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Where in The Bible Does God Attend Anger Management Classes?

Editor’s Note: I love to bring in different voices to this blog. Today, you have the privilege of hearing from Seth Clarke. Seth is one of my best friends in the whole wide world. He works on staff at Ekklesia with me and is an excellent Bible student. Also, I don’t think there’s a bigger Disney or Dirk Pitt fan on the planet earth than Seth. Enjoy!  -Kyle

Belief-in-an-Angry-God-Now-Linked-to-Mental-Illness-2I was friends with a guy who got into the Hollywood scene. He originally attended seminary to become a pastor, but decided that Hollywood was the way to go instead. Then one day he tweeted, “Jesus telling people not to cast the first stone would have been cool, if his dad hadn’t told them to do it in the first place.

Unfortunately, this is a viewpoint that many Christians and non-Christians hold. Many think that the God of the Old Testament was angry; He wanted blood! He wanted vengeance!! HE WANTED TO WATCH THE CAST OF JERSEY SHORE BURN!!!…But then came Jesus, the God of the New Testament. He was all about peace, love, harmony, and organic foods.

God the Father had a crew cut, was clean-shaven, and fought in Korea. Jesus rocked the long flowing hair, beard, and listened to Simon and Garfunkel.

Both these views are skewed.

Lets sort out the first problem. God is Jesus. Jesus is God. You cannot separate the two. How do I know? He says so.

  • “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)
  • “I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)

So if God and Jesus are the same, why are they so different tempered? Did God have a change of heart during the 400 years between the Old Testament and New Testament? Did he attend anger management classes? Did he stop listening to rap music? Yoga?

No.

Understand that God never changes.

  • “For I am The LORD, I do not change.” (Malachi 3:6)
  • “Whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God above, who created all heaven’s lights. Unlike them, He never changes or casts shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)
  • “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

Also understand that God’s anger in the Old Testament is a righteous anger aimed at evil. It is good. It is just. It is the proverbial Superman to the world’s Voldermort. (Calm down my fellow nerds, it’s just an example.)

And we even see Jesus use this anger.

In John 2:13-22 people were using the temple to sell stuff and make money. Jesus got so angry that he yelled, over turned tables, and whipped people to get out! Can you imagine going to the store when all of a sudden a man starts yelling, knocking things over, then pulls out his Indiana Jones whip to scare people out? That’s scary enough by itself, without the righteous wrath of God!

So if Jesus and God are the same person and never change, then what’s the deal with God’s anger in the Old Testament? I would like to argue that God is actually a very loving God in the Old Testament. He forgives a countless number of times. He loves the people of the world. He wants them to succeed in life. He wants what’s best for them.

You want some examples? I’ll give you some examples.

Here are some in just the first book of The Bible:

  • God gave man the whole world. Literally. “And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)
  • God told man not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, not because he wanted to tell man what to do, but because he loves us and did not want us to die, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17)
  • God made woman so that man would not be lonely. (Genesis 2:18-22)
  • God agreed to spare an evil, vile, corrupt city of large population if there were merely ten righteous people in this city. (Genesis 18:23-32)

God demonstrates his love in other books of the Old Testament:

  • God freed the slaves of Egypt, who then complained, turned away from him, and worshiped idols, and he STILL forgave them. (Exodus 1-32)
  • God spared David. A king who had everything, who slept with another man’s wife, got her pregnant, tried to cover it up which failed, then killed her husband and made it look like an accident to try to cover it up again, then once the husband was dead he took her as his own wife. (2 Samuel 11 – 12:15)
  • God allowed the rich man, Job, to be tested but not killed, and then rewarded him with twice as many riches as he had before. (Job 1-42)
  • God continually offers redemption and grace to a stubborn and rebellious nation of Israel. (Isaiah 43)

But the biggest examples to me that the Old Testament God loves us are found in christophanies. Christophanies are God appearing in the pre-incarnate form of Jesus Christ. Again, if Jesus and God are one, then Jesus existed before he was born in flesh. Christophanies occur in the Old Testament when God wants to appear before man in a physical form. God the Father cannot appear before man, for he told Moses “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20) Some examples of chistophanies can be found in Genesis 16, 18, 32, and Exodus 3.

