It is a part of our Christian calling that we remain ever prepared to provide a reasoned defense of our faith to those who may ask. This does not mean we must have memorized answers to every single challenge an unbeliever might bring. It does mean, however, that we ought to cultivate a readiness to positively respond to the world's objections rather than evade or concede to them. This is the task of apologetics. It is an aid to our evangelism, a means of discipleship and encouragement for our fellow believer, and an act of obedience to our God. Apologetics does not exist in a vacuum, however, and must flow out from a consistent Christian life. Indeed, though our apologetics absolutely must consist of spoken and written words, they must also be buttressed by the foundation of a holy and unanswerable life.
One of the most important verses on the subject of apologetics is God's command to us through Peter:
"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 Peter 3:15).
We rarely see these words placed in their surrounding context:
"To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. For, 'The one who desires life, to love and see good days, Must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good; He must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, And His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.' Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but 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; 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. 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," (1 Peter 3:8-17).
Notice that, while we are unquestionably called to give a verbal answer to those who questions the hope that is in us, the force of that response flows out from the fact that our tongues are not known for deceit and our lives are visibly transformed by the Christ whom we preach. Indeed, that is the only reason anyone is asking the question! If no one can see in your life that there is a hope within you, they are probably not going to ask you to explain it. It is doubtful anyone will question why you are different if you aren't. A heart that has Christ sanctified as Lord within will flow out to a life that centers on Him and will thus stand out in this world. It will be both the occasion and the underlying weight of our verbal apologetic, as well as our accuser's shame and conviction. The Apostle Paul likewise wrote:
"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ," (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
We tear down speculations and arguments raised against the truth of the gospel. We get our hands dirty in a war of ideas, a battle for hearts and minds. Even here, however, we are not merely taking thoughts captive to the "knowledge of Christ," but rather to the "obedience of Christ." Apologetics is not only tied to changed opinions, but to changed lives. Our Lord Jesus Himself gave us this charge:
"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven," (Matthew 5:14-16).
Our good works, done in Christ, are a means God uses to cause men to "glorify your Father who is in heaven." When people not only hear an explanation of why the gospel is true but also see visible evidence through observing the power it has to change your life, there is little they can say. Sure, many will still reject you, and perhaps mock you or even commit violence against you, but it will be to their own great shame and to the glory of Christ if they do so. Note the words of some of the earliest Christian apologists just after the time of the New Testament, and how the lives of Christian communities helped them make their case:
"They have the commands of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself graven upon their hearts; and they observe them, looking forward to the resurrection of the dead and life in the world to come. They do not commit adultery nor fornication, nor bear false witness, nor covet the things of others. They honor father and mother and love their neighbors. They judge justly, and they never do to others what they would not wish to happen to themselves. They appeal to those who injure them and try to win them as friends. They are eager to do good to their enemies. They are gentle and easy to be entreated. They abstain from all unlawful conversation and all impurity. They despise not the widow nor oppress the orphan; and he that has, gives ungrudgingly for the maintenance of him who has not. If they see a stranger, they take him under their roof, and rejoice over him as over a very brother; for they call themselves brethren not after the flesh but after the spirit. And they are ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of Christ; for they observe His commands without swerving, and live holy and just lives, as the Lord God enjoined upon them. And they give thanks unto Him every hour, for all meat and drink and other blessings," (The Apology of Aristides, Section 15 early 2nd century).
"We who formerly delighted in fornication now embrace chastity alone. We who formerly used magical arts dedicate ourselves to the good and unbegotten God. We who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions now bring what we have into a common stock, and communicate to everyone in need. We who hated and destroyed one another and, on account of their different manners, would not live with men of a different tribe, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them. We pray for our enemies, and endeavour to persuade those who hate us unjustly to live conformably to the good precepts of Christ, to the end that they may become partakers with us of the same joyful hope of a reward from God the ruler of all," (Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 14, early/mid second century).
"They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all, and they beget children, but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners and are persecuted by the Greeks, yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred," (The Epistle to Diognetus, Chapter 5, mid 2nd century).
This is not to say that our argument should be a simplistic, emotional slogan like, "we're good people, believe us!" First of all, we are not good people. We are desperate sinners living out the grace of God through the righteousness of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. Any good the world sees in us is Christ's good, not our own. Secondly, the above paragraphs are small excerpts of larger works that seriously engaged the issues. The changed lives of believers represented a visible context in which the rational case could be taken more seriously. We are to preach and defend the gospel with words, but the most well-trained words of a professional apologist will fall on deaf ears if that apologist is a man who is living like the devil. The lips that defend the gospel must not be the same lips that spread gossip and profanities or that slander our brothers.
Sanctify the Lord in your heart, uphold the gospel with sound arguments, and live that gospel with zeal for God and compassion for your neighbor. In this way will our God be honored in our apologetics.