In a poignant scene from the movie Courageous, Nathan gives David an explanation of his faith. He was having a gut-wrenching painful discussion with David, and he was able to pivot to a testimony about God’s justice, mercy, and forgiveness and explain that in God’s eyes we are all sinners, but in Jesus there exists the path to forgiveness. Nathan was practicing apologetics. Apologetics is a term that we have all heard, but we may not fully understand. Is it reserved only for the great Christian thinkers or writers? Are Christian thought leaders like the Apostle Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, and the like the ones whom we rely on to defend our faith? Or can each one of us do that? Maybe a better question is, “Should we?” That will be the basis of this essay.
Apologetics is a word that is often misunderstood, as if it means ‘apologizing’ for one’s faith. The word, however, derives its meaning from the Greek apologia, meaning a ‘reasoned defense.’
In the Bible, apologetics is synonymous with evangelism. One of the core scriptures that explains this is found in 1 Peter 3:15-16:
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer (APOLOGIA) to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
We will come back to this verse and explore it in greater detail later. First, however, let’s understand why it’s so important. Jesus said this in Matthew 28: 18-20:
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”
These were among the last words Jesus spoke on earth, so we can be pretty sure He chose His words carefully. I am going to suggest to you that this may be the most impactful speech in human history. More human resources have been mobilized, more money and efforts have been launched in response to those words than any others. And in this speech Jesus instructed His followers to go and make DISCIPLES. He could have said to go make worshippers, but He didn’t. He could have said to go make workers, but He didn’t. He could have said to go make tithers, but He didn’t. Because Jesus knew that the process of making a disciple generated a heart transformation. From a changed heart a disciple would automatically want to become a worshipper, a worker, and a giver.
Now, what if these two concepts are related, even linked?? What if the reason we practice Apologetics is to make disciples? How might that make a difference?
Let’s assume that the reason we practice Apologetics, giving a reasoned defense of our faith, is to make disciples. Then we can ask: “Who is called to do this? And how to do so?” Let’s look for some answers in the Scriptures. We can start with 1 Peter. If we go to the beginning of the letter, we see to whom Peter was writing in verses 1 and 2:
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance”.
He was writing to “exiles” who had been scattered to the far reaches of the Roman Empire. Why had they been scattered? We get the answer in Acts 11:19-21:
“Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”
Moreover, in 1 Peter 1:6, Peter reveals that they had “suffered grief” in all kinds of trials. Peter was writing to the persecuted church of his time. These believers had already suffered for being true to their Christian beliefs. And yet Peter is instructing them to not remain silent or to go into hiding. They were to be prepared to give a defense to anyone who asked about their faith. The verses we read in Acts show how they did so.
The next part of the verse that is fascinating is Peter’s admonition to “always be prepared.” Those of you who were scouts know what that means. It means advance planning, honing your skills, checking and double-checking your gear, and knowing how to use it. Scouts take pride in being ready for whatever situation or conditions that they may encounter.
So when Peter told his readers to always be prepared, what did he mean? I believe that this indicates advance study, thinking through the details of one’s beliefs so that one can articulate them to someone else. It might mean role-playing, rehearsing conversations with a friend or family member to improve one’s presentation skills. I’m sure it included one’s testimony, perhaps some key scriptures, along with an invitation. For the most part, the first century believers were both poor and poorly educated. And yet they were able to present the Gospel so effectively that Christianity spread wherever they went.
Fast forward to today: Let’s talk about us…
Why does it matter if we know how to defend our faith? Why can’t someone else be responsible for that? Well, maybe they can. However, consider that the opportunities that you encounter to defend and share your faith may be divine appointments. I am reminded of the Biblical account of Esther and Mordecai, as Pastor Fritz shared with us last week. Esther was showing some reluctance to approach the king. Mordecai had become aware of a plan to attack and destroy all the Jews in the land. Mordecai had these words for Esther in Esther 4:14:
“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Maybe you were born for such a time as this. Maybe this week God will cause your path to intersect with someone who needs to hear the Gospel, who needs to hear your story so that their life of pain and despair can transform to one of life and hope. If you don’t do it, God will make other arrangements, but do you really want to miss out on the opportunity to be used by Him in leading someone to Christ?
Ok, so maybe I have decided I want to heed Peter’s words and I want to be ready to give that defense of my faith when called upon. What can I do to be ready? Here are several suggestions:
1. Read and study your Bible. Pay particular attention to the verses that can be used to point someone to the path of salvation. Learn, for example, the Roman Road, an assortment of 8 verses from the book of Romans that explain why we all need a savior, who that savior is, and how we enter into relationship with Him.
2. Pray for God to use you as He sees fit to bring opportunities your way. Don’t stress yourself about how you will do, because Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit will assist you in using the right words (Matthew 10:19,20). Still, it’s prudent to prepare. Our part, I believe, is to have studied the appropriate verses ahead of time so the Spirit has something to recall. Spend some time reflecting on your story—how you became a Christian. How would you share that story with someone?
3. Don’t hide your faith. People you interact with regularly should know you are a follower of Jesus Christ. While it’s not appropriate to flaunt it, they should know. Also, your speech and behavior should be congruent with that of a Christian. When this is the case, you will find opportunities presenting themselves to having faith-based discussions and, indeed, people will seek you out for support, wisdom, and prayers when they are facing difficulty. Sometimes your Godly behavior alone can draw people to the Christian life.
“If lips and life do not agree, the testimony will not amount to much.” D.A. Ironside
“I’ve seen far too many Christians who are more than willing to travel halfway around the world to volunteer for a week in an orphanage, but who cannot bring themselves to take the personal risk of sharing Jesus with the co-worker who sits day after day in the cubicle right next to them.” Lee Strobel
“Evangelism is not a professional job for a few trained men, but is instead the unrelenting responsibility of every person who belongs to the company of Jesus.” Elton Trueblood
This week I pray that you might have the privilege and opportunity to defend your faith and maybe to be used by God to make a new disciple. Will you let it pass you by, or will you be ready? Will you evangelize someone this week?