Making a Defense

Rick Wade explores the meaning of the word “defense” in 1 Peter 3:15, suggesting that all Christians can do what Peter is urging us to do in defending our faith.

Introduction

Apologetics has grown into a very involved discipline over the last two millennia. From the beginning, Christians have sought to answer challenges to their claims about Jesus and complaints and questions about how they lived. Those challenges have changed over the years, and apologetics has become a much more sophisticated endeavor than it was in the first century.

download-podcastThe Scripture passage most often used to justify apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15: “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” This verse is probably used so often because it sounds like marching orders. Other Scriptures show us defense in action; this one tells us to do it.

The word translated “defense” here is apologia which is a term taken from the legal world to refer to the defense a person gave in court. It is one of several words used in Scripture that carry legal connotations. Some others are witness, testify and testimony, evidence, persuade, and accuse.

Something that scholars have noticed about Scripture is the presence of a kind of trial motif in both Old and New Testaments, what one New Testament scholar calls the “cosmic trial motif.”{1} There is a trial of sorts with God on one side and the fallen world on the other. The use of legal terminology isn’t merely coincidental.

Think about the arguments you’ve heard presented by apologists that are philosophical or scientific or historical. The core issue of apologetics is generally thought as being truth.{2} While all this fits with what Peter had in mind, I believe there was something deeper and wider behind his exhortation.

In short, I think Peter was concerned with two things: faithfulness and speaking up for Christ. He wanted Christians to acknowledge and not deny Christ. And, as we’ll see later, Jesus said demands for a defense were to be seen as opportunities to bear witness. Defense in the New Testament doesn’t function separately from proclaiming the gospel.

The Old Testament Background

As I noted earlier, there is a kind of cosmic trial motif running through Scripture, or what we might call a “forensic theme,” which provides a background for understanding Peter’s exhortation. One thing that will help us think about defense and witness in the New Testament is to look at the trial motif in the Old Testament.

Bible scholar A. A. Trites notes the frequency with which one encounters lawsuits or controversy addressed in a legal manner in the Old Testament such as in the book of Job and in the prophets. On occasions of legal controversy, witnesses were the primary way of proving one’s case. They were not expected to be “merely objective informants,” as we might expect today.{3} The parties involved “serve both as witnesses and as advocates,” Trites says. “It is the task of the witnesses not only to attest the facts but also to convince the opposite side of the truth of them (Isaiah 41:21-4, 26; 43:9; 51:22; cf. Gen. 38:24-6).”{4}

Especially notable in the Old Testament is the controversy between Yahweh and the pagan gods, represented by the other nations, recorded in Isaiah chapters 40-55. “The debate is over the claims of Yahweh as Creator, the only true God and the Lord of history (40:25-31; 44:6-8; 45:8-11, 21),” says Trites.{5} Yahweh brings charges and calls the nations to present their witnesses, and then calls Israel to be His witness. A representative passage, which I’ll leave you to look up for yourself, is Isa. 43:9-12.

Since the other nations have nothing to support their case on behalf of their gods, they lose by default. By contrast, Israel has witnessed the work and character of Yahweh.

The New Testament: John and Luke

As I continue to set the context for understanding 1 Peter 3:15, I turn now to look at defense in the New Testament.

The apostles had a special role to fulfill in the proclamation of the gospel because they were eyewitnesses to the events of Jesus’ life. Trites says that they “were to be Christ’s advocates, serving in much the same way that the witnesses for the defendant served in the Old Testament legal assembly.”{6} Beyond giving the facts, they announced that Jesus is Lord of all and God’s appointed judge, and they called people to believe (see Acts 10:36; cf. 2:36-40; 20:21).{7}

I spoke above about the controversy recorded in Isaiah 40-55 between Yahweh and the nations and their gods. This “lawsuit” continues in the Gospels in the conflict between Jesus and the Jews. New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham writes, “It is this lawsuit that the Gospel of John sees taking place in the history of Jesus, as the one true God demonstrates His deity in controversy with the claims of the world.”{8} Multiple witnesses are brought forth in John’s Gospel. In chapter 5 alone Jesus names His own works, John the Baptist, God the Father, and the Old Testament. And there are others, for example the Samaritan woman in chapter 4, and the crowd who witnessed the raising of Lazarus in chapter 12.

This witness extends beyond simply stating the facts. As in the Old Testament, testimony is intended to convince listeners to believe. The purpose of John’s Gospel was to lead people to belief in Christ (20:30-31).

The concept of witness is important for Luke as well; obviously so in the book of Acts, but also in his Gospel. In Luke 24 we read where Jesus told His disciples, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (24:45-49). Here we have a set of events, a group of witnesses, and the empowerment of the Spirit.

The New Testament: Luke and Paul

It was a dangerous thing to be a Christian in the first century, just as it is in some parts of the world today. Jesus warned His disciples, “they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons.” Listen to what He says next: “This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer” (Lk. 21:12-14). “How to answer” is the word apologia, the one Peter uses for “make a defense” in 1 Peter 3:15.

It’s important to keep the central point of this passage in Luke in view. What Jesus desired first of all were faithful witnesses. The apostles would face hostility as He did, and when challenged to explain themselves they were not to fear men but God, to confess Christ and not deny Him. This warning is echoed in 1 Peter 3:14-15. Jesus’ disciples would be called upon to defend their actions or their teachings, but their main purpose was to speak on behalf of Christ. Furthermore, they shouldn’t be anxious about what they would say, for the Spirit would give them the words (Lk. 12:12; 21:15). This isn’t to say they shouldn’t learn anything; Jesus spent a lot of time teaching His followers. It simply means that the Spirit would take such opportunities to deliver the message He wanted to deliver.

