Summary: Faith lived out has far reaching effects.
A new survey came out last week which reveals that Christian are losing their influence in the United States.
“The nation has grown less religious in the last two decades … with a 10 percent drop in the number of people who call themselves Christians and increases in all 50 states among those who are not aligned with any faith.
“Between 1990 and 2008, the percentage of Americans who identified themselves as Christian dropped from 86 percent to 76 percent …
“The group that researchers call the "Nones" -- atheists, agnostics, and other secularists -- have almost doubled in that time period, from 8.2 percent to 15 percent.
“And, in a further indication of growing secularism, more than a quarter of Americans -- 27 percent -- said they do not expect to have a religious funeral when they die.”
Christians are losing their credibility. Our faith is losing its appeal. Much of the erosion comes from the younger generation. A study of 19 to 29 years olds conducted by George Barna a couple of years ago pinpointed some of the reasons for our declining influence. As it turns out, the problem is us:
“Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative. Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%)
“David Kinnaman, who is a 12-year-veteran of the Barna team, pointed out some of the unexpected findings of the research. ‘…I was surprised how much their perceptions were rooted in specific stories and personal interactions with Christians and in churches. When they labeled Christians as judgmental this was not merely spiritual defensiveness. It was frequently the result of truly “unChristian” experiences. We discovered that the descriptions that young people offered of Christianity were more thoughtful, nuanced, and experiential than expected.’”
Just in case you were lost in the wording, it turns out that it’s young people’s actual experience with Christians that’s turning them off to our faith. We’re just not terribly winsome anymore.
It’s really sad that in America we’ve got multiple translations of the Bible, piles of study aids, conferences and classes of all kinds. We’ve got Christian music, Christian TV, Christian movies, even Christian toys, but we’re losing the battle for the hearts and minds of our culture. Yet, in the Bible we find people like Joseph, who had almost no spiritual resources, and his faith had far reaching effects.
Let’s turn to his example once more. I want to show you the influence a Christian life should have.
The Far Reaching Effects of a Reliable Witness
Joseph was a man of faith. But he didn’t just believe in his heart. He lived out his faith and it gained him credibility. Let’s think back about the kind of example he set. Joseph was a man of integrity. Although God blessed him with success in every situation Joseph nonetheless worked hard and never used his position or power selfishly. He could have had a quiet little affair with Potiphar’s wife, he could have squashed his brothers in vengeance, but Joseph honored God and loved people. Joseph learned total dependence on God. He may have come closer than any human being to living as Jesus Christ did – in complete reliance upon the heavenly Father’s directions. As a result, God worked miraculously through the man, saving lives along the way. Joseph forgave those who wronged him. He sought to reconcile them to one another and to the Lord. Joseph spoke about his God to as many as would listen. But he didn’t merely talk faith or hold the knowledge of God in his head or keep his devotion locked in his heart. He lived it as a reliable witness and his faith had far reaching effects. So can yours.
If you’ll live out your faith in word and deed you can have similar impact. A reliable witness …
Encourages fellow believers in their faith
After leading his brothers through a process of transformation and reconciliation Joseph sent them back to retrieve their anxious father, Jacob, to bring him down to Egypt. At first the old man disbelieved his 11 sons, but Joseph sent him some convincing proof. Pay careful attention to the name change that occurs here:
But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. And Israel said, “I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.” Genesis 45:27-28
Joseph carefully instructed his brothers on what they should say to their father. He previously coached them to share the whole story of God’s work in his life in Egypt. He sent carts and provisions as proof. The testimony of Joseph’s life revived the spirit of Jacob. Suddenly, the text refers to him as Israel rather than Jacob. This generally occurs in Genesis when Jacob begins acting in faith and exerting godly leadership. Joseph’s reliable witness reached the discouraged heart of his father and encouraged his faith. Israel confidently embarked on the journey to Egypt because of Joseph. He awakened from his passivity to once again become an active participant in God’s will.