Several years back we had a teen in the youth group named Richard. At about fifteen years old he had declared himself an atheist. One day I took Richard out for lunch and began to ask him questions about why he was an atheist. The first words out of his mouth were, “Well I believe that there is a god.” For the rest of the conversation we unpacked what it meant to be an atheist, what he actually was, which was a believing agnostic, and the facts of who Jesus is.
To my knowledge, Richard has never accepted Christ. I’ve also watched Richard’s life go through several chaotic seasons. One of which was having a child with someone, and now barely able to see the child. When I see him around town, or on facebook I pray that God will one day take this espoused atheist and bring him through the cross into new life.
But it was through conversations like the one with Richard, that I have come to realize to see the standard of having an answer in all seasons, we as believers need to not only know the Bible, but also know how to recognize and respond to other belief systems. Because if I hadn’t understood where Richard was coming from, I might have accepted his understanding of atheism, and not seen through his misunderstanding. And now, I have a better understanding in which area to pray for him.
That is why it’s important for us to witness to people, and as we’ll talk about today, having an intelligent response ready. So if you have your Bibles, we’re going to be in 1st Peter chapter 3, verse 8.
As we again open the passage of 1st Peter chapter 3, verse 8 from last week, let’s look back on what we have perviously talked about.
Last week when we talked about 1st Peter, we read through the entire passage and talked about how there are two pillars of witnessing. Last week we talked about the first pillar: living a life that is wholly focused on loving God and people. Without loving people, without showing and asking for forgiveness, without living lives that reflect Jesus in word and deed, our witness suffers because it cannot even begin to be taken seriously.
How many of us want to listen to someone we know is cheating on their spouse, talk about being faithful in marriage? How many of us want to listen to someone tell us how to handle our money, when they’re swimming in debt? Isn’t this why it’s so hard to listen to politicians? When you know someone is not living the life that they purport to live, everything they say is tainted. And it’s the same way with our witness. If we are to be an effective witness for the Gospel, we need to live the life Christ has saved us to live. Does that mean a flawless, never stumbling in our walk kind of life? No, that means a life that understands it’s need for a Savior, and is loving, truthful, and forgiving to others, and is humble enough to seek forgiveness.
And it’s in this understanding that love is the cradle in which we share the Gospel, that we can get to the second Pillar of Witnessing, which is simply the Pillar of an Intelligent Response.
So let’s again read 1st Peter chapter 3, starting in verse 8.
8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
10 For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. 11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
Now last week we focused on the verses 8-14 and 16, this week we’re going to zero in on verse 15.
There are three phrases to this verse. First the, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.” This idea of revering Christ as Lord, means to make sure that we are treating him as holy. So we must ask ourselves do I treat the name of God with respect. Not only by not using it as a curse word, but also by keeping my word and being faithful to show that I am a follower of his to the best of my ability?
This is a large part, because if we are not revering Christ, if we are not treating him as holy, are we really following the Holy God, that calls us out of sin and into new life? Is the Gospel we share really about the need for the shed blood of Christ to bring us victory over sin? Or is it a side note, something that isn’t a need, but rather just a ticket out of hell?
And it’s this holiness that we hold tightly to, that gives us a reason to share the Gospel, because even though God is slow to anger, abounding in love, and gracious to anyone who would accept Jesus’ death and resurrection, there will be a time when the holiness of God must stamp out sin in the final judgment. And when that happens, there will be a lot of people bound for eternity in the lake of fire.
So it’s God’s holiness that spurs us into the next part of the verse, “Always be prepared to give and answer…”
Let’s break this down,
First, “Always…” meaning, unceasingly, perpetually, on every occasion. This means that no matter what time of day, occasion, or mental state we find ourselves, we must be ready to encounter someone that needs to hear the Gospel. That’s a lot to be asked of, because there are times when I’m tired and I don’t want to deal with anyone, but I must be ready.
Second, “be prepared…” meaning, having all necessary preparations done beforehand. That means we shouldn’t have to do a lot of research after the fact, but even if we don’t know the subject, we need to be able to say, “I don’t know, let me get back to you.” And then be able to know where to find it. One of the things I am trying to do myself, is make a little cheat sheet on my phone. So when I’m asked a question I don’t remember, or I’m not familiar with, I can go check it out. But I will tell you this, once you get several of the most common questions asked of you, you will be prepared, because they are so common and overlap.
Finally, “To give and answer” meaning, a properly, well-reasoned reply, thought-out response to adequately address the issue(s) that are raised.” That means, our answer must make sense. God is an orderly God, and our answers need to be reflective of that order. They must be logical, thorough and concise. Whenever I’m asked a question, I tell people, do you want the bumpersticker answer, which won’t answer your question, or do you want the real answer, that it might take a while to get through. That’s because deep questions, require deep explanations to do the question justice.
So now, how do we do this? Well, there are two approaches I find in the New Testament. I call them, the Jewish approach, and the Gentile approach. Let me explain.
The Jewish approach is how the early believers shared the Gospel with the Jewish people. Peter in Acts 2 shows this approach. He shows them the Gospel through the unfolding of the Scripture. Peter did this by starting with an Old Testament prophecy and used it to spring into Jesus being the Messiah. In the modern landscape, we need to open the Word of God to the people that say that they hold it in high esteem. Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness, and Jews, to name a few. That means we must know the Word of God for ourselves. We need to understand where Jesus claimed to be one with the Father. We need to understand where in the Old Testament can we find the Trinity. And we need to be able to show the Gospel throughout the entire Bible.
