Apologizing Without Being Apologetic

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In 1985, hidden beneath my sister’s old Billy Joel and Eagles albums, I found an LP with a picture of a lone man refusing to bow down to a monarch being carried through the streets. The body guard of this king is pointing an accusing finger at this rebel, making it clear that he will suffer for his crime. The title of this record was “No Compromise” by Keith Green. I knew nothing of this artist at the time, but I remembered my older sister listening to his music and reading his magazine, so I thought I’d pop the album on and give it a whirl. For the next hour I sat transfixed before the record player. Never before had I heard someone speak so clearly about Christianity and what it meant to unswervingly follow Christ. From the invitation of the opening track, Soften Your Heart, to the closing song, Altar Call, each lyric systematically tore down my defenses and pubescent understandings of God. But the song that impacted me the most on that album was called Asleep in the Light. It’s bold call to wake up and do the work that Christ calls us to do is stated so plainly that even now, thirty years later, the lyrics of this song convict me when I hear them.

And when things occur in our society, like the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, I cannot help wondering how much of our culture’s deterioration is due to a passive Christian community. We Christians, I believe, appear confused  about how to engage a culture that  opposes the foundations of our faith, and instead of being proactive, we repeat the sin of Adam, who stood passively beside Eve as she debated with the snake and partook of the fruit. How can The Church expect a different result than Adam when we stand at the side and rely on the 1% of Christians who serve Christ as pastors, missionaries, priests, or ministers to do the work of prison ministry, hospital visitation, hospitality, public speaking, teaching the truth, evangelization, helping the needy, and much, much more? It is as if we expect to get some spiritual reward by proxy. But this is not scriptural. We will be rewarded, or judged, based on what we did or didn’t do with “the least of these.” (Matthew 25:31-46), not because we affirmed someone’s work, or bought their book, or made a financial contribution.

We seem to have forgotten that we are called to stand firm as holy warriors (Ephesians 6:10-11) and as a holy priesthood. Our battle is with the spiritual forces that we cannot see, while our priestly duties are to the people that we can. We must go beyond exegetical Bible studies or topical lessons in our churches. We must put these lessons into action so that we may bring the power and the glory of God to the unrighteous, regardless of how they manifest their sin. We are to be a people, in other words, who “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15).

The theological term for “defending the faith” is “apologetics.” But it is not a passive term, just as soldiering and ministering are not passive professions. In fact, all Christians are to engage in apologetics. The problem, I believe, is that many Christians, if not most, have fallen prey to viewing apologetics as an intellectual pursuit, whereby we study the Word and the ancient church fathers for the best rebuttals and the best logic to defend what we believe. But defending our faith is much more than that. 1 John 3:18 says that we are not to “love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Indeed, intellectual understanding must be there, but we cannot allow the public debate of ideas to substitute for our defense of the faith. We must demonstrate it to the unrighteous as well. We must be a people who are prepared to “apologize” (i.e., defend our faith) without being “apologetic” (i.e., making an excuse for a perceived failure in doctrine).

Apologizing (actively defending our faith in deed and truth) means we must stop placing our personal experience above the Truth of the Gospel. Experience is subjective and relative, but the Word of God is eternal and true. If we only focus on what God did for me, we place ourselves at the center of the Gospel, instead of Christ. This is an easy mistake to make, because of the incredible transformation Jesus brings to our lives; but we are neither the beginning nor the end of the good news of Christ. The gift of grace did not begin with us (Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but he emptied himself in the form of a bond servant — Php. 2:6-7) nor did it end with us ( “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Eph. 2:8-9). But grace does propel us to do good works which God prepared beforehand for us to do (Eph. 2:10).

Additionally, when we become the center of the gospel,  we emulate the attitude of those who do not know God and rationalize their behavior with relativistic truth. Such actions help redefine the Gospel message, which is the most devastating offense of all. This redefines God’s love and promotes a new gospel in our culture where “love won out” or where we are encouraged to “celebrate love” by inferring that people do not need God, because, in the famous words of John Lennon, “All we need is love.” If Christians would start “apologizing without being apologetic,” then we would no longer be passive.  We would not allow this new definition of God’s love to compromise the Truth of God’s Word. Instead, we would live in relation to those around us so that they see God’s love as not only preeminent but also accessible. This is only done as an act of faith.

As Martin Luther said:

   Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us and brings us to birth anew from God (cf. John 1). It kills the old Adam, makes us completely different people in heart, mind, senses, and all our powers, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. What a living, creative, active powerful thing is faith! It is impossible that faith ever stop doing good. Faith doesn’t ask whether good works are to be done, but, before it is asked, it has done them. It is always active. Whoever doesn’t do such works is without faith; he gropes and searches about him for faith and good works but doesn’t know what faith or good works are. Even so, he chatters on with a great many words about faith and good works.

God’s love must not be an intellectual tenet that one either embraces or rejects. It must be a life-altering love that engages our lives and propels us to engage our culture, one that is so undeniable they will either accept Christ’s forgiveness, or they will try to persecute us out of our beliefs. This will take courage, for we will have to speak the truth in love. Some of us will not want to do this and will only speak the truth in the bluntest, most hurtful ways possible. Others will err on speaking in love, but will avoid the truth. We must do both. Truth and love. This is what we expect out of people who love us. We expect them to authoritatively and lovingly speak into our lives to keep us from mistakes, to help us enjoy life more, and to correct areas that we may be temporarily unaware of. It is truth that God is love, but that does not mean that God is also accepting of all of our behaviors or choices. Thus, when we attempt to love like God, we must be prepared that our love will not be met with open arms. In fact, Jesus and the apostles tell us that in the last days, Christians will endure family betrayal, persecutions, imprisonment, isolation, intimidation, loss, exhaustion, and even death for unabashedly promoting Christ and His message. Are we  Christians prepared to make these sacrifices? Are we willing to put our Lord above our lives? Our families? Our jobs? Our reputations? From the sexual revolution/free love movement in the 60’s and 70’s to this week’s Supreme Court  decision, our society has gradually reshaped how “true” love is understood, so that God’s loving sacrifice for our sins and His offer to make one free from sin is ignored and Man’s approval of his own behavior is elevated in its His place. However, societal approval cannot transform any of our choices, sexual or otherwise, to the same level as forgiveness from God. And we Christians must be wary of accepting the new definition. As Saint Augustine said: “If you wish to imitate the multitude, then you shall not be among the few who shall enter in by the narrow gate.”

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