The Trinity and God the Father

Most of us can’t remember being a baby. But we all were, even if there is no hard evidence, (such as those embarrassing photos parents often bring out at holidays.) As babies, we formed critical ideas about ourselves and the world around us. Sociologists and psychologists tell us that one of the most basic ideas that we developed was the understanding that we were distinct, separate from the world around us. We are different from everyone else, even our parents. Our hands were our hands, not somebody else’s. There was an “us” and there was a “not us.”

This concept of being distinct and separate is also true of God. He is different from His creation.  He is different from us and all the universe. Nothing can quite compare to Him nor entirely explain Him. In order to develop a true relationship with God we need to understand this. We must realize that “God Is Who He Is”. To understand Who God is, we must understand what He has said about Himself.

God reveals aspects of His character and rule through the natural world. The amazing complexity, order, beauty and grandeur of the physical world tell us something of God’s majesty. But He especially tells us about Himself through Scripture. One unique way that God has revealed Himself in the Bible involves His three-in-one nature. The Church calls this three-person aspect of God: “the Trinity.” Admittedly this is a difficult concept to grasp, but it is central to understanding Him. We can know God more fully by studying how He has revealed Himself through each Person of the Trinity.

The Trinity

Deuteronomy 6:4 declares, “The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” The Scriptures are very clear, there is only one God. Yet He exists in three eternal and equal persons who are the same in essence, but uniquely distinct from one another. The Scriptures place the three persons of the Trinity together as equals: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19; I Peter 1:2, I Corinthians 12:4-6; II Corinthians 13:14).

The Trinity is a great mystery to us. We cannot fully understand how God can be one God and three persons, because we have no complete and exact comparison for this concept. Many things about our infinite God are hard to understand from our finite, human vantage point. (cf. Isaiah 55: 8-9) Yet we can define and believe this because the Bible teaches it. Just as we do not have to understand electricity in order to believe it exists and to use it, so the Trinity exists despite our inability to fully comprehend this truth.

The persons of the Trinity relate to each other in a living and vital way.

 Consider water. It is one substance (H20), but exists in three forms: liquid (water), gas (steam) and solid (ice). Perhaps it is helpful to note that in a similar way God is one being who is expressed in the three persons of the Trinity. Unlike H2O, however, the persons of the Trinity relate to each other in a living and vital way. Generally speaking, within the Trinity, God exhibits three roles: God the Father initiates and plans, God the Son executes the plans, and God the Holy Spirit applies the plans to believers. Within the Trinity, unity is brought about by the Son submitting to the Father and the Holy Spirit submitting to the Son and the Father. God the Father has, in turn, given all authority to the Son to carry out the divine plans.

God the Father

As the first person of the Trinity, God the Father, shows His fatherly relationship toward both believers and non-believers through Creation and His common goodness to all the world. The Scriptures say that God the Father causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. He provides for the animals and the fields, for the people of His Kingdom and even the people who oppose Him. (Matthew 5:45, 6:25-33, 7:9- 11; Luke 6:35; Hebrews 12).

Furthermore, God the Father demonstrates that He has a unique relationship with believers. God draws us to Himself, graciously bringing us into His family as children (John 6:44, 1:12; I John 3:1). Indeed, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, so that we may truly call Him, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15-16; Galatians 4:6- 7). It is a great and humbling mystery to be called children of the Living God and to be made co-heirs with Jesus Christ the Son (Romans 8:17).

This adoption by God the Father leads to special privileges and responsibilities for His children. In Ephesians 1:3- 14, we see that God the Father freely forgives us and provides every good thing we need. He has special intentions for us—to be holy and blameless—and has revealed His plan to us in Scripture. As a perfect Father, He has assured us of our place in His love by giving us the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our inheritance as His children. With all the joy and security of beloved children, we have free access to God the Father through faith (Ephesians 3:12).

Likewise, God the Father has endowed His children with responsibilities such as obeying His Word (John 14:21) and representing Him as messengers of reconciliation to the world (II Corinthians 5:20). As members of His family, we are to be a part of His church and to respond to Him in praise and worship (Hebrews 10:24-25; I Peter 2:9).

 This adoption by God the Father leads to special privileges and responsibilities for His children.

