Sunday, March 10, 2013

Explaining the Hope

Explaining the Hope


And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” – 1 Peter 3:13-17

The book of 1 Peter is written to those believers who had dispersed, scattered throughout Judea and Samaria and later in Asia Minor after Stephen’s murder. These were people who feared death for their belief in Jesus Christ.  They were a hunted people, much like the Jews during the holocaust.  Although Saul is the only named Roman Soldier who sought to kill them, we have to understand he was just one of an army. 
We live in such peace today as Christians compared to what they experienced that it can be incomprehensible to fear for your life based on your beliefs.  We wear our Christian t-shirts, put the Jesus fish on our mini-vans, wear our “WWJD” bracelets, and attend church without fear of being identified as one of His followers.  But in the days in which 1 Peter was written, those things could have led to being captured, beheaded, and your head placed on a pole at the gate of the city.  You could have been burned to death or literally pulled apart, torn limb from limb.  For all the laws in which the Jews sought to uphold to be holy, they didn’t mind murdering in the most horrible ways those they felt were against their laws.

Peter writes to the believers who have scattered in fear in 1 Peter 3:13-17.  He wants to encourage them, and instruct them as to how to live in the face of persecution. 
Peter reasons with these hunted believers that the good in which they live would cause them to be at odds with less people than if they were doing evil.  He goes on to say that, “it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil”, because in doing good you are blessed.  We should take these words to heart.  Good things, blessings, are given to those who follow God’s will.  Though persecution may one day come, God’s blessings are greater.

Peter goes on to instruct them to be able to answer as to why they have hope, and why they continue in faith in the face of death.  He passes on to them the great commission.  He told them to “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear”.  To sanctify means to set apart, to find holy.  They were to treasure and cherish God in their hearts, which is nothing less than worship in spirit.  Peter was instructing them to not let go of their faith, but to persevere.   He also told them to be ready to explain their salvation, and the hope their faith gave them in the face of death.
For a long time I struggled with explaining salvation.  How do you condense the entire gospel into one short conversation?  How do you explain that all have sinned, how sin entered the world, the need for atonement, the purpose of sacrifice, the power of blood, the pure blood of Christ, the love of God expressed in the birth of His Son, the continued love of God expressed in the death of His Son, and the life returned to us through Jesus’ resurrection in one quick answer?  The truth is – you can’t.  When speaking to someone with no knowledge of Him, you have to spend time explaining the whole thing.  You have to start at Genesis and work your way through to why Jesus had to die, and how resurrection gave back the life that sin had stolen. 

Perhaps we should take note that none of the disciples went around handing out gospel tracks.  They didn’t make a practice of leaving one on the table where they ate, or in the bathroom stalls.  They didn’t give them to the cashiers at the grocery store, quietly leave them in mailboxes, or hand them to the bus drivers they met along the way.  Instead, they lived out loud their faith.  They walked it and they talked it, and the lived among those that didn’t believe.  A relationship with Jesus is a personal one, and a tract is about as impersonal as you can get.  To be quite honest, I think tracts are most often a Christian’s way of removing the guilt of not personally witnessing, or knowing how to witness.
There are a lot of church services and Christian events where people were caused to respond to God out of fear.  Of course, the fear of death will cause many people to want to receive their ticket to Heaven.  In each of these services, that has been apparent.  But equally apparent is the fact that afterwards you never see them again.  There isn’t enough knowledge of God, or love for God to create a foundation for a relationship with Him.  And worse, there is no relationship made with a family of believers to disciple those that have believed.  I used to think, as many do, that if one was saved, then it was all worth it.  But is it really worth one soul to cause a hundred souls to falsely believe they are Christians based on reciting a few words?    

Matthew 28:19 tells us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”  We’re not called to make believers, but to “make disciples”. 
Contrary to what we may think, a believer is not always a disciple, yet all disciples are believers.  The difference is in the application of their faith to their daily life.  A believer has believed and received salvation.  But a disciple moves on and applies what they have believed to their life, walks in the faith and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and is willing to follow at all costs.  A disciple will lead others to Christ.

We are to make disciples, not just believers.  Discipleship requires relationship.  We must make ourselves available to those who need help, encouragement, teaching, and leading.  It’s not enough to just deliver them from Hell.  If that’s all we do, then we’re birthing one generation of believers who will soon pass on and leave no disciples.
Be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in you.  How do you explain salvation to those that ask? 

Let’s go deeper.  If you are not being asked why you have hope, why do you think that is? 

Let’s suppose that just for a minute Satan has a scoreboard.  It reads like this: 
Satan: billions of souls
Me: _______

I am ashamed to give the number. 

Lord, burn our hearts with a passion to reach those that need you.  Give us the words to deliver them from hell, and the relationships to teach them your ways.  Let us not grow weary of doing good.  Let us not be content with status quo Christianity.

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