So why would God want to appear to us who sin against him daily? Simple. Because he loves us. Because he doesn’t want to abandon us. Because he wants to be with us. He is the Father who wants to be with his children, no matter how badly those children misbehave.

Therefore I would urge anyone who is reading the Old Testament to shift their paradigm and look at who God really is.

A God who loves us.

A God who created us. Not so we could be ruled over and punished, but be cared for and watched over.

A God who ultimately would send his one and only son to be brutally murdered, so our relationship with him could be restored once and for all.

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

Seth Clarke is a theology student at Calvary Chapel Bible College, musician, movie-buff, husband, and disciple of Christ. He’s currently devising a plan to join the cast of The Avengers but he’ll probably get beat out by Ben Affleck. Follow him on Twitter @Seth_Clarke.

The Great Gatsby, Ecclesiastes, and Hope

In light of The Great Gatsby coming out on DVD tomorrow, I thought I’d offer several-months-old thoughts on the movie.

SPOILER ALERT: This is a discussion of one of the main themes of The Great Gatsby. As such, significant plot points will be revealed. You have been warned.

the-great-gatsby-poster1For those of you who only read SparkNotes in high school, The Great Gatsby (both the movie and the book) follows the wanna-be writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) as he moves to New York City in 1922, an era of loose morals, glittering jazz, bootleg kingpins, and soaring stocks. Wanting to hit it big in the stock market, Nick moves next door to a mysterious, party-giving millionaire, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), and across the bay from his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and her adulterous, Old Money husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

Jay Gatsby is a mystery. Every weekend he opens up his castle in West Egg to the most powerful and influential—New York politicians, Broadway actors, silent-screen stars, and gangsters. Few have ever seen him. Some theorize he doesn’t even exist. Nick is drawn into this puzzle as he receives an official invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties—the only one ever to have gotten one. The two meet and become friends.

During the course of their friendship, Gatsby reveals to Nick that he’s in love with Daisy and has been for five years. He lost her when he was shipped out to fight in the war. During that time, Daisy got married to Tom. Now, Gatsby has come to win her back. Every move he made for the past five years has been about winning Daisy’s heart. Every party. Every dollar earned. All with a picture of Daisy in his mind.

All Gatsby asks of his new friend is that he invite cousin Daisy to tea. Nick obliges and begins a journey to find out that maybe money really can’t buy everything.

According to Rotten Tomatoes, the jury is split on the movie, almost 50/50. Some think it was a spectacular film in its own way but others believe it falls far short of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original masterpiece.

I did like the movie although I don’t think I would buy the DVD. Going into the theater I placed my expectations on hold because I knew it was impossible to fully capture the essence of the novel and display it on screen. I thought DiCaprio hit his part out of the park. I really can’t imagine anyone else as Gatsby anymore. Content-wise, I could have done with less sexual content in the movie. There’s sexual sin in the book but it’s implied and not displayed for all to see.

All that said, I actually couldn’t stop thinking about the movie for weeks because The Great Gatsby was one of the most honest movies I’ve ever seen. Most movies (and other media) paint this idea or picture of life that’s idealistic, unrealistic, and actually quite delusional. In real life, there are consequences, there aren’t always happy endings, and sin never pays. Regardless of it’s potential downfalls as art, The Great Gatsby echoes the book of Ecclesiastes—that life is meaningless under the curse. Here are some quick takeaways about the meaninglessness displayed.

** In case you didn’t see the first spoiler warning, this is your last chance to turn back! **

THE MEANINGLESSNESS OF WEALTH / EXCESS

613969-the-great-gatsbyLife was plush in New York for the few super-rich. Their parties that would seem over-the-top even today. The movie shows all the glitz and glamor of the age. It’s bright, loud, looks great, and looks fun. Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom have no want in the world.

