I clearly remember the first time I heard the word “apologetics.” It was in a small group study at University Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Pastor H. D. McCarty gathered about twelve students each week to study Campus Crusade’s Ten Steps to Christian Maturity. I recall that I really did think I would have Christian maturity after studying those ten booklets in my sophomore year.
During one of our study sessions, Pastor McCarty explained that apologetics was the branch of Christian theology dealing with defending our faith, and he said that it came from the same root as the word “apology.” That’s what got me. The only use of the word “apology” I had ever heard was actually the second meaning of “apology” in the dictionary, which is “an acknowledgment of some fault, injury, insult, etc. with an expression of regret and a plea for pardon.”
Well, I certainly didn’t think I needed to express regret or fault about my faith. I was proud of being a Christian and argued at length with the pastor that I didn’t think that “apology” was a good word to use.
Only much later did I look up the word and discover that it comes from the Greek word apologetikosmeaning “suitable for defense.” And the first meaning of the word “apology” is “a formal spoken or written defense of some idea, religion, philosophy, etc.”
I am still embarrassed that I made such a big deal out of it, and I was totally wrong. That has happened to me more times that I like to admit.
Today I want to focus on three particular verses in our passage, verses 15, 18 and 21. First we look at verse 15, which says, “Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, with humility and fear.” Or as the King James Version says, “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”
I hope you will believe me when I say that defending our faith is apologetics. Perhaps one the greatest challenges to Christians is learning how to make an adequate apologetic statement in the best sense of the word. How can we make a formal spoken defense of our faith? It is not an easy thing to do.
Most of us want to think that our lives are statement enough about our faith. “We will just live our faith,” we say, “and everyone will know by the way our lives that we are Christians.” Of course, the problem is that they won’t know. First of all, we are not really good enough to let our lives be our witness. If we think we are, then we need to look carefully at what the Bible says about pride. Secondly, even when we are good, there is no way for people to know the content of our faith. There are plenty of people who have apparently good lives who are not believers in Jesus Christ.
So that leaves us with the need to give a spoken defense. How can we make a formal spoken defense of our faith?
The first step is for us to say the name of Jesus. I am afraid that some people are so timid about their faith that the name of our savior never crosses their lips. How can anyone know of our faith if we never say his name.
The name of Jesus doesn’t just belong within the church walls. We may be comfortable talking about our faith and our spiritual pilgrimage here or with Christian friends. But somehow we need to find a way to speak of our faith to those who do not have faith.
Some of our elders have started wearing pins on their suits as a way of breaking the ice. Gerald Deskins wears a pin in the shape of a yoke. Matthew 11:28-30 says,
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,
for I am gentle and lowly in heart;
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
When people see that yoke pin on his suit or his hat, they often ask what the pin is for. Then Gerald can explain about his faith in Jesus. He is not fighting the battles of life alone, for he has a Savior which is Christ the Lord.
Jim Brown likes to wear a pin which is a tiny red chalice. When people ask about it, he can explain the importance of the Lord’s Supper in our church and in his own life. Communion with Christ is one of the key building blocks of our faith experience.
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The second step in our witness involves telling what a difference Jesus has made in our lives. What we may believe about Jesus is not as effective a witness as the difference Jesus has made in our lives. People may not care that we believe that Jesus was the virgin-born Son of God. They may not understand at all if we suggest Jesus is the third person of the Trinity now sitting at the right hand of the throne of God.
But when we say, “Jesus changed my life,” people sit up and listen. One of my former pastors, John McClanahan, used to love to tell a story he heard a church member tell him once. This church member was a recovering alcoholic, and it was his faith that enabled him to turn from the bottle. A skeptic once asked him if he believed that story about Jesus turning water into wine.
The man replied, “I don’t really know what happened at the wedding at Cana All I can tell you is what happened to me. At my house, Jesus turned money for beer into money for furniture!”
But the other side of that point is that if Jesus has made no difference in our lives, then we really don’t have anything to say in defense of our faith. In that case, we need to come on our knees before Jesus.