Witness and defense were the theme of Paul’s ministry. He said that Jesus appointed him to be a witness for Christ (Acts 22:15; 26:16; see also 23:11). As he traveled about, preaching the gospel, he was called upon to defend himself before the Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 22 and 23), before the governor, Felix, in Caesarea (chap. 24), and before King Agrippa (chap. 26).

Toward the end of his life when he was imprisoned in Rome, Paul told the church in Philippi, “I am put here for the defense of the gospel (1:16; cf. v.7). That claim is in the middle of a paragraph about preaching Christ (Phil. 1:15-18).

In obedience to Jesus, Paul was faithful to confess and not deny. Although he was called upon to defend himself or his actions, he almost always turned the opportunity into a defense and proclamation of the gospel.

1 Peter

Finally I come to 1 Peter 3:15. What is the significance of what I’ve said about the trial motif in Scripture for this verse?

A key theme in 1 Peter is a proper response to persecution. Christians were starting to suffer for their faith (3:8-4:2). Peter encouraged them to stand firm as our Savior did who himself “suffered in the flesh,” as Peter wrote (4:1).

After exhorting his readers to “turn away from evil and do good” (1 Pet. 3:11), Peter says,

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame (3:13-16).

The main point of this passage is faithfulness: faithfulness in righteous living, and faithfulness in honoring Christ and speaking up when challenged.

So how does the idea of witness fit in here? I submit that Peter would have remembered Jesus’ instructions to turn demands for a defense into opportunities to bear witness. Remember Luke 21:13? Peter did this himself. When he and John were called before Caiaphas, as we read in Acts 4 and 5, rather than deny Jesus as he did when Jesus was on trial (Mk. 14:66-72), Peter faithfully proclaimed Christ not once but twice. The second time he said, “We must obey God rather than men,” and then he laid out the gospel message (Acts 5:27-32; see also 4:5-22).

Sometimes I hear apologists talking about how to put apologetics and evangelism together. While there may be a conceptual distinction between the two, they are both aspects of the one big task of bearing witness for Jesus. The trajectory of our engagement with unbelief ought always to be the proclamation of the gospel even if we can’t always get there. As Paul said in 1 Cor. 2:5, our faith rests properly in Christ and the message of the cross, not in the strength of an argument.

Defense and witness are the responsibility of all of us. If that seems rather scary, remember that we’re promised, in Luke 12:12, the enabling of the Spirit to give us the words we need.

Notes

1. Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 389.

2. See for example James K. Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2011), 20.

3. Allison A. Trites, The New Testament Concept of Witness (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1977), 21.

4. Ibid., 46.

5. Ibid., 45.

6. Ibid., 139.

7. Ibid., 133.

8. Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 387.

© 2013 Probe Ministries


3 Truths to Feed Our Hope in a Pandemic

When the world is upside down due to unforeseen circumstances, we need hope, but not just any hope. Sue explains that biblical hope is something different. Something better. Because it’s about God.

When pretty much the whole world is in stay-at-home mode . . . when pretty much the whole world is impacted by sudden unemployment because the whole world is in stay-at-home mode . . . when pretty much the whole world’s economy might be affected by the crazy fall in oil prices . . .

We desperately need hope.

Hope that things will get better. Hope that we will be able to experience “normal” again. Hope that everyone’s stress level will go down, especially health care heroes and first responders.

I’ve been thinking a lot about hope lately.

Your everyday kind of hope is a wish or expectation for the future. It’s oxygen for the soul. An important part of mental health is being able to look forward to something good.

But biblical hope is something different. Something better. Because it’s about God.

Where everyday hope is about wishing, biblical hope is a confident expectation that God will be good, and He will do good, toward us. It is faith in the future tense.

Everyday hope is horizontal, looking at circumstances, the world, and other people—which are all broken by the Fall, and they are guaranteed to disappoint. But biblical hope is vertical. It looks UP instead of out. Biblical hope is focused on a perfect, loving God who is all-knowing and all-powerful. He doesn’t just know the future, He holds the future.

We can encourage one another daily, as Hebrews 3:13 urges us, by reminding ourselves and each other of what is true. Let me suggest three truths that will feed our hope.

God is good.

Probably the #1 lie of the enemy is that God ISN’T good. It’s what was behind his temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden: that God was holding out on her because He’s not good.

And when life is hard and we live in pain, it’s easy to look through the filter of “God is not good, that’s why He’s letting me hurt.”

But the truth is that our circumstances are not an accurate indicator of whether God is good or not. Our logic and thinking are not accurate judges of whether God is good or not.

Even if we don’t say it out loud, we can sit in the self-pity puddle of the belief, “If God was good, He wouldn’t let me hurt.”

But our pain is achieving something eternally significant, an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). When life is hard, God is doing something really big in us. And eventually, for those who have trusted Christ, God’s goodness will mean He carries us to the place where there is no more pain, no more tears, no more sickness or weakness or even disappointment. That is our hope, that the future will hold nothing but GOOD for us.

We’re not there yet. But it’s coming!

God is faithful.

He is faithful in His character, He is faithful to His word, He is faithful to His promises.

Faithfulness means being a promise-keeper, even when it’s hard. The Hebrew word for faithfulness means steadfastness, firmness.

On a trip to Colorado, my brother-in-law Phil learned that a cashier at Rocky Mountain National Park was also from Chicago. He said, “It must be cool to be here with these mountains all the time.”

“Let me tell you something about the mountains,” she responded. “They’re . . . always . . . THERE.” Meaning, they don’t move, they don’t change, and it takes a long time to get from A to B because those mountains are always THERE.

Like God’s faithfulness.

We can have hope that God will remain faithful to His promises, such as Jesus promising, “I will be with you always.”

