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"But sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts, always being ready to make a defense to every one who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame" (1 Peter 3:15-16).
A complementary Bible study on this message is available at 1 Peter 3:15-16 Bible Study Questions
I appreciate an opportunity to recently hear Os Guinness speak at a recent seminar. There were several things that I learned that I could instantly put to use. One of them was the handle on a major problem of Christianity in the Western world.
A handle is a mechanism by which one can hold or manipulate a big item. It might be like a suitcase. If we had no handles, we at most could hold one suitcase at a time. Os Guinness said that nowhere has Christianity been so prevalent as in America. We have Christians in every corporation, government office, and community grouping.
The problem is that they in no way carry the influence that they should. He stated that the problem with Christianity is that it is committed to being silent. His conclusions about the matter were perhaps even more startling. He said that Christianity’s survival in America depends upon whether Christians will ever go public.
Many Christians do not think that religion is a public matter but a private one. They might pray but they pray silently. They might think about how other people ought to know about Jesus, but they will never publicly state to others what they privately think.
Having visited many churches, I can testify how many Christians think that praying aloud or sharing their views about the Bible are untouchables. They almost consider “never talk about religion” as a virtue. This has become a poison the church in the West has been drinking and now because of the toxic drink they are slowly dying.
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Having thought about this matter and Os Guinness’s words, I realize that he touched upon a real issue. It might not be exactly the problem we face, but it could be. If you have attended one of these ‘private’ churches, you will be very shy about praying aloud. These people somehow think the pastor is the only one that can or should really pray. They are convinced that a good Christian is quiet about his faith.
But in fact, we do not see the early church like this at all. The church is alive with energy. They pray and testify the gospel to those who are around them. We do see the leaders more prominently mentioned but this is only natural, but there are a host of passages that clue us on that much more is going on. The churchthe people of Godare also praying, evangelizing and disciplining.
You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8)
“We have no need to say anything.” The specialists are only such when they enable others to do their own job. Pastors and missionaries should indeed evangelize and preach the Gospel, but they are called to be equippers. They are there to pass on the vision, scripture knowledge and practical know-how so that everyone can participate. A whole region heard the Gospel because a small group of believers simply imitated the apostles. What they received, they passed on. They were not intoxicated by the drink of privatism.
I know that many of you have accepted the lie that you should not or can not evangelize. Whether it is because you were brought up in one of these ‘private’ congregations or because you personally had a bad experience or because you do not believe evangelism is sufficiently tolerant toward others, you have been disobedient to the Word of God. Christians are named so because they live a life like Christ who was committed to introducing and leading people back to God through the Gospel. It is Jesus that told us to “Go and make disciples, teaching them all that I have commanded you.” When Jesus included the words “baptizing them,” we understand that discipleship is a broader word that includes evangelism, the basic message about Jesus’ life and work that call a person to leave their sins and follow Him.
Perhaps we can pause here, and pray. We might be one of those private Christians and have never analyzed your assumptions in light of the scriptures.
God’s Word doesn’t allow such perspectives. I like you have ‘missed’ opportunities. I like you haven’t spoken because I did not know what to say quickly enough. We are humbled, but we want God’s Word like a fire lit in our hearts. Fortunately we have the Spirit of God to overcome our wrong beliefs and to give us courage like the Christians in a city called Thessalonica.
“Dear Lord, our life is like a tree. Some of our roots are bad and they are sucking up poisons into our system. Lord, please break off these roots. They only exist by our wrong beliefs. We have briefly seen that these thoughts lead not only to personal failure, privatized churches, but even a saltless society. O Lord, break off these roots. Let us not suck these sins into our system any longer.
The Gospel is in our hands and in our mouths. We have the Word of Life to bring to those ensnared in the darkness. You can bring them from the darkness to light. You can deliver them from the power of Satan and bring them into your kingdom of love. We have the key of life. Lord, open the door of life to those before us who are dying. Break off our poisoned roots and show us the power of God today! We pray in Jesus Christ’s Holy Name, Amen.”
Our basic job ahead of us is to draw some principles from God’s Word as found in 1 Peter 3:15-16 that have some relevance to this topic. We hope that this will be one of those sermons that are more practical and helpful. We do not need to fear the word or call to evangelism.
Although some have a special gift (and along with this a call) to evangelize, we all need to take up every opportunity to pass on the Word of Life to those who are perishing.
Let’s highlight four principles to become effective in serving the Lord.
1) Everyone testifies - But sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts
2) Always available - always being ready
3) Share what Christ has done - make a defense to everyone for the hope that is in you
4) Have a Christ-like attitude & behavior - yet with gentleness and reverence and keep a good conscience
Every Christian that names Jesus as Lord must tell others about Jesus. Evangelism is not an option. We are compelled to do what the Lord tells us to do. This verse says that the way that we sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts is to ready ourselves to share of Christ’s work in your life as God gives opportunity.
