So great was his humility and that of his followers, that just as the children of this world seek honor and authority, so they on the contrary vied with one another in the practice of humility…Modesty and moderation, meekness and mildness adorned them all in equal measure. The evils of sloth and dissension were banished. Pride and haughtiness were expiated by severe punishments. Scorn and envy were driven out by faithful diligence. So great was the might of their patience, love, and mildness that no one could doubt that the God of mercy dwelt among them.
- Jonas, Life of St. Columban (7thcentury)
…let us take pains to be freed from our vices by God’s help, that thereafter we can be adorned with virtues.
- Columbanus, Sermon II
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
- Acts 1.8
The overarching call on every believer’s life is to seek the Kingdom and glory of God (1 Thess. 2.12; Matt. 6.33; 1 Cor. 10.31). In the light of that calling, two other callings devolve upon everyone who names the Name of Jesus: To be witnesses for Christ and to make disciples (Acts 1.8; Matt. 28.18-20). These two mandates represent guardrails along the road that leads to the Kingdom and glory of God. In the journey marked out by these callings, each of us is further called to serve the Lord, regardless of our vocation in life, within our Personal Mission Field.
Columbanus taught that we must concentrate on being witnesses to Christ at the same time we, through our spoken witness, take up our calling to make disciples. Jesus emphasized the being aspect of our witness. First and foremost, Christians are to be a peculiar kind of people, people who seek to be “freed from our vices by God’s help” so “we can be adorned with virtues.” Our eye on the Kingdom and glory of God, and our walk and work marked out by witness and disciple-making, we pursue our journey each day by growing in Christ so that He flows through us to fill all things (2 Pet. 3.18; Eph. 4.7-10).
During the 1960s and 1970s a flurry of witnessing endeavors arose and spread rapidly throughout the evangelical world. The approach was to teach believers a simple but persuasive presentation of the Gospel, then to contrive ways of connecting with unbelievers, to share that presentation. Multitudes of people in this country and elsewhere heard a clear, simple, and compelling presentation of the Good News, whether in the form of the Four Spiritual Laws, the Evangelism Explosion presentation, the Bridge illustration, the Steps to Faith in God, or many others. And many – including yours truly – believed the Good News as presented in one or another of those formats.
This period of widespread evangelistic outreach in America and elsewhere, might have blossomed into a true revival if we had followed the teaching of Jesus and the example of Columbanus in working as hard to be witnesses as we did to do witnessing with our neighbors.
Alas, we did not. At a time when most people had been raised in a church, or had at least some experience with Christianity, but then drifted away, many of them were hankering for a return to faith, and were receptive to a clear Gospel message, lovingly presented. We must give thanks and praise to God for these efforts, and pray that He will renew them in our day.
But we must also give more earnest attention to becoming the kind of people whose lives bear as powerful a witness as our words to the resurrection of Jesus. The world in our day is further estranged from God than in that earlier period of evangelistic fervor. It requires a more convincing witness than a simple Gospel outline, a witness that must begin in our lives and Christian communities. We need not only do the work of witnessing, as the Lord gives us opportunity each day, but be the kind of witnesses to Christ who evidence an unquenchable hope and a resolute commitment to bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God (1 Pet. 3.15; 2 Cor. 7.1).
In the ‘60s and ‘70s, evangelism was the benchmark indicating a lively faith in Jesus. If you shared the Gospel with others, you were a sincere and growing believer. Little emphasis was given to nurturing the kind of faith and life marked by repentance from sin and increase in holiness. Consequently, in the face of a less receptive generation of unbelievers, Christians have not been able to sustain their spoken witness, and have retreated into spiritual huddles or safe religious enclaves where nothing is required of them but to participate in worship, find a place to connect within the church, and just have fun being a Christian.
Meanwhile, the lost world around us grows darker, sadder, and more desperate for something meaningful, loving, and true. Let us resume our journeys, working our Personal Mission Fields as those who are growing in Jesus Christ, beingwitnesses and doing the work of witnessing, and making disciples in all the relationships, roles, and responsibilities of our lives.
And let us follow the example of Columbanus and his team, to challenge and aid one another in setting aside the ways of the world, so that we might put on Jesus and be transformed increasingly into His glorious and virtuous image. Let us work hard to be witnesses, so that as we do the work of witnessing, we may bring the light of Christ and His Kingdom into a world of deepening darkness and gloom.
Psalm 51.7-13 (Passion Chorale: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded)
In Jesus’ blood and mercy, Lord, cleanse my evil heart!
Let me washed, cleansed, renewed be and pure in whole and part.
Bring joy again and gladness; look not upon my sin.
Deliver me from sadness; renew me yet again!
Create in me a clean heart, renew me from within!
Take not Your Spirit from me because of all my sin.
Salvation’s joy restore, Lord, and keep me in Your hand;
Thus shall I tell Your strong Word to sinners in the land.
Be at work in me today and every day, O Lord, so that I can…
The Disciplined Life
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Jonas, p. 6