As we study who God is, we come to understand more of His character and His nature. Through the Scripture, we learn that God is both transcendent (beyond our understanding) in the mystery of His Trinity, and He is immanent (totally accessible) as our heavenly Father. With whole hearts we can call on Him as Lord and Father!

Summary

It is important to understand what God has revealed about Himself in Scripture.

• God is a Trinity, existing in three eternal and equal persons who are one God.

• Although the Trinity cannot be fully understood, the Bible teaches us to believe.

• God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit fulfill different roles.

• God the Father is the first person of the Trinity.

• As His children, we have special privileges and responsibilities.

Application Suggestions:

  • Meditate on and appreciate the transcendence and immanence of God.
  • Meditate on Ephesians 1 and 2 in order to appreciate the privileges God has given to you.
  • Meditate on I Peter 2:9-10 and appreciate the high calling God has given to you by entrusting you with significant responsibilities.

Get this Pocket Principle in Knowing God, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

For more information visit the WDA Store.

 

following footsteptYou have begun a journey to know God, but did you know that you are actually joining a story in progress?

God has desired to have a relationship with you for a long time and has prepared the way for you to enter into that relationship. When a person comes to faith in Christ and passes from spiritual death to life, a transaction takes place that has many far-reaching implications. One of these is complete and full reconciliation with God and the start of a new relationship. It is a relationship that is fuller, deeper, and richer than anything we can possibly imagine.

This invitation to relationship should not surprise us since God, at His core, is a relational being. Ken Boa, in his book That I May Know God writes “As a communion of three Persons, one of God’s purposes in creating us is to display the glory of His being and attributes to intelligent moral creatures who are capable of responding to His relational initiatives.” Later in the same book he writes, “If I had to choose one word to summarize the theme of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, that word would be relationship.” The truth is, we will never want to know God as much as He wants to be known by us.

There are fundamental differences between God and man that impact the relationship and make it unlike human relationships. For example, God is infinite, while we are finite. He is all knowing, while we have very limited understanding, both of the world we live in and the people around us. God is the Creator; we are created beings. He is invisible; we are visible. He is unchangeable; we change. God is perfect; we obviously are not.

Some of these differences may seem to make our relationship with God more challenging than ordinary relationships. For example, it can be hard to talk to someone who isn’t visibly present. It can be difficult to listen to someone who doesn’t generally speak audibly to us. It can be intimidating to think about a close relationship with someone who is so different from us.

However, the differences between God and humans also offer the opportunity to have a healthier relationship with Him than we ever can with each other. Much of the dysfunction in human relationships is a result of our posturing and pretending and our attempts to protect ourselves from hurt and disappointment. There is no need to play these games with God, although we often still try. He is unchanging and always true to His character. He is utterly dependable. We never have to worry what kind of mood He is going to be in or whether He is going to respond in a certain way or not. These truths should give us a great deal of confidence in our relationship with Him.

The truth is, we will never want to know God as much as He wants to be known by us.

As with any relationship, our relationship with God is reciprocal. There are certain things that God does to establish and maintain the relationship, and there are specific things we must do for the relationship to grow and develop. Understanding this dynamic and how it affects the relationship is very important.

We can better understand the reciprocal nature of our relationship with God by understanding our different roles. In a nutshell, the primary difference in our roles is that God is the initiator, and we are the responders.

King David of Israel, known as the psalmist because of the many Hebrew poems (psalms) he wrote, uses rich, colorful language to describe His understanding of the nature and character of God. It is fitting to consider the psalms in the context of relationship because they are written out of the author’s personal relationship with God. There are many places in Scripture that speak of God’s initiative toward us, but one passage, Psalm 139, perhaps describes this better than others. These verses convey the following truths.

God takes the initiative in His relationship with us.

He knows us intimately. (Psalm 139: 1-4)

God knows everything about us — our actions, our movements, our thoughts, our words. In fact, because He is all-knowing and exists outside of space and time, He knows these things before they even happen. He knows us far better than we know ourselves. Knowledge can be scary in human relationships. We choose what we think is safe to disclose to one another, and we go to great lengths to protect information we don’t want others to know. We are free to be totally open and honest with God because He knows all about us anyway. And the amazing thing is that He loves us unconditionally despite full knowledge of all about us that is unlovely .

