The Essential Question
I want to begin by telling you a story. A father decides to take his son on a hiking adventure for his 13th birthday. It’s a great time to pour into his son’s life the importance of being a strong and godly man. They decide together to tackle one of the mountains of the Drakensburg, and head out on the Mbudini pass.
They hike from dawn, and are making fairly good progress as the sun begins to set. The father knows that they need to get to the campsite before dark and so he’s setting a pace ahead and silently challenging his son to keep up.
Near the campsite they pass along one cliff face, but the path is a few meters from the edge and the father doesn’t think too much of it.
Suddenly, he hears his son cry out. He spins on his heels and dashes in the direction of his son’s voice. But he can’t see his son, why can’t he see his son? A deep feeling of dread and horror hits him and his feet become like ice as he jumps towards the cliff edge and looks over. There, almost out of reach, his dear son is clinging to an old root jutting out of the rocks. The root won’t hold for long, and the father desperately stretches out to grab his son’s hand!
There the story ends.
Oh wait, let me answer the questions at the forefront of your mind, give you some peace. Yes, the son did remember to put on suntan lotion and a cap that morning and has been protected from the sun. I’m sure, also, that you really want to know what brand of shirt the father is wearing – it’s a Jeep shirt. You’re probably quite concerned about where they come from, and understandably so – they come from a rather upmarket suburb in Durban.
Did the father save the son? Well let me tell you about what type of sleeping bags they have, they’re some of the best sleeping bags. Yes, but did the father save the son? You’ll be interested to know that the son loves lamb kebabs, and the father has some stowed in his bag as a surprise for their braai that night. Did the father save the son??
What’s the central question of this story? Does the father save the son? What does all else matter?
Today I want to speak to you about the central importance of knowing the gospel and being ready to share it at all times. Please turn with me to 1 Peter 3.
A week ago our missions team returned from our trip to Limpopo. For a week we’d head out as Christ’s ambassadors into the community – going house to house, praying for people’s needs, asking God to heal, to guide, to provide, declaring to those we visited that there is freedom and life in Christ Jesus. And there I knew a little more of what Paul spoke about in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are Christ’s ambassadors, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God.”
Then in the evenings we had the chance to worship and pray. And what a chance to pray, all through the day – pressing into the Lord, and trusting Him to bring fruit from our labour, to bless the community, to call out this community from darkness into light, to raise up shepherds for this young flock, to break the bondage to sin that many in this community were in.
For myself, the week in Limpopo was a shaking up of priorities. You see, it’s not just in one village in Limpopo that the people need to hear the good news of Christ’s Salvation. It’s not just in one village in Limpopo that people are enslaved, in bondage to sin. It’s not just in one village in Limpopo were there are sick people.
No, this is the story of Wilro Park; this is our neighbourhood. The complex I live in is as much in need of God’s grace and mercy as the village we spent a week in. It doesn’t matter what cars they drive; it doesn’t matter what clothes they wear; it doesn’t matter where they go on holiday; it doesn’t matter which political party they support; it doesn’t matter what language they speak – those are all details that colour the picture of life but don’t deal with the central question of life: How can I have peace with God?
Just as it is ridiculous to focus our attention on the kind of shirt the father was wearing while he stretched out to save his son, so it is ridiculous to focus our attention on gaining a name and reputation for ourselves while our neighbours are losing their grip on life and plummeting into hell.
It is of central importance that we keep our eyes on what’s most important. To do this, I’d like to turn your attention to 1 Peter 3:15. It reads, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect...”
There are three things we need to allow our hearts to be adjusted from this passage, and I pray the Lord would give us all mouldable and sensitive spirits.
1. SET APART CHRIST AS LORD
We call ourselves Christians, but who is your Lord? Who or what do you submit to? Do you follow the desires of your body even when you know they fly against God’s commands? Do you follow the practices of your friends or co-workers even when God’s word calls you to stand and walk differently? Do you hear and listen to the lies of the evil one instead of hearing and listening and standing on the Truth of God’s word? Who is your Lord? Who do you submit yourself to?
