Ready to Give an Answer
I Peter 3:15
September 17, 1995
“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord; always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope that you have” I Peter 3:15.
Peter says to be ready to give an answer. Are you ready to give an answer for what you believe? Are you ready to answer the really hard questions?
This morning we are beginning a new sermon series called “Why I Believe: Equipping You to Share your Faith”. For the next several months we are going to look at the key doctrines of the Christian faith. Let me list for you the messages in order:
Why I Believe in God
Why I Believe in the Bible
Why I Believe in Jesus Christ
Why I Believe in the Holy Spirit
Why I Believe in Creation
Why I Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins
Why I Believe in Angels and Demons
Why I Believe in Heaven and Hell
Why I Believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ
These nine messages cover the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith. C. S. Lewis called these things “Mere Christianity,” the Christian faith stripped down to its essential elements. These are the doctrines that are fundamental and foundational, that all Christians have always believed in all places everywhere.
Every sermon title contains the phrase “I believe.” The Latin word is credo, which comes to us in English as creed. Credo in Latin simply means I believe. The earliest post-biblical statement of faith is called the Apostles Creed, which begins, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” A creed is a personal statement of faith that summarizes what a person believes.
The sermons in this series have this in common–they all deal with the area of supernatural truth. To believe in God is to believe in something that is supernatural. To believe in creation over evolution is to believe in something that is supernatural. To believe in angels, demons, heaven, hell, and the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins, is to touch that which is supernatural in its essence. I believe in our generation, it is vitally important that we as Christians reassert the supernatural basis of the Christian faith. That conviction is going to underline everything I am going to say. It is not enough just to say that we are Christians. It is not enough to say that we hold certain doctrines. We must reassert the supernatural foundation of the Christian faith. That’s important because if you remove the supernatural from Christianity, you have gutted our faith and turned it into nothing but a set of ethical instructions.
Why is it we believe in angels and demons? What is the evidence belief in God? Why is it we believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God? Does evolution contradict the Christian faith? These are some of the important questions we’ll consider in the weeks to come.
Evidence That Demands a Verdict
Underlying all these messages is the following thesis—I believe there is enough evidence to lead you to believe but not enough to force you to believe. I do believe the evidence for the Christian faith is truly overwhelming. Yet as we all know, each person must render his own verdict. Even when the evidence is overwhelming, a jury can choose to disregard it.
Even when the evidence is overwhelming, a jury can choose to disregard it.
Beyond that, this series of sermons is going to be very personal. Every single one of them is entitled Why I Believe. I have been a Christian for over 25 years and this series of sermons represents the best of my thinking, my study and my reflection. Why is it that after 25 years I still believe in God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the doctrine of creation, and all the supernatural doctrines of the Christian faith? I will be answering that question in a very personal way. My desire is to equip you to answer these questions for yourself. We are in a culture war, in a battle, in spiritual warfare every day, and it is important that we as Christians be “ready to give an answer” to anyone asks what we believe and why we believe it.
The Parliament of World Religions
Some of you may remember in 1993 when the Parliament of World Religions was held here in Chicago. The parliament brought together Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, animists, New Agers and unclassifiable what-have-yous. Biblical Christianity was a distinct, almost invisible minority in that assembly. What message did the parliament send to the world? “The fundamental unity of all religions except one–historic Christianity.”
Speaker after speaker demanded that people must be set free from the false notion than only one religion is true. There is no one religion that can claim any superiority over any other religion. There is no one faith that can claim to be the one true faith. During the parliament, Hank Hanegraaff (the “Bible Answer Man”) was on a nationally syndicated radio call-in program and in it the radio host opened the phone lines after Hank asserted that Jesus Christ is the only way to God and that outside of Jesus Chris there is no salvation. The host said, “Well, I don’t think I can accept your opinion.” “That’s not my opinion, that is what Jesus Christ said. If you don’t believe that, you don’t believe what Jesus said.”
During that two-hour nation-wide radio debate, here were the three questions that were asked most often by the people calling in from around the country.
1. Who is Jesus Christ?
2. Is the Bible really true?
3. What about those who have never heard the gospel?
How would you answer those questions? Here are some others you might try on for size: Why do you believe in God? Isn’t Christianity a crutch for the weak? Hasn’t science disproved the Bible? How do you explain the Trinity? What is hell like? Why are people so interested in angels? Are we really living in the last days?
1. Wanted: Solid Answers
There is a branch of theology that deals with those questions. If you go to seminary, that branch of theology is called apologetics. That may sound like an unusual name, but it is a name that comes from our text. When Peter says, “Always be prepared to give an answer,” the Greek word for “an answer” is apologia. We get from it the English word apology, so when people hear the word apologetics, they think we are apologizing for the Christian faith. But the Greek word doesn’t mean an apology, but a logical answer. So when Peter says we should be prepared to give an answer, he is not saying be prepared to apologize for what you believe, but that you should be ready to explain what you believe. That is why apologetics is called the defense of the faith. It is the rational explanation of the Christian faith.