He protects and shields us; He is our security. (Psalm 139:5-6)

“You hem me in, behind and before,” writes the psalmist. “You have laid your hand upon me.” The laying of God’s hand upon us is a picture of his all- encompassing care for us. In other Psalms, David uses many pictures to describe God’s care of him including that of a shield, a fortress, a hiding place, a refuge, and a shelter. He paints the following picture in the first two verses of Psalm 91: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ “

We are free to be totally open and honest with God because He knows all about us anyway.

God is completely attentive to and involved with us. (Psalm 139:7-12)

“Where can I go from your Spirit?” wonders the psalmist. “Where can I flee from your presence?” He then reflects that no matter where he could possibly go, God would always be there for him. David knew that He could never go beyond the reach of God’s personal concern.

This is a significant distinction between our relationship with God and that with any other person. No human, no matter how much he or she may want to, can ever always be there for us, either physically or emotionally. At some point, distance or other factors will prevent it. However, we can never go anywhere that God will not be with us.

Donald Glenn, in his book Tradition and Testament, tells of an old mariner’s chart, drawn in 1525, on display in the British Museum in London, which outlines the North American coastline and adjacent waters. The cartographer made some intriguing notations on areas of the map that represented regions not yet explored. He wrote:

“Here be giants,” “Here be fiery scorpions,” and “Here be dragons.

Eventually , the map came into the possession of Sir John Franklin, a British explorer in the early 1800s. Scratching out the fearful inscriptions, he wrote these words across the map: “Here is God.” Our dragons and giants may be different than those feared by the early explorers, but we have them just the same. We should remember that whatever or wherever they may be — there, too, is God.

God created us and sustains us  physically, emotionally, and spiritually. (Psalm 139:13-16)

One of the things we most value about those we are close to is that there is a strong bond of understanding between us. These special friends seem to understand what really makes us tick. Who knows better what makes a clock tick than the craftsman who builds the clock? Likewise, who knows us better than the God who created us? He knows us inside and out, better than anyone else ever can. He created us in His image to reflect His glory, yet He has created each of us uniquely with a predetermined number of days that we shall live upon this earth.

The verses discussed above demonstrate that God desires to know us. Of course, King David lived 1,000 years before God even more clearly and forcefully demonstrated initiative by sending His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. When humankind asked Jesus how much He loves us, He opened wide His arms and died for us. In a foreshadowing of what would one day be accomplished on the cross of Calvary, David wrote “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

We have responsibility in our relationship with God.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart,” was God’s word to the Jews living in captivity (Jeremiah 29:10-14). The heart represents the center of one’s being; the seat of emotions and will. Scripture includes several commands that relate to the heart: We are told to love God with all of our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5 and elsewhere), to trust with all of our hearts (Proverbs 3:5), and to repent with all of our hearts (Joel 2:12).

Our seeking is not to be a casual endeavor. Consider the contrast between two men who go on separate camping trips. The first man realizes during the week that he has misplaced his pocketknife. It was a good knife, although relatively inexpensive, and one that he had owned for several years. He would like to find it, and every day he keeps his eyes open for it in case he should happen to stumble across it.

The second man realizes the night before he is to leave to return home that he has lost his car keys. Early the next morning, he receives a call from his wife saying that their teenage son has been in a car accident and is in intensive care in the hospital. There is no casual searching here. He has got to find those keys! He scrambles around on his hands and knees, tears his tent and camping gear apart, and frantically retraces every step he made the previous day. The first man’s search for his knife is a half-hearted effort; the second man’s search for his keys is with his whole heart.

A teacher of the law asked Jesus, “Of all the things we’re expected to do, what is the most important?” Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). According to the response that Jesus gave to the teacher, everything taught in the law can be summed up in this one commandment.

We have a responsibility not simply to acknowledge God’s existence or even to acknowledge His rights as creator, but to love Him with our hearts, our souls, and our minds. This is another way of saying that we should love Him with every part of our being. We also have a responsibility to obey the commands of God. This is love in action; love with shoes on. According to the words of Jesus, obedience is how we show our love for God (John 14:21). The Apostle John, who recorded these words, later reiterates Jesus’ words by stating flatly, “This is love for God: to obey His commands” (I John 5:3). John also argues that if we say we have come to know God (have a relationship with Him) yet do not obey His commands, then we are lying (I John 2:4).