The enemies of God in this world are bending all their might on leading us to make something other than Christ the Lord of our lives.
Before making Jesus your Lord, these enemies of God at work to keep you from Him – focus on your job, follow great singers.
Then, if by God’s grace you are saved and Jesus becomes your Lord, then these enemies of God work to distract you – ‘Ah, look, you’ve sinned again. God won’t be your Lord again till you fix yourself’; ‘Hey, you’re low on money, don’t think about God now, focus on the problem of finances’; ‘See, even though you prayed he still died. God isn’t really in control, He isn’t really Lord.’
What these enemies of God are doing is they are quietly but powerfully working behind the scenes to take your focus off of Jesus as Lord and make something else Lord.
And at the same time your own sinful nature is fighting to rise up and take control of your life. So you’re being attacked on two fronts.
As Christians, we need to make the conscious choice to say ‘No’ to my sinful self, ‘No’ to the forces of evil, ‘No – I set apart in my life Christ as Lord.’ Romans 12:2 says, don’t conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. The pattern of this world is to make other things Lord – make money your lord, make reputation your lord, make your husband or wife your lord, make your children your lord – anything but the one true Lord. But we need to be transformed by renewing our minds, as we read Scripture to stand on it’s truths: ‘I’m not Lord – Christ is my Lord. I’m not in control – I give Christ control. I’m not God – Jesus is my God.’
What does this have to do with the central importance of the gospel?
As long as I fight to be lord of my own life, I really do not care about the lives of others – I don’t care whether they go to heaven or hell. Honestly, I simply do not care. What I do care about is that they make me happy. I want them to like me, so why will I offend them with the gospel? I want them to buy me stuff, invite me to parties, look me up on Facebook, look at me with respect; I don’t want to be shamed in front of them, I want to look strong and in control.
But when I set aside Christ as Lord, well that changes everything. As we set aside Christ as Lord we begin to see that all other things are details that colour the picture of life and can be beautiful but they’re not the most important thing. What’s most important is that Jesus is glorified in this world, that our family and friends and neighbours know Him and know and accept all that He offers them. My pleasure can come later, my reputation among them can take a hit, my promotion can take a back seat – right now what’s most important is that God’s kingdom is manifested in the lives of those around me.
Will you set apart in your hearts Jesus Christ as Lord, and this Word as His Holy Word to you – worth standing on, worth obeying whole-heartedly?
That’s what it means to be a Christian. Not just ‘I said a prayer one time’, but ‘Jesus is my Saviour and my Lord. He’s given me life and offered it to those around me, and I want to lead them to it.’
Not only do I need to set apart Christ as Lord, but I also need to be ready to tell others why He’s my Lord.
2. ALWAYS BE READY TO GIVE A REASON FOR THE HOPE THAT WE HAVE
Again, we call ourselves Christians, but why are we Christians? For many, many people Christianity is simply a vague identity clinging to those who go to Church and once said a prayer asking Jesus into their hearts.
So I understand that on the basis of the Bible only Christians go to heaven, but if I don’t know what it means to be a Christian how do I know if I’m saved; and if I don’t know how to be saved or if I am saved, how can I lead others to being saved so they don’t go to hell when they die?
Well let me tell you a little bit about my journey.
I grew up in a Christian home. In fact, for those of you who know me you know that I grew up in a very Christian home. Both my parents are missionaries and have been all my life. All my grandparents were fulltime missionaries. Most of my great-grandparents were missionaries are pastors. Many of my uncles and aunts and cousins are in full- or part-time ministry. I have such a legacy of Christian service that it’s coming out my ears.
I asked Jesus into my heart a hundred times in childhood and early teenage-hood. But I didn’t come to know Jesus as my personal Lord and Saviour until I was 16. I know that’s when I was born again because that’s when a change started to happen in my life.
But even then I didn’t really know what it meant to be a Christian. Probably when I was 17 or 18 I encountered a Muslim man who shook my spiritual life. He spoke so much about love and goodness I thought, surely he must be right with God.
