What Peter unfolds for us, here is the best way to live in a world where we're surrounded by unbelievers. In fact, your life, your attitude sets the stage.
It provokes curiosity and interest. In fact, the atheists and the materialists and the religionists are going to see your life as the unanswerable evidence. They just cannot figure you out. What kind of person are you? To have the kind of attitude you have.
What makes you tick? How often have you had the opportunity to interact with an atheist? Did either of you end up changing any of your views? Often the best way to interact with an atheist, a skeptic or anyone who denies the scriptures is to demonstrate the reality of the Christian life. People can argue with you regarding points of doctrine and interpretation of passages. But you know what they can't deny? They can't deny your winsome, joyful approach to life. Today on Wisdom for the Heart, Stephen returns to 1 Peter with a lesson he's called, how to handle an atheist.
Let's jump in. How do you handle an atheist? How do you respond to cynicism and unbelief? How do you live in a culture that denies and defies the God of the Bible? How do you begin to make disciples in a world that denies the supernatural and the miraculous along with a creator God? How do you respond as a student to an Oxford University professor who said that he would die a happy man if he could make just one person disbelieve in God? By the way, reverse that and ask yourself if he would ever have a job at Oxford. If he said, I would die a happy man if I just caused one person to believe in God.
Probably not. How do you handle that kind of hostility against even the notion of a God? How do you make a dent in the willful blindness of those who deny a Creator Lord? A world represented, by the way, by one other professor, a Harvard University professor who admitted, I read this recently, his own bias toward materialism. Materialism is the evolutionary worldview that there can be no supernatural or spiritual answer to why we're here.
It cannot be the work of a creator God. And he wrote rather famously, and I quote, he said, we take the side of science in spite of the absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its promises regarding life, because we have a prior commitment to materialism. And materialism is absolute, note this, for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door. In other words, no matter what you do, don't give an inch to the concept of God. Don't allow a divine foot inside the door. Materialism, the universe, this all sovereign nature is the answer to everything. In fact, in spite of Frank Turek, by the way, he's been our guest, he writes in his excellent apologetics book, Stealing from God, that in spite of the fact that materialism doesn't have an answer for the fine tuning of the universe and the perfect tuning of earth to sustain life, even though materialism doesn't have an answer for the laws of nature and the laws of logic, even the laws of mathematics, all pointing to a designer, including he writes all the information embedded in the genetic code, along with the complexity of the human mind, in spite of all of that data. Now, maybe you're thinking, you know, that's why we need people like Frank Turek and Ravi Zacharias, who endorsed this newest book by Turek, and others who are skilled in rhetoric and logic and philosophy and worldview, those brilliant apologists who answer the skeptics. Praise God for them.
We're so glad the church has them. What's interesting to discover is that in the mind of the Lord, through inspired scripture, the average ordinary believer is expected to be an apologist. Every one of us are to give an answer.
Not necessarily about mathematics—I'm not going there, trust me—or genetics, but about something else. In fact, if you have your copy of the New Testament, turn to 1 Peter. Let's go back to chapter 3. We're racing through that chapter.
Amen. He delivers the key text supporting the discipline of apologetics. It's found in the middle part of verse 15, 1 Peter 3.15. Always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is within you. Let's work our way through these next few verses, and I want to pull from them four ways to make a dent in a world of unbelief. First, let me give you the principle, and then we get to the text. Consider suffering to be a blessing.
That's odd, and that'll get attention. Consider suffering to be a blessing. Now let's go back to where we left off at verse 13 of 1 Peter, chapter 3. Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? He's just defined what is good in the previous text we studied, but Peter's asking sort of a rhetorical question here. He's saying, who's going to want to hurt you when you're zealous to do good things? Who's going to want to harm you when you live a life that's marked by goodness? And then Peter's question expects in response, well, nobody's going to want to harm people like you. Nobody's going to want to harm good people. Nobody's going to want to hurt people who are zealous for good deeds.
Peter next uses the fourth class condition, and he says basically this, well, you know, there's going to be more than likely people who are in fact going to want to harm you. You're going to suffer. Peter adds, notice verse 14, you are suffering for the sake of righteousness. In other words, you're in trouble, not because you caused trouble, but because you didn't cause trouble. You're suffering because of righteousness, but even though you aren't treated good, you're still going to do good.