I know many of us have concerns with this challenge. Many have expressed to me that they do not know how to evangelize. They do not know what to say. They do not know how to start.
We will discuss what to say a little later, but the issue is, the scriptures state that evangelism is primarily an issue of the heart. It has to do whether we really treat Christ as Lord. It would have been easy to hide from this issue if the Lordship of Christ was not so directly linked up to evangelism.
Spiritual struggles are like this. They deal with some inner struggle. Some people do better with one area than another. But the point is that we as Christians are all called to vocally tell others of Christ. This includes our children, neighbors, family members, colleagues and complete strangers.
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We read in John that Jesus had other sheep that He must get. Now how is He going to get them if He ascends to heaven? As Head of the church, He is going to mobilize His believers to tell others about the Gospel. Well, you wonder why doesn’t He just do it? Christ’s point is to give opportunity to demonstrate their love for Him by what they do. There is no work involved in becoming a Christian. But there is much to do after we are saved to show our appreciation to Christ for His work on the cross for us.
Sometimes this work is not easy. Usually it is not easy. We sometimes meet up with all sorts of unpleasant people. What am I asking? The better question is what is the Lord, your Lord, telling you. He is telling each Christian to make him or herself willing to tell others about Christ as He would lead and give opportunity.
Will you do this? Yes, you probably feel the tug at your heart. “I don’t feel like …” feelings and thoughts counter “I want to serve you Lord. You have been so good to me feelings and thoughts.” No matter your inadequacy, just state your availability. He will enable you each step of the way. Remember He is working with you. He doesn’t send you along into a scary mission. He is always there with you.
Maybe you wonder what to do with the scared feelings and thoughts? First of all recognize they are not from God but from the evil one. Usually once aware of my own feelings, I acknowledge Jesus as my Lord. I remember that Satan usually wants me to do opposite than God wants. So I dismiss my feelings, trust God to help me and do what he wants.
The more firm I am to always do what God wants, the easier it is to chase away those scared feelings. Usually we can talk to the Lord saying, “I was scared back there but I am glad You are with me. That makes so much difference! Now what do you want me to say?”
If we can see evangelism as part of our lives, then we will have little problem always being ready. Each of us need to make deep basic commitments in our lives to do what our Lord wants. The more our lives live out His commands, the better our lives are. Psalm 19:11 says, “In keeping them (God’s Words) there is great reward.”
The evil one of course would say the opposite. He would whisper all sorts of excuses trying to have you believe there is no reward.
Frankly, we have no option. When the Jews came to know the Lord, they seemed to ignore the needs of the wider world. The Lord sent a persecution to drive them out. Did they then evangelize? Yes, and great things happened but it came at the cost of their homes and ‘normal’ lives.
It is easy to think of our ‘normal’ lives: going back for more at a buffet, sitting in front of some wide-screen, driving your cool car down the street, enjoying your research, anticipating marriage. None of these things are wrong in themselves. The problem is that if our priorities are not right, they can be wrong.From this verse, what is it that must stand as a priority? The word ‘always’ reveals the answer. We must always be ready to tell others of Christ.
Because of this priority of evangelism, let me suggest a different way to look at a normal life. All of the Lord’s commands are looked as normal. Everything else is extra. His commands are the context within which I carry out my life. How does the Lord tell us how to approach life here? He simply tells us to “always being ready.” In other words, we need to ready our hearts each day to rightly prepare ourselves for the opportunities that the Lord might send. We might do it in a prayer like this.
Dear Lord, this is a new day. You want your kingdom to come on earth even as it is in heaven. You want to bring your blessings to others. I want to take my part. I don’t know what you have for me to do, but I am willing. I only plead that you give me wisdom to discern the opportunity, compassion to care for the lost and knowledge of what to say. In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.
Do you see how this person makes himself ready for the opportunities that the Lord gives? As you regularly prepare yourselves through a prayer like this, you will begin to think about the people God brings into your lives. You might think of someone at church that the Lord is prodding you to call or have lunch with. If while you are praying, He brings someone to your mind, pray for that particular person and ask Him how you can show him or her God’s love.
Evangelism primarily is a way of life rather than something we do. We strategically position ourselves so that God can use us. We do have different gifts, interests and opportunities. The student has such a different life from a mother of young children. But in every Christian life, evangelism is God working with you. He does not send you out alone. We prayerfully prepare our hearts in the morning that all through the day we are ready for the opportunities that He sets up.