Sports Illustrated covered a memorable incident at the 1992 Olympics when runner Derek Redmond tore his hamstring near the end of the race. He fell face first onto the track in agony.

As the medical attendants were approaching, Redmond fought to his feet. “It was animal instinct,” he would say later. He set out hopping, in a crazed attempt to finish the race. When he reached the stretch, a large man in a T-shirt came out of the stands, hurled aside a security guard and ran to Redmond, embracing him. It was Jim Redmond, Derek’s father. “You don’t have to do this,” he told his weeping son. “Yes, I do,” said Derek. “Well, then,” said Jim, “we’re going to finish this together.” And so they did.

Fighting off security men, the son’s head sometimes buried in his father’s shoulder, they stayed in Derek’s lane all the way to the end, as the crowd gaped, then rose and howled and wept.{1}

Most people don’t remember who won the gold medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, but millions will never forget the faithful love of a father who left his seat in the stands to enable his son to finish his race.

What a picture of our faithful heavenly Father who sent His Son from His seat in glory to earth to rescue and redeem us! Jesus promises that He will be with us always, to the end of the age—just as Derek Redmond’s father was with his son to the end of the race.

God is at work in my life.

Philippians 1:6 promises that He who began a good work in me will continue to complete it. Once God gets started on the process of making us like Jesus, He doesn’t quit!

One of my pastors has said that if you don’t like how things are, it means the story’s not over and God’s not finished.

How encouraging is that??!

Romans 8:28 teaches us, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.”

Since God is at work in us, then He has a plan to make us like Jesus, and He’s using every situation and every circumstance in our lives as His tools.

When we open our hearts and minds to God’s plans to make us like Jesus, and we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the process, it strengthens our hope that our future will be different from the past or the present.

But to be like Jesus means we have to follow Him, which means denying ourselves, and taking up our cross. It means not fighting the tools of sanctification He is using to make us like Jesus. The best way to do that is to obey scripture, which says to give thanks IN everything, FOR everything. If God has allowed it, there must be a purpose in it. It means developing an attitude of gratitude by disciplining ourselves to say, “This stinks, Lord, but You have allowed it in my life so I will give You thanks for this crummy boss, or this difficult roommate situation, or this physical challenge, or this thorn in my flesh.”

When we realize we are not content with WHO we are or HOW we are, because we long to be better, it means God’s not finished with us. We are still a work in progress. The story’s not over.

It means there is hope. Biblical hope.

God is good, God is faithful, and God is at work in me. Those are the truths that will feed our hope and allow us to look at the future with confident expectation that it’s going to be better than OK . . . it’s going to be amazing. Either in this life, or on the other side, we can have hope.

A living hope. Hope has a name. His name is Jesus.

1. vault.si.com/vault/1992/08/17/track-and-field-ode-to-joy-carl-lewis-exulted-along-with-all-of-barcelonas-gold-medalists-many-of-whom-vanquished-giants-to-win-their-events. Accessed 4/21/2020.

 

This blog post originally appeared at
blogs.bible.org/3-truths-to-feed-our-hope-in-a-pandemic/ on April 21, 2020.


Honey I’m Tempted: A Review of Andy Grammer’s “Honey, I’m Good.”

You might have heard rising musical artist Andy Grammer’s new song called “Honey, I’m Good.”{1} The song’s catchy and upbeat music and positive message might have caused you to dance a little in the car. Among many popular songs today, I think Christians do have a reason to be encouraged about this song and its message. Grammer explicitly portrays the theme of faithfulness in relationship through the closing line, “I will stay true.” This song does offer hope of self-control and faithfulness in a culture that seems to value those virtues less and less. However, the Scripture offers much more insight about faithfulness and fleeing temptation.

Fidelity and Self-Control

The lyrics reflect the truth that God meant romantic relationships to be exclusive. The song’s writer, Nolan Sipe, captures the parameters of love: “My baby’s already got all of my love.” Although the woman may not be his wife, the connection seems natural to God’s mandate for marriage as exclusively between one husband and one wife. In that way He made it beautiful and pure.

Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and even John in Revelation all invoke marriage as a picture of Christ as the husband and the Church as His bride. So the special love and acts accompanying marriage should not be shared outside the relationship, just as our love and worship of Christ should not be offered to any idols. Sexual immorality and affairs are so offensive because they rob the spouse of love saved for them alone, thus destroying what God intended for marriage and victimizing the spouse. So when a song calls for fidelity in romantic relationships, that is something Christ-followers can get behind.

“Honey, I’m Good.” engages with idea of temptation by describing a situation in which a man is fleeing the very real and near pull to be unfaithful. Without much detail, the song narrates the fight to turn down the apparent advances of a physically attractive woman. Sipe accurately conveys the tragedy of falling into lustful temptation by writing the lyrics, “Now better men than me have failed, drinking from that unholy grail.”

Although the song does demonstrate the power and danger of sexual lust, the Bible offers more wisdom on just how dangerous lust really is to faithfulness. As Christians we should continually look to Scripture for further insight and grounding because, although the writer gets it right, there’s no basis for this ethic other than loyalty felt in the moment—something that could quickly and easily change. God understands our temptation and warns against entertaining lustful desires in Matthew 5:28 by equating such fixation on forbidden fulfillment with the act of adultery.

