Can You Defend Your Faith?

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837706-shield_defense In 1 Peter 3:15, Peter instructs the Christians in Asia Minor concerning evangelism in a culture that is hostile towards them.

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)

This verse is an evangelism verse, and it is an apologetics verse. Peter is writing in the context of suffering for the gospel. This letter was written during the persecution of the Christians under Nero. Peter is writing to Christians dispersed through Asia Minor. Christians are suffering persecution and having to live and worship in a society that is hostile and antagonistic towards them. Even the wording of this verse shows us that the Christian is apparently on the defense, not the offense. In this passage the Christian is being ready to be examined for their faith, not fearlessly going forward to share it. The believer in this passage is anticipating an interrogation and Peter says that they should be ready to give and defense to any and all who ask.

This is not to insinuate that Christians should give up evangelism in favor of passivity towards the lost; that we should wait until they get curious. Rather, it is asserting that in a culture that is hostile towards Christianity we should anticipate being singled-out and examined. We are seeing this today; people are examining the Christian faith and desperately seeking some flaw in its truths. They are seeking to find the Christian faith illegitimate, illogical, and unintellectual.

If the world is hostile toward Christianity and is examining it in order to find it guilty of any error or inconsistency, we must be always ready to defend what and why we believe and not leave our faith to the mercy of the critics. We should know what it is that we believe and secondly be able to communicate it in a winsome and convincing manner. The word translated “defense” is the Greek word apologia which is where we get our English word apologetics. It means to defend against false accusations. Christian apologetics, therefore, is the discipline of making intellectual cases for Christianity and countering arguments against Christianity.

We are to give a defense for WHY we believe. Notice Peter doesn’t say “give a defense for the hope that is in you.” He says give a defense for the REASON for the hope that is within you. Every religion has a “hope,” a faith in some future heavenly home or something else. Anyone can have “hope” for that matter. Anybody can believe something with no reason to believe it. We are to be able to account for the reason that we have hope. In other words, be able to tell people WHY you believe what you do.

In a culture that is largely antagonistic toward the claims of Christianity, it is not only the scholars and theologians who need to concern themselves with defending the faith. Every Christian must be an apologist in his or her own right. Evangelism and apologetics are inseparable. If we wish to win souls, we must first be ready to win minds. What are the questions and objections to Christianity that you might expect to hear from your friends, family, or co-workers? Are you ready to give an answer?

Will God Judge Christians for Their Sins?

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ImageThis question came up in a recent Pastor Q & A session at Reed Springs, “Why will believers be judged if Jesus paid for our sins and God has forgotten them?” This is a very good question. The fact is, believers will NOT be judged by God for their sins. If we were judged for just one of our sins, we could not go to heaven. We are justified in Christ. Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal on the basis of Christ’s substitutionary death and resurrection of all who repent and believe in Christ (Romans 3:28). Through justification we receive a new standing for God has declared us to be righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21). Because of justification, the penalty for sin is done away with for the believer (Romans 6:23).

Believers WILL, however, be judged for our stewardship. There are two different judgments for the believer and the unbeliever. These are separate events that take place at separate times. The unbelievers are judged by their sinful works (Rev. 20:11-15) and punished. Believers are judged by our spiritual productivity and rewarded (1 Cor. 3:10-15). The Bible actually says that we will be involved in judging the world and the fallen angels (1 Cor. 2-3). Our sins will not exist. The judgment of believers will be concerned with the spiritual fruit our life produced and how we handled the gospel on earth. It’s like if you were unemployed (unsaved) and someone hired you (saved) and gave you an evaluation after 90 days (judgment) to determine what kind of raise you deserved (rewards).

