Take Your Best Shot
Ever make excuses? I do. Ever since my 50th birthday I’ve had in the back of my mind that I needed to go see the doctor and get one of those tests. You know what I’m talking about. The one they give you when you turn 50. They call it a “colonoscopy,” but I really think its more like torture. It kind of defies logic, too. I mean why would you go through all the trouble and discomfort of that whole deal just to open yourself up to receive bad news. Wow! Let me sign up for that! And why don’t you just stick your finger in my eye while we’re at it!
We really do avoid things that make us uncomfortable. Which is why many believers avoid sharing their faith. They find it to be an uncomfortable experience. In fact, as I was studying for this message I actually ran across a website in which a Christian speaker was advertising a recording of his message entitled, “I hate witnessing.” He probably expressed the feelings of many with that title whether they would ever admit it or not. Many people hate the thoughts of witnessing.
And there are many reasons for it. For one thing you may be frustrated by it. You know it’s something you’re supposed to do, but like the colonoscopy you avoid, you feel bad whenever you think about it. You feel like you’re letting God down and like you’re a second-rate believer. Every time you try to break out of your silence, you fall flat on your face. You stammer and studder, or even if you speak clearly, you are constantly rejected. Every attempt to share your faith has ended in frustration for you, so you’ve just quit.
Others are fearful. They’re afraid of rejection or they are afraid they’ll say the wrong thing. They’re scared they’ll try to witness and run into the one atheist in town who asks the unanswerable questions. They’re afraid they’ll be stumped or just get into an argument they can’t win. They’re afraid.
Others avoid it because the whole process feels fake to them. Like the salesman with the toothy grin and the “deal of a lifetime,” they feel like others look at them with disdain and distrust. There’s something really plastic about the whole process that makes them uncomfortable, so whenever GROW visitation night rolls around, they all of a sudden have other commitments.
Well, if you feel frustrated or fearful or fake this morning when it comes to your witnessing, I want you to listen. In our text, 1 Peter 2:11-12, we discover the three main obstacles to effective evangelism and also how they can be overcome. Look at that text with me:
Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.
The persecuted believers of Peter’s day needed this message. If we think our world is hostile, we don’t even have a clue! Their world didn’t just have hostile attitudes towards believers, those hostile attitudes came out in hostile actions! What was their response to be? Were they to form a league of Christian retaliation? Were they to retreat from the world and give up? O no! In fact the key phrase in this little paragraph of scripture is there in v 12. They were to behave in such a way, Peter says, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. According to some of the commentaries I read on this passage, the day of visitation, in this instance, spoke to these people coming to faith in Christ. When they observed the conduct of these believers, Peter says that the potential is there that, through their witness and the power of God, unbelievers will be moved to become believers!
Which just leads me to this point: Even though the world is hostile; Even though there are many objections out there to faith in Christ; even though many think that, as Bishop Spong said in his book, Christianity must Change or Die, that the day of Christian influence has passed. Even though all of this may be true, you and I can overcome the objections of the world and we can have impact. This passage tells us how. Peter gives us the three major objections the world offers to Christianity and how those objections can be handled. What are they? Well the first one is this:
DIVISION 1: THE OBJECTION OF HYPOCRISY.
Ask the unchurched why they don’t attend and chances are the first thing they’ll say is this: “I don’t go to church because the church is filled with what? That’s right: “Hypocrites.” Consider these examples:
Erin, age thirty, says her husband abused her, “even though he taught Bible studies about how husbands should love their wives.” Now she is divorced; her faith has taken a beating.
Victoria is a 24-year old single mom. She described the impact of hypocrisy this way: “Everyone in my church gave me advice about how to raise my son, but a lot of the time they seemed to be reminding me that I have no husband—and besides, most of them were not following their own advice. It made it hard to care what they said. They were not practicing what they preached.” She is not currently attending church.
I could go on and on and on. And I could point out much more blatant examples than these. There seems to be no end to the examples to hypocrisy. The question is, how do you overcome it. I think Peter gives us the answer in 2:11 when he says, Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul. What Peter is describing here is genuine holiness, that is, a holiness that comes from the soul. What do I mean when I say genuine soulful holiness? Well, it begins with an attitude. Peter says, Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims. Foreigners in a country are automatically, in many ways, withdrawn from that culture. That may happen because they don’t want to be a part of the culture, or it may happen because they aren’t allowed to be a part of the culture. Whatever the reason, they are set apart in many ways. As a citizen of God’s holy nation and His royal priesthood, we are aliens in this world and we need to understand that.