Lust is not only dangerous because it is so offensive to God but also because it is powerful. Peter claims that lust wages war against our souls in 1 Peter 2. Additionally, lustful desires can and often are accompanied by lies that tell us our sexual immorality will make our lives better and will be consequence-free. Through prayer and meditation in Scripture we are equipped to fight lustful desires and lies. By the power of God’s Spirit within us, we can win over what the Bible refers to as our flesh. Before Paul calls the Colossians to “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality…,” he entreats the believers he cares so deeply about to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” because “you have been raised with Christ.”{2}

The Lie of Temptation

Andy Grammer sings in the chorus “I’m good, I could have another but I probably should not. I got somebody at home, and if I stay I might not leave alone.” Recognizing the temptation is laudable, but there is danger in thinking along the lines of “I could probably have another.” As Christ-followers, I think we often put too much faith in our ability to resist temptation and are not wise about actively fleeing temptation like God repeatedly calls us to do in Scripture. It may be true that we “could probably have another” whatever or whoever “another” may be, but we ought to default to fleeing.

Furthermore, we often tell ourselves when we are struggling with a sin or temptation that we can conquer this sin or flee this temptation alone. But sometimes it is not as easy as refusing another drink at the bar. Often temptation sneaks up on us when our guard is down. This is why God gave us our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We need the accountability of God’s Word and our Christian community—because most of the time we cannot fight the battle alone, something the song does not touch on.

Don’t Just Reject, Abstain!

Despite Sipe’s lyrics at the beginning of the chorus, the end of the chorus concludes with fleeing temptation when he writes, “No, honey, I’m good, I could have another but I probably should not, I gotta bid you adieu.” As a Christian, I am glad to see this insight reflecting the Bible’s command.

However, as we think about this song as Christians we should hold ourselves to the higher standard Christ has given us. We should not only flee temptation like the song suggests, but we should actively avoid situations where temptations arise. When I first heard this song on the radio I was surprised at the message but I could not help but wonder why that man was in this position to begin with. My first thought was, “Don’t go to the bar or club if there are women there who want to seduce you!”

Whenever it is possible to avoid temptation, we are required to do so. Matthew beautifully encourages us how to deal with temptation when he quotes Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”{3} With that being said, sometimes it is not possible to avoid situations where compromise could arise. For example, if you are a man it may not be practical or even loving to avoid all women all the time as a measure against adultery. However, you should equip yourself mentally and spiritually and have backup from a fellow believer (a “spiritual wingman”) for unavoidable tempting environments.

Overall, I think we can dance and be thankful for the Christian morals that can be gleaned from Andy Grammer’s song “Honey, I’m Good.” I also hope that if we hear that song on the radio we will be reminded of the insight and commands that God gives us to flee temptation.
Mostly importantly, we need to remember that when it comes to temptation, we ultimately have the strength to fight it by the power of the Holy Spirit working through us and through Christian encouragement and accountability. And if we fall into temptation we also need to meditate on the promises of the gospel. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, God gives us full forgiveness even though consequences may still remain.

Notes

1. Warning: The music video shows homosexual couples and has mild language. I do not address either in this article but am instead focusing on the overall message of the song.

2. Colossians 3:1-5, All Bible Verses are in the English Standard Version

3. Matthew 26:41

©2015 Probe Ministries


Integrity – A Christian Virtue

Kerby Anderson helps us understand the true meaning and importance of the Christian virtue of integrity.  From a biblical worldview perspective, integrity is a critical element of a Christ centered life.  Understanding integrity will help us incorporate it in our daily walk with Jesus Christ.

Integrity and the Bible

The subject of this article is the concept of integrity–a character quality that we often talk about but don’t see quite as regularly in the lives of public officials or even in the lives of the people we live and work with.

The word integrity comes from the same Latin root as integer and implies a wholeness of person. Just as we would talk about a whole number, so also we can talk about a whole person who is undivided. A person of integrity is living rightly, not divided, nor being a different person in different circumstances. A person of integrity is the same person in private that he or she is in public.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talked about those who were “pure in heart” (Matt. 5:8), implying an undividedness in following God’s commands. Integrity, therefore, not only implies an undividedness, but a moral purity as well.

The Bible is full of references to integrity, character, and moral purity. Consider just a few Old Testament references to integrity. In 1 Kings 9:4, God instructs Solomon to walk with “integrity of heart and uprightness” as his father did. David says in 1 Chronicles 29:17, “I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity.” And in Psalm 78:70-72 we read that “David shepherded them with integrity of heart, with skillful hands.”

The book of Proverbs provides an abundance of verses on integrity. Proverbs 10:9 says that, “He who walks in integrity walks securely, But he who perverts his ways will be found out.” A person of integrity will have a good reputation and not have to fear that he or she will be exposed or found out. Integrity provides a safe path through life.

Proverbs 11:3 says, “The integrity of the upright will guide them, But the falseness of the treacherous will destroy them.” Proverbs is a book of wisdom. The wise man or woman will live a life of integrity, which is a part of wisdom. Those who follow corruption or falsehood will be destroyed by the decisions and actions of their lives.

Proverbs 20:7 says, “A righteous man who walks in his integrity; How blessed are his sons after him.” Integrity leaves a legacy. A righteous man or woman walks in integrity and provides a path for his or her children to follow.

All of these verses imply a sense of duty and a recognition that we must have a level of discernment of God’s will in our lives. That would certainly require that people of integrity be students of the Word, and then diligently seek to apply God’s Word to their lives. The book of James admonishes us to be “doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). That is my goal in this article as we talk about integrity.

Corruption

As we examine integrity, I would like to talk about its opposite: corruption. We claim to be a nation that demands integrity, but do we really? We say we want politicians to be honest, but really don’t expect them to be; perhaps because often we aren’t as honest as we should be. We say that we are a nation of laws, but often we break some of those same laws–like speed limits and jaywalking– and try to justify our actions.

A powerful illustration can be found in the book, The Day America Told the Truth, by James Patterson and Peter Kim.{1} Using a survey technique that guaranteed the privacy and anonymity of the respondents, they were able to document what Americans really believe and do. The results were startling.

