This article was written by Prof. Herman Hanko and was originally published in the November, 2008 issue of the Beacon Lights.
Christian witnessing is, first of all, a godly life. A godly life attracts the attention of the unbeliever. He reacts with a question concerning the sense of a godly life, for he can see no sense to it. His motto is, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” It is at this point that witnessing becomes verbal. It is at this point that we must be prepared to given an answer of the hope that lies within us.
A godly life is an expression of our hope. Our hope is simply that “this world is not my home; I’m only passing through.” Our hope is an expression of our desire to go home, and our home is in heaven where our Father lives and where our elder brother lives. We want to go home. And the land in which we now live is a foreign country to us, in which the citizens of the country hate us and make our life miserable—unless we are satisfied to keep our mouths shut and live the way they do.
So, because they find us so odd, they ask us why we live the way they do. Our witness is, therefore, first of all, our peculiar (to the citizens of this country) walk. And then, when the questions come, our witness is our defense of our hope.
The wicked, Peter says, ask us a “reason” for the hope that is in us. Why do you live the way you do? Why won’t you join us in our “fun?” Why are you so different? Explain yourselves.
We must give an answer.
The word that Peter uses here is really better translated “apology.” This word “apology” is a bit of a puzzle. We take it in the sense of telling someone that we are sorry for what we have done. We apologize. That can’t be what Peter means. We do not and never ought to apologize for our Christian life—although sometimes we act as if we do need to apologize. We are shy about our faith. Or, worse, we are scared that the wicked will mock us for how we live. And so we become very hesitant and apologetic as if we mean to say, “We are really sorry for not drinking booze with you; we are really sorry for not going to your movies; we want to apologize in case we have offended you by telling you not to swear.” All sorts of wrong apologies.
But Peter does not mean that kind of apology. That kind of apology would do more harm than good. Peter means with the word “apology” what we mean by the term “apologetics.” When I was examined by Classis East prior to my ordination into the ministry of the Word of God and the sacraments, I had to be examined in “Apologetics.” It was not such an easy exam for me, because I had never had any instruction in this subject. In fact, it seems to me that I rarely heard the word. Even the subject in which I was examined was not called “Apologetics,” but “controversy.” Perhaps the churches were afraid that the term would be taken in the wrong sense.
Apologetics or Controversy meant “defense of the faith.” The Classis wanted to know whether I could defend the faith. They wanted to know if I could defend the truth of God’s sovereignty over against an Arminian. They wanted to know if I could explain clearly why we believed that the gospel was not a well-meant and gracious offer of salvation. They wanted to know if I knew how to defend particular grace over against common grace. And they wanted to know if I could explain the hard texts that were used by those who defended heresies, so that I could show how these texts were being hopelessly and wrongly twisted.
We have to defend our hope of going to heaven to those who ask us about it. We have to explain clearly the reasons why we live the way we do here in the world. We have to be able to say, “We believe the truth that is revealed in Scripture, and this is what that truth is.” We have to explain carefully and clearly what it means to believe that God created the world in six days of twenty-four hours and why evolutionism in all its forms is a deadly heresy that destroys the truth and all morals. We have to explain why, if those who ask appeal to science as proof of a very old earth, they are dead wrong in their science and why they may not appeal to science to show that the Scriptures are wrong. We have to explain that the reason why Arminianism is a heresy is because it says something terrible about God: it says that God can’t save unless man lets him save. We have to make a strong point of it that we love God and we cannot bear people saying bad things about him—any more than we can stand it when people say bad things about our parents whom we love.
We live the way we do because we love God, do we not? And to love God is a defense of God and a defense of our hope. This sort of thing is witnessing at its best. It is God-glorifying. It is divinely approved. It has the seal of heaven on it. It is the witnessing that God will use to “bring others to Christ.”
But, and I guess this is most difficult of all, we defend our hope also by telling those who ask us questions that the way we live is the only way to go to heaven, and that the way they live is a sure road to hell. There are not that many people who are forever talking about witnessing who are willing to say these things. But it has to be a part of our “apology”, our defense of our faith. The wicked are under solemn obligation to obey God, and God demands that men keep his law. God does not stand in front of men and beg them to believe. He commands them that they must believe at the peril of their souls. God does not pleadingly tell them how much he loves them; how he has done all he can to save them; and how much he would like it that they now accept his kind offers and in that way escape hell. He tells them they must do what he commands, and that they will be destroyed if they do not listen and obey.
This is the sticky part of witnessing, and there be few who are interested in anything like this. Everybody knows that this sort of approach to witnessing will get one into trouble and will inevitably end in suffering for Christ’s sake. And no one likes that—except those few who understand that it is a privilege and a blessing to suffer for the cause of Christ and that it is only through much tribulation that we can go home to Christ (Acts 14:22).
Witnesses love the truth and are willing to die for it. Witnesses are people of unwavering conviction and are ready to suffer for their conviction. Witnesses are people who are courageous and brave and are not scared by the hostility of others. Witnesses are true pilgrims in the world who live an antithetical life.