Don’t Make Your Apologetic Mean What It Sounds Like – Part 2
by Jonathan Hamilton
As we have defined it, an apologetic is a defense of our faith to unbelievers. In Part 1, we began a discussion of a proper apologetic: one that does not apologize for Scriptural truth, no matter how offensive that truth may be. An apologetic apologetic not only looks redundant on paper, it’s ineffective and even sinful.
Three ways that we demean a proper apologetic in favor of a poor one are by trying to make Jesus cool, trying to justify an idolatrous “angry ogre” god of the Old Testament, and trying to mix God with the latest scientific theories to make the Bible palatable. We have discovered that God has a clear opinion on our apologetic that He states in 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:16. If we take the Bible seriously, we must account for this passage in our apologetic approach. It is His power and wisdom, not ours, that draws sinners to repentance. Even the Apostle Paul, the greatest evangelist, missionary and church-planter ever commissioned, relied wholly on God’s way and not his own.
Today, we address the question: “Why did God choose to set it up this way?” The answer unfolds starting in 1:26:
26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
First, He did it to put to shame the false wisdom of man. He brings the strong of this world to their knees by elevating the weak things and the despised. Second, and closely related to the first, He did this to prevent any human boasting in His presence. If any boasting takes place, it will be anchored in the true wisdom of God and His plan, not ours. Salvation is gifted by God, not earned by me.
So how did Paul respond to these truths? How did he hone his apologetic? To what authority did he first appeal when preaching the Gospel? Where did his evangelism commence? Chapter 2 reiterates it for us:
1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
That’s pretty simple. You don’t need a 12-week seminar to understand what Paul is saying here. First, Paul didn’t employ his own lofty words or arguments (though this would be tempting for a man of his intellectual stature). He simply and firmly decided, with the resolute strength of a Daniel staring down the King’s fleshly provisions, that he would rely instead on the simplicity of the Gospel; that is, Jesus Christ crucified. Through this pure Gospel, the power of the Spirit is unleashed for the salvation and sanctification of men. He wouldn’t have it any other way, for if their faith rested on the wisdom of men rather than the power of God, what kind of foundation would that prove? It would be a disastrous one.
Now, lest you think Paul is arguing for ignorance, he certainly is not. Note verses 6-9:
6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—
The mature, a.k.a. the saved, do receive wisdom. As is consistent throughout the entire passage, it is a wisdom from above, not from this age or its “wise” rulers. As a matter of fact, these “wise” rulers were the ones who put Christ to death. Clearly they lacked the wisdom that matters, the wisdom of God. They were the ignorant ones.
I ought to mention at this point that Paul is speaking to a group of believers here. At some points he is speaking retrospectively about how he came to them in an evangelistic ministry prior to their salvation. He also speaks of his preaching to them after their salvation. So not only can we draw conclusions on Paul’s approach in defending his faith to the unsaved, we can also see him explaining how this appeal to the wisdom and power of God applies to those who are now saved.
In verses 10-13, Paul explains that just as no one can know what a person is thinking except for that person’s spirit, so no one can know what God is thinking except for God’s Spirit. As His children, we have been freely given of His Spirit, and can thereby know the hidden things of God. And it is His truths that we impart to one another.
10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
In verses 14-16, Paul draws a final contrast between believers and unbelievers:
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
The unbeliever does not accept, nor can he accept, the things that can only be revealed by the Spirit. He counts them as foolishness. He does not have the ability to discern spiritual things. On the other hand, the believer is able to understand all kinds of spiritual things, and no unbeliever can make a judgment against a believer in these matters. It is unlikely Paul is talking about believers judging other believers here since other passages speak to the contrary. Verse 16 seems to underscore this idea. [The Expositor’s Bible Commentary was helpful in thinking through this section and I credit it for shaping my thoughts here]
So what’s the bottom line?
God’s plan for our defense of faith doesn’t require us to justify Him. He doesn’t need us to make him relevant or palatable. He doesn’t need us to cleverly convince someone to turn to Him with our brilliant cogitations. He doesn’t need our help at all.
We need Him. More precisely, we need His Spirit and His power to win the lost, and those only come when we evangelize His way.
What’s more, they need Him. The lost and dying don’t need to hear our poor man’s pluralisms. They need full-strength, straight Gospel truth.
Do you want to see your evangelistic efforts honor God and bear fruit for His Kingdom? Then make sure you appeal to Scripture at every chance you get. “But that seems so out of place sometimes! It can’t possibly always be the answer!” I believe that if we laid aside our justifications and committed ourselves to a God-centric, Scripture-centric presentation of truth, it would produce far more fruit than our vain attempts to help the process along. I don’t remember who said it, but Scripture is what the Spirit of God will use to “haunt” their conscience, not our milquetoast speculations or Twitterific one-liners. So give it to them!
The Apostle Paul had a fair amount of success evangelizing the lost, wouldn’t you say? His apologetic was unapologetic. He was uncompromising in his commitment to the simplicity of the Cross of Jesus Christ. Go and do the same.
UPDATE: 4/16/2014: Part Three
All Scripture taken from: English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.