Christian, don’t be surprised when you don’t fit in! Don’t be shocked that the world pursues adultery, or homosexuality, or drug addiction, or dishonest dealings. It’s really par for the course. It is to be expected in a sin-dominated society. But what Peter is saying is that our attitude needs to be different. We, as believers, but remember we are foreigners and we are not supposed to fit in here! We don’t adapt to some things. We don’t compromise the written word of God. We have an holy attitude. Genuine holiness begins with an attitude, but it doesn’t stop there.
A genuinely holy attitude leads to action. Peter says, Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts. To abstain means to avoid an action or restrain yourself from doing something. The thing we are to restrain are our “fleshly lusts.” Fleshly lusts are the natural impulses that well up in our sinful nature. Now all natural impulses are not bad, but they are bad when they are indulged for the wrong purpose, or in ways that contradict God’s word.
Will you notice the how Peter goes on to characterize these fleshly lusts? He says that we must avoid or restrain ourselves from them for a very specific reason. Look! Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul. The Greek word for “soul” is psyche. It is word from which we get our word, psychology. The soul is that part of your being that thinks, will, and feels. It is the inner self, the mind, the thoughts, the feelings the heart, the being. What I think Peter is telling us here is that our natural impulses that make us seek our own comfort, protect ourselves and gratify our desires have a way of destroying our desire for and our relationship with God. We, in essence must choose to gratify self, or serve God. Jesus said that if we wanted to follow Him, we would have to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him.
And what does all this have to do with hypocrisy? If I am to live a genuinely holy life, I must have an attitude which seeks God and I must deny the strong desires of my flesh and feed my soul so that I change way down in the deepest part of me. In fact, genuine holiness occurs when I am so changed by God’s Spirit that living for Him becomes not only the thing I know I should do, but it becomes the thing I genuinely want to do! That, you see, is genuine holiness.
And I must be honest and tell you that I sense this kind of holiness in very few people. Now I’m not trying to insult anyone, for I tell you quite honestly, I don’t even sense it in myself very often. But when I do get around it, it profoundly impacts my heart.
I was just at the National Association meeting and got to be in a very special missions service. They brought home many of the missionaries for a special commemoration. In that service was a very special man in my book. His name: Carlisle Hannah. Brother Hannah went to India as a young man with his wife. It was a difficult field of ministry, but he stuck it out. He lost his young daughter while a missionary, but he refused to quit. He buried her there in the Indian soil and kept preaching. Over many years he has seen many people come to Christ and has a far reaching ministry. A few years ago, his wife Marie died. He buried her in Indian soil. Now in his late 70's when many are retiring from ministry he keeps going back and it is his wish to be buried in Indian soil as well.
Over 10 years ago, Carlisle came to this church and preached for us. It had been a while since I had seen him and I will never forget the impression he made on me. There was such a depth and quiet passion about him. There was a holiness that came from the soul. He didn’t even have to speak. It was just there. That’s the kind of holiness I’m talking about. It’s not being put on. It’s not a “have-to” habit. It’s for real. It’s genuine, and it overcomes the “hypocrite” charge.
You might say, “That’s fantastic and it’s impressive, and I even wish I had it, but I have to be honest: I’m not Carlisle Hannah. How can I be genuinely holy?”
Well let me make a couple of suggestions. The Apostle Paul wrote in Gal. 5:16, Live by the Spirt and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” If I want to win the “soul-war,” I must live by the Spirit. The question, again, becomes, “How?” Here are two suggestions right from scripture: First, if I want to live by the Spirit, I must set my mind. Paul, again, writing in Romans 8:5 said, Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. In other words, I must choose to focus my attention on what the Holy Spirit desires in my life. Having deep down change in your heart comes from an intentional focus of your mind on what the Holy Spirit wants in you. When you get up in the morning, your first question isn’t “What’s for breakfast, but what does the Spirit want.” When you get to work, the first question is not, “How can I impress my boss, but what does the Spirit want?” When you go home at night, the first question is not, “How can I relax and recover, but what does the Spirit want?” You see, genuine holiness comes when I set my mind on what the Spirit wants instead of what the flesh wants.
Second, I don’t just set my mind, I also keep in step. Gal. 5:24 says Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. That is such an awesome picture of what it means to live a genuinely holy life. Most Christians are not militantly sinful, they are just massively insensitive. What I mean is that we are insensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. We go through our day oblivious to the fact that God, through His Spirit, is speaking to us constantly. We live disconnected lives and we don’t witness because we’re not close enough to God to be moved to witness. The way to overcome hypocrisy and to be genuinely holy is to keep in constant step with the Spirit.