First, they found there was no moral authority in America. “Americans are making up their own moral codes. Only 13 percent of us believe in all the Ten Commandments. Forty percent of us believe in five of the Ten Commandments. We choose which laws of God we believe in. There is absolutely no moral consensus in this country as there was in the 1950s, when all our institutions commanded more respect.”

Second, they found Americans are not honest. “Lying has become an integral part of American culture, a trait of the American character. We lie and don’t even think about it. We lie for no reason.” The authors estimate that 91 percent of us lie regularly.

Third, marriage and family are no longer sacred institutions. “While we still marry, we have lost faith in the institution of marriage. A third of married men and women confessed to us that they’ve had at least one affair. Thirty percent aren’t really sure that they still love their spouse.”

Fourth, they found that the “Protestant [work] ethic is long gone from today’s American workplace. Workers around America frankly admit that they spend more than 20 percent (7 hours a week) of their time at work totally goofing off. That amounts to a four-day work week across the nation.”

The authors conclude by suggesting that we have a new set of commandments for America:

  • I don’t see the point in observing the Sabbath (77 percent).
  • I will steal from those who won’t really miss it (74 percent).
  • I will lie when it suits me, so long as it doesn’t cause any real damage (64 percent).
  • I will cheat on my spouse; after all, given the chance, he or she will do the same (53 percent).
  • I will procrastinate at work and do absolutely nothing about one full day in every five (50 percent).
  • We may say that we are a nation that wants integrity, but apparently a majority of us lack it in our own personal lives.

    The Traits of Integrity

    Honesty I would now like to turn our focus toward four key traits found in a person of integrity. One of those traits is honesty.

    We talked about some of the findings from the book The Day America Told the Truth. The authors found that nearly everyone in America lies and does so on a fairly regular basis. Truth telling apparently is no longer a virtue people try to adopt for their lives. We may say we want people to tell the truth, but we don’t do it ourselves.

    That is the problem with corruption; it is corrosive. We believe we can be dishonest just a little bit. We say we want people to be honest, but then we cheat on our taxes. We say we want people to obey the laws, but then we go “just a little” over the speed limit. We want to be honest just enough to ease our conscience.

    It’s a little like the story of the man who sent a letter to the Internal Revenue Service. He said, “I cheated on my income taxes, and felt so bad that I couldn’t sleep. Enclosed find a check for $150. And if I still can’t sleep I’ll send the rest of what I owe.”

    Many of us can relate to that man. We want to be honest, but sometimes we find it easier to be dishonest. So we try to find a way to compromise our values so that a little bit of lying doesn’t bother our conscience.


    Trustworthiness

    Another characteristic of a person of integrity is trustworthiness. A person of integrity is unimpeachable. He or she stands by principles no matter what the consequences. A person of integrity realizes there are moral absolutes even in a world of relative values.

    In Tom Clancy’s novel, Clear and Present Danger, Jack Ryan is about the only noble character in the book. As he begins to uncover this clandestine government plot, he is confronted by the antagonist who makes fun of Jack Ryan’s principles. He says, “You’re a boy scout, Jack. Don’t you get it? It’s all grey. It’s all grey.”

    I wonder how often people of integrity hear a similar statement in corporate board rooms or the halls of government. It’s all grey. There are no absolute right and wrong values. It’s all relative.

    A person of integrity knows that it isn’t all grey. There are principles worth standing by and promoting. There are values that should govern our lives. We have a responsibility to follow God’s law rather than the crowd.

    When the book of Proverbs talks of the “integrity of the upright” it implies that we adhere to God’s will and God’s laws. We have a duty to obey God’s absolute commands in our lives and become men and women of integrity.


    “Private” Life

    There is a popular book on the market entitled, Who You Are When Nobody’s Looking. Who are you when nobody’s looking? Will I see the same person that I see when you are in a group of people? Do you do the right thing no matter what the circumstances?

    There was a newspaper story years ago about a man in Long Beach who went into a KFC to get some chicken for himself and the young lady with him. She waited in the car while he went in to pick up the chicken. Inadvertently the manager of the store handed the guy the box in which he had placed the financial proceeds of the day instead of the box of chicken. You see, he was going to make a deposit and had camouflaged it by putting the money in a fried chicken box.

    The fellow took his box, went back to the car, and the two of them drove away. When they got to the park and opened the box, they discovered they had a box full of money. Now that was a very vulnerable moment for the average individual. However, realizing the mistake, he got back into the car and returned to the place and gave the money back to the manager. Well, the manager was elated! He was so pleased that he told the young man, “Stick around, I want to call the newspaper and have them take your picture. You’re the most honest guy in town.

    “Oh, no, don’t do that!” said the fellow.

    “Why not?” asked the manager.

    “Well,” he said, “you see, I’m married, and the woman I’m with is not my wife.”{2}

    Apparently he had not considered the consequences of his actions. Even when he was doing something right, it turned out he was also doing something wrong. A person of integrity is integrated and authentic. There is no duplicity of attitudes and actions.

    When the apostle Paul lists the qualifications for an elder in the church, he says “he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he may not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:7). This is not only a desirable quality for church elders, it is a quality we should all aspire to. Christians should be “above reproach” in their public testimony before the watching world.

    In the next section we will talk more about the importance of a public testimony of integrity and conclude our study.

    Public Testimony

    I would like to conclude our discussion by addressing the importance of integrity in our daily lives.

    It’s been said that we may be the only Bible some people ever read. In other words, people around us often judge the truthfulness of Christianity by its affect in our lives. If they see us as hypocrites, they may not go any further in their investigation of the gospel.

    Every day we rub shoulders with people who are watching us. Your life will demonstrate to them whether Christianity is true or false. They make value judgements about you by your attitudes and actions. Have we made the right choice?

