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?

What Are We Waiting For?

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One of the wisest Christian men I have ever known was my uncle Manuel. He once told me, “When God repeats Himself in the Bible, He means for you to pay special attention!” I have never forgotten this, and always try to see where God “repeats Himself.” One of the best examples of this is the Great Commission. The Great Commission is so important, Jesus gave it to us five times – Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:45-47; John 20:21; Acts 1:8. The Great Commission identifies our place in God’s plan: making Christ known to the nations.

            The apostles in Acts 1:8 could not fulfill the Great Commission right away; they had to wait on the promise of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would empower the apostles to be witness in John 16:13-14: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” Again in John 15:26-27:  “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (ESV). Once the apostles received the power (dunamis) of the Holy Spirit, they will be witnesses (martus) for Him according to the three-phase plan He has given them.
            We, however, do not have to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit for He is already present with believers. There is nothing withholding us from fulfilling the Great Commission in obedience to Jesus’ commands. There is no excuse for following the example of the servant in Luke 19:11-27 who buried his responsibility; we are to invest the Gospel with our neighbors and the nations that God might gain an increase. Today, we need only to become willing, useful, and obedient. We are called to sow the Gospel and reap the souls of men.
Although the apostles had to wait for the Holy Spirit, they obeyed what they could of Jesus commands; they went to Jerusalem to wait for empowerment through the Holy Spirit. Once He arrived, they followed the plan Jesus laid out in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (ESV).  His plan is still practical and possible today; we begin with Jerusalem (local, our home), then spread out to Judea and Samaria (regional, national), and then onward to the end of the earth (international). Did you know:
  • there are 1.365 billion people who have no access to the Gospel?
  • of the 6,800 various languages, 5,900 have no written Bible?
  • 86% of the world’s Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists do not know a Christian?
  • for more information visit joshuaproject.net or unreachedpeoplegroups.org
Every church has a responsibility to fulfill this command in some way. We should evangelize our local communities personally, volunteer for short-term mission trips, be open to God’s call to long-term missions, and give regularly to missionaries and missionary groups. What are we waiting for? 

Saint Patrick: Evangelist of the Emerald Isle

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What do you know about Saint Patrick? Did you know…

  • that the color first associated with Saint Patrick was blue?
  • that Saint Patrick was from England, not Ireland?
  • that Saint Patrick was a slave for six years?
  • that Saint Patrick was a devout Christian missionary?
  • that Saint Patrick was NOT a leprechaun? Ok, you probably knew that one…

Born somewhere on the main English Island (approximately 383 – 415 A.D.), Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders at 16 years old and enslaved by a warrior chief to feed pigs. Patrick was a Christian and prayed constantly during this time. After six years of enslavement, Patrick escaped and ran 200 miles to a harbor and sailed back to England. Only to be called by God to return as a missionary to Ireland. 
 Ireland was populated by pagans and barbarians. Patrick faced opposition by the druids, an religious group of men who practiced magic and were educated in matters of history and law. Opposed both by Druids and Arian priests, he planted orthodox churches and monasteries, mostly on the northern and western sides of the island. During his ministry Patrick wrote: “Daily I expect murder, fraud, or captivity, but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God Almighty who rules everywhere.” By the end of his life (493 A.D.), he was said to have baptized ten thousand, and planted over a hundred churches. Patrick strongly opposed slavery; having been a slave himself and having witnessed many of his Christian converts being abducted and sold as slaves. Within Patrick’s lifetime, the entire Irish slave trade had ended. 
There is much that is legendary about the life of Patrick and it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. One legend of Patrick is that on the night of Samhein (or Bealtine), when all fires were to be extinquished on the island, he lit a bonfire on a mountain in protest! Another legend explains the absence of snakes in Ireland by stating that Patrick drove away all the snakes, chasing them into the sea. Most notable of all is the shamrock legend. It is said that in order to explain the concept of the Trinity to the Irish pagans, Patrick used a three-leaf shamrock to illustrate God’s triune nature as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Later, Christians identified the three leaves with the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love (1 Corinthians 13:13); and in the event you found a four-leaf clover, the fourth represents luck (hardly a Christian concept).
Many details of Patrick’s life are lost to us and we can’t be sure about some of the particulars. What we do know is that Patrick of Ireland was a courageous Christian missionary who followed God’s call to share Christ in a difficult, pagan culture. So if you want to celebrate in the true spirit of Saint Patrick of Ireland, take some time to tell your non-Christian friends and acquaintances about the unique, triune God of the Bible… and get rid of any snakes you may run across in the process. 

The Truth of the Gospel: 1 Timothy 1:1-20

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We live in an age where the truth of the Gospel is constantly challenged. The exclusive nature of the Gospel and the righteous commands of God make our message unpalatable to most. As a result, a more agreeable alternative to biblical Christianity is often sought. This is nothing new. Paul constantly countered the arguments of false teachers during his ministry. Timothy was a young pastor who Paul had placed at Ephesus to lead the church and to deal with problems emerging there (vs. 3). In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he charges him to teach the truth and prevent false teachings from invading the church.
Paul says many at Ephesus had turned from the truth to empty debates brought on by false teaching (vs. 5-7). These individuals wanted to become teachers of the law like Jewish rabbis, but didn’t even understand what they claim to believe. Their teaching consisted of myths and genealogies loosely based on elements of Judaism (vs. 3, 4). The end result was a legalistic heresy that offered salvation by works. While the law serves a legitimate purpose in the New Testament, it is not a means of salvation. We are saved by God’s grace, not our works (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Paul tells Timothy to guard against this teaching because it is powerless to transform lives or produce genuine faith (vs. 4, 6).
Unlike the empty message of the false teachers, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has life-changing power. Paul is an example of radical Christian conversion. He had been a “blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man.” His life prior to Christ was committed to defending Judaism and destroying Christianity (Philippians 3:4-6), but God had chosen him to be a minister of the Gospel (Acts 9:15). Paul’s conversion perfectly demonstrates the authentic change that takes place through salvation, “he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Jesus extends mercy to the worst of sinners and transforms them into trophies of God’s grace. In verse fifteen, Paul encapsulates the mission of Christ in a short statement, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” The integrity of the Gospel is eternally important because it is only through Jesus that we can be saved and transformed (Acts 4:12).
Paul illustrates and explains the “shipwreck” of apostasy with the story of two Christian teachers who fell into heresy: Hymenaeus and Alexander. Paul says the cause of their error was their abandonment of “faith and a good conscience” (vs. 19). They began as superficially convincing Christians, but ended up with a doubting heart and a dirty conscience. They failed to believe the Gospel and they failed to obey the Gospel. Rather than change their lives to align with the truth, they modified the message to fit their lives. The result was poisonous and they were excommunicated in order to preserve the unity and integrity of the church (vs. 20). Paul uses this tragic example to demonstrate that faith and a good conscience are indispensable traits for the Christian.
There are opponents to the Gospel who would do away with it entirely. Then, there are those who would like to take the more agreeable points of Christianity, but leave out the more controversial elements. The problem with that approach is that a partial Gospel is a powerless Gospel. From the garden of Eden to the garden tomb; from creation ex nihilo to the consummation of the age, there is not one element of the Gospel that is dispensable. This is why we must “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3) and “fight the good fight” in the face of opposition and false teachers (vs. 18). We must disregard the sinister suggestions of the slithering serpent, and echo the words Jesus prayed only hours before his crucifixion, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). 
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, January 29, 2013.