Fast cars. Massive houses. Dozens of servants. Decadent meals. Parties over-flowing with every luxury. These people are living the life.

And they’re miserable.

No amount of money or possessions brings any of these characters lasting satisfaction. They’re always searching for the next thing. All the parties in the world can’t bring them happiness. In the middle of a party, Nick even asks, “What is this all for then?” The question goes unanswered. It hangs there. Empty.

Throughout the story there’s a general feeling that Gatsby’s wealth is fake—all veneer and no substance. In the book, Nick even discovers that the shelves are filled with empty book covers, designed to give the impression that they are real. Underneath the surface of it all, the money is not truly real—we find out later it’s actually mobster money—and it’s not going to last.

Gatsby has thousands of “friends” who stick around only because they get to partake in his massive celebrations. But after Gatsby dies, no one shows up to his funeral except Nick. All Gatsby’s possessions are seized by his mobster “friends.” Gatsby’s wealth could do nothing for him. It was meaningless.

THE MEANINGLESSNESS OF PLEASURE

carey-mulligan-600Not only was life plush for the characters of The Great Gatsby but it was also full of pleasure. Although it takes place during the Prohibition, Nick comments that it actually made alcohol cheaper. The alcohol definitely flows like the River Jordan in this movie. Nick constantly gets “roaring drunk” every chance he gets. The parties all end with people passed out on the floor.

People also search for pleasure through sex. Burlesque dancers fill the party stages. The drunken party-goers engage in sensual activity. And the most significant is Tom and his notorious penchant for adultery. Gatsby and Daisy also have sex and try to rekindle old love.

Once again, all the pleasure in the world cannot bring these people satisfaction. In fact, most of the pleasure they strove after ended up bringing them pain. By the end of the story, Nick is diagnosed as “morbidly alcoholic,” Tom’s mistress is dead, Gatsby is dead, and all the parties amounted to nothing. It too was meaningless.

THE MEANINGLESSNESS OF LIFE

The tone of life’s meaninglessness in the movie is a lot less than in the book, but you can still see it. Life is not all it’s cracked up to be. Tom lives in the shadow of his past athletic glories. Daisy lives with the burden of lost innocence and lost love. Nick never achieves his goal of hitting it big in the stock market, and this is after already abandoning a dream to be a writer. Gatsby is abandoned because of Daisy’s carelessness and murdered for a crime he didn’t commit.

They all receive great pain. For those who died, the world kept on turning as if nothing happened. There are no heroes in this story. No matter how hard Gatsby tried, he could not repeat the past. He dedicated everything to his dream of Daisy. Instead, he achieved nothing. It too was meaningless.

the_great_gatsby_trailer

HOPE

So now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, I want to let you know that there is hope. The most redeeming thing about Jay Gatsby is his ability to hope at almost delusional levels. Nick says about Gatsby, “He was the most hopeful people I’ve ever met.”

Gatsby’s hope was that he’d be able to recapture the time he had with Daisy five years earlier. This was his dream—his obsession—and he sacrificed everything to reach out for it. In the midst of all the meaninglessness of life, Gatsby found something to hope for.

His dream failed him but it does show something about the human heart. We need to hope for something. We were designed to hope. That’s the only thing that can keep us going when faced with what life throws our way.

Since we were created to hope that means there is something out, or someone, who can satisfy that hope. His name is Jesus. He is the source of everlasting pleasure. He is the only One who can bring our life meaning. He is the only One who can bring real life. He is the hope the human heart longs for.

Tweets of the Week: 08|23|13

Out of Context: Matthew 7:1 – Judge Not

In our next installment of Out of Context, we are going to examine what some have deemed to be the trump card to any rebuke, Matthew 7:1.

“Judge not, that you be not judged.”

