“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”
1 Peter 3:15
“Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”
Many of you grew up in a day when most in society had a Biblical foundation. Holidays still had a religious focus, businesses were closed on Sundays, there was a Bible in most homes, and church attendance was a given. You had the advantage of sharing the gospel with people who, for the most part, accepted God’s existence. This does not mean that everything in society was God-honoring, but the presence of God was assumed. Yes, there have always been adamant deniers, but nothing like the society we live in today. The shift from a God-acknowledging has been taking place over several decades, but I think it is safe to say that the Biblical foundation has been gone from American society for many years. Society now operates on the assumption that God is not real, and if He does exist, He is not significant to everyday life. Currently, most individuals have very little, if any, knowledge of the Scriptures, including professing Christians. This is particularly true of younger adults and teenagers; the very generations who will soon enough determine the focus of society. Yet, the Scriptures are still as relevant and life-giving today as they were when God inspired the writers to record them.
For readers of Truth Aflame, it is no secret that believers in Christ’s finished redemption are instructed to tell others the good news. I would like to implore you to consider the audience with whom you are sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. As a pastor, I am aware that there is, or should be, more to planning a sermon than picking a topic to preach on a certain week. A good speaker must always speak the truth, but the presentation of the truth needs to be effective for his particular audience. The way we construct sentences may be fine for some audiences, while not as efficient for a different audience. For example, “the ascertaining of adiaphora should not be formed by ignominy, obduracy nor predilection” is not going to be a good sentence for Sunday School classes. However, “Eve ate fruit. Adam ate too. Sin is bad.” is probably not going to captivate your adult audience on Sunday morning.
We need to know the audience with whom we are sharing the truth. Paul took this into account in his Gospel presentations (1 Cor. 9:20-22), and we know his fluid presentation did not mean that he was watering down the truth (1 Cor. 9:23a). When preaching to the Jew, he showed the redemption of Christ in the Law (Acts 17:2-3). When preaching to the polytheist, He spoke of the true Creator-God Who sent His Son to spare us from judgment (Acts 17:22-31). Jesus did the same in His ministry when he used items and traditions of His day to teach truths concerning the Kingdom. Prophets were given object lessons to drive home spiritual truth.
In trying to effectively minister to our present culture, it is important that you understand we are no longer speaking to people that have a Biblical foundation. While I am certainly a believer in the perspicuity of Scripture, never assume your audience understands or accepts concepts like depravity, born spiritual dead, the reliability of the Bible, indwelling Holy Spirit and a variety of other doctrines. They are going to want you to show its relevance and its trustworthiness.
How did you feel when I used the phrase, “the perspicuity of Scripture,” in the paragraph above? What about the words “adiaphora,” “ignominy,” “obduracy” and “predilection” from a few paragraphs ago? Now, remember how you felt when reading those words and imagine sitting in an entire service where several of the words and concepts are foreign to your entire worldview. By the way, the perspicuity of Scripture simply means that I believe the Holy Spirit will illuminate people to the truths of God’s Word, which should tell you that I believe the Holy Spirit will teach those who are willing to be taught. That is HIS responsibility in the matter. OUR responsibility is to preach the truth in a way our hearers can understand.
Today’s culture determines truth by assuming: “All you can believe is what’s in your own heart, count on intuition and faith, give up on the idea of truth, have an experience instead.” 1 People want to know something is relevant and trustworthy. Oftentimes, we have to begin by planting seeds of doubt in their personal, faulty conclusions and continuing to what can be trusted – the Word of God.
I understand our tendency to want to make pronouncements such as: “God said it. That settles it. I believe it.” After all, we are convinced the Bible is God-inspired, truthful, reliable, and relevant in every aspect. We may need a little more time to allow the Holy Spirit to convince others that the Bible is indeed the Word of God. Consider this: the Muslim who sincerely tells you that the Koran is the word of God, do you believe them? Why or why not? What makes the Bible so different? Do you believe it just because your Sunday School teacher told you so many years ago? These are the questions people are asking. When you tell them not to worry about such matters, you are telling them that we have a blind faith that cannot be rationalized. This is not true! There are many aspects of God and His Word that we just have to accept by faith, but the foundations of our faith (inspiration, salvation, sanctification), while the totality of them comes down to trust, does not exist without logic and proof.
You are never going to convince the one whose mind is set against God; the Holy Spirit can certainly convince them though, so keep sharing those Scriptures. You may be used, however, to get someone searching for honest answers into the Word of God for the Spirit to work.
Making our job of sharing the Gospel more difficult are the various accusations against God’s Word that are readily available to the person looking for an excuse to discredit God’s Word. Such accusations sound very troubling on the surface and have led many to give up on God. The person who has swallowed these accusations is not going to respond to threats of Hell -they don’t believe in Hell anyway- or someone stating “the Bible is true” in a loud voice. Listen, if the Bible is truly profitable for life, it will have the answers we need to address people’s concerns. Therefore, it should not surprise us to learn that the Bible does have answers for the accusations claimed against it. This approach takes patience, persistence, and gentleness.
I am not suggesting you to stop preaching the truth of God’s Word. I am not instructing you to hide the authority of God’s Word. I am asking you to consider that most unchurched people and even some in the church have doubts about the reliability and relevancy of the Bible. You need to help them with their questions. It is not your job to convince them; that responsibility relies on the Holy Spirit. It IS your job to always be ready to give an answer for the Hope that is in us.
A few years ago, I was a pastor in Beloit, Wisconsin when we advertised a sermon series entitled, “Answering the Accusations.” I do not know what, if any, fruit was born outside of the assembly, but the saints inside the walls of the church seemed to appreciate the reassurance that the Bible can be trusted, it does have answers for the arguments against it, it is still the power of God unto salvation, and it continues to be important in life. It is with much prayer and consideration that I announce the start of a condensed version of this series that will appear over the next several issues of “Truth Aflame.”
My prayer is that these articles will equip you to answer some of the most popular accusations made against God’s Word, not so we can win the debate but so that people will consider the truth of Jesus Christ. I also pray that these articles will serve to reaffirm your faith in God’s Word. The Bible is a book that can absolutely be trusted, which means the free gift of salvation through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ are real, relevant, and life-changing! I know you know this; you have the indwelling Holy Spirit signifying that you are a child of God (Rom. 8:16). Don’t you want others to share this same assurance?
Until next time, continue sharing the Word of God and listen to people’s questions. Our responsibility is not just to reap the fruit, but also to plant and water. Unfortunately, we don’t always see the results of the planting and watering stage. What a wonderful comfort to know we can still trust God to give the increase!