    After his Sunday messages, the pastor of a church in London got on the trolley Monday morning to return to his study downtown. He paid his fare, and the trolley driver gave him too much change. The pastor sat down and fumbled the change and looked it over, counted it eight or ten times. And, you know the rationalization, “It’s wonderful how God provides.” He realized he was tight that week and this was just about what he would need to break even, at least enough for his lunch. He wrestled with himself all the way down that old trolley trail that led to his office. Finally, he came to the stop and got up, and he couldn’t live with himself. He walked up to the trolley driver, and said, “Here. You gave me too much change. You made a mistake.” The driver said, “No, it was no mistake. You see, I was in your church last night when you spoke on honesty, and I thought I would put you to the test.”{3}

    Fortunately the pastor passed the test. Do you pass the test when unbelievers look at you and your life and wonder if the gospel is true? It’s a convicting question. When we live lives of integrity, opportunities for evangelism and ministry surface. When we don’t, those opportunities dry up.

    I have been encouraging you to develop a life of integrity. In some respects, it’s a life-long process. But we have to begin somewhere. Our lives are the collection of choices we have made in the past¾ both good choices and bad choices. Perhaps you have seen the poem:

    Sow a thought, reap an act.
    Sow an act, reap a habit.
    Sow a habit, reap a character.
    Sow a character, reap a destiny.

    I would encourage you to begin to focus on the verses and biblical principles delineated here. If you want to be a person of integrity, it won’t happen overnight. But if you don’t make a deliberate plan to be a person of integrity, it will never happen at all.

    Notes

    1. James Patterson and Peter Kim, The Day America Told the Truth (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1991).

    2. Dallas Times Herald, 23 Sept. 1966.

    3. Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations (Assurance Publishers, 1990).

    ©2000 Probe Ministries


    Campus Christianity

    Spiritual Wastelands 101

    In the fall of my junior year in college, I had been a Christian for only a year. Since I had been involved in a Christian group on campus, however, I felt I had learned a great deal about my faith. As a science major I had completed most of my requirements for my degree, and I was looking forward to taking electives in my major of animal ecology. However, I still had a couple of hours in humanities to fulfill, not my most favorite subject. While I was looking for a humanities elective, I came across an English course entitled “Spiritual Wastelands.” I remember thinking to myself, “That looks interesting. I wonder what spiritual wastelands this course is about?” With my newfound interest in spiritual things, I decided to enroll.

    On the first day of class, I was horrified the minute the instructor walked into the room. He wore an old Army fatigue jacket, a blue work shirt open to the middle of his hairy chest, ratty blue jeans, sandals, long tangled hair, and a beard. He punctuated his appearance with a leather necklace containing what looked like sharks’ teeth. To make it worse, he proceeded to go around the room and ask every student why he or she took this course. I don’t really reember what the other students said but when he got around to me, I sheepishly replied that I was a Christian and that I was interested in knowing what kind of spiritual wastelands he was going to talk about. Immediately, with a look of malevolent glee, he exploded: “You’re a Christian? I want to hear from you!”

    Needless to say, if there had been a place to hide, I would have found it. As you may guess, the only spiritual wasteland he wanted to talk about was Christianity. I was like a babe who had been thrown to the wolves. Our class discussions, more often than not, were two-sided: the instructor versus me. Hardly anyone else ever spoke up. To say that I found myself floundering like a fish out of water would be an understatement. Occasionally my questions and comments would hit the mark. But I am convinced, as I look back, that even that degree of success was purely the grace of God.

    Since that time, I have spent twelve more years in the university environment as both an undergraduate and graduate student. I have learned a great deal about how a Christian student should relate to the academic community, and I would like to share with you four principles for effective Christian witnessing in that setting. I think you will also find that these principles will prove to be an effective guide in any sphere of life.

    Approach your studies from a Christian worldview. We need to think Christianly. The only way to accomplish this is to be continually involved in the process of knowing God.

    Realize that the job of the student is to learn—not to preach. A teachable spirit is highly valued. This may seem obvious to you, but believe me, it isn’t obvious to everyone.

    Pursue excellence. Every exam, every paper, every assignment must be pursued to the best of our ability, as unto the Lord.

    Be faithful to the task—leave the results (grades) to God. Do not get hung up on the world’s definition of success.

    Think Christianly

    All of our thoughts are to be Christ-centered, including those expressed in a university classroom. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 10:5 that “we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” All knowledge is to be encompassed by a Christian worldview. In other words, we should try to see all knowledge through the eyes of Jesus. This all sounds well and good, but how do we do that?

    The only way to think and see as Jesus does is to know Him. This brings us to the basics of the Christian life. There are numerous demands on the time of a student. There are always experiments to do, books to read, papers to write, exams to study for, assignments to turn in, classes to attend. This is doubly true for graduate students, who spend their entire time seemingly three steps behind where they are supposed to be. Let’s not forget the demands of a girlfriend or boyfriend, family, exercise, and just plain having fun. How is one supposed to find time for regular personal devotions, worship on Sunday mornings, fellowship with other believers, and the study of God’s Word? These activities can all take a serious bite out of the time the university demands from a student. But this is the only way to draw closer to God and to understand His ways.

    By being faithful in spiritual things, we trust God to honor the time spent and to bring about His desired results in our academic pursuits despite our having less free time than most non- Christians. Christian campus groups can be of tremendous help in these matters through training, Bible studies, and fellowship with believers who are going through the same struggles you are.