Plank-in-eyeMany people use this verse as a blanket to protect themselves from any moral correction. I’ve even had it quoted to me multiple times to make me stop talking about sin. “Ah but Jesus says, ‘Don’t judge.’ You’re sounding really judgy right now.”

This interpretation gives the impression that no sin can be pointed out—that we’re above or outside moral accountability. We’ve even created a title for someone who does not follow this verse very well—they are “judgmental,” like the angry adults from Footloose who wouldn’t let Kevin Bacon just dance.

Is this true? Are Christians not allowed to call out someone else’s sins?

THE CONTEXT

Here’s the context to Matthew 7:1.

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

We find this passage in the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus used this famous sermon to overturn the traditional ideas of the Law—that it’s all about external behavior—and to show the people that it’s really all about the heart. God cares more about the heart than the outward appearance of righteousness. Those who focus only on appearing righteous, they’re deemed hypocrites (6:2, 5, 16; 7:5).

Which brings us to Matthew 7:1, “Judge not.” Normally we just stop there and wave it in the faces of our accusers. But Jesus doesn’t stop at the first two words. He continues to explain His point, “That you be not judged.” He shows the reason we shouldn’t judgenot because it’s bad but because we will be judged too.

So judgement is reciprocated with judgement. How is this boomerang judgment done? “With the measure you use” (7:2). If we judge someone else’s sins, we’ll be judged by the same standard.

Who will judge the judger? He doesn’t indicate that it will be another person. The implication is that the judger will be judged by God. If you’ve been judging others by a different standard than you judge yourself, then you’re in big trouble.

Jesus then uses a fairly humorous illustration to drive His point home. He says the person who judges with different standards is like a person with a log in their eye who’s trying to take a speck out of someone else’s. Kind of ridiculous right? If you have a 2×4 sticking out of your cornea, you’re probably not in the best place to help get a small piece of dust out of your neighbor’s eye. You should probably go to a hospital.

Jesus ends, indicating who He’s talking to, “You hypocrite”—the person who says one thing and does another, the person only focused on appearing righteous. He commands that the hypocrite first remove the log out of their eye. This will enable them to take the speck out of their brother’s eye. It’s important to notice that He doesn’t forbid them from removing the speck. He just wants it done in the correct order.

THE IMPLICATIONS

So what does this all come down to? It shows that Jesus is less focused on “judging” and more focused on the heart.

A hypocrite calls out someone’s sin when they haven’t dealt with their own. The hypocrite thinks they’re more holy and above everyone else. They look down on others because of their sin. They think they’re always right and everyone else is always wrong. They commit the same sins they’re condemning in others. They may even celebrate the downfall and sin of others. They don’t realize that the same Bible is judging them too.

Does this passage forbid judging sin? No. He still wants the speck out of the person’s eye. Also, if you look at the following verse, 7:6, it says, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs.” Jesus is speaking metaphorically here of those who do not value or treasure the truth. How are we to determine who are dogs and pigs if we aren’t allowed to make a judgment call?

Instead, Jesus is giving the proper procedure to judge sin. Be humble. Deal with your junk first. Admit your sinfulness and your need for a savior. Repent. Know that you are no better than anyone else. If you do that, then you will be able to clearly see and help someone out of their sin with a heart of compassion, love, and grace.

The church should be a place where people are accountable for their sins. This is why Proverbs talks so much about how to give a rebuke and how to receive a rebuke. But we don’t do it with our own standards. We do it with the standard of God’s Word (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Sin is cancerous. If we truly love people, we will help keep them away from what will kill them.

A couple final caveats for judging.

1. We do not judge non-Christians. Paul writes, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). It’s not our place to call out the sins of the world. If someone doesn’t believe in Jesus, how can we expect them to live like Him? The point is not to have a society full of moral people. The point is to get everyone saved. You get saved through faith in the Gospel, not morality. Living like Christ comes after being saved by Him. Instead, we’re to make sure that those who’ve been redeemed are living like redeemed people, starting with ourselves.