1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (ESV) According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

This distinction is very important. Many Christians have a very negative view about the Christian life, as if we are only called to meticulously avoid sin so that we won’t have too many strikes against us when we stand before God. This is absolutely backwards. I fear that many Christians are so afraid of doing something wrong, they never do anything at all! Remember, the disobedient servant was scared of doing something wrong, so he didn’t do anything with what his master had given him (Matthew 25:24-27). Rather than focusing on the “thou shalt nots” the Christian is called to focus on the “thou shalts.” When we become concerned about what God has called us to do, then the other things sort of fall in place. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he didn’t give a “thou shalt not” answer. Instead he said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God…” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself…” (Matthew 22:37-40). If I am focused on worshiping God, growing in Christ, helping others, and sharing Christ with them; then I won’t have to continually worry about the things I’m not supposed to do. Remember, believers will be judged. We will be judged by our productivity and effectiveness as Christians. When we properly understand this and truly believe it, it will greatly affect how we live our lives. 

 

Which Old Testament Laws Are For Me?

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How should the Christian respond to the various laws in the Old Testament? Some of the laws for Israel in the Old Testament seem strange to us today such as dietary laws forbidding pork and shellfish or laws that forbid wearing a garment made of two materials. To help us understand them, the various Old Testament laws can be classified into three categories:
· The moral law which governs the behavior for all men
· The judicial law which was for Israel’s operation as a nation 
· The ceremonial law which was for Israel’s worship until Christ came
We know that Jesus fulfilled the law (Romans 10:4; Colossians 2:14), but what does this mean for the Christian? How does the Old Testament law affect us practically now?
The judicial and ceremonial laws were fulfilled in Christ and Christians have no obligation to observe them literally. Many of these laws, however, teach us general principles about holiness that are good for us to follow.
The moral laws are God’s eternal standards of righteousness for all people – don’t murder, steal, commit adultery, etc. They teach us of our guilt before God and our need for salvation. Jesus also fulfilled the moral law, but this doesn’t free us from observing it. It simply frees us from the punishment of having already broken it.
The lines aren’t always clearly expressed. Sometimes you’ll come to a Scripture and it is pretty obvious that it is Israel-specific, other times you’ll find one that could go either way.
A good example is the verse about tattoos in Leviticus 19:28. There’s a lot of division over whether or not that verse is for Israel-only or for everyone. I particularly think it applies to God’s people whether Christians or Jews.
So… when coming to a particular law in the OT, ask the following questions:
1. Is this law obviously meant for Israel only?
2. Does Jesus coming change the application of this law?
3. What does the New Testament say about this issue/law?
4. Is there some spiritual benefit for Christians to obey this law?
5. If this law is not to be observed literally, what can it teach me?
Ultimately, Jesus simply wasthe fulfillment of the law. Jesus had to fulfill the law because it is eternal and cannot be broken. As Christians, we are bound under the new covenant and the law of love (Matthew 22:34-40). We must love God completely and sincerely and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. God’s eternal laws are bound up in these two great commandments.

