If you have spent any time doing evangelism in the public square you have undoubtedly run into professing Christians. They are almost everywhere. Furthermore, if the brunt of your evangelistic endeavors falls into the scope of relational evangelism, they are there too.
This is the hidden reef of Gospel Advancement in Western Culture today. While we are moving further away from Judaeo-Christian values, we are still basically Christianized. As you go about the work of obeying the Great Commission, you will be dealing with people who are calloused.
Therefore, it is imperative that we have the proper perspective when meeting professing Christians. Furthermore, we need to know how to engage with people who “know” the Gospel and understand certain elements of it.
My aim in this article? To challenge, encourage and exhort, all Christians, to be ready to preach the Gospel to professing Christians.
Professing Christian Or Confessing Christian
I know I know. This next part will make me appear pedantic. However, this is something that I have been saying for years. Yet, I have a personally compelling reason to draw a clear line of distinction between the two.
I spent from the age of 5 to 33 as a professing Christian. Obviously, in my younger years that profession looked much different than it did when I was 22, 30 or 33. Yet, the older I got the more I clung to my profession. Moreover, it did not matter to me what my sin life was like, I still professed to be Christian.
Some of this was due in part to being raised in a culturally Christian region. At the time I was in school nearly everyone was “Christian”. Well, professing Christians at least. It was the real deal that was hard to find.
I would not have been able to put it into words, but I met some genuine Christians in school. They invited me to a mid-week program at their church, and they were on fire. It made me uncomfortable and I did not want to go back. I was the kid that used art time during VBS to make a picture of a Tie Fighter with glass etching. That should tell you something.
What I am saying is that there are differences between those that give lip service to being disciples and those that are. In Romans 10 Paul speaks of confessing your faith in Christ. Furthermore, he uses a very particular word in the Greek. He uses the word homolegeo. It means to say the same thing. In that context it denotes a person who has completely identified with Christ. Sold out. Professing Christians give verbal ascent, they do not identify with Christ fundamentally.
Taking Professing Christians At Face Value
I said previously, when actively engaged in Gospel Advancement in the West, you will encounter professing Christians. The ministry YouTube channel is replete with examples of these odd creatures. Some of them are affable and others are easy going. Some use their denominational affiliation to justify the most egregious of behaviors. Moreover, they wear their self-righteousness like a badge of honor.
I am often guilty of taking the professing Christians at face value. I am not quite certain what causes this in me. It seems to catch me off-guard especially when I am preaching in the open air. Sometimes, they walk by and give me a thumbs up, maybe that is what throws me off. Nonetheless, I tend to just thank them and keep on preaching.
I do find that when given the opportunity to engage in conversation with professing Christians it tends have one of two outcomes. The first, and most predominant outcomes is abject anger and vitriol. The one time I experienced actual physical persecution was from a professing Christian. The second of the two is affable agreement with the ideas of the Gospel but no real embrace of it as true. Moreover, these folks tend to be the most likely to tell me that I am doing it wrong.
I will state unequivocally, that any person who is disinterested in the preaching of the Gospel, or shows hostility to it, is not a Christian. I am not talking about mere disagreement over methodology. This is deeper than that. Professing Christians tend to display their hearts in response to Gospel Advancement.
Furthermore, confessing Christians will rejoice when the true Gospel is going out into the world. Even when there is disagreement over methodology there should be rejoicing in the preaching. Paul expressed joy in even the selfish motivations of some.
How To Engage The Professing Christian
So, what happens when the inevitable comes along? What do you do when you hand a tract to someone and they tell you that they love Jesus? How do you press in with the Gospel on the friend that professes to be Christian, but you can tell isn’t?
These are maybe the most significantly difficult waters to navigate. They are both full of rocky outcroppings and treacherously deep water. That deep water can suck you down into the depths of self-righteous judgement if you are not incredibly guarded in your approach.
Therefore, it becomes imperative that as we encounter the professing Christian we keep the Gospel in sight. Moreover, as we rest in the sovereign will of God we can aim for that person’s conversion from professing Christian to confessing Christian.
When faced with this individual my conviction is that the way to address them is to ask one simple question. “What is the Gospel, what must I do to be saved?” Their response to this question will tell you all you need to know.
If you hear any answer besides the pure unadulterated Gospel you know how to proceed. What I like to do in many cases, depending on the level of resistance, is ask them if they have time to hear my way of presenting the Gospel. This often disarms the skeptical professing Christian. Moreover, it keeps you from jumping down their throat. Sadly, this is often the response of the frustrated evangelists.
Too often we feel that the most pressing issue is correcting faulty theology. Therefore, we immediately launch into theology 101. There is a time and a place for that conversation, however it shouldn’t replace preaching the Gospel in this context.
A Quick Word On The Confessing Christians
There will be occasions where you will meet genuine believers while Advancing the Gospel into the world. This will happen in the context of both street level evangelism and in the course of relational evangelism. Sometimes I get irritated by what I perceived as distractions from my Gospel work. That’s my sinful pride rearing its ugly head.
I can only imagine that I alienated not a few true believers. These days I will stop preaching (if I am open air preaching that is) and engage with these folks. In a recent encounter I was approached by Ezrah and Chelsea while I preached. I am glad for that encounter and I encourage you to watch the video of our conversation and be encouraged as well. Chelsea and Ezrah will never know how much of a blessing they were to me that day. Furthermore, I believe that I have made new friends and gained a brother and sister in Christ.
As with any evangelistic endeavor or undertaking, our end goal must be the glory of God. That is the goal of any undertaking involving Gospel Advancement. Moreover, the end goal of evangelism isn’t strictly the salvation of all who hear, and I address that topic in a previous article.
However, having said that, we must be about our Father’s business just as our Savior was. When meeting the professing Christians around you, be ready to press on them. Don’t just assume their righteousness because they profess Christ or claim to believe. None other than James reminds us that even the devils believe in Christ yet tremble at His name.
If we truly love our neighbors, we will not settle for allowing them to hear “Get away from me I never knew you…”
Soli Deo Gloria!