Is Religion a “Personal Thing”?
Why do some refuse to discuss it? Is it really too touchy a subject to talk about?
“RELIGION is one subject I refuse to discuss; it is too personal a thing,” say many persons when the subject of religion or the Bible is brought up. Others are even offended by the very idea of someone’s talking religion to them: “My religion is so close to my heart,” they may say, “I refuse to discuss it; and I resent your intrusion.” But since the matter of religion means our very life, should not any right-hearted person be willing to examine what the Holy Bible says about this matter?
Religion as taught by Jesus Christ certainly does involve personal decisions and personal conviction. Declared the apostle of Jesus Christ: “With the heart one exercises faith for righteousness.” (Rom. 10:10) Since the heart is involved, there must be personal conviction. Yet the fact that religion is this personal indicates what? Not that it is something that cannot be discussed, but rather that a religion that one inherits from his family or otherwise professes without any real inner conviction is not true religion. It is not the religion of the Holy Bible. True faith is not a go-with-the-crowd religion. It requires personal decision based on personal study of the Bible and then a personal dedication of one’s life to Almighty God.
Some persons may say: “My religion is in my heart, and God knows my heart,” so why discuss it? Because belief in the heart is only the beginning. Belief that begins in the heart and ends in the heart, going no farther, is not Christianity at all. When Christ’s apostle said that “with the heart one exercises faith for righteousness,” he did not let the matter end there; but he went on to show the further requirement: “But with the mouth one makes public declaration for salvation.” (Rom. 10:10) So gaining salvation in God’s new world requires more than personal belief in the heart. There must be “public declaration for salvation.”
CONFESSION WITH ONE’S MOUTH
What the apostle makes clear, then, is this: That the Word of God must get into the heart of a person. Then the person must mentally grasp the facts and must get a heart belief and personal conviction that God sent his Son into the world, raised him up from the dead to sit at his Father’s right hand and that God’s kingdom by Christ is man’s only hope for deliverance and salvation. Believing this, and having repented of former ways of life, the believer must make a very personal decision: To dedicate his life to God and symbolize that dedication by water baptism, as Jesus himself did. Following these personal matters, the true worshiper must make confession with his mouth and continue doing so until salvation in God’s new world is attained. The vital necessity for confessing or bearing witness before men in order to gain life everlasting is made certain by the Son of God:
“Everyone that confesses union with me before men, the Son of man will also confess union with him before the angels of God. But he that disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.” Further he stated: “For whoever becomes ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man will also be ashamed of him when he arrives in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”—Luke 12:8, 9; Mark 8:38.
What is this confessing? It is not mere lip service, an unintelligent formality, an empty rite. It must be an intelligent confession, that is, it must be made with an understanding of the truth and with a firm belief in it. It must be a speaking forth out of the abundance of the heart, as Jesus said: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matt. 12:34) From a heart that possesses a treasure of truth and firmly believes it, the mouth will speak good things, upbuilding things. So since confession must follow belief, mere believing is not enough. After believing, the believer must use his powers of expression to bear witness to his belief before others. Only then will the King Jesus Christ confess such one for salvation.
There would be no Christianity if Jesus had not talked to others and communicated the truths he received from God. Jesus brought a message of hope and life, but if he had not communicated those divine truths, what a sad thing for us! But we have those truths and the basis for a firm hope. Thus the inspired writer of the book of Hebrews gives good counsel: “Let us hold fast the public declaration of our hope without wavering.” “Through him let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name.” (Heb. 10:23; 13:15) Note that “public declaration” of a Christian’s belief is required by God and that it should be continual, “always.”
This public declaration that God requires is of two kinds. First, it involves public declaration or confession before a Christian’s fellow believers, those who believe the same as he does. The true Christian must be encouraging his fellow believers by his own expressions. So right after discussing the need to hold fast our public declaration, the inspired writer went on: “Let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you behold the day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:24, 25) So the Christian needs to incite his fellow believers to fine works; he needs to speak up, to comment, to encourage others at congregation meetings and at other times of fellowship. All this results in mutual encouragement, because even as others benefit from your comments, so you yourself are built up by their comments. This inciting to love and fine works is to be done regularly: “Keep on exhorting one another each day, as long as it may be called ‘Today.’”—Heb. 3:13.
SPEAKING TO THOSE OF DIFFERENT BELIEF
Speaking to fellow believers is one thing; but what of speaking about religion to those who hold to a different belief than you do? Our personal wishes cannot govern the matter, because Jesus Christ set the example for all true Christians; his example we must follow, as the apostle Peter shows, “closely.” (1 Pet. 2:21) Now let us note closely what Jesus did and said when he entered Nazareth and went into a synagogue. He opened the scroll and read from the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1, 2, and applied it to himself: “So the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed him, and he opened the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘Jehovah’s spirit is upon me, because he anointed me to declare good news to the poor, he sent me forth to preach a release to the captives and a recovery of sight to the blind, to send the crushed ones away with a release, to preach Jehovah’s acceptable year.’” (Luke 4:17-19) Jesus set the example in preaching, in speaking to others; and, in turn, Jesus sent forth others to proclaim the kingdom of God.
