“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
In spite of the Evangelical emphasis on “personal evangelism,” “personal salvation,” and the need for a “personal relationship” with Jesus, much of the modern church experience has been depersonalized. In the face of the “God is dead” claims and the increasing secularization of culture, Evangelicals fearing that the authority of scripture and the influence of the church were quickly loosing ground, reduced Christianity to a “battle for the mind.”
Christian apologetics focused on the truth claims in scripture, believing that a logical appeal to those outside of faith was all that was necessary. Every thoughtful Christian had read Josh McDowell’s, Evidence that demands a Verdict, in an effort to honor the Apostle Peter’s admonition to “Always be prepared to give an answer…” The now infamous “Lord, lunatic or liar “ appeal was often delivered while ignoring the second part of Peter’s admonition, concerning, “gentleness and respect.”
The accusation that Evangelical Christians are more concerned about “thinking right, rather than living rightly” is evidenced in the many unchanged lives of believers. Ronald Sider’s question, “Why are Christians living just like the rest of the world?” should be obvious. We have to often insisted in presenting the truth claims about Christ, while giving spare attention to the call, “...in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.”
The modern understanding of what it means to “believe” or have “faith” in something or someone has clouded the true meaning of what it is to be Christian. In scripture “believing” concerns more than a mere “mental assent” that something is true. As my Pastor, today quoted from the book of James, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that –– and shudder.” Meaning that saying you believe something is true is not enough. Believing cannot be separated from what we do.
From what we can know about the first century followers of Jesus, the description “Christian” was mostly recorded as a derogatory designation. The idea of a “personal relationship” with Jesus may have been implied, but was not referred to in the New Testament. “Confessing that “Jesus is Lord” or believing in the “Lordship of Christ" was the preferred requirement for followers of the Way. This was a political statement and cost many their lives.
The Gospel of Mark gives us three imperatives as an invitation into the Jesus way. “Repent,’ requires a decision to leave one way of life for another. It commands a change of mind or heart that results in a change of direction. The second imperative, ‘Believe,’ requires a personal, trusting, relational involvement in this comprehensive reordering of reality. And the third imperative, ‘Follow,’ gets us moving obediently in a way of life that is visible and audible in Jesus, a way of speaking and thinking, imagining and praying, that is congruent with the present, immediate (“at hand”) kingdom realities” (Peterson, 21-22).
Eugene Peterson points out that of all the “I am” statements of Jesus in the Gospel of John, one is most often quoted, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” He says it is also the “most frequently dismissed.” Although Evangelical Christians have been quick to affirm that Jesus is the truth, we have mostly set aside the fact that Jesus is the way. Without “Way” and “Truth” operating together we never realize Jesus “the Life.”
Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me" (John 14-23-24).