James, the brother of Jesus, writes, “Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). This verse speaks of another responsibility we have in our relationship with God. It also speaks of our outward actions (wash your hands) and our inward thoughts and motives (purify your hearts). Each is important as we draw near to God. Because we are sinful beings, we will continue to do things that create distance in our relationship with God. Each time we become aware of this distance, we should once more humble ourselves, confess our sin and draw close to God. We draw near in need; He draws near in fullness.

Notice that each of the responsibilities discussed above comes with a promisea positive benefit for us as we fulfill the responsibility. This pattern further illustrates the reciprocal nature of our relationship. When we seek God, He allows Himself to be found by us, and He reveals His gracious plans for us. When we demonstrate our love by obeying God, He shows His love to us and reveals Himself to us. When we draw near to God, He draws near to us.

Ultimately, our response is always to God’s initiative.

God is the initiator; we are the responders. We can never “get the draw” on God. He has drawn first. After all, it was He who placed within us a “God-shaped vacuum,” spoken of by the French mathematician Pascal, expressly so that we would seek to fill the vacuum with Him. God’s initial words to Adam, the first man, after he had fallen into sin, were “Where are you?” This same call has echoed down through the corridors of history as God continually reaches out for relationship with us.

He will not force Himself on anyone. He will allow Himself to be found and enjoyed by anyone who calls upon Him.

However, God does expect us to respond to His initiative and follow after Him. In fact, there is no relationship apart from our positive response to Him. He will not force Himself on anyone. He will allow Himself to be found and to be enjoyed by anyone who calls upon Him. As we focus on God’s initiative toward us, and the response He desires, we gain a better understanding of what Jesus meant by the “abundant life” in John 10. When we respond to God’s love, we are able to love Him and others, and enjoy healthy relationships with God and with those He has placed around us.

Application Suggestions:

  • Meditate on the Scriptures in this Pocket Principle, especially Psalm 139.
  • Participate in times of praise and worship to God, acknowledging His love, initiative and accessibility.
  • What will you do this week to respond to God’s initiative and work in your life?

 

Pocket Principles® are currently offered along with Guided Discussions. The content of the Pocket Principles® will reinforce truth learned in the group discussion. Each workbook is formatted for use in a small group, where pocket principles may read prior to each discussion.  Also, if a group member misses a meeting, he can read the corresponding Pocket PrincipleTM to review the information missed.

Get this Pocket Principle in Knowing God, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

For more information visit the WDA Store.

Broken CisternThere are many differences between man-made religions and Christianity, but perhaps the chief one is this: only Christianity offers the believer a relationship with God. All religions devised by man are, at their core, variations on the same theme, which is man trying to reach God. Christianity, by contrast, is the story of God reaching down to man and offering a relationship with Himself.

In its essence, Christianity is a relationship with Christ. When Christ called the first disciples to come and follow Him, He was calling them into a relationship with Him. The same is true of all who follow Him today. Through the miracle of new birth into the family of God, we enter into a new relationship. The Christian life is an unfolding, a widening, and a deepening of that relationship. Everything concerning Christian growth has its foundation in this relationship. Therefore, the filling of the Holy Spirit grows out of our relationship with Jesus.

John 7:37-39 emphasizes the connection between the filling of the Spirit and our relationship with Christ.

On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If a man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. John 7:37-39

Verse 39 indicates that Jesus was preparing believers for the time after his death when the Holy Spirit would come and continue His ministry. When Jesus talks about a relationship with Himself, He is also talking about the filling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus invites believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit by relating to Him as indicated by the three action verbs recorded in John 7:37-39 (highlighted above). These actions are discussed below.

 

“Come to Me”

Thirst is a gift from the creator. Just as physical thirst is a signal that our body needs refreshment, so our spiritual thirst points out a need. Becoming aware of our spiritual thirst motivates us to come to Jesus. However, many go through life dissatisfied, discouraged, and despondent, but totally unaware of their thirst. It was no different in Jesus’ day. In his book Inside Out, noted Christian counselor and author Larry Crabb describes the scene in John 7 this way: “Our Lord Jesus walked into a group of people whose ritualistic practice of religion had so numbed their souls that they no longer were conscious of unsatisfied desires. To move them from lifeless ceremony toward the vitality of knowing God, He stood up and shouted, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.’ There was no thought that perhaps some were thirsty and others were not. Every fallen person created to enjoy God is thirsty. But many, perhaps most, of the people Jesus invited were unaware of their thirst. Perhaps they had given up hope of ever finding satisfaction and had successfully turned their attention away from that ache inside. By focusing on other matters, thirsty people can sometimes become oblivious to their parched souls.”

