September 11, 2016
A recently published book is titled, “The End of White Christian America.” It is written by Robert P. Jones who is the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. Listen to a quote by Jones from a recent interview with the well-known PBS news anchor, Judy Woodruff.
“And what I think is going on is that…the anxieties that many particularly white conservative Christians are feeling is being driven by this real sense of loss and grief of this cultural world that they and their ancestors built and that used to hold sway in the center of American culture, and is now really passing from the scene.”
We are living in an increasingly Post Christendom society. For many years Christendom has reigned in this country. Protestants have played a commanding role in every facet of society and Protestant Fundamentalists and Evangelicals have enjoyed a great deal of power at various times over the years. But now we are coming to see that many of our methods of evangelism and our close cooperation with Political Parties is no longer serving the church or the kingdom of God very well.
How do followers of Christ practice evangelism in a post Christendom society? Peter is writing to believers who are experiencing various forms of persecution. And in 1Pt.3:13-17 he gives instruction on what evangelism looks like when Christians are not appreciated. In v.15 he tells us to be prepared to give a defense to anyone who asks about our faith. So let me ask you: Are you prepared to give a reasonable explanation for your hope in Christ?
I. HONOR CHRIST THE LORD AS HOLY. 1Pt.3:15
In v.15 we read the word, “defense.” The Greek word is apologia. We get the word, “apologetics” from this word. Today when we talk about apologetics we think about intellectual debates and arguments. And often that is the case. But Peter is not writing to scholars. He’s writing to believers like you and me. When Peter talks about giving a defense of one’s faith he does not begin with arguments for the existence of God or with evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. He does not make a list of doctrines that a person must subscribe to. He does not begin with content to be communicated. Rather Peter begins with the important truth that Christ is Lord and Christians are those who honor Christ the Lord as holy.
What does it mean to honor Christ the Lord as holy? Well, it certainly implies that a person is in an ongoing relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. The Gospel is not just about a moment in time when a person prays a prayer to receive Christ as Savior. In the past we have sometimes reduced the gospel message to a once and done moment in our lives when we get saved. But really the gospel is about receiving a new life from Jesus Christ who is Lord of all. It is a life that we live out on a daily basis under the reign of Jesus the Lord. Salvation is not something that we take care of and then forget about. Being saved begins at a moment in time when we embrace Christ as Savior and Lord. But when we embrace Christ we enter into a whole new way of living. We live every day with Christ as our Lord.
Honoring the Lord as holy means that the Lord is the most important person in our lives. It means that we fear the Lord in such a way that we would never want to profane his name or bring disgrace upon his name. To honor the Lord means that we seek to obey the Lord in every way. And while we all struggle with sin, we do not give ground to sin in our lives. When we sin we confess it and move on. So if we are going to honor the Lord as holy, we will seek the Lord daily that we might walk in the light of his faithful presence through the Holy Spirit.
And then, honoring the Lord in our lives also means that we are committed to being a part of what God is doing in the world. What is God doing? Well, he is reconciling all things to himself through Jesus Christ the Lord of heaven and earth. He is seeking to show his goodness, love, and mercy through his church in order that many people will enter into the kingdom of God by confessing Christ as Lord by faith.
More and more I realize that many of us do not perceive that the lordship of Christ is a living reality wherever we may be. We get caught up in the events of our world and our lives as if what we see and experience in the world is all there is. But no, everywhere we go, in everything we do, in every relationship we have, Christ is Lord. And to honor Christ as Lord is to attend to and acknowledge the reality of his active presence within us and around us all day long.
Has your marriage fallen apart? Christ is Lord and desires to bring reconciliation in your marriage and as you acknowledge the Lordship of Christ each day you live with your spouse, the Lord will help you express his goodness and love to your spouse. Are you facing serious health issues? Christ is Lord and as you acknowledge his Lordship over your body, he will help you face your illness in such a way that he will be exalted in your body whether by life or by death. Is work dragging you down? Make it your aim to go to work with the knowledge that Christ is Lord at your workplace and wants to use you to be a blessing. You are not on your own at work. The Lord Jesus is always there. When Jesus sent the disciples out into the world he said, “I am with you always, even until the end of the age.”
So to prepare ourselves for witness we focus on honoring Christ the Lord as holy in our life and in the world. That will require intentional action on our part as we make space for God in our lives through the reading of his word, through ongoing prayer, and other spiritual activities. Pay attention to Christ the Lord. Surrender yourself to Christ the Lord.