You're going to live good. Even though you're treated unkindly, you're still going to be kind. Even though you get hurt, you're not going to hurt in response. And the world says, for crying out loud, who in the world are you?
That's his point. But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, here it is, you are blessed, really. I don't feel blessed. I feel mocked. I feel maligned. I feel demoted. I feel ignored. I feel stepped on.
I feel hurt. The Lord used the same idea and concept as he amplified it on his sermon on the hillside. Matthew 5, blessed, same word, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. Why? For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you and others, revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad.
Why? Because your reward is great in heaven. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven. For so they persecuted. The prophets who were before you that were persecuted has the idea of being chased down. You can render it harassed. Happy are the harassed. Are you harassed? By the way, make sure you're being harassed for doing the right thing. Make sure you're being chased down for righteousness.
You could summarize these ideas with two thoughts then. Why are we blessed? Why do we summarize it as I'm blessed? Number one, because suffering fashions you after the character of Christ. One author put it this way, human adversities are God's universities. It's where you're taught and you learn well, faith and character. Secondly, suffering not only fashions you after the character of Christ, suffering focuses you on the coming of Christ.
It has a way of kind of stripping everything else away, doesn't it? Lord, take me home. You know, heaven's looking better all the time when earth doesn't look so much like heaven. See the idea of Peter reinforcing with the other apostles. You're gonna leave this antichrist world and the more you suffer, the more you long for that coming world where the prophet Habakkuk said in chapter 2 and verse 14, the knowledge of the Lord's glory will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea.
Wow, it's gonna be wonderful. Suffering focuses you back on the coming of Christ. And when you're suffering, whatever it might be, disease, persecution, loneliness, loss, whatever, it has a way of loosening your grip on earth. It's interesting how God uses those who suffer as well.
In fact, it's interesting to me. This past family conference, if you came, and it was so great to see this house packed with people, you heard from speakers, choice servants, who are used significantly for the Lord's work, who suffer and you don't even know it. In fact, it's interesting to me and the list of wonderful speakers we had addressing you who were guests of ours. One of our speaker's oldest sons was murdered a few years ago. Another speaker lost a child to cancer. Another speaker was struggling with kidney damage that had resulted in battling fatigue and as he spoke with great power, he was battling fatigue. Another speaker leaned over to me when I asked him how his health was and he said, you know, I'm really grateful for the optical advancements in medicine today because I'm not experiencing what my grandfather had to go through in its culmination.
He said, because when I go to bed tonight, right before I get into bed, I'm gonna take out a very powerful contact lens in my right eye and after doing that, I will be completely blind and you'd never know it. Christians who are significantly used by God are Christians who significantly suffer and we think, Lord, use us. Use us. Wait, does that mean we suffer? Here's how to become an effective apologist in an atheistic world. Consider suffering to be a blessing. Secondly, march to the beat of a divine drummer.
Notice the last part of verse 14. Do not fear their intimidation. Don't be troubled as the idea of water being jostled in a container. In other words, the world around you is gonna try to shake you up. They're gonna try to intimidate you. Christian, don't be intimidated. Don't erase the hard truths from the gospel. Peter goes on in verse 15, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Sanctify Christ. What does that mean? It means to treat him as holy, to regard him as the holy one, to treat him with absolute reverence, to enthrone him above all other allegiances.
Make him first. Now Peter here, and it'd be easy to miss it, actually paraphrases a quote from the prophet Isaiah, and in so doing delivers a rather stunning declaration of the deity of Christ. So let me point it out. First of all, Isaiah writes this in chapter 8 verse 13. It is the Lord of hosts whom you sanctify as holy. You regard as holy.
The Lord of hosts. The Hebrew name for Lord, Isaiah writes, is Yahweh, or Jehovah. Jehovah. Peter is taking this phrase from Isaiah and applying it to Jesus. Sanctify Christ as Jehovah. Imagine Peter is essentially informing the church that the Jehovah of the Old Testament is the Jesus of the New Testament. In fact, if Jehovah's witnesses were really witnessing to Jehovah, they would come to your doorstep and talk to you about Jesus, who is Jehovah in flesh and blood. And in this analogy, because Jesus is God the Son, Yahweh in the flesh, he obviously deserves to be the divine drummer who beats out the path of our lives, and we march according to his divine will, for he is sovereign God.
