But in your hearts set Christ apart [as holy—acknowledging Him, giving Him first place in your lives] as Lord. Always be ready to give a [logical] defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope and confident assurance [elicited by faith] that is within you, yet [do it] with gentleness and respect.
1 Peter 3:15
You never know when it will happen. You might be on an airplane, at the office water cooler, in the backyard talking to a neighbor, in church, or in your child’s room putting him or her to bed. Something- your kindness,the other person’s need, an event in the news, a family problem- may prompt the person to ask you about your faith. Are you ready? What will you say? How will you say it?
Questions about our faith may come in all kinds of varieties- intellectual, ethical, or personal- but at the bottom of them all, people want to know if our faith experience is rich and real and if it makes a difference in how we live. They are also looking for hope. They long to know they are loved, forgiven, and accepted by God, and they need somebody to tell them that yes, it’s true: God loves them, too.
When the question is asked, its too late to prepare our hearts. We must get ready to answer the questions by “sanctifying” Christ in our hearts, putting Him first, above all other affections. When our love for Him transcends everything else in our lives (and even if we’re actively struggling to love Him more than anything else), we’re ready. Our words will reflect our hearts, and authenticity is incredibly attractive to people.
We don’t argue people into the Kingdom, and we don’t intimidate them into becoming Gods beloved children. Peter reminds us that our demeanor should be “with meekness and fear,” realizing the awesome responsibility and privilege of communicating the light of the gospel to a darkened heart.
Are you ready?
If knowing Jesus means a lot to you- and if you know Him, it does-then let me urge you to pray for God’s guidance so that you might witness effectively, and for God’s courage so that you will witness often.
Knowing what you believe is important but knowing why you believe what you believe is critical. I’m fully aware that some of the things about God are inexplainable, at least intellectually, but there are a lot of things for which we can find reason. Most of the world isn’t so much interested in theology as they are in wanting to know why we live and act the way we do. They want to know how we can find peace in the storms of life, how we can have hope when everything looks bleak, how we can respond graciously to those who are ungracious, and why we feel that the future is bright.
In other words, they don’t want a theory, they want something that works in daily living.
If we make it about going to church or being involved in church activities or reading the Bible and such, we’ll lose them. They aren’t interested in some social activity- and those who don’t know Christ view these things that way- they want something that makes a difference in their lives.
What set Jesus apart from the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees was He made practical application to having a relationship with God. Jesus didn’t speak of God as some distant, beyond reach or knowing Deity. He spoke of Him as the Father, indicating relationship. We read of Him entering the temple and turning over the money-exchanger’s tables and running the merchants out. His statement that they had made the temple a den of thieves was about more than these cheating the people. The temple, He said was to be a house of prayer. It was to be literally a place where man communicated with God and God communicated to man. Anything that displaced or interfered with that communication was a thief for it stole time with God. Jesus was saying that more important than having the correct money for the temple tax or making sure your sacrifice was perfect, was that the purpose of the temple was to connect God and humanity. That’s still true for the church today. The primary purpose of the church is to connect people to Jesus in an experiential relationship. So what about us? When we talk about Jesus, is He real or just a theoretical Being? We may never be able to explain God, but when we truly know Him, we can tell others about how He has changed our lives. When Jesus touched the blind man and the religious leaders were questioning him, the blind man responded by saying, “I don’t know whether He is what you say He is or something else. But one thing I know, I was blind and now I see and this man made that happen.”;You and I may never be able to explain the mysteries of God, but we can tell our story and we can “give defense for our hope.
The important thing isn’t so much how much we know about God but how much we apply what we do know about Him. If you listen to the parables of Jesus and what He taught about God, you discover that He was more focused on the Person of God than He was the mystery of God. It was evident that His relationship with the Father was personal. The same is true of the apostles. Hear Paul as he writes in Philippians, “that I may know Him….” Or hear Stephen as he cried out, “I see Jesus, standing at the right hand of God.” Or listen when the Sanhedrin took note that Peter and John “had been with Jesus” even though they were considered “unlearned and ignorant men.” The religious rulers were amazed at the wisdom and revelation coming from such men. Even with all their training and study, they were not able to refute the apostles truths.
That’s the secret of defending hope. It’s not so much what we know as it is what we’ve experienced. Nobody can talk about salvation better than someone who has experienced it. Nobody can tell better about walking with God better than those who walk with Him. Nobody can describe God better than someone who has encountered Him. Nobody can tell of His grace, His deliverance, and His mercy better than the prisoner who has been set free from the prison of sin.
We don’t have to know the theology of Christ’s coming or to be able to describe heaven in detail to give defense of our hope. We don’t have to be able to explain prophecy to give reason for our anticipation and excitement about our future. No grandchild has to be able to tell everything about his or her grandparents in order to get excited about their coming to visit. All they have to know is how much fun and love and gifts they got the last visit.
That’s us. Our defense of hope is founded in our experience with God. People aren’t looking for some elaborate teaching or explanation. Like the beggar who has been given some food from another beggar, people don’t need a description of how the food was prepared. They just need to know there’s some for them and there’s enough for everyone to share together. So today, whatever you have received from God, you can share with someone else because God always gives more than enough.
Dr. John Thompson