The evil one simply doesn’t want you to share the gospel of the Lord Jesus. His control is through deceit, and he wants to keep people in darkness so that he can control them. So it is true that when we think about making ourselves open to share the gospel, we have some carefully inserted doubtscall them temptationsfrom the evil one.
The reason I can so clearly articulate these things is not just that others have told me their fears, but I myself have to face them all the time. The more clear to serve the Lord and to have evangelism to be the way we live, these questions will be easier to dismiss. Instead of focusing on our fears, we are focused on mission. Instead of focusing on what we can’t do, we deliberately trust God to help you work out everything. After all, He is your partner in this process. He wants you to succeed. But you still might wonder, “What should I say?”
I think it is essential that we pay attention to what the apostle says here. “Always being ready to make a defense ….to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Please take notice that we are asked to be able to make a defense for why we trust in Christ. Perhaps we could rephrase this, “Why do you believe?” “Why don’t you just act like everyone else?” “What has Jesus done for you?”
We admit that this verse is written in the context of being intimidated. Let’s look at 1 Peter 3:14. “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled.” And this then leads into the words that we are now addressing. People a couple decades back were not so antagonistic toward Christians as they are now.
Today, we are meeting up with a number of people who grew up in Christian homes and have rejected Christianity. They have seen only the religion without the life. They have seen profession without life. Instead of the springs of life, they have only seen hypocrisy, arguments between their parents, and slanderous marks made against people in the church.
They don’t want that. And prodded on by the media, we have a number of people out there that purposely intimidate us. We can understand why the words “to everyone” are included. If we had to tell others of what we count so precious, we would normally choose our friends. But we are not to judge people by the outside. We are to tell everyone the gospel. Even in stressful circumstances, we are to tell people about Jesus. If telling others about Jesus is ‘normal,’ then we take the hard with the easy.
I have had to make some basic decisions in my life. Was I going to be a person who lived incognito, protecting what I had? I have property. I have a wonderful family. But once I give a person my name and address, I can be hunted down. But I have considered ‘normal’ as what the Lord allows to come my way. I only need to pray that God would protect and keep me and I can fully trust Him. But let’s move on to what we can say for this is where many are held back.
I suppose many of you know this but it always is glorious to see the powerful drama that is rehearsed each time the story of Jesus and the plan of redemption is shared. But this verse says something more specific about what we are to say, and I believe this is of great help. It has been to me for the countless times I have shared about Jesus with others.
He simply says, “to give an account for the hope that is in you.” Sometimes we are so fearful that we do not know what to say to others but the apostle simplifies it down not in some great theological statement but to something all of us can do. We simply tell people what God has done for you. We do not deny there is need for preaching the gospel.
Clear facts must be preached. But this is not what is said here for the Christian. The Book of Acts 1:8 says in the same vein, “but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even t the remotest part of the earth.” Praise God this is happening today and we can be part of the streams of life!
Notice in both verses we are to tell others what we have seen and experienced. In other words, we tell others what Jesus has done for us. When you are a witness, you tell what you see. When you answer the question, “Why do you believe in Jesus?” you are again testifying what Jesus has done in your own life. You are not to focus on the lives of others but your own.
Now I will share how God has taught me over the years to share. This is important in an environment where people are hostile even before you start speaking.
We are to be honest. Witnesses tell the truth. So we can simply put out of our minds how they will respond. That is none of our business. Our job is to share. But when we share the story of the grace of God through Jesus Christ, our story always needs to start off in a humble way. No one wants to hear how long you have attended church or badges you might have gotten for memorizing verses. That is religion. But start where God began His gracious work in you.
After greeting someone, we should normally start sharing of what we were like. Tell them of your failures, depression, hopelessness, confusion, emptiness, lusts, anger and relationship problems. People are willing to hear you speak of your weaknesses. They instantly realize you are not trying to deceive them.
They still might try to intimidate you, but it is hard to do that when you are willing to speak so lowly of yourself. You end up doing it yourself! This of course is not the hope that is in us. This is our despair, darkness and desperateness. But this sets the scene for where you can tell them what the Lord Jesus did for you. Along with telling them how He changed you, you must share how Jesus fits into the picture.
We are not telling them that we are perfect, but how He has miraculously and lovingly put us on the path of knowing God and living out our purpose in life. The more honest and clear you are, the more powerful your testimony and the more honor God gets.
Remember it is not saying how great you are. We already admitted our weaknesses. But now we can tell others what God is doing in our lives. Why talk about predestination, the Trinity, etc. when we are simply to tell people about what God has done in your lives.
This is why one of the most basic things we all are to do is write down a testimony of our Christian lives. We are to start by sharing our lives without Christ and then share what He has done in our lives. We in effect are telling people the ‘hope that is in us.’