But I want you to notice the marching doesn't begin with your feet. It begins in your heart. Notice again, sanctify Christ as Lord in your heart.
Make him sovereign Lord in your heart, where only you dialogue with him. Only you have those conversations, and you alone know about those conversations, where only you can see who sits on the throne, so to speak, of your heart. Not only do you consider suffering to be a blessing, not only do you march to the beat of a divine drummer you can't see, which is odd.
Third, remember you have the final answer. Verse 15 again, always, here it is, being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you. Beloved, again, when you consider suffering to be a blessing and you march, you know, to the minority beating of your divine drummer, people are going to ask you about that. You're confusing me.
Over the backyard fence, down the hallway at the water cooler at work, you know, after the bell rings where student turns to you and says, hey, I got to ask you about something. You're different than I am. Why? They want you to give an account. An apologia is the Greek word in the original language, which gives us our word apologetics or apology. He's not telling us that we should get good at apologizing for the faith. No, but giving a defense, an answer.
But I want you to notice the world is going to want an answer, but this is somewhat surprising. Notice in the text they want an account not for the faith you believe, not for the doctrine to which you hold, but did you notice for the hope that you have? I would expect you to be the faith or doctrine, apostolic doctrine. No, they want to know about your hope. You see, they can't get past your hope. They understand you have certain beliefs. They understand you have a body of truth. They probably know we've got a doctrinal statement. What really intrigues them is they can't quite figure out your hope. They can't get past that.
And here's the implication of this text. It doesn't matter if you can't fire off three responses to the theory of evolution or expound on the cosmological or ontological proof of the existence of a real and true God, or you can't give them the answers to where Cain got his wife. You can't answer why it took so long for those snails to reach the ark before it rained, and you can't respond to that. In the end, people want to know about your hope. How is it that you're handling suffering that you're handling with hope? How is it that you view life as you get older with hope?
How is it that you face the crises of our world and you seem to have hope? They want to know about that, and every believer can answer that. So when someone asks you, okay, now look, tell me, you know, how you're handling that difficult situation. Be real. You don't have to respond with, you know, some plastic smile and, you know, everything's fine, because I think that's what Jesus would say.
You know, everything's perfect. Tell them the story. They want to know how you're suffering the same things they're suffering. Your kids get sick, maybe pass away. Your parents may have died. You have illness. You have a loss. You have financial struggles. You're suffering the same things, but they want to know the story of how you're doing that plus hope. So give them the story.
I came across a rather humorous account of why you ought to, but you would enjoy this. One day an old man was casually walking along a country lane with his dog, his mule, and suddenly a speeding pickup truck careened around the corner, knocking the man and his mule and his dog into the ditch. Later on, after the old man recovered from his broken arm and his broken leg, he decided to take this driver to court to recoup medical costs. And while the old man was on the stand, the counsel for the Defense Cross examined him and said, look, I want you to answer simply yes or no to the following question. Did you or did you not say at the time of your accident to the driver of this pickup truck, I am perfectly fine? The old man responded, well, me and my dog and my mule were walking along the road. The attorney interrupted and said, sir, I asked you to just tell me yes or no.
Did you say to the driver that you were perfectly fine at the time of the accident? Well, me and my dog and my mule were walking along and the attorney appealed to the judge. Your Honor, this man is refusing to answer the question. Would you please insist he answer only the specific question at hand?
And the judge said, I don't know. It seems like he has a story to tell us. We ought to listen.
So let him speak. The old man said, well, me and my dog and my mule were walking along the road. This truck came around the corner too fast, knocked us into the ditch and broke my arm and my leg. The driver stopped, got out of his truck, saw my dog was injured, went back to his truck, got his rifle and shot it. And he saw my mule had broken his legs.
We shot it. And then he said to me, how are you doing? I said, I'm perfectly fine. Well, there's a context behind why he said he was perfectly fine, right?
A good illustration to encourage us not to reduce life down to sound bites. You know, hey, I'm perfectly fine. Aren't you suffering? I'm fine. Tell us a story.
