This article was written by Prof. Herman Hanko and was originally published in the December, 2008 issue of the Beacon Lights.
The antithesis is closely related to witnessing because the most powerful form of our witnessing is a godly life; and a godly life is an antithetical life. When one lives a godly life one says by his actions: “I hate sin; and I love to do what God commands in his word.” That hatred of sin and love for God’s commandments is what the antithesis is all about.
A godly life is a powerful witness for two reasons. People in “Christian” countries know quite a bit about Christianity and the Bible. They may not pay very much attention to it, but they know in a general way what the Bible says. When they see that there are people who live according to what the Bible demands, they know that that is the right way to walk.
All men have consciences. Their consciences tell them what God has to say about their actions. God always testifies in the consciences of every man whether what he has done is pleasing to God and has his approval, or whether what a person has done is wicked and therefore incurs God’s fierce anger. That conscience is God’s voice in a man, but through the Scriptures. In “Christian” countries most people know the ten commandments exist—somewhere. They know too that the ten commandments are God’s standard of right and wrong. They hear, therefore, the voice of God in their consciences telling them that they are doing what God hates and that God will punish them with dreadful punishments.
Even in countries that are not “Christian,” people still have a conscience. They do not hear the voice of God speaking through the Bible, but they hear the voice of God speaking through creation. And creation says the same thing as the Bible, only in a much softer and less complete way. Paul tells us this in Romans 1:18-23. Paul tells us that God makes himself known through all the things that are made so that the whole creation speaks of God’s “eternal power and Godhead.” In revealing God’s eternal power and Godhead creation says two things: 1) God alone is God and all idols are the work of men; and, 2) God alone must be served.
Because creation says these things, Paul can say in Romans 2:14, 15 that the wicked shew the works of the law written in their hearts. They do not do the works of the law, but “their conscience also [bears] witness and their thoughts” accuse or else excuse one another.
Now, whether it be someone in “Christian” countries or whether it be someone in “pagan” countries, these people see the godly walk of the believer. Because those in Christian countries do not know all that much about Christianity, and because they have persuaded themselves that sin is far more fun than keeping God’s commandments, they find it strange that there are people who do keep God’s commandments.
The same is true of pagans. They cannot imagine that there are people who do keep God’s commandments; that is, who actually do not do what God condemns.
In both instances, these people “ask a reason for the hope” that is the believer’s heart, and that is made evident by the believer’s walk. Peter says (and this is also witnessing), we must be ready to make a defense of our hope. That is witnessing at its most powerful, for that is witnessing that follows the directives of Scripture.
We must, Peter goes on to say, give a defense of our hope “with meekness and fear” (I Peter 3:15). Meekness and fear. True witnessing is always a display of meekness and fear. In fact, I think it is true that any witnessing that is not done with meekness and fear is no witnessing at all. The way we defend our hope is also part of our witness.
Meekness does not mean timidity. It does not mean hesitancy and awkwardness. It does mean a reluctance to tell someone that he is wrong, dead wrong, and that what he believes and what he does puts him in danger of God’s wrath in this life, but also in hell.
Meekness is the opposite of pride. It is dangerously possible to defend our hope in such a way that we leave the impression that we know far more than the one with whom we are talking; that we are far holier than they are; and that we look down our long noses at them with pity and disdain. I know sometimes people say to us, “You think you are holier than we are; you think you are the only ones who are going to heaven; you think that you have a corner on the truth.” Maybe sometimes we do actually leave that impression with people. That doesn’t do much good for defending our faith.
Meekness means that, in our defense of our hope, we make it very clear that we were very sinful, as sinful as anyone else, that we still are sinful and do things that everyone in the world does, but that we are sorry for our sins, are saved by God’s grace alone and are given something very great and very precious even though we have never deserved it. We do not need to say all these things immediately, but we do need to witness in our defense of our hope in such a way that we point, not to ourselves, but to God who has given us this wonderful hope for the future and who asks us to live in such a way that our lives express our hope to go to heaven some day.
Witnessing is never a demonstration of our own holiness. It is not a statement of our own skill in debate. It is never in any way a pointing to ourselves. It is always a pointing to God. It is a living and verbal testimony of God’s greatness, glory and grace through Jesus Christ. It is a sharp and unmistakable statement that such blessedness as we possess comes from faith in Jesus Christ, and the one(s) with whom we are talking must also believe in Christ, for it is God’s command; and that believing they will join us in our walk toward heaven.
But, Peter says, we must also make our defense of our hope with fear.
Very obviously, Peter does not mean “terror.” How can we witness if we are terrified to witness? We are terrified—frequently. We do not want to say anything to someone sinning because we are afraid that the person will become angry, call us bad names, frighten us with threats, push us away from him, and make our life miserable in some way. I guess we like to be considered nice guys, or, nice gals.
But Peter is talking about the fear of God.
In a way, we are afraid of God. Even we Christians can and should be afraid of God. We should be so afraid of God’s anger against us that we do not want to do anything that we know is displeasing to him. We are like a young girl who tells her friends that she will not go along with them to a dance because she knows her parents disapprove, and she does not want to do anything that makes her parents angry with her.
There is, in the life of the Christian, room for a holy terror.
And real fear always has in it that idea of terror that I just described. It is true that we in the defense of our hope are to be careful that our witness is a correct witness of God’s truth. We surely must not misrepresent God. We must not say something about God that is not true. We must not deny our faith because we are ignorant of it, or because we are afraid to “tell it like it is.”
We would do God terrible injustice if we did that. It would be like telling someone who spoke evilly of our parents, that these evils of which they speak are partly true. It would be like failing to tell the one to whom we are witnessing only a part of what our parents are like, because we do not want to offend. It would be like leaving the impression that the slanderer of our parents is partly correct at least, and our interest in defending our parents’ integrity is drowned in terror of what the slanderer might say or do.
Fear in our witness is to say what is, as a matter of fact, the case. It is to be so afraid of offending our God (who hears all we say) that we would not do anything that would bring harm on him whom we love; we would not do anything of which he disapproves; we would not say anything about him that is offensive to him. The fear of which Peter speaks is born out of love. It is our love for God that gives us fear.
God says that no one who is a drunkard, or an adulterer, or a blasphemer will go to heaven. We must, if we are to witness, say the same thing. God says that any one who says that we are capable of doing something ourselves that will help us go to heaven will not go to heaven. Fear means that we say that all (yes, all) our salvation is in the cross and is the gift of grace so that God alone may be glorified; any other doctrine is accursed (Galatians 1:8, 9).
Fear does not say, “There are many good things to be found in other churches from which we can learn and which ought to make us tolerant of these churches.” Fear does not say, “It doesn’t really matter what a man believes, as long as he is sincere.” Fear does not hide our membership in the Protestant Reformed Churches; fear says that we are members in the Protestant Reformed Churches because we believe that in these churches the truth is preached more clearly than elsewhere in this country. Fear says, without equivocation and hesitancy, that the truth is the truth of God and his glory and that we need that to keep our feet on the straight and narrow path that leads to heaven.
Rev. De Wolf said in his sermon in which he was condemned by Classis East that he did not like people who wore “Protestant Reformed” on the lapel of their coats (although this was not the statement for which he was condemned). Well, I am not sure I like them either—especially if people think that mere membership in a PR church will guarantee a reserved place in heaven. But I don’t like people either who are afraid to stand up for and defend our churches, who hesitate to reveal their church membership, and who are not careful to insist that believers belong in the true church (and that the Protestant Reformed Churches are the true church in this country.) If we do not believe that, then the question is: Why are we members here?
We fear, you see, that we misrepresent God.