In the fourth chapter of his gospel, the apostle John relates the story of a meeting Jesus had with a Samaritan woman at the city well in Sychar. This woman had already been married five times and was now living with her current lover. She apparently came to the well in the heat of the day to avoid the stares and disdain of the other women of that village. The line to a country music song that says “looking for love in all the wrong places” pretty much describes this woman. In His conversation with her, Jesus was not interested in heaping shame on the woman or in offering simplistic answers to the obvious hurts in her life. Rather He was interested in helping her to identify her spiritual need⎜her thirst. As recorded in John 4:10 Jesus said to the woman, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”  Those who know their thirst can then turn to the source of satisfaction. Consider the following words of King David: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1). Is it any wonder that David enjoyed such an intimate, personal relationship with God? He knew deep thirst; he found deep fulfillment. Thus he could affirm the testimony offered in Psalm 107:8-9: “Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for men, for He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.”

In order to quench this deep thirst of our souls, we must come to Jesus. Nothing else and no one else can satisfy. The verb “come” used by Jesus in the present progressive tense means we are to come to Him again and again. Thus, spiritual thirst, like physical thirst, must be satisfied repeatedly. This truth reminds us that spiritual thirst is present both before and after salvation. Although Christians enjoy a relationship with God, this relationship is still hampered by our sinfulness and existence in a fallen world.

Note that Jesus invites us to come, but He does not coerce us. He does not force His way into our lives but rather offers us the opportunity to come enjoy His life. This stance is true to His nature and true to His design in creating us as moral beings. However, we should not misunderstand His approach to believe that He is disinterested in whether or not we come. He pursues us passionately and yearns for us to respond to Him. The “inviting” nature of God is woven throughout Scripture.

 

“Drink of Me ”

After coming to Jesus, we must “drink” of Him. This verb is also in the present progressive tense indicating an often-repeated action, a frequent or continual coming to Him to drink. Jesus’ choice of words emphasizes the force of His offer. Such is the function of His use of figurative language. Take, for example, the language a parent might use to motivate his child to learn. He might say, “I want you to learn all you can.” Or he could say, “Drink deeply of the fountain of knowledge.” The richness of the poetic language conveys a strength of conviction that goes beyond simply stating a desire. So it is with the invitation from Jesus to drink of Him. He earnestly desires that we come to Him for satisfaction, and He wants us to drink deeply from the fountain of His love.

We drink of Jesus by engaging in relational activities such as the following:

• Communing with Him⎜that is, simply dwelling in His presence and spending time with Him

• Worshipping Him⎜telling God how wonderful He is, reflecting on His marvelous deeds, expressing appreciation for who He is and all that He has done for us

• Listening to Him⎜reading His Word, being quiet before Him, trying to discern the leading of His Spirit

• Casting our cares on Him⎜being open and honest before God about our needs, our hurts, and our desires, baring our soul to Him, telling Him everything we are concerned about

• Allowing Him to minister to us⎜letting His Spirit minister to our spirit, letting Him calm our fears, salve our wounds, and encourage our hearts

As we spend time with Jesus in these ways and enjoy our relationship with Him, we find that He quenches our spiritual thirst.

 

“Trust [believe] in Me

The third verb⎜believe⎜is also in the present progressive tense, which expresses an action repeated over and over. We come to Jesus initially to trust Him to save us from our sins and to restore our relationship with God, which is our greatest need. Day by day, as we enjoy that restored relationship, Jesus invites us to choose to trust Him⎜to depend on Him to meet our needs.

Trust is a relational verb. As humans, we do business primarily through contracts, either oral or written. Essentially, every time we enter a contract, we are acknowledging that we do not fully trust the other person to hold up his end of the bargain. However, contracts should be unnecessary between close friends who share a healthy relationship because trust takes their place. In the same way, the more we grow in our relationship with God, the better we are able to trust Him, and the more we trust Him the more we grow and enjoy our relationship.

Conclusion

When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we experience and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, as described in Galatians 5:22-23. This fruit includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Not surprisingly, this fruit is described largely in relational terms. The result of coming to Jesus, drinking of Him and trusting in Him, is that we will be filled to overflowing. The overflow can be seen in the impact on others that is the result of our filling. We will be more patient with others, more gentle with others, and so on. Therefore, the result of our relationship with God is that we also enjoy healthier relationships with others as the ministry of the Spirit overflows in our lives.