I also suggest to add in your conversation something of how God is now working in my life. I like to add something special that God recently taught me as appropriate. It might be how He specially provided, protected or helped me. Each day is special. But I don’t want to sound hollow by saying what God has done for me in the past but don’t sound convincing about His ability to make my life special today.
People are not willing at first to share their problems. They pretend they are fine and don’t need Jesus. But the opposite is true because the scriptures say it is true. Their lives are horrible without Christ. They are suffering. We don’t say that because it will offend them, but we instead start by sharing how God helped us. I basically try to discern what problems that person might be facing and then pick out one area in my own life that similar to that in how God helped me. People might not like you, but they generally respect your for your humble approach.
But again, this is nothing new. We are only putting into practice what was written in God’s Word many years ago. People haven’t changed. So how do you get ready? I would suggest to think of five areas at first but later expand to ten areas in which God has significantly helped you. Meditate how horrible that sin is.
For example, I share with others my past lust, stealing or lying problems. They will say or intimidate it is not that bad. Of course they are beginning to secretly defend themselves there. Never mind. You know by the scriptures that any sin is devastating and evil. Just amplify how lust causes a person never to really care for a person but only his or her own desires. People then get controlled by their desires and they just use and abuse people in some cases. Keep talking until they see how horrible the sin is. It might be pride, envy, slander, lying, greed, etc. If you need help, just see me. As I said, God has pulled me from so many pits, I have lots I can say about each area.
But then think how God’s commands, power and love have led you to life and hope. Be specific. If the issue is lying, then you can tell how self-centered lying is. You think of plans to put someone to a disadvantage for your own gain. Of course, you tie in there the fact how Jesus’ death on the cross has brought forgiveness and restoration to God.
By using such means, people in the postmodern world who are typically filled with deceit and pretentiousness, will get a good taste of God’s truth. You have testified to how God can bring hope to people in certain situations (hopefully like his or hers). You have showed how ugly sin is (even though you don’t need to use that word at first). They agree with you and the scriptures on the evil nature of sin and why God condemns it. They can no longer easily excuse their sins because they now can see its evil. But they also see the path of escape through Jesus.
Before we close, we need to look at one more essential aspect to giving a proper testimony.
When people are intimidated, it is easy for them to become argumentative. People like a good fight. People are looking for ways to feel good about themselves. We are asked not to get into heated debates. Now some of us are convinced this is what evangelism is all about. Some people really want to get into it and show how their argument is superior to another person.
There is room for apologetics but I don't believe this is what evangelism is really all about, at least not when people have tempers and are arguing. There are places for sincere questions and answers. Fortunately, with so many people and resources around, we can hand a person a book, invite them to talk to another person, etc. But Peter says two things are essential in all of this. “Yet with gentleness and reverence and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”
We have to be shaped by Christ’s gentleness and reverence. Someone has rightly said, ‘We can win an argument but lose the person.” If they swear, we do not swear. If they accuse us, we do not accuse them. We simply and humbly state our failures and Christ’s success. Our attitude must be the attitude of Christ Jesus. We cannot genuinely succeed if we do not have Christ’s Spirit at work in our lives. If you catch yourself, starting to get loud and argumentative, just apologize and tell them you are willing to have a Bible study with them if they are willing to see what God’s Word says.
The Gospel is centered around man’s unworthiness and God’s glorious grace. Our evangelism must be so focused. There is one more important thing that needs to shape how we evangelize. That is how we live. We must keep a good conscience. We might have seen God do wonderful things in the past, but if your life is not one of obedience, you in one sense have no testimony.
Your life denies ‘your hope within you’ because at this point it is not your hope. You are willing, for example, to be bitter against another or cheat on a test. Only God and you know but it is enough to keep you from properly evangelizing. We must have Christ’s joy in our lives right now. And this takes us back to where we began.
We follow and do what the Lord wants. We honor Him as Lord and therefore do what He says. A ‘normal’ life for a Christian is to gladly tell others how God has helped them where they are in life.
There is no greater privilege than to declare what God has done for our lives. Since God is perpetually refining us, we always have something new to add to the story of what He has done in the past in our lives through Jesus Christ. We must be crystal clear. We are not boasting of ourselves but of how God can remake people like us through Jesus.
The gospel is all about declaring the grace of God. There is no greater message in all the world. There is nothing greater to do than spend your time talking to others about how God has worked in your life. Now is the time to make the commitment to make evangelism a ‘normal’ part of your life. People might laugh at us; they might even scoff, but once they have heard what Jesus Christ has done in your life, they will one by one come to you and tell you of their problems and look for help in counsel or prayers.
Scriptures typically quoted from the New American Standard Bible unless noted:
(C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1988