December 1, 2008

How We Honor Christ in Our Hearts

The most commonly quoted Bible verse on defending the Christian faith becomes even more powerful when we pause to study it in greater depth.

The Apostle Peter writes:
“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 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, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:14–16).
First Peter notes our status in Christ, plainly stating something that few of us want to hear: We will suffer in Christ. As His followers, we must expect to suffer. Jesus explains that “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18–20).

For believers, suffering isn’t optional; it’s inevitable for everyone who is faithful to Christ. But we should also be encouraged. Why? Because we will also be blessed. Even though we will face suffering, we ultimately have nothing to fear—not humiliation, not physical harm, not even death! When we’re united to Christ and receive His blessing, we have all that we need in Him!

Having established our status in Christ, Peter instructs us regarding our responsibility to the Lord. He first gives a negative requirement: Do not fear or be troubled. This command is drawn from Isaiah 8:11–13, which tells us that we’re not to fear man, but the Lord. Our security and hope rests in Him alone.

The ThinkerHaving set aside our fears and troubles, we must honor Christ as holy in our hearts. The heart is the core of our being, the origin of all our behavior, and the place where Christ must reign supreme. And notice how we’re to do this—by “always being prepared to make a defense” of our faith. The phrase “make a defense” is a translation of the Greek word apologia, from which we get the English word apologetics. Apologetics means simply a defense—in this case, a defense of the Christian faith. So God commands all followers of Christ to engage in apologetics, and we’re to do this with anyone who asks about our hope, with no favoritism or discrimination.

Peter takes us a step further, instructing us in the manner of apologetics. We’re to engage others gently and with reverence before God. How easy it can be to get caught up in winning an argument! In our zeal to prove Christianity true, we can appear rude and demeaning. But we’re not defending our faith for the sake of having intellectual battles; we’re doing it out of love for God and for others. We want nonbelievers to embrace God’s truth, and when we defend our faith kindly and reverently, we’ll keep a good conscience—and those who oppose us will be shamed.

Of course, these truths aren’t just applicable to Christians in the West; African believers are likewise commanded to make a defense before their challengers and opponents. And many of them face much harsher persecution! As obstacles and opposition to biblical faith multiply in Africa, we must stand with them and do all we can to equip them, that they might always be prepared to respond. And that’s the special focus and calling of the Africa Center for Apologetics Research.

Join with me in praying that God will raise up a mighty army of bold and humble apologists to bear witness to Christ throughout all of Africa, beginning in Uganda!