    For those times when trouble does arise in the classroom, and you feel that your faith is being challenged and you are confused, an enormous amount of assistance is available to you. The manager of your local Christian bookstore can be a great help in finding books that deal with your problem. Organizations such as Probe Ministries can also help steer you in the right direction with short essays, position papers, and bibliographies. Dedicated and highly educated Christians have addressed just about every intellectual attack on Christianity. There is no reason to feel like you have to do it on your own. That was my mistake in the “Spiritual Wastelands” course. It never even occurred to me to seek help. I could have represented my Lord in a much more credible way if I had only asked.

    There are no shortcuts to living the Christian life. We cannot expect to emerge from the university with a truly Christian view of the world if we put our walk with the Lord on hold while we fill our heads with the knowledge of the world. Remember! We are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. In order to do that, we must know Him; in order to know Him, we must spend time with Him. There were many times in my college career when higher priorities prevented me from spending the amount of time I felt necessary to prepare for an exam, paper, or presentation, but I always found God to be faithful.

    During my doctoral studies, we moved into a new house and the boys were ages 4 and 2. The room they were going to share desperately needed repainting and we were having new bunk beds delivered on Monday, the same day of an important cell biology exam. The professor writing this exam was the one in whose lab I had hopes of working for my doctoral project. So I needed to do well.

    The room was small and the beds were large, so they needed to be constructed inside the room. This meant the room had to be painted before the beds arrived. If I paint, I lose critical study time for an important exam. If I study, the room goes unpainted and I have an unhappy wife and a difficult task getting to it later. I chose to paint the room. I had a total of three hours of study time for the exam! I entered the exam free of tension knowing I did my best and it was in God’s hands. I had no idea how I did on the exam, but when the grades came out, I received the second highest grade in the class and the best exam score in my tenure as a graduate student! The professor was impressed enough to allow me to begin working in her lab.

    Cultivate a Teachable Spirit

    I have run across numerous professors whose only encounters with Christians were students who simply told them that they were wrong and the Bible was right. Most professors do not have much patience with this kind of approach. It is a great way to gain enemies and demonstrate how much you think you know, but it does not win anybody to Christ.

    Some Christian students have the impression that when they hear error being presented in university classroom, it is their duty to call out the heavy artillery and blast away. This is not necessarily so. As a student, your job is to learn, not to teach. In my education, I reasoned that in order to be a critic of evolution, I needed to first be a student of evolution and demonstrate that I knew what I was talking about. Once professors realized I was serious about wanting to understand evolution, when I began to ask questions, they listened. In the end my professors and I often had to agree to disagree, but we all learned something in the process, and I built relationships that could grow and develop in the future.

    The most effective tactic in the classroom is the art of asking questions. This approach accomplishes three things. First, you demonstrate that you are paying attention, which is somewhat of a rarity today. Second, you demonstrate that you are truly interested in what the instructor is talking about. All good teachers love students with teachable spirits, but not students who are so gullible as to believe unquestioningly everything they say. Third, as you become adept at asking just the right question that exposes the error of what is being taught, you allow the professor and other students to see for themselves the lack of wisdom or truth in the idea being discussed. Truth is truth, whether expressed by a believer or a pagan. However, non-Christians will believe other non-Christians much more readily than they will a fanatical Christian waving a Bible in his hand.

    As a graduate student, I was in a class with faculty and other graduate students discussing a new discipline called sociobiology, the study of the biological basis for all social behaviors. One day we were discussing the purpose and meaning of life. In an evolutionary worldview, this can only mean survival and reproduction. Disturbed at how everyone was accepting this, I said, “We have just said that the only purpose in life is to survive and reproduce. If that is true, let me pose this hypothetical situation to you. Let’s suppose I am dead and in the ground and the decomposers are doing their thing. Since you say there is no afterlife, this is it. It’s over! What difference does it make to me now, whether I have reproduced or not?” After a long silence, a professor spoke up and said, “Well, I guess that ultimately, it doesn’t matter at all.” “But wait,” I responded. “If the only purpose in life is to survive and reproduce, and ultimately–now you tell me–that doesn’t matter either, then what’s the point? Why go on living? Why stop at red lights? Who cares?!” After another long silence, the same professor spoke up and said, “Well, I suppose that in the future, those that will be selected for will be those who know there is no purpose in life, but will live as if there is.” What an amazing and depressing admission of the need to live a lie! That’s exactly the point I wanted to make, but it sank in deeper when, through my questions, the professor said it and not me. When Jesus was found by His parents in the temple with the priests, He was listening and asking them questions–probably not for His benefit, but for theirs (Luke 2:46).

    We are all familiar with 1 Peter 3:15, which says, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to every one who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” This verse is a double-edged sword that most of us sharpen only on one side or the other. Many are prepared to make a defense, but they leave destruction in their wakes, never exhibiting gentleness or reverence. Others are the most gentle and reverent people you know, but are intimidated by tough questions and leave the impression that Christianity is for the weak and feeble-minded. The latter need to go back and read a few important passages:

    2 Corinthians 10:3-5

    For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

    Colossians 2:8

    See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

    Acts 17

    (The story of what happened when Paul boldly proclaimed the gospel in Thessalonica, Berea, and the Areopagus in Athens.)

    Paul was a firm believer in the intellectual integrity of the gospel. The “staunch defender” needs to remember that Jesus told His disciples that the world would know that we are Christians by the love we have for one another (John 13:34-35) and that we are to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43-47). Paul exhorted the Romans not to repay evil with evil, but to repay evil with good and to leave vengeance to the Lord (Rom. 12:17-21). Finally, the writer of Proverbs tells us that a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up wrath (Prov. 15:1), and that the foolish man rages and laughs and always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back (Prov. 29:9,11).

