“What I’m about to preach, you will never remember.
What you have just seen, you will never forget.”
Biblical Christianity maintains that there is content to the Christian message – we call this truth. The truth of the Gospel is that people have willfully rebelled against God and deserve eternal judgment. As such, the God of love, grace and mercy sent the God-Man, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die for our sins in order that we would not have to suffer for them ourselves. Jesus miraculously rose from the dead in triumph over death. A person can be saved only through faith in Christ. Conversely, one cannot be saved apart from Christ. No amount of religiosity will cut it. It is upon this truth that the gift of eternal life rests.
At the same time, the New Testament instructs the Christian to approach the presentation of the Gospel with the qualities of “gentleness” and “respect”. Peter teaches:
…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. (1 Peter 3:15)
We are to avoid rudeness and arrogance and instead gently and respectfully preach our hope. These words are not just internal qualities that an apologist (defender) can possess but fail to manifest. They are external in nature and must be evident in our approach to defending the Good News of Christ. To fail expressing them is to fail as a Defender!
Sadly, I must admit that there have been times when I have dropped the ball in this area. In an impassioned plea for truth – for making a defense – I have become frustrated, angered or tactless. Perhaps you can relate. Incessant attacks upon the content of the Gospel often foster regrettable carelessness in our approach and delivery. Yet to truly obey the Christian calling, we must learn to sacrifice neither content nor the approach in our delivery.
If I proclaim God’s love in an unloving way or his grace in an ungracious way or his mercy in an unmerciful way, I run the risk of obscuring the content.
Sure, God can bypass these foibles and still win souls to Himself, but we must also hold in tension the command to do all things necessary as Defenders to win some to Jesus—and that includes taking an interest in our approach as well as the content of the Good News. Here’s what that might look like practically:
- choosing to remain calm no matter how resistant your audience is.
- respectfully listening to the other point of view and even agreeing where appropriate.
- avoiding attacks on your audience through generalizations or unprovable accusations.
- speaking freely of your own sin and lostness apart from the Gospel.
- offering to pray for your opponent.
- keeping the conversation going, even if little progress was made early on, thereby showing a persistent commitment to the person and not just the argument.
We all know that good intentions are one thing, but the way we deliver the message often wins the day! So go ahead and robustly share the reason for your hope with the spiritually lost, but bring along plenty of disarming gentleness and a respect that shows them how much they’re loved.