It really all comes down to a choice which you and I must make as believers: We can fake ourselves through our Christian lives feigning a holiness we really do not posses or we can really be changed by the Spirit and live from the heart. Option one produces hypocrisy and does more to push people away from Christ, no matter what comes out of our mouths. Option two produces a powerful testimony and a life-changing witness. We can overcome the obstacles to evangelism. We can overcome the obstacle of hypocrisy and we can also overcome:
DIV 2 THE OBSTACLE OF DISTRUST
You see this obstacle in v 12 when Peter writes, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may glorify God in the day of visitation. You get the definite impression that there was a lot of distrust here, and there was. In fact, believers in Peter’s day were highly suspect. One commentator wrote that the people of that culture . . .
. . . accused [Christians] of a number of crimes, such as practicing murder, incest, and cannibalism in their secret church meetings (from expressions such as “love feasts,” “brother and sister,” “eating the body,” and “drinking the blood,” transferred to pagan contexts), and especially of disturbing the peace and good order of the Empire. Thus Tacitus claimed that “[Chrsitians] were hated because of their vices” (Ann. 15.44), and Suetonius refers to [Christians] as “a class of people animated by a novel and dangerous superstition”
They were highly distrusted, and I must tell you that the same is true today. I just got an email a few weeks ago about Paulette Schenck. Paulette was a student at Augusta State University in Georgia who was forced to go through a “remediation” program after she asserted that homosexuality was a behavioral choice, not a “state of being.” When she responded to these charges she wrote:
"At times you said that I must alter my beliefs because they are unethical. … other times you said that I can keep my beliefs so long as they are only personal and I don't believe that anyone else should believe like me. But that is just another way of saying that I must alter my beliefs, because my beliefs are about absolute truth. ….. in order to finish the counseling program you are requiring me to alter my objective beliefs and also to commit now that if I ever may have a client who wants me to affirm their decision to have an abortion or engage in gay, lesbian, or transgender behavior, I will do that. I can't alter my biblical beliefs, and I will not affirm the morality of those behaviors in a counseling situation," she wrote.
Because our society has changed to drastically, classic Christian beliefs are not just considered out-of-date, they are considered harmful. In fact, the author of the book, Unchristian, wrote that 87% of young unbelievers said that Christians were “judgmental.” and that only 15% of believers lived lives significantly different from those around them. Just like Peter’s day, there is a lot of distrust of believers.
So, the question is, how do we overcome this? Peter tells us here. He says that we are to “have our conduct honorable. Well, that phrase goes beyond just living a life that is moral by biblical standards. While that is certainly involved, the emphasis here is more on public testimony than on private holiness. When I am attacked for my stand on abortion or homosexuality, I am not to just retreat into my position, shake my fist at the world, and tell them to “just get over it.” I am to remain engaged with them and so handle myself and my position that even those who disagree with me are impacted positively.
Now that’s a tall order! How in the world is that possible? Well, they could have asked that question of Jesus couldn’t they? Jesus was not well thought of? He was offered up to Pilate by His own people. I don’t think He was well thought of at first, but something happened as He suffered and died. The ones who accused Him were put on the defensive. Even the Roman Soldier in charge of His crucifixion said, “Surely this was the Son of God.” Even the thief who died beside Him sought His help. Jesus overcame, at least in the hearts of some, the distrust they had of him.
And you can follow His example. Can I give you some things we can do to overcome the distrust of this world. First, let their criticism become your opportunity. In a strange sort of way, when the world begins to criticize our faith, they are actually opening a door. If we rely on the Spirit and keep in step with Him, He will show us what we can do to step through that door and have an impact. Remember when you are under the gun that this is not a bad thing, but a good thing. It can be your opportunity.
Second, let your action be your defense. What I mean by that is that we must not respond with words but with deeds. Argument usually wins nothing and loses a lot. As Dale Carnegie said, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Believers in the first century changed the world through their acts of love.
Let their criticism become your opportunity; let your action be your defense; and last of all, let the gospel be your answer. Listen, it usually does little good to argue the merits of a pro-life stance with an unbeliever; defending the Bible’s position on homosexuality falls on deaf ears if those ears are not empowered by the Holy Spirit. We must, in these situations, always come back to the gospel.
One pastor writes, Two weeks after 9/11, I was in Queens, New York, training church planters. Every night I walked down to a local Irish Pub to eat dinner with some friends. A waitress named Fiona not only served us well, but seemed curious about our faith and what we were teaching pastors. Each evening our conversation deepened.
"So, why would you help pastors lead their churches if churches really don't do much good?" she asked.
Knowing that one-third of her Irish friends in the 1980s and 1990s were sexually abused in the Catholic school system, and that two of her friends were killed in "Protestant/Catholic" fights, gave me ample reason not to judge her criticism of organized religion. What could I say? How could I explain my love for Jesus without bringing the church into it?