Tell them. Unbelievers need to know that you're suffering, but you consider it the work of God in your life which leads to deeper enrich your blessing. In fact, look down at verse 17 where Peter adds commentary to that thought, for it is better if God should will it so that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. In other words, it's only going to happen if God should will it so and you have chosen to anchor your trust and hope in him, even though you don't understand. You're suffering, but you're trusting his sovereignty. Yes, we sorrow too, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, but not like those who are without what?
Hope. The world just can't quite figure out your hope, and so you give them an answer. Notice at the end of verse 15, make sure when you answer them you do it. Notice with gentleness and reverence or respectfulness.
In other words, refuse any kind of arrogance. Oh, you finally asked me and I'm gonna back the truck up. I'm gonna crush you and your unbelief. I've got the answer. You know, we over here, we're superior. We're smarter. Get out your notebook.
Get ready to write. Warren Wiersby writes a commentary on this text. He reminds us we are not trying to win arguments. We are trying to win souls for Christ. It's a good reminder as you develop your skills and knowledge of Scripture and the world around you that God amazingly created.
Not one materialist or atheist or agnostic has ever been successfully debated into the kingdom of God. That's why we're called witnesses, not prosecuting attorneys as we relate our answer to the unbeliever. Finally, number four, don't ignore your conscience. Consider suffering to be a blessing. March to the beat of a divine drummer.
Remember you have the final answer. Don't ignore your conscience. Look at verse 16, keep and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. That seems to be an eschatological reference to the coming judgment. They're trying to shame you. One day they will stand to shame before God. So he's encouraging in us not anger toward this hostile world, but pity and compassion and concern.
You may not be able to avoid being slandered, just don't provide them with ammunition. Peter's referred to mentally considering suffering a blessing. That's the battle between your ears.
Only you know how deep it is and how hard it is. Emotionally, not panicking, not being all shook up, privately keeping Christ exalted and on the throne, as it were. And now internally keeping a clean conscience.
It's interesting, isn't it? When it comes to the matter of good apologetics, who you are in private seems to be as important as what you say in public. So keep a good conscience. Peter says, notice further, it ends up reflecting good behavior. And by the way, even the unbelieving world knows what bad behavior is.
Have you been listening to the news? That's bad. That's wrong. That's evil.
That's out of bounds. They know that. They also know what's good and wholesome and right.
Why? Because they've been created as image bearers of a standard, of a moral designer, so that no matter where you go in the world, somebody knows that if you steal a chicken, it's wrong. Peter seems to be delivering a warning to us as believers then. If you're going to tell people that Jesus is the answer, make sure that your life doesn't raise questions. According to the Apostle Peter, your life is exhibit A. It's on display.
It should display the grace and the forgiveness and the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Beloved, it's your attitudes. It's your hope. It's your trust. You happen to be then the unanswerable argument for the truth of Christianity. You simply bring yourself.
It's show and tell. My life isn't easier. It isn't smoother. But I have hope and forgiveness and the grace of God. So yes, heartache, but hope in Christ. Yes, problems, but peace with Christ. Yes, suffering, but surrender to Christ. Yes, failures, but forgiveness through Christ. Your redeemed life is the irrefutable evidence to the reality of the gospel of Christ. So here's how to handle an atheist, an agnostic.
Here's the best kind of apologetics. Show and tell your own life, your own story, which has been redeemed by God. I like the way the hymn writer a century ago wrote, and with this I close, my hope is in the Lord who gave himself for me and paid the price for all my sin on Calvary. His grace has planned it all to his mind, but to believe and recognize his work of love and Christ receive. For me he died.
For me he lives. An everlasting life and light he freely gives. Your life brings Christianity to life for those who observe and interact with you. Stephen called today's message, How to Handle an Atheist. Stephen is the pastor of the Shepherd's Church in Cary, North Carolina. You can learn more about us on our website wisdomonline.org. If you want to listen to the full-length version of today's message, or any of Stephen's messages, you can. You can also read Stephen's manuscript if you prefer. We've heard from Bible study leaders and even some pastors telling us that those manuscripts have been helpful for their teaching ministry. We're glad to make them available. It's all online at wisdomonline.org. Visit there today and join us again here next time on Wisdom for the Hearts.
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