The Reward for Endurance 2 Timothy 2:1-13

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Do you know anyone who has left the ministry? I recently read a statistic that said 1800 pastors leave the ministry every month. One major reason for this is discouragement. Many of us have even been discouraged to the point that we have thought about quitting. Some of the greatest leaders in the Bible have been at this point. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, there are several indications that Timothy is discouraged and experiencing what we call “ministry burnout” (1:6-8, 13-14, 2:1). Paul on the other hand, is near the end of his life of ministry. He is writing from his second Roman imprisonment (A.D. 67) and is facing death at the hand of Emperor Nero (4:6-8). It is in this context that Paul, as Timothy’s mentor, sends his final words of encouragement to the young pastor. In 2:1-13, Paul charges Timothy to endure in the ministry.
            After exhorting Timothy to be strong and to train new teachers in the church (vs. 1-2), Paul gives Timothy three models for ministry (vs. 3-7). The first model is the soldier’s purpose. Soldiers possess a singular commitment to the battle or assignment at hand. The minister of the Gospel must also be solely committed to his purpose. The second model is the athlete’s principle. No matter how well-trained or talented the athlete is, he must play by the rules or be disqualified. Like an athlete, the minister must not “take shortcuts” or disobey God’s rules if he is to succeed. The last model is the farmer’s productivity. Through hard work and commitment, the farmer is able to eventually enjoy the yield of his crops. All of these models show long-term, serious commitment to a cause. Paul wanted Timothy to meditate on these truths (vs. 7) because this is the type of commitment required in the ministry.
            Paul then gives Timothy the ultimate motivation for ministry: making Christ known to others (vs. 8-10). He provides his sufferings as an example to Timothy of endurance for the sake of preaching Christ. While writing this letter, Paul was in a cold prison cell (4:13), in chains (2:9), expecting execution (4:6), and abandoned by his close friends (1:15; 4:9-12, 16). Paul was motivated to endure this intense suffering in order to bring others to salvation in Christ (vs. 10).  The minister of the Gospel can never justify giving up because of Romans 10:14, “how shall they hear without a preacher?”
            Paul then gives Timothy a glorious motto for ministry (vs. 11-13). This saying includes four promises concerning our commitment to Christ. First, those who have crucified themselves with Christ (Gal. 5:24) will also live with Christ in heaven. Paul is speaking here of the spiritual death of the old nature at salvation.  Second, true believers who endure suffering for Christ will reign with him in his kingdom (Matt. 19:27-28). Our earthly sufferings cannot compare to the heavenly glory awaiting us (Romans 8:18). Third, false believers who eventually deny Christ will be denied by Christ. Finally, Christ is faithful even when we are not. Christ’s love and mercy remains extended even in our weakest moments. These are comforting words for a struggling servant.
            Ministry is a hard road; we know this up front. Jesus calls us to take up a cross, not an easy chair. In addition to the difficult nature of Christian service, Satan and his minions are hard at work to discourage and immobilize Christian workers. Following the wisdom of Jesus, we should “count the cost” of serving Christ and then; obey the models of ministry, remember the motivation of ministry, and rejoice in the motto of ministry. Ministry is a marathon, not a sprint, so “let us run with endurance the race that lies before us” (Hebrews 12:2). 
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, February 20, 2013.

The Practice of Godliness Titus 3:1-9

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 Imagine a black cat in a field covered with snow, a diamond against black cloth, or the light from your cell phone in a dark room. Now imagine that black cat in a dark alley, that diamond in a pile of broken glass, and your cell phone on a sunny day. All of those things can either be highly prominent or nearly invisible depending on their surroundings. The proper contrast gives visibility to the most common things. The same is true of the Christian life. In a dark and dirty culture, it is extremely important that Christians “shine as lights in the world” by displaying godliness (Philippians 2:15). This is true in our culture and it was true in ancient Crete where Titus was a pastor. Titus was left on the Mediterranean island of Crete to lead the church that had been birthed there through Paul’s ministry (1:5), just as Timothy had been left to continue the work at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3). The Cretians had been described as liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12). As a result of this stereotype, it was vitally important that the Cretian Christians live godly lives in order to effectively evangelize their neighbors. In Paul’s letter to Titus, he instructs the young pastor to teach the Cretians to live in contrast to their culture (3:1-9).
            Paul identifies three specific attitudes necessary to a lifestyle of godliness (vs. 1-2). He begins with the proper Christian attitude toward authority. Christians are to be submissive and obedient to rulers. This doesn’t mean we always agree with them or condone sinful decisions, but that we trust God to judge those who lead and we trust His election of authority (Romans 13:1-7). Second, we are to be “ready for every good work.” This implies eagerness and action that is contrasted with the Cretian stereotype, “lazy gluttons” (1:12). Christians are to be productive and industrious, especially where ministry is involved. Finally, we maintain good personal relationships by avoiding malicious gossip and fighting and instead showing kindness and gentleness to everyone (vs. 2).
            Paul then affirms that godliness is the result of God’s grace toward us (vs. 3-7). After instructing us to show kindness and gentleness to others, Paul reminds us that we once lived a lifestyle of sin and grieved God as others now grieve us. In spite of our sins, Christ “appeared” (vs. 4, Heb. 9:26) to extend mercy and forgiveness to us through his vicarious death on the cross. Our salvation is completely a work of grace through which we are washed, reborn, and made new by the Holy Spirit (vs. 5). On the basis of Christ’s death for us, we are justified, or declared righteous, and become heirs with Christ of all that is his (vs. 7). If God has shown us this measure of grace, we ought to extend that grace to others through a lifestyle of godliness.
            Although godliness is commanded of Christians, we ought to joyfully pursue it because of its benefits. Rather than engage in unproductive religious activity such as debates and arguments (vs. 9), we should put into practice what we already know and live the truth we believe. Godliness strengthens our Christian testimony, enhances our relationships, and reflects God’s grace to others. Like exercise to the human body, godliness strengthens our spiritual life, and it also yields eternal reward in heaven (1 Timothy 4:7-8).  The congregation at Crete needed to live in contrast to the culture with which they were identified. This is true of the church today. Our transformed lives are the greatest apologetic we possess. We need to couple our outspoken witness with an outstanding walk in order to win our world for Christ.

