The Antithesis and Witnessing (1)

This article was written by Prof. Herman Hanko and was originally published in the June, 2008 issue of the Beacon Lights.

I have been asked to write a few articles on the antithesis, following the article of Rev. Eriks, who introduced the subject. I have chosen to write this article on the importance of the antithesis for Christian witnessing. That the people of God, including young people, are called to be witnesses goes without saying. Scripture is clear on this and points to our witnessing as being an important part of the life of the child of God. That witnessing is a part of the antithesis is something to which we have not given much thought and an idea we might, as a matter of fact, find surprising.

I appeal in my defense of this topic to I Peter 3:15, a text which also is a strong hook on which I intend to hang most of what I say. The text reads: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”

That this text is rooted in the antithesis is proved by two separate points. The first is that Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes this letter to those whom he calls “strangers” in 1:1 and as “pilgrims and strangers” in 2:11. Now a pilgrim and stranger is one who is forced to live in a foreign land for a while, because his home is in another place. He has no understanding of the language of the land in which he sojourns; the customs of that people are foreign to him; no one knows him and he knows no one; he is a foreigner.

The life of a spiritual stranger in the world is the antithesis in the life of a child of God. He lives in heaven where his home is. He speaks a heavenly language and lives according to the “customs” of those who are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. He is on a journey towards his home, a home that John Bunyan, in his “Pilgrim’s Progress,” called “The Celestial City,” but is also our Father’s house of many mansions (John 14:2). The pilgrim sings “This world is not my home; I’m only passing through.” Or, perhaps, “I am a stranger here, dependent on Thy grace, a pilgrim, as my fathers were, with no abiding place.”

I Peter 3:15 is a rule of the kingdom of heaven for the way in which Christians ought to witness. They are witnessing, therefore, as a part of their antithetical life in the world.

The second clue in the text that Peter is talking about the antithesis when he lays down this fundamental rule for witnessing is the first line in the text: “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” In spite of the startling character of the admonition, Peter presents that admonition as the only way in which it is possible for one to witness and abide by the rule of witnessing that Peter lays down here. Without going into detail on the meaning of this surprising admonition, it is clear that Peter cannot mean that we must make God holy in our hearts, for God is holy in himself; and, worse, we are wicked. But Peter does mean that the holiness of God must become manifest in all our lives, if we are to witness to Christ. We are to listen to Peter’s admonition in 1:15: “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation (“conversation” meaning “all one’s activities”).

Thus witnessing has to do with the antithesis because an antithetical life is a holy life. If, therefore, Peter says that we must be holy in order to witness, witnessing is an important part of an antithetical life. That seems clear enough. A sinful man does not live an antithetical life; but a sinful man cannot witness either.

One more point needs to be made before I actually get at this matter of witnessing. That point is this: an antithetical life does not only include one’s manner of life (one’s “life-style,” if you wish); it includes also the confession of the truth that we love as Christian young people, and as Protestant Reformed young people. God has created an antithesis between the truth and the lie.

The devil promotes the lie, and if one would look about him in the world today, a world full of lies, one would almost conclude that the devil has won. The lie is preached and taught in 99% of the world’s churches and in 99% of the schools. The lie is sometimes blatant and sometimes subtle; but it is always the lie. The truth on the other hand is found in Scripture and in Scripture alone. We can discover no other source of truth than the Holy Bible, God’s inspired word of truth.

It is interesting and something never to forget that the holiness that witnessing demands is a holiness that arises out of a knowledge and love for the truth. What a man believes has everything in the world to do with how he lives. If he believes in evolutionism, a mother’s fetus is a blob of tissue that can be destroyed without compunction. If a man believes that God has not given man a code of conduct in the ten commandments, homosexuality is a perfectly legitimate alternate life-style.

A Christian witness is, therefore, far more than the sometimes frantic activity of going around, cornering people and asking them if they are saved, or if they have received Christ into their hearts. It is far more than handing out tracts of one sort or another with bland and hopelessly watered-down advertisements of one’s church.