II. BE HUMBLE. 1Pt.3:15
One of my challenges when it comes to witness is the need to be right and have the answers. And so when I am asked a question or presented with some viewpoint that I can’t clearly refute I feel that I am letting the Lord down, and I feel dumb. A week or so ago I was having a conversation with an acquaintance at Starbucks and he was talking all about a quantum field and finding your purpose in the quantum field and how you can call the quantum field whatever you like. You can call it God, Allah, or Buddha, etc. It’s all the same. This is a very intelligent man. Well some of what he had said I could agree with until he got to the quantum field and then I felt the need to be right, only I didn’t really know what to say. See, the need to be right is a problem when it comes to giving a reason for the hope we have in Christ. It reveals uncertainty or fear. Peter says nothing about having all the answers or winning the argument. Instead he says we need to be humble.
He says do this in “gentleness and respect.” The word for “gentleness” is not easy to translate into English. Gentleness requires humility. Humility calls for being selfless, not demanding our rights, not having to have our way, not having to win the argument. Humility calls for patience and deference.
The word, “respect” is the Greek word for “fear”. We show respect to people when we acknowledge that they have something to say. They have much to offer. They are every bit as significant as we are. They have dignity and value since they bear the image of God. They are not just souls to save. They have a life, a story. We do not consider ourselves better because we are Christians.
In Christendom, the church has political and spiritual power and privilege in society. Power and privilege do not usually promote humility. People do not easily let go of power and privilege. In post-Christendom, Christians are probably going to lose power, privilege and freedom. In Peter’s day, the believers did not have power, privilege or freedom. They did not have the rights that we currently enjoy.
This is why Peter calls us to humility, gentleness. In fact, Peter is calling us to the way of Jesus. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.”
As I mentioned recently, I greatly value the religious freedom we enjoy. I pray that it will continue for all. Because Christianity has been the dominant religion in this country, it is first in the line of fire for those who do not acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus. We would do well to take to heart the words of Peter. As believers, as a congregation we want to be humble.
We can learn to be humble by acknowledging that Christ is Lord, trusting him to care and provide for us. When I spoke with my friend, it became more important for me to say something than to listen and ask questions. If I had done that I would have been in a far better position to know what to say.
In his book, The Allure of Gentleness, Dallas Willard writes, “Jesus tells us we are to be ‘as shrewd as serpents’ and ‘as innocent as doves’. The serpent’s wisdom, shrewdness, is timeliness based on watchful observation. And doves are innocent in that they are incapable of guile or of misleading anyone.” Often we are far too quick in witness instead of listening and observing, waiting to be asked for the reason for our hope. Clearly a posture of humility is required if we are going to gain the privilege of proclaiming the gospel.
III. PRACTICE GOOD BEHAVIOR. 1Pt.3:16-17; 13
Over and over in this letter Peter refers to doing good. Ten times he refers to doing good or having a good conscience. Some would like to confine witnessing to only doing good deeds. Saint Francis supposedly said, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”
Well, Peter would not agree with that because in v.15 he tells us to be prepared to give a defense to all who ask. It takes words to give a defense. So why the emphasis on good deeds? Good deeds lay the groundwork for gospel conversations. In 2:15 Peter writes, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” Today it is very common for people to take the worst examples of Christians and apply them to every Christian. So we are often made out to be bigots, homophobes, and fanatics. But when people see our good deeds and know that we are Christians, it is far more difficult to malign. Peter seems to indicate that good deeds can even mitigate against persecution. Obviously there are no guarantees.
In addition to this in v.16 he refers to having a good conscience. In other words our behavior should match our claim to follow Christ. In this world we do not want to be known for un-Christ-like behavior. We certainly do not want to live in ongoing sin. Rather we want to be morally upright men and women. Well, since we are men and women it means that we will sin, and when we do we must have integrity to own it. We are always grieved to hear when a high profile Christian leader is publicly exposed for sexual or financial immorality. Many own it and try to deal with it. Still it does great harm. For the sake of our own lives and the gospel it is so important to have a clear conscience.
Now doing good and having a clear conscience imply that others see our lives. In order for others to see our lives, our lives must be visible. We must be engaged on some level with other people. God desires to use us to show the world how good it is to know Christ. This calls for gospel living and gospel conversation.
When it comes to witness, we often feel that we don’t know what to say or we are afraid that we won’t be able to answer difficult questions. And then we feel guilty because we have been taught that we are to be out there sharing the gospel, and we are not.
Well, if I understand what Peter is saying, when it comes to witness, the life we live is far more important than memorizing a certain formula for sharing the gospel or being able to answer all the questions. When people ask questions based on our Christ-like character, conduct and conversation, my sense is that it will be easier to witness because our witness is based upon our life with Christ and what he is doing in us. This is why our primary preparation for witness is honoring Christ the lord as holy, being humble, and doing good. Amen