Christianity is marked by the boldness of thousands throughout history. The Apostle Peter preached before men of every nation on the day of Pentecost, bringing three thousand men to Christ and sowing the seeds of the gospel all across the Middle East. Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses onto the door of the largest church in Wittenberg, ushering in the Protestant Reformation. Jim Elliot was killed seeking to bring the gospel to the unreached Huaorani people in South America, inspiring a new generation of missionaries to further advance the gospel. These giants of the faith reflect the steadfastness of Christ regardless of the trials they faced. But for many, the thought of preaching before thousands, reforming institutions, or being martyred in a jungle seems entirely unfeasible. How can we as Christian students strive for the boldness exemplified by these men? A mark of a bold life is having a habit of making decisions that consistently place oneself at risk. Yet a pattern of thoughtless and careless actions that place oneself at risk is more commonly known as stupidity. What then defines Christian boldness? I submit that Christians ought to look to the person of Jesus Christ as the ultimate standard of what it means to be bold.
Risking his standing with the religious establishment, Christ preached radical teachings that confounded the Pharisees. Gambling his image with society, he frequently crossed cultural and social taboos to eat with the lowest of the low, teaching his followers to do the same. By investing in twelve uneducated Galileans who were prone to failure, Jesus, fully human, risked his own expectations and patience. And ultimately with Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, he risked and gave his life for us sinners. From the life of Jesus Christ, we see what true boldness looks like—a willingness and readiness to risk all aspects of our lives for the sake of the Gospel, fully confident that the sovereign God reigns over our actions.
There is a great difference between a professor teaching military tactics and the field commander leading his men against the enemy. The boldness of Jesus is manifest in his entire life, not merely his words. Jesus lived with those to whom he ministered. He shared his entire life with them, eating with sinners and tax collectors (Matt. 9:10) and sitting down with adulterers (John 4). Investment and risk go hand-in-hand—one’s investments reflect the risks that one is willing to take. Jesus certainly possessed the wisdom and power to be a famous and popular teacher. Yet Jesus’ foremost investment is not in his popularity or image. Jesus chooses to live a humble, impoverished life among the sinners that he sought to save. To teach with great wisdom or to give grand displays of power would bring no risk to Jesus. Instead, he lives boldly by patiently investing his life in relationships, risking disappointment, betrayal, and sorrow. His model of ministry actively engaged in risk because he sought to invest in broken and sinful people. Through Christ, we see that the God of the universe is bold enough to take on flesh, exposing himself to all the risks brought forth with life surrounded by sin.
The greatest risk and the greatest evidence of boldness in Christ’s ministry is his willingness to form meaningful relationships. A televangelist may boldly preach the gospel to millions, yet form relationships with none. The man at a busy subway station may boldly distribute tracts to hundreds of travelers, yet a printed tract does very little in terms of relationship. Relationships simply cost more. They take time and energy and are unpredictable. Rather than explain to people who he is, Jesus connected and invested in people in order to show them who he is.
Before ascending to heaven, Jesus does not command us to preach from afar, but rather He commands us to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19a). The purpose of evangelism is not merely to make converts, but disciples. The word matheteuo is a command to make learners, people who will be trained by other Christians. Jesus devoted time to teaching the Twelve, explaining his parables and challenging their faith (Luke 8:9, Matt. 14:29). The Apostle Paul invested so much in Timothy that Timothy became like a son to him (Phil. 2:22). In the Great Commission, we are commanded to invest in relationships for the purpose of maintaining lifelong growth in Christ, and such an investment carries heavy risks. Actively seeking to reflect Christ and advance the Gospel in our relationships in the face of rejection or disappointment demonstrates a constant and internalized boldness.
Given the centrality of building relationships, where do we see Christians act boldly on campus? Perhaps a student goes out on a limb and invites a friend to church, at risk of introducing an awkward dynamic to a friendship. Some may take small stands for the faith in conversations with classmates or professors. The particularly bold may loudly preach the gospel open-air during campus outreach events. Actions such as these mean very little in isolation. What would be the point of engaging in a “bold Christian event” once a year, but then avoid risks the rest of the year? Jesus knows the state of our hearts, and it is that internalized boldness that matters. At the same time, it is better to engage in a modest act of boldness than to do nothing at all. The simplest solution for feeling reluctant to be more vocal about Jesus amongst friends, for example, is to go out on a limb and take a small stand for the faith. There is no easy way around doing something—one simply must do. As these small stands become habitual, this will naturally lead to the development of an internalized attitude of boldness.
A natural consequence of a bold life is that people will notice. As Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, “a report about him went out through all the surrounding country” (Luke 4:14). A woman who fought her way through a crowd because she believed that just by touching Jesus’ robe, she would be healed (Luke 8:46). Five thousand men followed Jesus as He traveled around the Sea of Galilee because they recognized Jesus as a healer (Mark 6:32). Even a centurion knew of Jesus’ reputation for healing, asking Jesus, “Say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Matt. 8:7). Clearly, Jesus became well known during his ministry as a great healer and a teacher with authority. This image of boldness naturally follows His actions.
In considering what it means to be bold, from the condition of our hearts to the decisions we make, we cannot underestimate importance of faith—the confidence that God reigns over our actions. We can be bold because we know that the One who calls us to be bold now sits on a throne in Heaven. We know that our hope is in Christ and that He is and will be victorious. Because of the redemptive work of Christ, we have nothing to fear, freeing us to be bold. We also cannot emphasize the importance of being filled with the Spirit. The love of Christ enables us to sustain even the most difficult relationships. The wisdom that comes from the Spirit enables us to act appropriately. The Spirit also supplies us with the courage to even act at all. We cannot be bold without the sustaining love of Christ, perfectly expressed when He died for us. I just pray that we would be bold enough to live for Him.
As the famous verse goes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13, NKJV)
Tony Shen ‘12, a Neurobiology concentrator living in Quincy House, is Special Projects Coordinator for The Ichthus.