Grace Under Fire
Grace, Speech, Study The Word, Share Christ
Imagine that you had the chance to talk to someone from 200 years ago about flying in an airplane. Suppose you wanted to convince them to get inside this metal box that weighs nearly a half-million pounds and carries more than 50,000 gallons of highly flammable fuel and fly up in the sky at nearly the speed of sound. You can imagine that the person would probably be skeptical of what you had to say. Most of us would probably have a difficult time making a case for why it is safe. We would struggle to explain how such a contraption could possibly fly through the air. For the most part, we would just be left saying, “You just have to take my word for it—this thing will fly.”
But imagine if you were able to explain some of the physics behind why an airplane like that flies. They might begin to understand that maybe it was possible. And after seeing you safely take off, fly, and land in that plane time and time again, they might finally conclude that indeed these big metal boxes really can fly.
In many ways, this is what it is like when we try to explain to other people what it means to be a Christian. We tell people that Jesus can forgive their sins, but we often can’t explain much beyond that. In essence, we are telling people to take our word for it. This morning we are going to look at a passage where Peter encourages us to demonstrate the Christian faith to others in the way we live and to be prepared to explain Christianity to them in a way that makes sense and that they can understand.
Do not Fear the World
Peter has just finished wrapping up a section telling Christians how we are to live, and his major theme has been submission to one another. Last week, we saw Peter lay down some of the hardest teachings we have encountered thus far, reminding us that we are to bless others, even when they have been cruel or mean to us. He said that we should be sympathetic and compassionate, loving in the way we deal with others, and humble. After giving all of this instruction, Peter follows that up by asking a rhetorical question.
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? (1 Peter 3:13, NIV)
The question certainly seems like an obvious one at first. Certainly, when you do good things, no one should want to harm you. If you do good things, people should do good things back to you. But we know that isn’t always the case. Experience has shown us that sometimes people do try to harm us, even when we are trying to good. Sometimes they try to harm us because we are trying to do good.
Peter knew quite well that even as we try to do the things he has mentioned, people in the world will try to harm us, so he follows up his question by saying,
14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. (1 Peter 3:14-15a, NIV)
Peter reminds us that we do not need to fear the world and what it can do to us, because we have a blessing that the world cannot take away—namely the forgiveness given to us by Jesus Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. No matter what the world does to us, we are blessed.
The problem is that many of us are much more concerned about our position in society than our position in eternity. Listen to what one commentator wrote as he reflected on this passage.
If people’s hearts are set on earthly things, possessions, happiness, pleasure, an easy life and comfort, they are of all people most vulnerable. For, in the nature of things, they may lose these things at any moment. Such people are desperately easily hurt. On the other hand, if they give to Jesus Christ the unique place in their lives, the most precious thing for them is their relationship to God, and nothing can take that from them. Therefore, they are completely secure.
So, even in suffering, Christians are still blessed.
Peter tells us that we can feel secure even in the midst of persecution if our priorities are straight. If we put Christ first, then we have nothing to fear from the world. That is exactly what he says at the beginning of verse 15: we should make Jesus Christ Lord. That means that we should cling to him first and foremost—and that no matter what else we are facing, nothing should distract us from following Him.
Let me flesh out what this looks like.
- It means that we view everything we have as His: our money, our job, our time, and our energy. We must remember that even if these things are taken from us, they weren’t really ours in the first place.
- It means that we trust in Him for our future. We do not have confidence for the future because of our talents or because of our sound financial planning, but because we know that God has promised to take care of us.
- It means that we view God’s Word as authoritative. We must be people who believe what God has told us more than we believe the things that we are told by modern science, the culture at large, or the so-called experts of the day.
- It means we choose to obey God even when it feels unnatural or we don’t understand because we have learned to trust His wisdom. If we truly believe what God tells us, we will live it out in our lives. We will seek to do what the Bible tells us, even when it feels unnatural or we don’t fully understand why.
- It means that we recognize that God sets the agenda, not us. We must constantly be asking what God wants of us, rather than asking God to do what we want.
