Apologetics, the discipline of defending the Christian faith, is an essential discipline for the survival of the Church. Christians need to have confidence that their faith is rooted in truth. Non-Christians need to know that following Jesus is not taking a blind leap into the dark, but is based on truth supported by evidence.
As important as apologetics is to the life of the church, it is not the primary reason people become Christians. For many people the obstacle to following Jesus is not an intellectual obstacle, but a pragmatic obstacle. People want to know if following Jesus makes any difference in their lives.
In An Unstoppable Force Erwin McManus made this point:
For too long we have hidden behind the rightness of propositional truth and have ignored the question or whether or not it works. Does the faith you advocate get you to God? If people are observing your Christianity and reserving allegiance to see what team actually wins, is there enough evidence in your life to cause a person to see Jesus as sufficient? What an incredible opportunity we have in a world of uncertainty! We know that God is and that Jesus is his name. There are many things that we don’t know, but what we know is enough. (p. 58)
We will always be ignorant about most facts about the world. There is no way that we will have answers to all the questions people have.
One thing that we have is a life of faith. The power of living by faith is best observed rather than explained. When we live by faith we become the evidence for the Gospel that most of the people of the world desperately needs.
In his book The Rise of Christianity Rodney Stark wrote:
“Let me state my thesis: Central doctrines of Christianity prompted and sustained attractive, liberating, and effective social relations and organizations.
“I believe that it was the religion’s particular doctrines that permitted Christianity to be among the most sweeping and successful revitalization movements in history. And it was the way these doctrines took on actual flesh, the way they directed organizational actions and individual behavior, that led to the rise of Christianity” (p. 211).
What Stark observed from studying early Christianity confirms this reality. Christians living by faith are the essential ingredient for a growing church. As Christians live a life of faith they put flesh on the doctrines of the Church, and in this way they become living evidence for the truth of the Gospel.
Living a life of faith will naturally lead to living a counter-cultural life. The first century church was definitely counter-culture.
I think this is where the American Church has fallen short. We have been good at speaking against the culture, but we have not done well with living a true life of faith. It does little good to be vocal about opposing same-sex marriage, abortion, or drug use when our lives are not actually lived by faith.
Too many of us can claim to live a moral life, but we have not actually trusted God with the details of our lives. Our generosity is stunted because we don’t trust God to provide for our needs. Our love for people is limited to those people who think like us. Our forgiveness is reserved for those people who show remorse.
A faithful life is a counter-cultural life. It is a life that shines in the darkness.
Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain (Philippians 2:14-16; ESV).
According to Paul we shine by the way we live. A faithful life not only declares that what we truly believe, it also shows the world that following Jesus is a better way to live.
How do live a life that shines?
- To shine brightly requires commitment to the truth. Paul told the Philippians that they needed to hold “fast to the word of life.” In face the opposition, hardships, and trials we need to remain faithful to the truth God has revealed to us. This is done by following Jesus through the ups and downs of life.
- To shine brightly requires that we don’t demand our rights. A life of faith is not about putting myself first. Paul urged the Philippians to do all things without grumbling or questioning, but to humbly put others before themselves. We grumble and complain when we feel like our rights are being violated. To live a counter-cultural life will mean laying down our rights in order to love other people.
- To shine brightly requires living blameless and innocent lives. Often the way we live our lives is to ask the question: “How close can I get to the line without going over?” This results in boundaries being pushed and lines being blurred, which means we are not living lives that are not distinctly different from the world around us. The thing about light is that it is very distinct from the darkness, and that means our lives need to be very distinct from those who don’t know Jesus.
Living differently from the world isn’t going to happen by accident. Without making a decision to be different we will be pulled along by the current of our culture and end up being like everyone else. Therefore we need to make the choice to live differently from the world. This is not an invitation to be strange, but the invitation to follow the example of Jesus. By following Jesus our lives will stand out from the rest of the world.
We are called to be the lights of the world. It is time to flip the switch and start shining.