This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, February 12, 2013.

What Can a Christian Learn From a Crook?

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            Luke 16:1-8 contains what is perhaps one of the strangest parables Jesus ever gave, the parable of the dishonest manager. Jesus uses this story about a man who steals from his employer to teach us something about the kingdom of God and our responsibilities.


           The man was a hired steward, or manager, and his job was to manage his employer’s estate and finances. His employer received an accusation that he was “wasting” his assets. The employer then calls the manager in and orders him to give a final accounting of his work before he fires him. The manager knows he has been caught and exposure like this would ruin his reputation to the point that no one would hire him, so he seizes a small window of opportunity to save his own skin. He calls in everyone who owes his employer money, and he cuts them a sweet deal. He cuts the first man’s debt in half, and gives another man a twenty percent reduction! His motive is to get on the good side of his master’s debtors so they will hire him when he is fired. This is shrewd thinking. Dishonest, but shrewd. Then the unexpected happens, his employer finds out what he has done and commends him. Why would he praise the man who is stealing from him? The master realized that even though his manager was dishonest, he was a shrewd businessman and he would be better off having him working for him than for a competitor.

         The man didn’t repent of his dishonesty; he actually added more dishonesty to it. He wasn’t sorry for his sin, he was sorry he got caught. Why would Jesus use this despicable man as an example to his followers? He tells us why in verse 8, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” Jesus says that the world works harder and smarter in the business realm than the church does in the kingdom of God. While this dishonest manager is a poor moral example, he possesses some exemplary traits as a manager. We as managers of God’s assets ought to perk up and take notice.

  • He was prudent

He had discretion that helped him use situations for good. Where most would have panicked, he saw a bad situation as a small window of opportunity. “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 27:12). We need to use godly wisdom and discretion to act productively in difficult situations.

  • He was progressive

Rather than pining over past failures, he cut his losses and moved forward. Many people are immobilized by their past failures and even successes to the point that they never move onward from today. Paul was progressive for Christ, “Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14).

  • He was proactive

He acted in advance of problems. He didn’t wait until he was on the street to wonder what he was going to do, he acted in advance. Much of what we do in ministry is a knee-jerk reaction to problems. Rather than being proactive, we wait until there is an emergency and we spend all our time putting out small fires. 

  • He was purposeful

Rather than leave his future to chance, he acted “on purpose” to secure income for tomorrow. He had a goal – future financial security – and he acted in ways to meet that goal. Paul was purposeful in his evangelism strategy (Romans 15:20-21). If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.

  • He was a planner

When he was caught in a bad situation, he immediately began thinking of how he could act today in order to better himself tomorrow. He maintained his composure and developed a practical (though dishonest) plan for the future. “The plans of the diligent certainly lead to profit, but anyone who is reckless certainly becomes poor.” (Proverbs 21:5). We see a great deal of godly planning in the Scriptures. Jesus even gave us a plan for evangelism (Acts 1:8). To fail to plan is to plan to fail.

          The employer did not praise his manager because he was honest, trustworthy, or responsible. He praised him because he was shrewd. He had practical business sense and discretion which were valuable qualities in the business world. Jesus used this example to show us that the world is better at their business than we are at ours. If there’s a dollar to be made, people bring their best to the table; but when there are eternal souls in the balance, we settle for mediocrity. This manager used all of his savvy and abilities to secure his future, what are we doing to secure the future of the Kingdom of God? We are God’s managers (1 Corinthians 4:1, 2), let’s not be outdone by those who only manage earthly assets.