There are two purposes for apologetics:
1. To explain what we believe.
2. To provide an answer to honest questions.
We apologize precisely because we don’t know apologetics. Peter said we are not to apologize. We are to be ready to give honest answers to honest questions. Let me drive this home in a very key statement: People need to know what we believe and they need to know why we believe it. If you doubt that, it is only because you have not been talking to the people out there. The day is long past when non-Christians will take whatever we say just because we say it. They are going to ask questions. When you say that you believe in Jesus Christ and they should believe in him too, they are going to say, “Who is Jesus and what is so special about him?” How are you going to answer that and demonstrate convincingly that Jesus Christ really is the Son of God?
There are two extremes we can go to. The first is the extreme of rationalism. The other is the extreme of mysticism. Rationalism is the view that you have all the answers. The rationalist says, “No matter what you ask, I have all the answers.” That tends to make you arrogant and it repels seekers. On the other end is mysticism, which says, “You don’t need any answers if you have Jesus in your heart.” If that is the only answer you can give, it is not a very good answer because the New Ager can say the same thing about his gods. He can say, “You ask me why some spirit lives, it is because he lives within my heart.” If rationalism repels the seeker, mysticism repels the thinker. What we need is a balanced approach that stresses informed conviction and true heart belief. Therefore, in this sermon series I want to give you two things:
Reasons to believe
Answers to share
When We Don’t Speak Out
Before going on, let’s stop and consider what happens when we don’t speak out about what we believe. Four bad things happen when we don’t answer honest questions.
1. We allow fools to grow bold. They think we don’t answer because we can’t answer.
2. It gives the appearance that our faith is based on mere prejudice and speculation.
3. We turn away honest seekers who are seeking the truth. Not every question comes from a hostile mind. Many people stumble over Christianity because no one has ever answered their honest questions.
4. We raise a generation of spiritually weak Christians. Our children end up knowing the words but not the message. They have the phrases, but not the underlying meaning. They don’t even know what they believe because we didn’t explain why we believe.
Go back to the gospels and you will discover Jesus always answered his critics. Always. He was never afraid to answer those who came to him. He answered everybody who came to him, including the skeptical Sadducees and the hostile Pharisees. It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I think we could rephrase that to say “The unexamined faith is not worth believing.”
2. Four Deadly “Isms”
I think we all understand that Western culture is dying and is almost dead. Western culture, which really was the flowering of the Reformation, has lost its soul through genocide, sexual chaos and self-worship. At the end of World War II the Quaker philosopher Elton Trueblood called America a cut-flower culture. We have the bloom of a Judeo-Christian heritage, but we have cut ourselves off from our roots. We have the bloom and we think we’re still connected but we’re not.
The Culture War
Pat Buchanan got in a lot of trouble a few years ago for saying that we are in a culture war here in America. He was right, of course, and increasingly we hear voices from both left and right speaking out against the moral dry rot in our society. Buchanan was right more than he knew because our war in America is not a political war but a spiritual war.
Ponder these penetrating words by Chuck Colson:
“Today, a “culture war” rages in our nation: the struggle between two conflicting worldviews. On one side are those who cleave to a Judeo-Christian understanding of absolute truth, with a corresponding view of life and culture based on two central commandments–love for God and love for people. On the other side are those who believe truth can be defined by each individual, with a corresponding view of life and culture based on individual choice–”what’s right for me.”
The real problem of America today is not the political battle between Democrats and Republicans. Our true problems are moral, ethical and spiritual. Francis Schaeffer summed up the condition of modern man when he said, “Modern man has his feet firmly planted in mid air.” As a culture, as a nation, as a society, we are dying. We are on life support. We are being kept artificially alive. We are dying and we don’t know why.
There are four deadly “isms” that are killing us today.
That is the view that man is the measure of all things. It is the brother of materialism which says that man is nothing more than chemistry. Secularism says that man is at the center of the universe, not God. The true secularist says there is no God at all or if he exists, he doesn’t matter at all. Man, therefore, must be his own savior. For the secularist there are no moral absolutes, only the shifting tides of human opinion.
This is the relentless pursuit of pleasure. You only go around once in life, so go for all the gusto you can. He who dies with the most toys wins. Life is good, drink it up. Morality to the hedonist is whatever feels good. If it feels good, do it. “I just want to be happy” is the national anthem of hedonism.
