If we cannot convict unbelievers into coming to Jesus (since conviction is the job of the Holy Spirit alone), we must turn our efforts to convincing them of the greatness of our Friend and Savior. We must no longer waste our energies on condemning the sin in sinners' lives, but on sharing with them the love, grace, and goodness of Jesus, who we love so dearly.
The trouble is that for most of us, our love of Jesus is unconvincing. Primarily because it doesn't seem either deep or real.
Ask most Christians what they love about Jesus, and they will tell you that they love His grace. They love that He saved them from the depths of Hell by becoming an atoning sacrifice for them on the Cross. They will tell you that what they most love about Jesus is that He promises them Heaven. Which is all well and good, I suppose, but what about earth?
This is what the disciples knew so well that we seem to have completely lost - they knew that Jesus came not just for final redemption, but for redeeming friendship. Ask the disciples what they love about Jesus, and you get a far different answer from the one we usually give.
Ask the disciples, and they will tell you that they love the way Jesus laughed. They love the way that His eyes danced with joy when the Holy Spirit overtook Him. Ask the disciples, and they will tell you that they love the way that Jesus could speak with tender grace and biting truth all in the same tongue. Ask the disciples, and they will tell you that Jesus cooked a really mean fish dish.
Ask the disciples, and they will tell you about Jesus's power, the way all He had to do was speak a word and the demons fled. The way that He spoke to deaf ears and they heard. The way that He gestured to blind eyes and they saw. Ask the disciples, and they will tell you about His faithfulness. Not just the way that He always did what He said He would do, but about how He made it a point to study the Scriptures, to go to the synagogue, to make offerings to God.
Ask the disciples, and they will tell you a story of the living Jesus. Ask most Christians today, and they will tell you only of the dying one.
See, that's the difference. That's what makes the Gospels such a vibrant story, one that's so easy for us to find ourselves drawn into. That's what makes us love the Jesus described there in a way that we just don't enthusiastically love the one we spend most of our lives talking about. The Gospels invite us to love a Lord with a heartbeat. They invite us to see Him living, loving, moving about, walking on the streets of Galilee, eating at tables, praying in real gardens, speaking with a real voice.
That's what our faith is missing. That's what our witness is missing. The greatest thing we could do for an unbeliever is to invite them to fall in love with a living Lord, but we're far too busy preaching Christ crucified to realize how completely unconvincing that is to a world longing for more. The Christ on the Cross, without the baby in the manger, is no better than any other statue, any other idol. And the world sees right through our idolatry.
It's why they shake their heads at us. It's why they turn away. We claim to love this Jesus, but we've made Him both silent and stationary, forever hanging on a Cross, forever crucified, when even the unbelieving world knows that the story of Jesus is far more dynamic than this. Even the unbelieving world is waiting for us to say just one living thing about this Jesus, and most Christians can't seem to find the words.
If we want a faith that's convincing, if we want a love that's real, we have to do what the disciples did and talk about the Jesus who lives among us just as much, if not more, than the one who died for us. We have to talk about earth as much as we talk about Heaven. We have to have a friend not for tomorrow, but for today.
We have to learn to speak a vibrant testimony of a living God. We have to become real disciples.