Pastor Ham

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Tag: Apostle Paul

A Closing Thought on Your Apologetic

I hadn’t originally planned a third post in this series (Part 1 and Part 2). However, last night I was reviewing a devotional journal entry from about a month ago and came across something brief that I wanted to add to the discussion. Hopefully at this point you are thinking something like, “Wow, Pastor Ham is spiritual! He keeps a devotional journal! And if that isn’t holy enough, he actually reviews it from time to time!”

That thought would show how charitable you are in your assumptions. However, it would be grossly in error. What actually happened was that I cracked the cover of my journal for the first time in a month. Which was one of two consecutive March entries….which were the first two entries since December’s two entries…..which were the first entries since August 2012. So I’m still trying to get the hang of this spiritual disciplines thing.

As I reviewed my last entry, it had the following to add to the apologetics discussion. I hope you find it a helpful final thought in the series.

3/2/14 – Sunday

On speaking with authority: Jesus spoke with the authority of God, and those who heard were amazed by it (a few were saved and many remained unchanged). In Acts 4:13, Peter and John, though “uneducated and untrained men” by worldly thought, amazed the religious rulers with the authority with which they spoke. In both cases, the amazement did not stem from an authority of human device, but of Heavenly, for that authority transcends all others and can be recognized even by the devils. The lesson? You don’t have to be a biologist to argue with one. You don’t have to sympathize with the atheist or evolutionist to win him. If he is to be won at all, it will only be by the glorious foolishness of the Gospel as we’re clearly told in 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:16.

Don’t Make Your Apologetic Mean What It Sounds Like – Part 2

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. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 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:

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. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 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.

Don’t Make Your Apologetic Mean What It Sounds Like – Part 1

“One shouldn’t teach on the edge of his knowledge.”

The same pastor friend who offered me this sage advice is also an expert in apologetics, the topic of this two-part series of articles. Let’s hope he’s not reading too critically as I formulate this infantile attempt at writing something both accurate and helpful on the topic. While I risk violating his nearly-always-applicable rule, I think it’s a necessary risk on occasion. Today is one of those occasions.

In its simplest sense, apologetics is simply speaking in defense of something. In the Christian context it is a defense of the faith, an activity aimed at unbelievers. I always use the word apologetics in its Christian sense, so you can count on that meaning for the rest of this series. The irony of apologetics is that the word does not mean what it sounds like it means. It is certainly not an apology as we think of one. As a matter of fact, I would say that to apologize for one’s beliefs calls into question whether or not the beliefs themselves are sincerely held.

Here’s the problem: though most of us would never think this of our apologetic, let alone admit it, we often mix a bona fide apology into it. Some examples:

1) We try to make Jesus cool to the masses. We act as if He needs our help. We try to spruce Him up a bit, keep Him “relevant,” for the sake of “bringing them in.” This shows up in our corporate worship (that thing that is between believers and God, not unbelievers and God), it shows up in our answers to tough questions about the hard teachings of Jesus, and it shows up in a whole lot of contemporary ministries’ casual (and irreverent) attitude toward Him, among other things.

2) We try to justify the “angry ogre” God of the Old Testament to unbelievers. The problem is, that’s a false god of our own contriving. The real God of the Old Testament is not in need of our justifications. He is perfect in all His attributes. He is no less loving, compassionate, longsuffering, patient, and good in the Old Testament as He is in the New. He is also no more just, wrathful, jealous, or angry at sin in the Old Testament as He is today. He is always the same. If we knew Him as He is revealed in Scripture we would be capable of using Scripture to communicate a Spirit-empowered portrait of God so awesome as to draw us and our brethren closer to Him, and to draw unbelievers to Him as well.

3) We try to blend the unchanging God with the ever-changing scientific theories that we are told are authoritative. For instance, we are pressured to capitulate key points of the biblical account of creation, such as a historical Adam and the literal nature of Genesis 1-11, to try and placate the anti-biblical spirit of our age and not be seen as foolish (we will discuss what true foolishness is later). We think that if we can just make Christianity a little more palatable, we can win them! And in the end, a noble goal ends up justifying an awful compromise. In the end, we find that our compromise not only failed to win genuine followers to Christ, it also resulted in the compromise of other Biblical truths in our lives that brought real damage and destruction in their wake. The damage is not limited to us alone, but poisons those around us as well. I am not generalizing here. I am thinking of specific examples I have witnessed. It is a real danger. If we can compromise some of Scripture, we can compromise any of it. We become the judge. It is a fearful experiment to trifle with.

Though certainly not an exhaustive list, each of these are apologies and they are unacceptable.

So if an apologizing apologetic is a wrong way to approach our defense of the faith, what is the right way? Does the Bible speak to this? I am so glad you asked.

In the definitive Biblical text on the issue, 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:16, the Apostle Paul gives an all-time classic treatise on the God-ordained apologetic. [Side note: It regularly amazes me how the Scriptures communicate such clear and powerful truth in such a short amount of space. Our God is awesome. He doesn’t need us to help justify Him.] Let’s go through it briefly and simply.

The very first thing Paul tells us in 1:17 is that he doesn’t preach the Gospel with clever words of his own devising. If he did that it would not be the power of the preached Cross, but the power of the arguing Paul, which is a woefully inadequate hook upon which to hang the weight of a human soul. Can the so-called “wisdom” of any man ever save someone? Even that of a great apostle? Of course not! It is the Cross that brings the power.

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Throughout this passage, Paul is going to use a back-and-forth somewhat sarcastic style of interchange in which the Cross is viewed as foolishness by lost mankind, and on the contrary, mankind views itself as the wise. Note verses 18-19:

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

A key idea so far is that the real power to save comes from the Cross, and if that power is exchanged for my own cleverness or “wisdom,” the power of the Cross is forfeited. I take this to imply that when the power of the Cross is forfeited, sinners are not brought to repentance. So in my best, most sincere human efforts to win them, I have damned them instead.

Paul goes on to describe how God views the so-called wisdom of this age. And isn’t His the only opinion that matters? Indeed. Verses 20-25:

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The wisdom of God always wins. And His wisdom says to preach the “foolishness” of the cross, not our own witty locutions. Now at this point you might be wondering, “How does this all tie in with the three example problems you gave earlier?” The answer: it renders them unnecessary. Worse, it renders them sin. God has a specific opinion, a will, on our apologetic. To wander from it is to reject His Word. It is to cast off the authority of Scripture. It is to rebel.

But why did God make it so? Why do it this way? The answer begins to unfold in the final verses of Chapter 1, and that’s where we will pick up in Part Two of this series.

UPDATE: 4/16/2014: Part Two & 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.

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