by Tuvya Zaretsky
If Christianity is true, why are there so many Christians whose lives look no different than non-believers?
This question is a critical one as we consider evangelism today. To start, we can gain a better understanding about Christian character in the answer to the hypothesis “If Christianity is true…,” then, what distinctive in what Christians believe should make a difference in how we live? And what can we do if we aren’t living that uniquely distinctive life?
I was raised in the tradition of American Judaism and wasn’t looking for a better religion when I came to faith in Jesus. I wanted a relationship with God. I had a comfortable, familiar faith. It was traditionally ours. It had the Bible, meaningful symbols, and a rhythm of life-cycle rituals. One key element was missing.
I wanted God! I read about Him in our Bible. We talked about Him in the history of our people. He was at the center of our penetrating moral questions like, “Where was God when the six million of our people were dying?” By the time I was 13, I had heard enough ‘about’ God. I wanted to know Him, like Abraham, David, and Isaiah did.
And I told Him so.
I left the door to my mind ajar in case God wanted to ‘drop by’ sometime to make an introduction.
Ten years later, He introduced Himself to me in the person of Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew). No, I didn’t have a theophany, an encounter with the deity in human form. He created my mind, senses, and ability to learn and understand. So, He used all of those to reach me working through the Bible, people, circumstances, and what I already knew.
Why did I believe in Jesus? Well, it wasn’t to make me popular! That didn’t happen. I wasn’t surprised when my family, friends, and synagogue community reacted with dismay. I didn’t choose to believe in Jesus because I wanted to join some other community or a religious group.
The only reason I believed in Jesus was because He is true. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” That answered the longing for a relationship with God. Jesus is true, and He is the distinctive in what Christians believe.
So, how should that make a difference in how Christians live? No doubt, other people believe their religious beliefs are true. But faith in Jesus goes beyond just conviction. It is backed up with life-changing passion for God’s salvation plan. And that’s not innately within us. It’s a gift.
I just completed a flight to Israel sitting next to an orthodox Jewish man, who I’ll call J. We agreed that the Lord commands us to love Him with all our heart, mind, and strength, and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. I questioned our ability to do that in our own strength.
Again, we agreed that our self-centered nature isn’t wired to do that. J said he could only do his best through good choices and best efforts. I explained that I trust in the Lord to make the difference in me. Jesus promised spiritual empowerment in God’s gift of His Spirit breathed for all who believe. It is the Spirit’s powerful work in our lives that should make the difference in Christians.
However, there are Christians who have the Holy Spirit, yet their lives look no different than non-believers. I think that is because they believe like my new orthodox Jewish friend that being spiritual and godly is accomplished by making their best efforts to make good choices.
However, J agreed with my description from the Bible that our human nature is broken and corrupted by selfishness. Modern Judaism describes sin as expressed in evil inclinations. “But,” I said, “if we could overcome selfishness and sin by our own efforts, we must rely on our self-righteousness and not God’s.” And that is what I think many Spirit endowed Christians do.
When Christians rely on the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to behave in ways that are different from our natural, broken, self-centered, evil inclinations. You know the list of observable characteristics typical of what the Spirit does in His people: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).
The Jewish festival of Shavuot, also known as Pentecost, will be observed on May 30. It’s a perfect time to read Acts 2. Reflect on the historic day when the Lord poured out the gift of His Spirit to empower His followers. We can all pray, opening our lives, for the Lord’s ministry through us to everyone we know and meet. Welcome His passion for the lost.
Then, please tell me and others where you saw evidence that Christianity is true through the fruit and power of His Spirit. Thanks to God’s Spirit, believers can be very different from non-believers and even from our old broken selves. Happy Shavuot!
Tuvya Zaretsky is a Lausanne catalyst for Jewish evangelism, serves the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE), and is a Jewish-Gentile Couples ministry specialist with Jews for Jesus. He posts resources at www.JewishGentileCouples.com. He and his wife, Ellen, are the parents of four incredibly amazing Millennials.