While one must indeed witness to all the truth, in a nutshell the truth is simply this: “In all this sin-driven and vile world where God is denied and Christ is mocked, we shout as loud as we can for all to hear that God is the sovereign of the creation and Christ is King! And we serve the Lord Christ!”

That is witnessing.

One more point has to be made about witnessing before we look at I Peter 3:15.

I refer to the fact that Scripture makes clear that our witnessing has a certain divine power about it that is similar to and even identical with the preaching of the gospel. This is clear from Matthew 5:16 where Jesus says to citizens of the kingdom of heaven: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Peter says the same thing in I Peter 2:12: “Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

Both these texts emphatically assert that God uses our good works to save others. It seems to me to be clear that when one to whom we witness glorifies God, he is saved and acknowledges God as the God of his salvation. The Heidelberg Catechism supports this interpretation when it gives as one of the reasons for doing good works that “by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ” (Lord’s Day 32, Q&A 86).

We must, however, continue our discussion of this subject in the next issue of Beacon Lights.

Rest Amid the Stress

As a High School Senior, a new meaning has been brought to the word “stressed.” Life is about more than school, homework, and family; life is about what comes next, figuring out where I’m going. The standard is higher than ever before, and it often seems like I have no time to relax. With such a busy schedule, how can there be any room for rest? The Bible is constantly reminding us that there is always rest to be found in the Lord.

A big way through which we can have rest is by relying on the Lord, and waiting for Him. In Isaiah 40:31, God tells us: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” The idea is particularly that we are not waiting on ourselves, but waiting for God to take care of things. Only with this mindset can we find rest, as the verse continues: “they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” If we rely on God for our strength, the stress of this life will decrease because it is not our own weak, fragile strength that gets us through each day.

Riding alongside this idea is that of taking life one day at a time. Because we are human, we have no say in what will happen in five minutes, much less what will happen tomorrow. We can trust that God will take care of tomorrow, and be content with the fact that He gives us grace for each day. “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). It is only because of God’s mercy and lovingkindness that each day does not destroy us with its troubles.

Every day that we live, God has mercy sufficient for that day. He provides for our every need, one day at a time. The tremendous blessing and rest found here must not be underestimated. When was the last time a day felt like too much? Maybe it’s today, maybe it was yesterday, maybe it will be tomorrow. In all of your days, in all of your struggles, despite all of your stress, God is there. God is faithful. You can trust Him. Life-determining decisions, relationship decisions, every-day decisions, all of these will come, and then they will go. Still God will remain. In Him can be found rest amid the stress.

Cake for Anna

John was a baker. That was his identity. He started baking for his father when he was old enough to hold a spoon. He could bake a cake from scratch by the time he was 12. 

His sister Anna, on the other hand, never understood John. She wanted to create her own recipes. She loved to experiment with all of the flavors their father kept in the kitchen. Her ten-year-old mind wanted freedom!

One day, as John and Anna were baking together, Anna decided she wanted to try making a peppermint cake. 

“We don’t have a recipe for peppermint cake,” John told her.

“Well then I guess I’ll have to make one,” Anna replied. 

“Fine, but if you make Dad mad don’t come crying to me,” John said, and went back to stirring his chocolate cake. Two hours later, a horrible smell was coming from the oven. 

“Anna, is that your cake?” John asked. 

Anna’s eyes widened. “I don’t think it’s supposed to smell like that.” She went over to the oven and pulled out the steaming, bubbling concoction. Her head tilted to the side, and she smiled. “I guess my recipe didn’t work.”

Just then, Dad came into the kitchen. “What is that horrible smell?” he asked. 

Anna giggled. “It’s supposed to be peppermint cake.”

Dad frowned. “Do we have a recipe for peppermint cake?”

Anna looked down. “No, but it sounded good so I tried to make one.”

Dad sighed and ran his hand down his face. “Anna, you really should just try to get better at my recipes. We need more cakes for the shop.”

John made sure to keep his eyes on his bowl. This was bound to get worse.

Before he knew it, Anna was screaming at Dad, and Dad was barely staying calm. 

“You never let me be creative!” Anna yelled. “All I’ve ever wanted was to make something you’d be proud of, and you just yell at me for not doing it your way!”