The third thing we can do to give an effective witness is to use “I statements.” We would do well to get the word “you” out of our speech as much as possible. We testify when we say, “I.” We meddle when we say, “You.” But it is very difficult to argue with someone who uses the word “I” to tell about their own experience with Jesus.
According to our text, another step in our witness is to do it with “gentleness and reverence.” Most people are afraid to give a witness for Christ because they think they are supposed to “button-hole” someone and verbally wrestle with them until they finally give up and accept Christ as their Savior. But our job is not to convert people. That’s the role of the Holy Spirit. Our job is to give a witness, and to do it with gentleness and reverence.
The next verse that I want to focus on in our passage is verse 18: “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” That verse is as good a summation of the gospel we are to defend as any in the Bible.
This sentence tells us that “Christ… suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous.” The message of the New Testament is that somehow, someway Jesus took the sins of the world upon himself. The writers of the New Testament frequently turned to Isaiah 53:4-6, which gives a perfect description of this sacrifice:
“Surely he has borne our sickness,
and carried our suffering;
yet we considered him plagued,
struck by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions.
He was crushed for our iniquities.
The punishment that brought our peace was on him;
and by his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray.
Everyone has turned to his own way;
and Yahweh has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
The book of Hebrews makes a point to say, “once for all.” Hebrews points out the contrast the earthly high priests to the supreme and final sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 7:27 tells of Jesus, “who doesn’t need, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices daily, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. For he did this once for all, when he offered up himself.”
Hebrews 9:12 says, “nor yet through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, entered in once for all into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption.”
Hebrews 9:26 says, “But now once at the end of the ages, he has been revealed to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
And finally, Hebrews 10:10 says, “by which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
Finally, this verse explains the whole purpose of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection by saying it was “that he might bring you to God” (3:18). In the footnotes, we find that “us” is also a good translation. Jesus suffered for sins in order to bring us to God.
When I shared with a lectionary listserv group that I intended to preach on this text, Rick Loader, pastor of the First Christian Church in Bardstown, wrote back, “The idea that Christ brings us to God is pretty comforting. A little awesome, really, with the hint that Christ has a hand on us and guiding us to God. Comforting, unsettling…”
Finally, I want to look at verse 21 which says, “This is a symbol of baptism, which now saves you—not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ….”
There is a common misunderstanding about baptism. Some people think baptism is a washing, when it is primarily a symbol of burial and resurrection.
I guess there is always some fluidity in symbols like baptism. Certainly we use water which has an implication of washing. And there are a couple of passages in the Bible that relate baptism to washing.
Acts 22:16 “Now why do you wait? Arise, be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”
Hebrews 10:22 “Let’s draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and having our body washed with pure water.”
One of the problems with the washing imagery is that we need to be washed again and again. Do we need to be baptized every time we sin? We need to be washed every time we get dirty.
But the primarily meaning of baptism can be found in verses like Romans 6:4
“We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death,
that just like Christ was raised from the dead
through the glory of the Father,
so we also might walk in newness of life.”
When I baptize someone, I always say, “We are buried with Christ in baptism; we are raised to walk in new life.” That’s why we prefer immersion baptism. It gives the picture of someone dying and coming up out of the grave. It represents not a cleansing, but a transformation.
Colossians 2:12-14 says,
“…having been buried with (Christ) in baptism,
in which you were also raised with him
through faith in the working of God,
who raised him from the dead.
You were dead through your trespasses
and the uncircumcision of your flesh.
He made you alive together with him,
having forgiven us all our trespasses,
wiping out the handwriting in ordinances which was against us;
and he has taken it out of the way,
nailing it to the cross.”Our three texts for today give a great summary of the heart of our faith:
“Always be ready to give an answer
to everyone who asks you a reason
concerning the hope that is in you,
with humility and fear” (3:15).
“Because Christ also suffered for sins once,
the righteous for the unrighteous,
that he might bring you to God” (3:18).
“This is a symbol of baptism, which now saves you—
not the putting away of the filth of the flesh,
but the answer of a good conscience toward God,
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (3:21).
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2005, Dr. Mickey Anders. Used by permission.