Now, the Gentile approach is best seen in Paul’s discourse in Acts chapter 17. Paul looks at the world of the Athenians and then uses a common understanding both through nature, and through their own poets to reach out to the Gentiles. This approach recognizes that there are people that do not hold esteem for the Bible, and therefore we must show how the Gospel is relevant to them through their own world.
Now let’s give a little rubber to this road, and show how these two approaches can tackle a few common questions that people might have.
There are several groups in the Jewish approach category that do not believe that Jesus and the Father are one God. They also tend to believe that the New Testament has been corrupted. So where can we go? The Old Testament. Where’s a good place to go in the Old Testament to show that Jesus and the Father are one?
What about the prophecy of the virgin birth? In fact, we just covered this in our Apologetics class this past week. One part of the prophecy is found in Isaiah chapter 9, verses 6 and 7. It reads, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
This is a good ol’ Christmas passage that we share about the birth of Jesus. You know who also agrees that this is talking about Jesus, and that it is a part of the virgin birth prophecy? Muslims, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
So let’s go through it real fast. The title Wonderful Counselor we’ll come back to as a little cherry on top to this whole thing. So this child born of a virgin, who these other three religions agree is Jesus, is called, Mighty God. That’s El Gibbor in Hebrew, meaning mightiest among the gods. But wait second, isn’t Yahweh of the Old Testament Mightiest among the gods? Yet this Son to be born is called the Mightiest among the gods. Interesting, but there’s more.
Next, this Jesus is called Everlasting Father, or Abi-Ad, or Father of Eternity. Wait a second, I thought he was the Son, not the Father? Yet, the Son is used in connection with the Father. Interesting, but there’s more.
Third, this Jesus is called Prince of Peace, Sar Shalom, wait, I thought he was the Father? But if he is the father shouldn’t he be the King? Yet, he’s called both the Father, and the Prince, meaning the Father and the Son are one. Which is what we see in the New Testament, when Jesus proclaims in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” Isn’t interesting that then after Jesus makes this statement his Jewish opponents in the very next verse pick up stones to kill him? Yet, this very statement by Jesus was prophesied hundreds of years in the Old Testament itself.
Finally, in the last sentence of this passage, it says, “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” This could be read like, the overwhelming passion of Adonai the Sovereign Over Everything will perform this.
Put it all together and this is what it says, it is with overwhelming passion that Adonai will send this Son who is the Mightiest among all gods and who is both Father and Prince. This Son is one with the Father, and his name is Jesus.
And what’s the cherry one top? Who does Jesus refer to as the Counselor? In John 14 and 16 it’s the Holy Spirit. So we see the Trinity in the prophecy of the virgin birth. With that basis, we can now move into the New Testament and talk more about Jesus who is fully God, and one with both Father and Spirit and what that means for salvation.
But that’s just the Jewish approach to sharing the Gospel. Sharing with people that hold high esteem for the Bible. What about the Gentile approach or sharing with those that do not hold high esteem for the Bible?
One of the hotly debated topics right now is, “Do we need God for morality.” There’s a lot to this, but I’m only going to give you two quotes from atheists. The first one comes from Julian Baggini, from his work, Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, “If there is no single moral authority [i.e. if there is no God, then] we have to in some sense ‘create’ values for ourselves… that means that moral claims are not true or false in the same way as factual claims are… moral claims are judgments [that] it is always possible for someone to disagree with… without saying something that is factually false… you may disagree with me but you cannot say I have made a factual error…(p. 41-51)”
In other words, without God there is no morality. Each of us has to create a moral framework for ourselves. So where would we get morality from?
Well, another quote by an atheist would point us to that fact. John Steinrucken from his book, Secularisms Ongoing Debt to Christianity, states, “Those who doubt the effect of religion on morality should seriously ask the question: Just what are the immutable moral laws of secularism? Be prepared to answer, if you are honest, that such laws simply do not exist!”
In other words, without the God giving humanity an understanding of morality, morality is in the eye of the beholder. And therefore, no moral claim is better than any other moral claim.
And with that, we use the two atheists to confirm that without God there are no morals, and that our the morals that we current employ here in the modern world actually come from the God of the Bible. Which now we can move into the next question does God even exist, which is another question to answer, but we’re not going to tackle here.
These are two biblical approaches to sharing the Gospel, but there is still one part of the verse we have not yet covered. This is the phrase, “But do this with gentleness and respect…”
Here’s the thing, people live in darkness. They know no other reality accept the darkness that surrounds them. So we must share these truths with all the gentleness and respect we can. Not being jerks, not getting upset, and not name calling. We must present the Gospel as clear, direct, logical, truthful, and respectful as we can. Because that is what we are called to do.
When facing the world we must remember three statements from Jesus. First from, Matthew 10:16, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” This is what Peter is picking up in his letter: being ready, with a response and doing so with gentleness and respect.
Then Jesus says in Mark 13:11, “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” As we study God’s Word, let’s not worry about the times when we get to share, but rather rely on the Holy Spirit to bring what he wants shared to us at that time.
And then finally what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit in John 16:8, “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment…” It is not our job to convict the world of sin, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job. Our job is to present the Gospel in the cradle of love, with the most intelligent response we can offer. Leaving the results in God’s hands.
So my challenge to you this week is to think back in your mind about the most common questions or challenges to the Gospel you or others have ever faced, then do research both for the Jewish approach, and Gentile approach in answering those questions. Not for the glory it could bring to you, but for the glory of God, who seeks and saves the lost, and who calls us into his work.
May we be the people that are as wise as snakes, and as innocent doves, as Jesus desires us to be, being alway prepared and in love sharing the Gospel. Amen.