The door slammed behind her as she left the room. 

Dad stared at the door for a long moment before walking through it quietly.

Alone in the kitchen, John stayed busy. He threw out Anna’s cake, and scrubbed the pans until no trace of the awful peppermint smell was left. He finished his own chocolate cake, making sure the frosting and decorations were just right. He washed his dishes, and swept the floor, making sure everything was perfect before he left for the night. 

John walked down the hallway silently, and knocked softly on Anna’s door. He opened it slowly. He didn’t want to startle her. 

His stomach dropped when she wasn’t there. He checked everywhere – under the bed, in the closet, behind her desk, but she wasn’t there. Anna was gone.  

John thought about telling Dad what had happened, but decided to go to his room instead. He sat on his bed and stared out the window. He wondered where Anna had gone.

“It doesn’t matter if she comes back,” John said to himself. “Maybe without Anna Dad will pay more attention to me. I’m going to focus on being the best I can.”

And that’s exactly what John did. Over the next few years, he became an even better student than before and mastered every recipe his father could come up with. He spent every day working for Dad, searching for any kind of recognition. 

Dad, on the other hand, seemed to only care about Anna. He kept her room the same way she left it, and cleaned it every day. He spent his nights on the phone, calling his friends from anywhere Anna might be. The only attention John received was when Dad tasted his baked goods before they were put up for sale. 

John refused to be discouraged. He pushed himself harder, and graduated baking school at the top of his class. He made the bakery more famous and successful than it had ever been, but it still didn’t seem like Dad cared about anyone other than Anna. 

One night, as John was cleaning up the kitchen from baking all day, Dad came in with tears running down his face. John looked up at him.

“I just got off the phone with Anna,” Dad said. “She’s coming home.”

John’s jaw dropped open. “Is she okay?” he asked. 

Dad just smiled. “She will be when she gets here,” he said. “I want you to bake your best cake for her. We’re going to celebrate!”

The next morning, John headed straight to the kitchen. He had a mission. He remembered that Anna’s favorite was strawberry cake. He got straight to work. Anna was coming home that night, so he didn’t have much time. He channeled all of his energy into making this cake for her. 

Around noon, Dad came into the kitchen to check on John’s progress. 

“I just cleaned her room and put sheets on the bed. I bought her a new dress, too. Do you think she’ll like that?” 

John smiled back at Dad. “Even if she doesn’t, she’ll love this strawberry cake!”

Dad’s eyes went to the layers of cake John was frosting. “I’m sure she will,” he said. His voice sounded distant, distracted.  Without warning, Dad turned and left the kitchen. 

John was suddenly angry. He had worked so hard to earn Dad’s recognition, and now it was being wasted on Anna, who had been gone for six years! John spent all afternoon working on his masterpiece in a silent, focused anger. 

Just as he was putting on the finishing touches, Dad came back. John looked up but said nothing. Dad just smiled.

“She’ll love it, John,” he said. 

“Do you love it?” John asked. 

Dad looked into John’s eyes. “Today is about Anna, John, not me.”

“Our whole lives have been about Anna,” John complained. “Why can’t you just pay attention to me for once? I’m the one that’s been here all along!”

Dad came closer. “John, you’ve always been a good kid. I’ve been here with you your whole life, and I always knew you’d have a future here. I couldn’t be more proud of you for that, but Anna is coming home today. Think of all she’s been through! She left, and now she’s coming back! I’m happy for her, and you should be too.”

Just then, the doorbell rang. 

Dad smiled at John and went running for the door. John hesitated, but followed.

Dad met Anna at the door and wrapped her in a tight hug. Anna was crying.

“I’m so sorry,” she sobbed. “I never should have left. Please take me back.” 

“Of course, Anna,” Dad said. He kissed her hair. “Of course.”

Anna broke the hug and looked at John. John realized how much he had missed Anna, and how happy he was to have her back. He felt bad for spending so much time trying to get attention for himself, when he should have been searching for his sister.

John went to Anna and gave her a hug. “I’m glad you’re home.”