So I started to search out if Christianity really was the only way to God, and you know what I discovered?
I discovered something that goes against what the world teaches, and flies in the face of Western society’s priority on tolerance. I discovered that it doesn’t matter what any person or religion says about love, about charity, about kindness to others, about taking care of the planet; the only thing of importance is what do they say about who Jesus is?
We don’t have peace with God for recycling; we don’t have peace with God for forgiving someone who hurt us; we don’t have peace with God for faithfully keeping to prayers and kind actions towards others.
All of that is good and right, but it doesn’t bring us peace with God. Only one thing will give us peace with God: to trust in Jesus and to be in Christ.
So that’s what I discovered when I was in my late teens, even after I was in Christ myself.
For some of us, we don’t go on that journey. ‘Yeah I’m saved’. Are you? Why are you? What are you saved from? What are you saved to? Why should anyone believe you? Why should anyone follow you? Why should anyone else become a Christian? Are you able to answer these questions, are you able to give a reason for the hope you have of salvation?
We have to wrestle through these questions with God and in His word. We cannot simply stay static and say, ‘Praise God I’m pretty sure I’m saved. I hope others make it though I don’t know how they will.’
Someone asked me this last week, ‘If someone asked, would you be able to explain the whole Bible from beginning to end?’
Oftentimes we’re afraid of starting to share because we think that before we do we need to understand the whole Bible. No, Paul says to the Corinthians, ‘When I came to you, my friends, to preach God's secret truth, I did not use big words and great learning. For while I was with you, I made up my mind to forget everything except Jesus Christ and especially his death on the cross’ (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).
As you grow to know and understand the gospel more and more you realise more and more how deceptively simple it is – this is why it is a stumbling block to so many. The correct response for so many is to slap their foreheads and say, ‘Really? Can it really be that simple?’
Once I’m ready to speak, then Peter tells us to also watch how we speak.
3. WHEN SPEAKING, BE GENTLE AND RESPECTFUL
I know lots of individuals with a lot of Bible knowledge and pride themselves on their Bible knowledge. And I can also be one of those individuals. But the problem is that if it’s all up here, all head-knowledge, we tend to focus on winning the argument rather than winning the person.
This almost never works.
If you’ve been in the Church for a good amount of time, you probably know what the message of the gospel is – God made a perfect world; our sin messed it up and brought on us the punishment of death; God sent His Son to be punished in our place; anyone who trusts in Jesus and follows Him will be saved.
But we also need to be careful how we share the gospel message with others. We need to be able to do it with humility, with gentleness, with respect.
Sometimes we need to go back to God and ask Him by His Spirit to show us again how much we owe to Him so that we will not go arrogantly but humbly to share God’s love with others.
It is centrally important that we know the gospel and are able and ready to share it with others. I hope that in your own heart that you have set apart Christ as Lord. If you haven’t done that, realise that until you do you will have no peace. Peace comes from God, and if Jesus is not your Lord then you are at war with the only One who gives peace. Set aside in your heart Jesus as Lord, ask Him to be your Lord, ask Him to help you to follow Him.
I hope that once you have set aside Jesus as Lord that you will wrestle with what you have done. Ask the Lord to help you to understand what He’s done in you so that you can be able to share it with others.
And then go and share it. Ask the Lord to open doors for you, and He will do it. Go and share the central story, go and share the good news that God offers peace and life to whoever would have it.
Sometimes we might be fearful to share the gospel, but we must be determined to try. A Christian barber went to an evangelism conference where he was encouraged to spread the gospel. He came back, still fearful of opening his mouth to strangers but determined to try with the next customer who walked into his shop. Soon a man walks in and says to the barber, ‘I need this beard shaved off’. The barber says, ‘sure, sit on the stool I’ll be right with you.’ He knows this is the time, and he’s really scared. He turns around and sharpens his cutthroat razor and psyches himself up to share the gospel, turns around with glazed eyes, his face all red and trembling hand and says, ‘Friend – are you ready to die??’
Let’s also share the gospel with a good attitude as the Lord enables us.