Nobody asked, but if they did, my answer would be a bolder, more forthright witness.” That is the answer, the solution to the problem, the necessary commitment. And the question? It isn’t one question, but many, such as: How can we win the world for Christ? How can we make an impact on the lives of our children and young people? How can we show that we are truly serious about our faith? There are hundreds of other questions like that, all beginning with the word “how,” but there is only one answer: “a bolder, more forthright witness.”
All of society, even many of our churches, seem to want to condition our behavior so that we will not get excited about “religion.” We are taught that we ought to be “cool,” yet we don’t like it when our mates and our friends are cool toward us. And God doesn’t like it when we are cool toward him. That kind of “cool” happens when we are intellectually unconcerned, emotionally uninvolved, and selfishly unwilling to act. Society disapproves of religious fervor, but the most beneficial human achievements have been accomplished by passionately dedicated people who pressed forward boldly to reach their goals.
Boldness is essential to accomplishment. The question is, “How can we be properly bold?” How can we attain those right things we should want? The answer lies in knowing how God gets what he wants. I don’t mean things like galaxies, planets, forests, trees and furry animals. Those are easy for him. He speaks a word and they come into being. I mean that which is difficult to acquire, yet matters the most to God—our love. He wants us to love him, but it is not easy, even for him, to get the love of self-centered, sinful people. When he wanted our love, God did not merely command or demand it, he did something about it.
Through Calvary, God startled us into an awareness of our unloving condition and showed us that through accepting and responding to his love, we could truly love him and one another. Through Calvary—by how much he endured—God demonstrated how very much he loved us.
Those of us who have encountered that passionate Calvary love and wholeheartedly desire to serve him must do likewise. We must take up the cross and be crucified with Christ. Success in serving God demands a willingness to endure rejection, ignominy, humiliation and death to self. A “crucified” person can afford to be bold. Some of the greatest truths have come from the lips of those who awaited the hangman’s noose or stood lashed to a burning stake. One’s own death is a great incentive to speak directly and truthfully, even concisely. Those soon to be dead have no trouble telling the truth with proper zeal. Boldness springs not only from being right, but from having nothing to lose by stating what is right. The consciousness of eternity’s value structure rather than our earthly value structure gives us the courage to act boldly.
That doesn’t mean that you should wait until you are on your deathbed to tell your neighbor that Christ is the only way to be saved. To those who would truly serve God I give this warning against moral confusion: Christian cowardice often disguises itself behind a mask of “reasonable tact.” We deceive ourselves by thinking that we will wait to tell our friends or neighbors about God until we build the kind of relationship that will make them more ready to listen. God is looking for prophets, and we are only willing to be public relations people.
We don’t want others to think us strange or weird, yet those who belong to God have always been burdened with the responsibility of being a peculiar people. Rightness is always strange and unconventional in a world where billions are engaged in a headlong attempt to escape God and find temporal satisfaction, each in their own way. Godly conduct is not the standard characteristic of those who currently inhabit this planet.
There is an axiom connected with athletics that is somewhat trite, but true: “Without the pain, there is no gain.” God’s people seem to want as much achievement for as cheap a price as possible, but Calvary was not cheap. That was the price God paid, and that is the price that each of us must pay. In order to achieve a godly life, we must be willing to set aside all that matters to us—comfort, friends, family and reputation—in order to let God matter more. I’m not talking about foolhardiness or vainglory. We should be calculatedly bold. In their foolhardiness, some behave on the presumption that boldness in itself will prevail. True boldness is not that kind of bluster, but a holy boldness. Still it takes cognizance of opposition and obstacles. Those who possess holy boldness know that they can be injured by moving ahead, yet they choose to advance. Unholy boldness boasts of itself, like Goliath facing David. It blusters with self-righteousness, demanding self-satisfaction. It bristles with unholy anger and breaches the peace.
Holy boldness, on the other hand, entails more than bravery to act and speak. When David faced Goliath, he was more impressed that God was his advocate than he was that Goliath was his opponent. David’s boldness was confidence in God and reliance on God’s strength and wisdom. Holy boldness believes in the rightness of its cause, rather than in self-righteousness. The holy-emboldened individual never acts in presumption, but in wisdom and spirit-led assurance. Holy boldness is attended by wisdom. It is willing to suffer loss and to risk pain, but it does not allow its possessor to dwell morbidly on thoughts of pain, loss or death. It sees beyond the present life, beyond the curtain of tears. It sees into eternity, where there is victory, triumph and unending joy in the presence of our loving God.
The holy emboldened do not fear the disapproval of others. They only fear the Lord and want his approval. They behave rightly because their souls are in tune with God.
Holy boldness counts the cost of not acting as well as the consequences of a given action. It envisions what is now lost and what will be lost forever by inaction. It resolutely determines not to let that loss occur.
The writings of King Solomon contain contrasting truths. On one hand, in Ecclesiastes 9:4 he says, “A living dog is better than a dead lion.” But in Proverbs 28:1 he writes, “The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” My understanding is that Ecclesiastes speaks the wisdom of this life only, while Proverbs speaks for all of life in light of eternity’s values.
The wicked behave in a cowardly manner to preserve as much of this life as they can, because in their consciences they know that they deserve adversity. In contrast, the righteous move ahead in confidence because of a clear conscience.
The time has come when all Christians must choose to “fit into society” or serve God boldly. We must choose to act on what we know to be right, or by our inaction allow our consciences to be seared. We must boldly wield God’s message. If we do not, we must retreat like beaten dogs, tails between our hind legs, or go belly up with a whine of defeat and place ourselves at the mercy of the pack.
For God, we must become lions, not dogs. We must go on the offensive and begin battering against the gates of hell, or surely the forces of hell and darkness will come knocking at our doors.
We can advance boldly or retreat in cowardly fashion, but we cannot maintain the status quo!