Admittedly, this is a tall order. As we look at a list like this, we are overwhelmed, but this is what it looks like to set apart Christ as the Lord of our lives. Fortunately, we do not have to do this in our own strength (and we cannot do it in our own strength), but we must constantly rely on the Holy Spirit living within us in order to live this way.
If we will set apart Christ as Lord, then we will not need to fear the world or what it can do to us. Please understand that not having anything to fear is not the same as saying that there will not be hard or painful times. Sometimes there will be—but even in those times, we are secure because of Christ. If we set apart Christ as Lord we will be people who demonstrate grace even in the most difficult circumstances. We can live with the unshakable confidence that we do not have to face life in our own strength. And we can be confident that this world is not all there is.
Giving a Reason
Peter goes on to tell us that if we will live our lives like this, the world is going to take notice. When they do, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to share the reason for our hope with them.
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. (1 Peter 3:15b-16, NIV)
Peter tells us that we should always be prepared to give an answer to those who ask us the reason for our hope. The word we translate as “give an answer” means to give a reasoned defense of the faith. Peter is saying that when people ask us why we live the way we do, we need to help them to see that our faith is not just wishful thinking—a pie in the sky hope that things will somehow work out for the best—but that our faith is based on evidence; that we have a rational belief that God is in control of all things. We have to be able to not just explain what we believe, we have to explain why those beliefs are true and that God can be trusted.
This requires work on our part. Too many times, I think Christians rely on others to tell them what they should believe—with the result being that they really don’t understand the faith we claim to have. We are prepared to give a reasoned defense for many other unimportant things: our political beliefs, our thoughts on our favorite sports team, or which product is the best; but we are ill-prepared to give a reasoned defense of what should be the most important thing—our faith. We have to examine what beliefs truly guide us in life, we need to honestly wrestle with the difficult questions, and then we need to work at finding a way to explain those beliefs to others in a way they can understand.
If we cannot explain our beliefs to others, we lose all credibility. Some of you have heard me talk about the experience that Sarah and I once had with a doctor who told us, in medical terms, of an ailment that he believed Sarah had. When I asked him to explain it to me, he couldn’t! That man is no longer our doctor, because he lost all credibility with me. The same can happen with the message of the gospel. When we speak in Christian jargon but can’t explain what it means, people assume that we don’t really understand it for ourselves. Thus, they assume that our belief is just wishful thinking instead of a rational conviction. So, how do we prepare ourselves to give a reasoned defense of the faith?
Start by getting to know the Bible for yourself. This means reading the Bible daily, not just as a way of gaining information, but of understanding what you believe for yourself. Base your beliefs on what you read in Scripture, not on what you have heard is in Scripture. I have kind of a fun (yet convicting) app for my phone called, “Bible or Not.” It gives you quotes and you have to decide whether that quote comes from the Bible or somewhere else. The app works off of the fact that we think we know what is in the Bible, but our knowledge of the Bible is second-hand—we base our biblical knowledge off of what others tell us. As a result we think things like this are in the Bible:
- God helps those who help themselves. (Benjamin Franklin)
- With great power comes great responsibility. (Spiderman)
- God works in mysterious ways.
- Money is the root of all evil. (misquote of 1 Timothy 6:10)
- To thine own self be true. (Shakespeare, Hamlet)
If we want to be able to explain to others what we believe, we have to know the source of our beliefs. I’d challenge you to think about where some of your beliefs come from. Look them up in the Bible and make sure what you believe is actually based on Scripture.
Practice thinking biblically. This is related to knowing the Bible, but is the next step. We have to practice thinking about how God’s Word applies to our lives. Think about what the Bible teaches about how you should do your job, how you should raise your children, or how you should spend your money. Think about the various social issues of our day from a biblical perspective. What does the Bible teach about the poor, the bullied, or the greedy? Think about the implications of different beliefs. Where will a given belief lead to? Learn to think through issues in light of the Bible instead of just listening to the sound bites of others.
Practice sharing your faith. One of the best ways to learn more about your faith is to stretch yourself by talking to others about what you believe. Understand that being prepared to give an answer does not mean you have to be able to answer every question people ask. But when people do ask you a question you can’t answer (and they will), be honest with them, telling them that you don’t know the answer, but you’ll try to find out. As you do this, your own faith will be strengthened, and they may come to believe as well!