Several thousand years ago God, speaking through His prophet Jeremiah, charged the people of Israel as follows: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13). The same charge can be leveled against us today if we seek to satisfy the thirst of our souls in any other way than through allowing the Holy Spirit to minister the love of God to us and through us. We need to keep coming, keep drinking, and keep trusting and thus find in Jesus the life that is truly Life.

 

Application Suggestions:

• Read Psalm 116. How does the Psalmist relate to God? How does he commune, cast his cares, listen, worship and allow God to minister to him?

• In your devotional time this week, concentrate on doing one or more the following:

Communing with Him

Casting your cares on Him

Listening to Him

Worshipping Him

Allowing Him to minister to you.

Get this Pocket Principle in Growing Spiritually, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

For more information visit the WDA Store.

This is part four of the series The Difficulty of Sharing Our Faith. from Gospel Centered  Discipleship

I’ve often heard people say the reason they find it difficult to share their faith is because they don’t have all the right answers. “What if someone suggests all paths lead to the same God, making Jesus irrelevant?” they say. Or “What if a co-worker claims she could never be a Christian because the Bible has too many errors?” These are serious questions that deserve thoughtful responses. As Christians, we should have reasons for our hope. However, I wonder if we often put our hope in having right answers instead of hoping in the reason for our faith? Let’s consider the role of “right answers” in the difficulty of sharing our faith.

Reasons for Hope

While some consider Christianity to be an unthinking faith, the Bible underscores the importance of reason. Peter, a disciple not known for being good with words, wrote this: “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.” (1 Pet 3:14-15).

We are to offer “reasons” for our hope, to always be prepared. Prepared to do what? “Make a defense” is a translation of the word from which we getapologetic. An apologetic isn’t an “I’m sorry” attitude. Nor is it a defensive, antagonistic stance against culture. It is a reasoned statement of belief. To make an apologetic, then, is not to argue out of defensive insecurity, but to offer a reasonable explanation from our security. What kind of security frees us to offer reasonable explanations for our faith?

Two kinds of security free us to engage in apologetics. The first is intellectual security. The Christian faith has a long tradition of apologists who have faithfully defended the faith century after century, answering some of the most difficult questions. The earliest apologists include: Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Tatian, and Clement of Alexandria (view their texts here). Their apologetic answers have been handed down from generation to generation. New apologists, such as Ravi ZachariasWilliam Lane CraigTim Keller, John Frame, and Alvin Plantinga, also address new questions. We do well to read them.

It is important to note that the gospel alone acts as a grand apologetic, addressing the deepest of life’s questions including: the problem of evil and suffering, the existence of God, the hope of salvation, the nature of God and man, and the role of faith. Through apologetics the gospel has proven intellectually credible and existentially satisfying for many people across many cultures. The gospel provides a coherent, rational view on the world that is intellectually secure. It makes sense of a world where things are not as they are supposed to be. But there is another security that frees us to offer reasonable explanations for Christian faith.

Deep Security

Many of us won’t make time to read the old and new apologists. And perhaps we don’t have to. Is it possible that Peter had in mind an apologetic that included, not just reasons, but faith? Peter was writing to people who feared persecution for their faith. When we struggle to share our faith, do we not face persecution? We are attacked by thoughts that undermine our confidence, diminish our trust in Christ, and redirect us away from speaking about Jesus. Surely, this is a spiritual persecution. Cultural apologist Ken Myers has said:

“the challenge of living with popular culture may well be as serious for modern Christians as persecution and plagues were for the saints of earlier centuries.[1]

While we may not face the gallows or plagues, we do face something more subtle–the invisible power of pop culture that undermines truth, dismisses character, and radically orients us toward comfort. The good news is that we have the same ability as those early saints to be secure and strong in our faith. When doubts surface and silent accusations fly on the cusp of mentioning the gospel, we need a security stronger than our persecution.

Before instructing the early Christians to always have an apologetic, Peter prefaces his statement with this: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy…” (1 Pet. 3:14). He reassures them, in the face of mockery, to sink their security deep into their hearts not heads. He reminds them that they have nothing to fear because they have Christ who offers perfect peace. He makes apologetics about Christ not right answers, a matter of both the head and the heart.