2. Our desire should always be restoration. Whenever sin is confronted, there should be the hope of repentance. This idea is echoed throughout Scripture, like Galatians 6:1, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” We don’t gloat over someone else’s sins. We don’t celebrate anyone’s downfall. We don’t point out someone’s sin just to make ourselves feel better. If that’s your attitude, then you still have a log in your eye. Your desire should always be restoration with a gentle spirit.

3. Recognize your own sinfulness. You aren’t any more immune to sin than the person you’re helping restore. It could’ve easily been you who was caught in the affair, passed out drunk on the couch, addicted to pornography, filled with bitterness, or caught gossiping. Constantly check the mirror, look for logs, and pray that God would give you the grace to remove them.

Previous Out of Context posts:
Matthew 18:20 – Where two or more are gathered
Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Him who strengthens me
How to take a verse out of context

The Problem of Grace

I’ve been thinking a lot about grace lately and one verse has been stuck in my head the whole time. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

amazing-graceThere is no salvation without grace. Grace is God’s un-earned favor. It’s to receive something that you didn’t deserve. Most of us are familiar with the concept, but I think it’s important to make sure the familiar concepts don’t become stale in our minds.

Imagine a guy who skips a whole week of work. Thirty hours a week at Starbucks was really stressing him out—all that standing, moving, barista-ing, and whatnot—so he decides to turn off his alarm clock and sleep in every morning. At the end of the week, the guy’s boss still shows up on his doorstep and hands him a pay check for a full week worked.

The guy definitely did not deserve to be paid at all. In fact, he should’ve been fired. But instead of receiving the penalty he deserved, he got a reward. But that’s not how the world operates—that’s grace.

I have to be honest, grace is the hardest thing for me to accept in Christianity, even after having been saved for almost twenty years. Not miracles. Not God’s existence. Not the “Old Testament God.” Not hell. I actually haven’t struggled too much with those things. But grace I struggle with every single day.

I think as sinful humans we naturally don’t accept grace. It’s completely counter to how anything else in the world works. If I study hard, I pass the test. If I work hard, I get paid. If I don’t do those things, I receive the due consequences. Only when God comes crashing into the world does grace appear. And when it does, we run from it.

While I was attending the University of Oregon, I took a history class on the Reformation. For those of you unfamiliar with the time period, before the Reformation there really was just the Catholic Church and it preached a salvation of works. The church arrived at this conclusion after hundreds and hundreds of years worth of tradition, veiled corruption, and misinterpretation of the Bible had been heaped upon itself. They said, if you make these pilgrimages, say this many Hail Mary’s, and pay for these indulgences, then you might get to heaven or at least not spend too long in Purgatory. But there were some men, starting with Martin Luther, who looked at the Bible and saw that it preached a salvation by grace through faith. In fact, as Ephesians 2:8-9 shows, salvation is explicitly not by works.

The teacher in the class (himself a special blend of neo-Lutheran and New Age agnosticism) actually did a great job of objectively showing both viewpoints. Near the end of the semester, the teacher asked the class, “Now that you understand the different viewpoints—that the Catholic Church taught a salvation by works and the Reformation taught a salvation by grace—which one would you choose?” 98% of the class raised their hands for salvation by works. Only my wife, another guy who went to my hometown church, and I raised our hands for salvation by grace. Seeing the disparity, the teacher asked why so many chose the Catholic viewpoint. They answered, “I cannot accept the fact that my personal salvation is outside of my hands.” None of them wanted grace.

Why do we naturally reject grace? It’s because of pride. It’s all about me. We want to hold our fate in our hands. I want to do it all on my own steam. I want people to know I was strong enough. I want to be sufficient. I want to be independent. I don’t want to need anyone. Ultimately, what I’m saying is, I want to be my own god—my own savior.

