiritual life change that results in transformation, growth, and radical discipleship. This discipleship is a unity with Christ that reveals the fruit of the Spirit within us and an active, engaging love with the brokenness of the world.
Our culture and background and theology will not save us. Nor is it the Gospel to others. Our only hope is a life of discipleship with the living, risen Christ who changes us from the inside out. If we truly experience that, we will not be left wanting for either words or actions. Preach the Gospel at all times. It's necessary, with both words and actions.
-John M Troyer