I simply talked with her about the Kingdom. "Fiona, Jesus came to offer an alternative way of life from all the exclusive, religious, sectarian, and sinful ways people live. He called it the Kingdom, and it was huge for people back in the day and also for anyone looking for the real God."
"I've never heard about the Kingdom," she said. "Tell me more."
My final night in town, as I came in to say goodbye before flying back to Oregon, I heard Fiona yell over a crowded room, "That's the guy I was telling you about! You've got to hear how he talks about God!" As the bar room split and she called her friends over, she looked at me and said, "Tell them what you told me—you know, all that stuff about the Kingdom!"
That night everything changed for me. I started an entirely new spiritual journey that pulled me out of my jaded, consumeristic Christianity. What happened next? We simply grabbed a few friends and started a community that [was committed to] living out and inviting others into Kingdom ways of life. Before we knew it, a church was started without us even trying.
Listen, church, I am convinced that the reason many people distrust us is that we’ve spent way too much time standing for issues and far too little time standing for the gospel. It is the gospel that makes us holy, not the other way around. We overcome distrust when we develop a name within our community that we genuinely love the way Christ loved. No! We do not compromise! But yes! We do love not just in our words, but with our deeds.
We can impact this world with the gospel when we overcome the obstacles of hypocrisy and distrust. But there’s one more that must be overcome. We must
DIV 3: OVERCOME THE OBSTACLE OF ISOLATION
Now if we had lived in Peter’s day and been members of the Christian community he was writing, we would have faced a very strong temptation. Many have, even in our day, faced and succumbed to this same temptation. I am sure that when these believers endured what v 12 talks about; when they were accused by their society of being “evildoers,” that they were sorely tempted to retreat to what is called today “the Christian ghetto.” That’s just a term that speaks of the isolation many church members have from their culture. You know, we have our own hangouts; we have our own music; we have our own magazines and books; we even have our own movies. We retreat from the world and cocoon ourselves in isolation.
One young believer in their twenties observed this about the church
A 28 year old Christian described Christian isolation like this: “So many Christians are caught up in the Christian sub-culture and are completely closed off from the world. WE go to church on Wednesdays, Sundays and sometimes on Saturdays. We attend small group on Tuesday night and serve on teh Sunday School advisory board, the finance committee, and the welcoming committee. WE go to barbeques with our Christian friends and plan group outings. WE ar eclosed off from the world. Even if we wanted to reach out to non-Christians, we don’t have time and we don’t know how. The only way we know how to reach out is to invite people to join in our Christian social circle . . . Our choices to live a sheltered life often leave us unable or unwilling to help people who need Jesus.
This is not the solution that Peter offers, O no! He says in v 12, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. Don’t miss what’s being said here. Peter is saying two things really. He’s saying that the way react to false accusation is by doing good works. And even doing good works isn’t enough. No, these are good works which they (that is the people doing the accusing) observe! We are to impact this world by engaging it with the loving actions of Christ. We must give up the Christian ghetto for Christian elbow grease.
And you might be asking, “Well, what would that look like exactly, Rusty?” Well, I want to pass on five very quick suggestions from the book, Unchristian. First, if we want to overcome isolation, we must accept responsibility. We must realize that it is God’s plan for us not to be overcome with evil, but to overcome evil with good. We must refuse to withdraw, and we must engage.
And in order to engage, we must release our fear. Yes, there is danger in getting involved. We may be hurt; we’ll certainly be taken advantage of; we may even at times be tempted. But if we are truly attempting to serve God and we walk by His Spirit, He will keep us true.
Third, we must give up offense. Realize that loving is not condoning. We can love a woman who’s had an abortion without condoning abortion. We can love a person who is involved in an adulterous or homosexual relationship without minimizing their sin.
We accept responsibility; we release our fear; and we give up offense, but we must also help the desperate. Jesus set the example for us. He told the Pharisees that He hadn’t come to heal the healthy but to heal the sick. He helped those who were desperate for help, just desperate enough to genuinely believe him. Listen, all around us are desperate people. We may not want to reach out to them, but they are the ones who are most ready for life change.
Last, we must be prepared. This is where many acts of love fall flat. They are disconnected. Always the loving action must be connected with the gospel of Christ. That may mean you need to learn how to share your faith. That may mean you get connected with the discipleship ministry so that you can receive a good biblical foundation to prepare you for ministry. The key is this: Don’t just hear this message and refuse to act. Do something with it! Accept responsibility, release your fear, give up your offense, look for the desperate and prepare yourself.
One church who is really putting this into practice is the Summit Church in Durham. I want to show you just a brief clip of how they are impacting their community.
I love the question that is asked at the end of that video: “What would our world look like if we were consistently out in our community, serving our community putting the love of Christ and the gospel of Christ on display through word and deed?”