That is the view that all people will ultimately be saved. The true universalist denies that anybody will ultimately be lost. He believes that everyone gets to heaven in the end, the good, the bad, the religious, the irreligious, the Christian, the Muslim, the Jew, the Hindu, the Confucianist, the atheist, the secularist, and the New Ager. To the universalist all religions are basically alike, like many roads winding to the top of the same mountain. The universalist says there is no place called hell, or if there is, no one will go there. Universalism is a creeping disease that found a home inside the evangelical movement in recent, but at its heart it is diametrically opposed to the Christian gospel.
This is the most dangerous ism of all because it is the most prevalent today. It is the ism that has captured our society. Relativism says there is no such thing as absolute truth. In its extreme form, relativism teaches not only that there is no absolute truth, but there is no such thing as truth at all. “Truth is whatever you think it is.” “Truth is in the eye of the beholder.” “Truth is a subjective response to what happens around you.” If people believe it, it must be true, even if the facts don’t back it up. The relativist says that it is narrow-minded to say that something is right and something else is wrong. Relativism is the basis of political correctness in America today.
True Lies Vs. Total Recall
About a month ago an excellent article came out in U.S. News and World Report by John Leo about the subject of relativism. It was titled “True Lies vs. Total Recall.” Leo begins by noting how post-modern relativism has captured the college campuses of America. The result is that no one knows what is true or what is false. Leo offers as an example a discussion of the Holocaust at Williams College. It is sometimes said that the historical facts about the extermination of the Jews don’t matter, what matters is that the idea of the Holocaust has “purchase,” or strong emotional power. Even if it didn’t happen, “it’s a perfectly reasonable conceptual hallucination.” I am not sure I even understand what that means.
John Leo summarizes the current situation on college campuses this way:
In the post-modern, post-everything world view, there is no objectivity or truth. Everything is relative. Nothing is better or truer than anything else.
However, he notes that an event may be true if a group deems it to be true. This leads to the tribalization of history, so that only Africans can write about Africa, only Asians about Asia, only women about women, only socialists about socialism, and so on. The logical conclusion is that each group is free to write its own history, without regard to the actual facts, since in post-modernism “facts” don’t exist or they don’t matter or they are merely symbols to be conveniently manipulated by the group.
Petty, Pesky Literal Truth
But what is truth in that situation? Can anyone say for certain that one fact is true and another false?
This embarrassing development has led to two contradictory ideas. 1) nothing is true, but 2) what I say, or what my group says, is true because it is so strongly held.
Leo offers two further examples of relativistic thinking. Some persons in the sexual-abuse recovery movement tell clients that “if you think you were abused, you were.” The actual facts don’t matter. A second version pops up in the antirape movement. “In cultural perspective, if not in fact, it doesn’t matter whether the crime occurred or not.”
Mr. Leo concludes by saying that “nowadays it is best to be wary of any kind of movement with large, blazing truths in hand and the firm conviction that petty, pesky, literal truth almost doesn’t matter.” What a great phrase—petty, pesky, literal truth.
We are living in generation that wants to do away with petty, pesky, literal truth. They want to brush it away and say that what you Christians believe is good for you, but we don’t need to pay attention to it because although it may be true for you, it is not true for us.
3. Fashioning a Christian Answer
How shall we fashion a Christian answer to these things? Let me share five responses to the deadly isms of our day.
1. Listen carefully and with compassion.
By that I mean listening to the people with whom we disagree. That is what Jesus did. Read the gospels and you find he listened to the rich young ruler, he listened to Nicodemus, he talked to the woman at the well, he listened to the Pharisees and Saducees. He never crammed the truth down anyone’s throat. He didn’t use a canned message. He never changed the truth, but he always fit his words to the need of the moment.
2. By reasserting the reality of absolute truth.
This will not be easy or popular, but we must do it anyway. Over and over again Jesus called people into a personal confrontation with the truth he was proclaiming. In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the truth.” In John 17:17 he said, “Your word is truth.” In John 18:37, standing before Pilate, he said these words, “I came into the world to bear witness to the truth. Everyone on the side of the truth listens to me.” Pilate responded in the words of a true first century relativist, “What is truth?” What a question to ask when the truth was standing in front of him!
We need once again to hear these words from Psalm 119:142, “Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true.” Verse 151 says, “You are near, O Lord, and all your commands are true.” Verse 160 says, “All your words are true.” That leads me to make a very important point which I will come back to over and over again.
All Truth Is Narrow
All truth is narrow. Two plus two equals four, not 17. Harrisburg is the capitol of Pennsylvania, not Pittsburgh. George Washington was the first president, not Teddy Roosevelt. In 1942, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, not in 1923 even if you can make a rhyme like me. A pentagon has five sides. Football games have four quarters. A trio has three singers. A duet means two performers. Sixty seconds equals exactly one minute.
