How can I witness to my friends who say they're Christians but their actions say otherwise?
HORTON: It is hard to know what to say exactly. That is a very large and difficult problem. I would say the best way to approach it for someone who isn’t privy to the specifics is to press them on whether they belong to a local church. Because if they are a professing member of a local church, then they’re accountable to that body.
You obviously can’t discipline them as a fellow student. You can encourage and rebuke and so forth, but it’s given especially into the hands of the elders to do that in an official way. So I think the first question I would have is, “If you claim to be a Christian, are you a member in good standing of a church?”
THOMAS: The problem of nominal Christianity isn’t exclusive to a college setting. There ought to be something about being a Christian that should be attractive and infectious. Perhaps one of the best ways to witness to nominal Christians—those who may say they’re Christians but their actions don’t match up to their words—is to demonstrate just how beautiful and infectious a thing Christianity is.
It’s a broad question. There are a whole variety of scenarios in which one can imagine a conversation with a nominal Christian taking place. But the measure of freedom and joy with which you can speak about knowing Christ and having a relationship with your Heavenly Father through the atoning sacrifice of Christ—that has to have some trajectory by which you witness to the emptiness of what nominal Christianity effectively is.
GODFREY: I heard the question as if it were being asked of fellow students that the questioner knew well. Now, maybe I’m reading too much into it. I think what Derek said is certainly a place to start. But I would think that with a fellow student you know well who is a friend and who professes to be some kind of a Christian, there would be a point to say, “You know, Christians just don’t do that.” And then invite a follow-up conversation in light of that.
Obviously, all of us as Christians do things that we know we ought not to have done, and maybe that’s a point to make as well. But I do think that with someone with whom one already has some credibility as a practicing Christian it could be appropriate to press the question, “Is this really a behavior or an attitude that a Christian ought to have? Maybe we can look in the Bible together about that.” And follow up that way.
Lightly edited for readability, this is a transcript of W. Robert Godfrey’s, Michael Horton’s, and Derek Thomas’s answer given at our 2017 National Conference. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.