So, when we face that moment of temptation to shy away from identifying with Jesus, it is our identity in Jesus that we need most. We need not fear men because we can rest in Christ. People may reject us, but our forever acceptance in Christ gives us every reason to speak of Him, of His grace, mercy, kindness, love, and triumph over sin, death, and evil. O for stronger men and women who sink their identity deeply into what Jesus says about us more than what peers and co-workers (might) say about us! Our silence will convince no one of our rich, rewarding faith in Jesus. Fear over co-worker frowns will not inspire a smiling faith.

Authentic Apologetics

Our moment of opportunity is less about converting others and more about staying true to ourselves. Will we speak of our unique community in the church, the God-intoxicating gathering on Sunday, the stirring time of meditation on Wednesday morning, and the quiet, soul stirrings of communion with God? Will we speak authentically about what matters most to us and of the meaningful events in our lives or will we prove inauthentic, dismissing these things from conversation, and along with them, dismissing our true selves? Will we refrain from honoring the Lord Christ as holy in our hearts because we hold in honor the passing frowns of men in our heads? Surely the gospel offers a deeper security than the approval of passing men and women? Does not Christ’s love run deeper, His acceptance purer, and His approval longer than the love, acceptance, and approval that any person could ever give? If so, apologetics is meant to spring from a deep security in the heart, our unshakable union with Christ—fully loved, fully accepted. Apologetics is a matter of the heart as well as the head.

Defending the faith, then, is as much about defending Christ as our Lord in our hearts as it is explaining the reasonableness of our faith. The goal of apologetics should never be to convert others (that is the Spirit’s job), but it is to honor Christ as Lord in our hearts. This happens, very often, with our mouths. And in the end, for everyone the bottom-line issue isn’t an intellectual objection but hope objection. We refuse to remove our hope from one thing and transfer it to the ultimate thing, the person of Jesus. A witness of our authentic hope in Christ will be more compelling than any intellectual argument we could ever articulate. People need to see our hope burn in our bones. They need to sense the Lord Christ set apart in our hearts. They need to see that the gospel not only makes sense but that it also works. Christian faith is intellectually satisfying and existentially rich. So let’s not put our hope in having right answers but have answers that reflect our hope.

 


[1] Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1989), v.

Jonathan K. Dodson (MDiv; ThM) serves as a pastor of Austin City Life in Austin, Texas. He is the author of Gospel-Centered Discipleship and has written articles in numerous blogs and journals such as The Resurgence, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, and Boundless. He has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others. Twitter:@Jonathan_Dodson

(Editor’s Note: This article is reposted with permission from Gospel Centered Discipleship)

A decade or so ago, Dr. John Pierce approached WDA about partnering with Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in a discipleship venture. The John and Lois Pierce Center for Disciple Building emerged and remains a significant destination for helping people progress to Christian maturity.

Early in the partnership, one of the Pierce Scholars approached me with a question about the centrality of the Gospel related to the process of sanctification. That day, Jonathan Dodson and I began a friendship that endures to this day. I heartily recommend Gospel Centered Discipleship as a resource for those who sense that The Good News is about more than justification. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus.”  Robert D. (Bob) Dukes, President and Executive Director of WDA

This is the first in the series The Difficulty of Sharing our Faith by Jonathan K. Dodson.

Very often we find it difficult to share our faith. Whether we’re in the workplace, neighborhood, or a social setting, talking about the person and work of Jesus doesn’t come naturally. There are some good reasons for this.

After spending almost fifteen years in creative class cities, where Christianity is typically marginalized and misunderstood, I’ve noticed that each city possesses its own unique challenges to communicating the gospel. Some of these challenges have led Christians to quiet down and let their actions do the preaching. Yet, there remains an intellectual and spiritual responsibility to communicate what we believe to those who would hear us. Whether it’s cold, diverse Minneapolis, intellectually charged Boston, or creatively weird Austin, I’ve noticed that some reasons for not sharing my faith have travelled with me from city to city. In brief, I’d like to describe five reasons why I think we find it difficult to share the faith. Each reason will reflect a constructive concern and a critical response.