Jesus’ followers did not keep silent about what they had heard from the Son of God, but they let everyone with whom they came in contact know about God’s wonderful provisions for life. They viewed Christianity as personal, yes, but also from the standpoint that they were under personal obligation to speak God’s good words to others. When Peter and John were brought before the very court that had schemed to have the Lord Jesus sent to his death, they were accused of publicly speaking about Christ; and they readily admitted that the charge was true. The court then issued a stern warning that they should never do this again: “With that they called them and charged them, nowhere to make any utterance or to teach upon the basis of the name of Jesus. But in reply Peter and John said to them: ‘Whether it is righteous in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves. But as for us, we cannot stop speaking about the things we have seen and heard.’”—Acts 4:18-20.
No, never in the Bible do we find the followers of Jesus saying: ‘My religion is personal; I refuse to discuss it.’ Just the opposite! They felt they were under personal obligation to speak to others, and rightly so; for Jesus taught his followers to be talkers, proclaimers, preachers, ministers, communicators of the good news. And were not the last recorded words of Jesus Christ, before he ascended to heaven, about the need to speak? Indeed they were. Those momentous words, recorded at Acts 1:8, 9, were: “You will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you, and you will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” Why, a Christian cannot stop speaking, cannot cease witnessing about God’s kingdom truths.
MILD TEMPER REQUIRED OF YOU
Some may feel that they should not discuss religion because it may lead to arguments, resulting in more heat than light. But does the Bible show that Christians should remain silent for such a reason? Never! Declared the apostle Paul: “A slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all, qualified to teach, keeping himself restrained under evil, instructing with mildness those not favorably disposed; as perhaps God may give them repentance leading to an accurate knowledge of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:24, 25) The true Christian does not get heated up, angry and disturbed, when speaking Bible truths. There is no need to fight. He “needs to be gentle toward all,” and he needs to speak “with mildness” to those not favorably disposed. Then there will be no heated arguments.
If people ask us about our hope, what are we to do? If we worship the God of the Bible, we will do what the apostle Peter says: “Always [be] ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you, but doing so together with a mild temper and deep respect.” (1 Pet. 3:15) So speak about your hope, doing so “with a mild temper.”
There is another vital reason why no Christian can stop speaking: The need to warn others of the impending destruction of this system of things at God’s universal war of Armageddon. Lives are at stake! Just as Noah felt the urgency to speak up before the great flood, so true worshipers of God today feel the urgency of the situation. They know Jesus foretold for our days that “this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” Before the end comes at Armageddon, the good news of God’s established kingdom must be declared to all the nations. The warning witness must be given. If one knows about God’s purpose to destroy this world and yet does not warn others, then the principle established at Ezekiel 3:17, 18, shows that God will hold that person responsible—responsible because he kept silent when he should have used his powers of expression to warn others. Because the apostle Paul did not hold back from speaking God’s truths to others but even taught “from house to house,” he could say: “I am clean from the blood of all men, for I have not held back from telling you all the counsel of God.” May we be clean from “the blood of all men” by speaking of the Kingdom hope and what the kingdom will soon do to this wicked world.—Matt. 24:14; Acts 20:20, 26, 27.
WHAT TO DO
What if one finds himself having the tendency to decline speaking about the Bible? Take immediate steps to remedy the situation. For one thing, take steps to take in more knowledge of God’s Word, because many persons refuse to discuss their hope because they lack knowledge. If one’s religion is too intimate to be discussed, then that religion is not based on the Bible but on feeling, sentiment, emotion. The true religion of the Bible is reasonable, factual and communicable; but the Christian must take in knowledge so that he can speak to others of his hope.
How, then, should you react when someone of another faith approaches you to talk about religion? If you worship the God of the Bible, you will calmly listen, and then, at the appropriate time, take the opportunity to express your hope. Ask questions, when other people speak to you, as to why they believe a certain thing. Let them show you from the Bible what their hope is. “With a mild temper” show other persons your Kingdom hope.
If you should talk to someone about your hope and they say: “I don’t discuss religion because it is too personal,” you might say: “Well, religion certainly does involve personal conviction; but since I have no objection to discussing my belief—in fact, it is part of my belief to discuss it—I would like to tell you what has brought me hope and happiness.”
True Christians simply “cannot stop speaking about the things” concerning God and his kingdom. If a person refuses to discuss religion, he is not worshiping the God of the Bible, and he is going in a way directly opposite from what the Scriptures teach. The heart is involved, yes, “but with the mouth one makes public declaration for salvation.”—Rom. 10:10.