It is important to remember that as we endeavor to be a witness to others, what we are truly telling them is that our life is governed by God, by a set of beliefs in God, by a set of doctrines revealed to us by God and a faith in God and that we are recommending that they also accept those same beliefs, doctrines and faith. However, when we make this statement - and we are making it whether we say it explicitly or not - we are saying that accepting those beliefs, those doctrines and that faith, leads to a preferable lifestyle to the one which they are already living. But, if the apologist's lifestyle does not reflect this, what are we really telling people? If our lifestyle is no different than theirs, what does that really say about our beliefs, doctrines and faith?
All too often, the major complaint against Christianity is that of hypocrisy. To many unbelievers, the idea of Christians being good people is about as silly as finding a truthful liar and whether we acknowledge it or not, its as true as night following day. We are all human, all fallible and all weak in our own ways. We say one thing and do another. We proclaim a changed life while we constantly backslide into our old ways. Through our actions, we virtually undermine every apologetic argument, every doctrine, every belief and, at times, even our own proclaimed faith.
It is important to remember that apologetics is not always about winning over a stubborn mindset or correcting faulty logic. More often than not, apologetics is about abiding by the old saying "practice what you preach" and it is by far the least studied of all apologetic methods - and for good reason, because it is the most difficult. While we are telling others to recognize their own faults, we are often displaying ours. And, though they are right under our nose, we often can not recognize them for what they really are. It has been said countless times that salvation is a gift - and it really is - but often we say it without ever understanding what that really means. It seems that those of faith (myself included) may have said it so often that we often lose sight of the real principle involved. Rather than avoiding the snares in our path by learning from the mistakes of those like Abraham, David and the disciples, we continue to bump our shins on the rocks, slip on the loose gravel and sometimes fall feet first into the leaf-covered traps that were marked by those who came before us.
Is this just a human condition or is there something amiss?
Biblical illiteracy is potentially one cause of this pandemic, but by all accounts, this is the way that those of faith have lived since the creation of man and woman. And, despite the obvious objection that "nobody is perfect" I would beg to differ. Rather than walking in the footsteps of the prophets and patriarchs, perhaps we would be better served by walking in the footsteps of the sinless life of Jesus Christ; after-all, He was here among us, living a life as one of us, for a reason. He came into the world to save us, yes above all things, but that is not the only thing He did during His earthly sojourn. Through His life He showed us how to live, He showed us how to interact; that is, not only did He tell us how to act, but showed us how to live out our faith in the most effective way possible.
Now, don't get me wrong, I am not claiming that I or anyone else outside of Jesus could possibly live a sinless life, but I am saying that it is in our own best interest and for the sake of the gospel which we are spreading to try and live it, despite the impossibility of accomplishing it. This "living out" of our faith is a daily - nay - hourly struggle against our own weaknesses, our own lack of faith and our own insecurities; it is a struggle against our own flesh and our own nature. It is this "living out" that Paul, arguably the most effective apologist in Christian history, constantly worked towards in his own life. He preached a lot about how to act, how to treat others and how to live a Christ-filled life. But, Paul didn't stop there, he made it his life mission to practice what he was preaching. In 1 Corinthians Paul expresses this when he tells us:
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV)
You see, Paul was doing everything he could to help others, to spread the gospel, to win others to Christ, but in the process he did not lose sight of the most potent of all weapons in his apologetics arsenal. He was disciplining himself, controlling his actions and living a life that showed that he was a servant of Christ and not the other way around. This is what we call sanctification. Salvation without sanctification is a bit like a plant without water, it doesn't last. There is absolutely no salvation without sanctification. They are not separate issues. When we live out our faith and we discipline ourselves, we enter into this sanctification process - and that is exactly what sanctification is, a process. It is not something that happens when you pray a prayer and accept Jesus, or when you are baptized that all of a sudden you become a sanctified Christian ready to jump into the kingdom of God for all eternity. Rather, it is a process which must be lived out and learned from, a process that changes us from sin-loving men and women to godly, Christ-like men and women.
We live in a time were we can heat our food in the microwave and get everything we need in short order, so it should be no big surprise that sanctification has become an unpopular term and one that is often left un-preached. Sanctification is not something we do for ourselves, it is a work of God, but it is a work in which we are called to participate. It is often called our "walk with Christ" but often the discipline aspect is left under a basket. Some preachers may tell us to walk with Christ, but all to often neglect the where and how. Simply saying that one should walk with Christ is a misnomer if it is not put into a context of continual sanctification, a constant building up of our faith and our Christ-centered lifestyle.
When we make living out our faith a priority, our apologetics will not only improve, but it will become vastly more powerful and infinitely more effective. Why? Because to those whom we share the gospel, it will no longer be something that is merely a mental exercise, but something that is tangible and observable; something that can be seen and experienced and something that can be entered into and participated in. It is the difference between making arguments and making disciples, between answering objections and fulfilling the Great Commission.
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
Philippians 2:12-18 (ESV)