    Pursue Excellence

    Nothing attracts the attention of those in the academic community as much as a job well done. There is no argument against excellence. In Colossians 3:17 Paul tells us, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” If we are to do everything in Jesus’ name, He deserves nothing less than the best that we can do. How many of our papers and exams would we be comfortable stamping with the words, “Performed by a disciple of Jesus Christ”? I think I would want to ask if I could have a little more time before I actually handed it in! Yet Paul admonishes us to hold to that standard in all that we do. This does not mean that every grade must be an A. Sometimes your best is a B or a C or even just getting the assignment done on time. The important thing is to try. It’s important to be able to tell yourself that, with the time, resources, and energy you had available to you, you did your best. The road to excellence is tough, exhausting, and even frightening. It is hard going. But our Lord deserves nothing less.

    Ted Engstrom, in his book The Pursuit of Excellence, tells the story of a pastor who spent his spare time and weekends for months repairing and rebuilding a dilapidated small farm in a rural community. When he was nearly finished, a neighbor happened by who remarked, “Well, preacher, it looks like you and God really did some work here!” The pastor replied, “It’s interesting you should say that, Mr. Brown. But I’ve got to tell you–you should have seen this place when God had it all to Himself!”

    It is certainly true that God is the source of all our strength, and all glory and honor for what we may accomplish is His. But, it is no less true that God has always chosen people to be His instruments—frail, mistake-prone, imperfect people. His servants have not exactly enjoyed a life of ease while in His service. Striving for excellence is a basic form of Christian witness. We pay attention to people who always strive to do their best. In the classroom, people may not always agree with what you say, but if they know you as a person who works diligently and knows what you are talking about, they will give your words great respect. And, if there is enough of the Savior shining through you, your listeners will come back and want to know more.

    I am reminded of the impact of four Hebrew youths in the Babylonian culture during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (whom you may recognize by their Babylonian names: Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego). They entered the prestigious secular institution, “Babylon University,” and were immersed into an inherently hostile atmosphere. But Scripture says that

    And as for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom; Daniel even understood all kinds of visions and dreams . . . And as for every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king consulted them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in all his realm (Daniel 1:17, 20).

    You can be sure they were instructed in Babylonian literature and wisdom, not Hebrew, yet they excelled. If our God is indeed the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, then He can not only protect us as we enter the university, but He can also prosper us. Imagine the testimony for Jesus Christ if the best philosophers, the best doctors, the best poets and novelists, the best musicians, the best astrophysicists, and on and on, were all Christians. That would be a powerful witness!

    As you pursue excellence, do not be deterred by mistakes. They are going to come, guaranteed. The pursuit of excellence is an attitude in the face of failure. Thomas Edison, the creator of many inventions including the light bulb and the phonograph, was never discouraged by failed experiments. He simply reasoned that he now knew of one more way that his experiment was not going to work. Mistakes were his education. The wise man admits and learns from his mistakes, but the fool ignores them or covers them up. We all admire someone who freely admits a mistake and then works hard not to repeat it.

    Strive for Faithfulness, Not Success

    As students in the university learn to approach their studies from a Christian worldview, as they grow to appreciate their place as people who are there to learn and not necessarily to confront, and as they begin to pursue excellence in everything they do, it is tempting for them to believe that God will bless whatever they set out to accomplish. Their primary focus becomes whether or not all of their efforts are successful. It can become depressing if they do not see the kind of results they expected God to bring about.

    Soon after Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work among the poor in Calcutta, she was asked by a reporter in New York City how she could dedicate herself so completely to her work when there was no real hope of success. It was obvious she was not going to eliminate hunger, poverty, disease, and all the other ills of that densely populated city in India. In other words, he asked, if you can’t really make a dent in the conditions these people live in, why bother? Her reply was simple, yet profound; she said, “God has not called us to success, but to faithfulness.” How many times have we heard in witnessing seminars that our job is to share the gospel and leave the results to God? What I hear Mother Teresa saying is that our responsibility is the same in everything we do.

    Oswald Chambers, in his timeless devotional book My Utmost for His Highest, caused me to recall Mother Teresa and reflect on my own expectations. He said,

    Notice God’s unutterable waste of saints, according to the judgment of the world. God plants His saints in the most useless places. We say—God intends me to be here because I am so useful. Jesus never estimated His life along the line of the greatest use. God puts His saints where they will glorify Him, and we are no judges at all of where that is. (August 10)

    The main point here is that we should be faithful to the task God has given to us rather than worry about whether or not we are achieving the results we think God should be interested in. When we begin thinking that “God is wasting my time and His,” we have probably stepped over the line. I spent five and a half years in the laboratory on doctoral experiments in molecular biology, experiments that never accomplished what I had planned. The most frustrating aspect was that these experiments did not result in work that was publishable in the scientific literature, which is the ultimate goal of any scientist. I had a great deal of confidence when I started this difficult research problem that the Lord and I would work it out. Well, we didn’t. I never dreamed how much Mother Teresa’s words concerning the value of faithfulness over success would be lived out in my own life. It has been a hard, hard lesson. And I don’t believe I have a complete answer as to why God chose to deal with me in this way. Scientific publications seemed not just desirable but necessary in my future career; yet God is sovereign and He apparently has other plans. During those years, I learned a great deal about living the Christian life in the midst of difficult circumstances. I can only pray that I will not forget what was so painful to learn.

    Conclusion

    In summary, orient your studies according to a Christian world view. Your main job as a student is to learn and to develop the skill of asking questions, and to keep the boxing gloves at home. Pursue excellence and remain faithful to the task to which God has called you, and leave the results to Him.

     

    Suggested Reading

     

    Oswald Chambers. My Utmost for His Highest. Westwood, NJ: Barbour and Company, 1963.

    Ted Engstrom. The Pursuit of Excellence. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1982.

    © 1999 Probe Ministries International