Read books that help you to think through your faith. There are a number of good books that seek to give solid, reasoned explanations for a number of common questions about the faith. Some good examples are: The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, and The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel; and another good one is The Reason for God by Tim Keller. As you read these books they will help you to better understand what you believe and how you can help others to understand it as well.
Learn to ask questions. Get in the habit of thinking through what other people are saying and asking questions that will help you understand their beliefs. Ask other Christians where they find a given belief in the Bible—it will make us think about our beliefs and prepare us for when non-Christians ask us the same question. Also ask questions of your non-Christian friends. Ask them to explain why they disbelieve the Bible, or why they think Christianity is false, or why they think God’s laws are old-fashioned. Encourage them to think about the implications of their beliefs (e.g. if everyone should simply do what is “right in their own eyes” what happens when these ideas conflict?) Don’t attack others with your questions, but ask questions with the goal of understanding their position better.
If we will do these things, we will find that over time, we will begin to have a better understanding of just what it is that we believe and we will be able to explain our beliefs to others.
Gently and Respectfully
Peter does give us one more bit of instruction though. He says that we should give a reasoned defense of our beliefs,
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. (1 Peter 3:15b-16)
We must not miss this part of the instruction. We need to show gentleness and respect to others as we share our beliefs with them. This is part of the submissive mindset Peter has been prescribing. We are to show honor even to those who disagree with us. Most of us have been around people who arrogantly believe that they are right and you are wrong. Even if they are right, their attitude towards you has probably made you want to ignore what they say. Peter says we must be able to give a reasoned defense of our faith, and that the tone of our answer is just as important as what we say.
When we talk to people about the Christian faith, we need to think of it as explaining rather than arguing. People shy away from arguments, and if they feel attacked, they will not be interested in what we have to say. Our attitude in sharing our faith influences how people view what we have to say. Practically speaking, giving a reasoned defense of the faith with gentleness and respect means that we will choose:
- To speak calmly and softly to others, even if they begin to raise their voice to us.
- To listen to others as they share their beliefs and their questions rather than interrupting what they are saying.
- To view people’s questions as a genuine desire for answers instead of getting offended or feeling attacked by them.
- To speak respectfully, as equals, with others instead of treating them as though they are inferior to you.
- To speak in language that is clear instead of trying to overwhelm people with big words or concepts that are foreign to them. Belittling comments and attempts to bury people with words is not only ineffective, but it also reveals a lack of clarity in your own mind. In order words, it tells other people that you don’t “get it.” Use analogies from daily life instead of using Christian jargon.
- To be honest about our own struggles rather than acting like we have everything all figured out.
Peter says that we should live and act in ways that consistently demonstrate that Jesus Christ is the Lord of our lives. People should see our beliefs in the way we live. If we live like this, then people really cannot make a genuine charge against us or against the Christian faith. Notice that Peter does not say that people will not attack us, just that any attack against us would be slanderous, and that one day they will be ashamed of their slander. We may not see that day in this life, but there will come a day when people will see their slander for what it is.
Over the last several weeks, Peter has given us some very difficult instructions. Though the instructions are difficult, they are God’s Word and we should heed them accordingly. Peter tells us that if we will live the way God tells us to, the world will take notice. If we are being submissive to one another, if we are blessing others instead of repaying evil with evil, and if we are trusting in God’s strength no matter what our circumstances are, then people are going to ask us what it is that keeps us going.
Peter says that we need to prepare ourselves to speak intelligently about that which drives us and sustains us. We need to be able to explain to others that we believe there is more to life than just what we can see right now. We need to help others to understand that we do not have to live life in our own strength, but that no matter what happens, nothing can change the fact that we have been forgiven by God—that the Creator of the universe has promised to love us, to never leave us or forsake us, and to prepare a place for us in Heaven.
If we talked to someone who had never seen or heard of an airplane before, we would do everything we could to convince them they could trust their lives to this machine, because it would enable them to do things they would have never thought possible. How much more should we do the same thing with the Christian faith!
Being able to do that will take some practice and some self-examination on our part, but if even one person can experience the new life that comes through a relationship with Christ, it will be totally worth the effort.