All truth is narrow. If something is true, then many other things must not be true. If everything is true, then nothing is true. If truth depends on your opinion or on the latest Gallup poll, we can never know the truth about anything. That is why we Christians insist on the concept of absolute truth. Without it, we have no faith to believe, only some warm, fuzzy sentimental feelings in our heart. That is not enough. We need to reassert once again to this crazy, mixed-up, confused generation exactly what the Psalmist said regarding God, “All your words are true.”
3. We must be willing to offend when eternal issues are at stake.
It follows logically, doesn’t it? There is no way to tell the truth without offending people who don’t believe in truth. If somebody says there is no absolute truth and you say there is, you’ve just offended their philosophical world view. We are going to be have to do that from time to time when eternal issues are at stake. But we are not going to win a popularity contest by doing it.
Suppose you wake up in the middle of the night and smell smoke coming from your neighbor’s house. You run into his house and see flames all around, then to your amazement you see him and his wife and three children sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee, eating cookies and laughing while their house burns down around them. What would you do? Well, you wouldn’t be nice or quiet. You would grab them, shake them, and if necessary forcibly drag him and his family to safety. If you offended him in doing it, at least you would save his life and hope he would thank you tomorrow.
This week I have been reading a little book by Chuck Colson called Faith on the Line. It’s a collection of some messages he gave 10 or 12 years ago. In his chapter entitled “The Role of the Church in Society, he says,
“Whenever people tell me, “That was a very inspiring message,” I always feel disappointed, because I don’t want to entertain. I want to bring the truth. And the truth is convicting… . It is high time the church became bold in its witness. We have too long watered down our message for fear of offending people.
Just before a governor’s prayer breakfast where I was to speak, the chairman asked me not to mention the name of Jesus Christ because there were Jews in the audience. You know what to do with advice like that–and that’s what I did. The first people to thank me afterward were Jewish. Don’t ever water down your message for anyone.”
4. By backing up our words with a life marked by observable love.
That is a Francis Schaeffer phrase. If they can’t see our love, what good will our words do? Strong words apart from love are like sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.
5. By praying aggressively, because without the Holy Spirit no one can be saved.
I think one of our problems is we have forgotten what the Bible says about the lost. We have forgotten that the lost really are lost, the unsaved really are unsaved. They are so blind they cannot see, so deaf they cannot hear, so paralyzed they cannot move, so dead they do not even possess the tiniest spark of spiritual life. They are Completely deaf, Totally blind, As dead as dead can be.
What’s more, they don’t know it, and if they did they couldn’t do anything about it anyway. These things are not just metaphors, but solemn biblical truths. They describe every man and every woman on the face of the earth who is without the life-giving touch of the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. That means that all of our arguments are useless without the Holy Spirit to open the eyes to see and the ears to hear and the heart to believe, obey, and understand. This, then, ought to encourage us to pray boldly and persistently. When God finally does move, his spirit can melt the hardest heart.
Nothing to Lose
All that I have said in this sermon is based on one fundamental conviction about everything else. I can say it in three words. Christianity is true. Therefore, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by a careful examination of what we believe and why we believe it. In more shocking terms, if Christianity is true, we need to believe it, and if it is not true, we need to know that so we can find out what is true. We need hard-nosed, tough-minded, open-eyed faith.
If you are not sure about what you believe, that’s okay. You don’t have to believe just because I say it is so. You may have some doubts about certain aspects of the Christian faith. You may even be a Christian, a member of a church, and have serious doubts about some of the things we believe. Doubt is not a sin. The only sin is refusing the search for the truth. So the best thing we can do for non-Christians is to share what we believe and why we believe it.
Truth Demands a Commitment
Truth always demands a commitment. Jesus said to Pilate, “Everybody on the side of truth listens to me.” Are you on the side of truth? It is not enough to intellectually say there might have been somebody like Jesus 2000 years ago. It is not enough to intellectually accept that there was a man named Jesus, born in Bethlehem, crucified, who rose from the dead. That is not enough. If you just say that and stop, you are not on the side of truth at all. You are just giving intellectual assent to certain propositions.
There are only three things you can do with the truth:
1) You can deny it.
2) You can ignore it.
3) You can believe it.
Those are your only options. So I ask you, what have you done with the truth about Jesus Christ? What have you done with the truth about the Bible? What have you done with the truth about salvation? I am sure you have heard of blind faith. God never asked anyone for blind faith. You have heard of a leap into the darkness. Faith in Jesus Christ is not a leap into the darkness. Christian faith is standing on God’s truth and leaping from the darkness into the light. If you are wondering whether or not you should take that step, let me tell you may be in the darkness now, but there is light on the other side and it is not far away. You will never know until you take that first step. The next move is up to you.