What if I’m Viewed as Preachy?
One of the reasons Christians find it difficult to share their faith is because we’re rightly concerned about being perceived as preachy. Preachy Christians often turn people off not onto faith in Christ. Think of Angela from The Office, the street preacher, or maybe the free speech fundamentalist yellers on campus in college. I remember watching them. They stood on a box to yell. Leading out with hell, fire, and damnation not grace, forgiveness, and salvation.

These Christians all share something in common—self-righteousness. If we’re honest, we all have a bit of this in us, but with these figures it’s amplified. We hesitate to talk about Jesus because we don’t want to be associated with them. We’re concerned it would turn others off. But preachy self-righteousness isn’t just a turn off; it’s the opposite of the gospel. This brings into focus our first, principal concern:

We should avoid preachy self-righteousness because it communicates something opposite to the gospel.

Preachy self-righteousness says: “If you perform well (morally or spiritually), God will accept you.” But the gospel says, “God already accepts you because Jesus performed perfectly on your behalf.” There’s a hell of difference between the two. The gospel sets us free from performance and releases us into the arms of grace. Self-wrought performance is a death sentence, but the obedience of Christ on our behalf is eternal life. What people need to hear is grace, audacious, seems-too-good-to-be-true but so-true-its-good, grace. Grace is God working his way down to us, so that we don’t have to work our way up to him. He comes down to us in Jesus. We need to make Jesus the stumbling block, not preachy self-righteousness or spiritual performance.

How Do We Change the “Preachy” Perception?
Now, there’s also a critical response to this concern. While it’s true that we should oppose preachy self-righteousness (because it obscures the gospel of grace), it is also true that the gospel offends our own self-righteous sensibilities. The gospel reminds us that we don’t have what it takes before a holy God, that Christ alone has what it takes, and that he’s died and risen to give it to us.

The gospel is offensive; it lifts up a mirror and shows us who we really are, but it’s also redemptive; it lifts up Christ to show us who we can become.

In the shining light of God’s glory, our darkness becomes quickly apparent. We can feel it. Deep down, something is wrong, bent, even broken. We’re in need of repair. We spend most of our lives trying to avoid this inner sense, which distorts us even more. The gospel helps us see ourselves as we are, but offers us an entirely new image, the image of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ. If we’ll give up on ourselves and give into Jesus, he’ll exchange our darkness for his light, our distortion for his beauty. This is news worth sharing. The problem, however, isn’t just that people think “preachy self-righteousness” when they hear the word “gospel.” It’s that our concern mutes the gospel. In thoughtful concern, we quiet down to let our actions do the preaching but, in the end, people hear nothing. When Christians press mute, people are left to make up their own versions of Christianity. We think our silence will remedy the perception of self-righteousness but silence, instead of sharing, does not remedy the preachy perception.

One day I was having a congenial chat with a man in Starbucks, until he asked what I was doing. I responded, “I’m working on a sermon.” He replied by waving his hands, one across another, saying “Oh, no. I don’t want to hear the sermon.” This was followed by a nervous chuckle. A sermon isn’t meant to mound up all your woes and make you feel guilt; it is meant to relieve your woes and remove your guilt through faith in Jesus. Similarly, the gospel doesn’t just show us who we really are; it shows us who we can become in Christ. Sure, it lifts up a mirror but it also lifts up Christ, lifting us up with him in hope. Our concern to avoid preachy self-righteousness is good, but we have not gone far enough to remove this religious visage.

How will this incorrect view of Christianity be corrected? Actions might remedy a perception of personal self-righteousness, but they can’t correct a religious view of the gospel. Only words can clarify the meaning of the gospel. Yet, there remain more difficulties in sharing our faith. In the next article, we will consider the concern that we first have a relationship before sharing the gospel with others.

Jonathan K. Dodson (MDiv; ThM) serves as a pastor of Austin City Life in Austin, Texas. This article is adapted from the book Unbelievable Gospel: How to Share a Gospel Worth Believing?” He is also the author of Gospel-Centered Discipleship and has written articles in numerous blogs and journals such as The Resurgence, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, and Boundless. Dodson has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others.

“Gospel Centered Discipleship offers ebooks & free discipleship articles. We serve a community of disciple-makers who are applying the gospel to their everyday life. Our focus is gospel-centered resources to help you make disciples. We’re committed to excellent writing that is grounded in truth. We do our best to publish material that is practitioner-tested, gospel-centered, community-shaped, & mission-focused.”

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