Your Reason for Hope
Let’s make suggestions for evangelism in North Korea, where Christians are shot, run over by steamrollers, used in “scientific experiments,” or tortured to death in prison.
Invite someone to church? He will denounce you, and then you and others in the church die. Bad idea.
Street preaching? You get only minutes before the arrest, and then church membership is down by one, because you’re going Home to Glory, Brother. Maybe some other method….
Pass out tracts once, and you are history. Internet? Traceable. Advertise? Impossible. Evangelism “door-to-door” means from your neighbour’s door to the prison door, never to return.
Western arguments on evangelism methods can be so absurd — in North Korea, all these methods mean you only evangelise once before you die. Please don’t talk to me about Alpha Course, or “Christian” concerts (can a concert repent and believe? :)), or other evangelical favourites that often don’t even include the Gospel at all, or obscure it with hype and/or error.
How does the Gospel go out in such an environment? How does it spread? Why have churches always continued to spring up and grow under even the most severe persecution? Part of the answer is in I Peter 3:15.
In writing on I Peter 3:15, I spent three posts on common misuses of the verse (Part One, “This verse is about persecution.” Part Two, “Courage, Dear Hearts.” Part Three, Apologia and “Be Ready.“). The last post turned our attention to the right use of the verse, with focus on the key clause, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” In this final post, I’d like to look at the rest of the verse.
I Peter 3:15
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.
The Reason for Hope
Why do we have hope? It is not because the scientific evidence fits well with the creation account, or because of archaeological evidence for Biblical accuracy. We do not have hope because there is moral consistency between the events of the world around us and Biblical truth. Those things may be nice for us to see, but if that is the basis of your hope, you have no real hope.
To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:
I Timothy 1:1
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope;
5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
There is one reason for hope — Christ in us. Hope is grounded in His love, a love that received God’s great commendation at the Cross when Christ died for sinners, a love that floods our hearts. That love gives a hope that will never fail, a hope of which we will never be ashamed.
If you are giving someone a reason for hope, there is really only one answer — “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Timothy 1:15). There are many ways to say it, but that is the only answer. There’s a lot of other stuff that goes along with it, there are many supplementary truths that help us to understand it, that demonstrate this central truth — but that is the only “reason of the hope” that is in the Christian.
The answer, the “reason” (the Greek word is logos), is Christ.
Be Ready to Answer When Asked
I’ve discussed this at length in the previous posts, so I won’t repeat it all here. This tells us to be ready to answer, even when facing persecution, even when on trial. It demands courage of us, and it demands holiness. To be ready means to be living a Spirit-filled life, because the Spirit is the source of the answer a believer gives when on trial for his faith. The Spirit gives the words to proclaim Christ our answer.
To be ready flows out of the main point of the verse, to “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” (If you don’t know what that means, you are wasting your time reading this post until you’ve read that one.)
Why Would They Ask?
“I thought I was a Stoic, but philosophy has not served me well during the last days. I shall have to talk to Varro. He believes in something….”
– A character in The Ides of April (Mary Ray, set in 62 A.D.), referring to a Christian named Varro
And Justin, watching, saw that the thing he drew was a fish. He had seen that sign before, in Judea. It was something to do with a man called the Christos — a man who had been executed more than two hundred years ago: but it seemed that he still had followers. You would need to be a good leader, Justin thought suddenly, for people to follow you still, two hundred years afterward: not just priests out for what they could get, or silly women; but men like Anthonius.
– The Silver Branch (Rosemary Sutcliffe)
Though these are both fictional, they illustrate the truth which answers our question about evangelism in even the most severe persecutions, even in places like North Korea.
When you “believe in something,” when you are a man of courage and integrity, people will know it. They will know you have something real, something solid, something they don’t have….
When you “sanctify the Lord God in your heart,” the light will shine. During the Blitz, they didn’t black out London during the day. It is in the dark that light shines the brightest.
As society gets darker, as sin increases, as this silly “cultural Christianity” (that is no Christianity at all) fades into oblivion under increasing persecution of everything remotely “Christian,” the darkness of sin will manifest itself more and more in those around us. The light of a life that sanctifies the Lord will shine brighter and brighter.
The darker it is, the more visible the light becomes. In a spiritual “blackout zone,” you can’t miss a light.
That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;
If you are shining, they will see it, and they will know — there is a hope in you. They may not know what it is, but some will ask. Those with no hope will want to know the reason for yours. That is true in North Korea, or Scotland, or anywhere else.
Once they know, of course, they may denounce you, and you may have consequences. Be ready always, and be not afraid of their terror….
But if you don’t “sanctify the Lord God in your heart,” they won’t see, they won’t ask, and despite all your pat answers, apologetics training, and evangelistic expertise, you aren’t really ready at all.