It’s Genesis 3, Adam and Eve trying to make themselves “like God,” forgetting about the Tree of Life and what it was like to walk with God. It’s Romans 1, all of mankind exchanging the “truth about God for a lie.” It’s Matthew 19, and the rich young man walking away from Jesus because discipleship means choosing Christ above everything.

We cannot earn a right standing before God. Grace forces us to admit that we’re not sufficient. That we’re not strong or good enough. That we’re sinners. That we need someone else to save us.

It’s the problem of grace. We all need it but won’t accept it. And yet, Jesus pursues us anyway.

Tweets of the Week: 08|16|13

Rethinking Apologetics

One of my fellow pastors calls me “Cult-Killing Kyle”—to my nausea-inducing chagrin—because I’m really passionate about apologetics. (But to be clear, not about killing people from cults. That’s bad.) Apologetics is the art and science of defending the Christian faith. The term comes from the word “defense” (in the Greek, apologia) used in 1 Peter 3:15, which says, “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.” Many Christians try to accomplish this through carefully crafted arguments. Their ultimate goal is tear down an opponent’s objections, hopefully concluding with a conversion. This mindset holds that if people were shown sufficient evidence for Christianity, then they could not help but believe.

No one's going to get this joke at all, but I still think it's funny.

No one’s going to get this joke at all, but I still think it’s funny.

But with the advent of postmodernism, people are no longer concerned with finding the truth but their truth. They see truth to be based on experience not evidence. The good thing is people are more open to hear opposing viewpoints. The problem is you can answer all their objections and they will walk away totally unfazed about their beliefs.

Being a pastor in Eugene, Oregon—a city fueled by the University of Oregon and known as the hippie capital of the Northwest—I get to interact with many who’ve taken postmodernism as far as it can go. One student told me with a straight face that morality does not exist and that Hitler and the Holocaust was a neutral matter. I then asked him, perhaps inappropriately, how he’d feel if his family was brutally murdered in front of him. Same answer. Morally neutral. I slowly walked away a little afraid.

How do you argue with someone like that? Perhaps there isn’t a way.

Through my many failures in apologetics I’ve become a firm believer that you cannot argue someone into heaven. I’m not saying throw out apologetics all together. I’m calling for us to rethink how we go about it. Of course, if someone has burning questions about the faith, they should be answered. But that is not sufficient. If someone is to be convinced of the Gospel, something deeper must be touched. You have to hit the heart.

Unbelief is not an intellectual problem but a heart problem (Psalm 14:1; Matthew 13:15). People don’t have trouble believing Christianity because they haven’t seen the evidence. They may say that, but that’s not what’s going on. They don’t want to believe. They willingly choose something else over God, exchanging the truth for a lie (Romans 1:18-25). Pharaoh had evidence in the form of vicious plagues, but he still hardened his heart (Exodus 8:19). There were some who saw the risen Christ and still didn’t believe it (Matthew 28:17).

When people convert to Christianity, it’s not because they finally saw all the proof. It’s because their heart was changed. Even C.S. Lewis wasn’t converted from his atheism because of rational arguments. He’d heard everything there was to hear in support of Christianity and was not convinced. It wasn’t until he was “surprised by joy”—the joy he realized he was meant to experience—that he reluctantly chose to follow Christ.

This doesn’t mean our faith is based on zero evidence. Christianity has mountains of evidence. Because people choose not to believe in God, they also choose not to see the evidence.

So, how do we share and defend the Gospel in this postmodern age? We must engage a person’s heart. What is their deepest desire? How are they trying to fulfill themselves? What is their deepest hurt? How are they seeking to save themselves?

A few years ago, a couple friends and myself were in a debate with two Mormon missionaries. I’d compiled a literal binder full of stuff to discredit everything, ranging from the Nephites all the way to the magic onesies. It didn’t work. After a few hours of getting nowhere, one of my friends asked them, “If you got hit by a bus today, do you know with absolute certainty if you’d go to heaven?” Both the missionaries hung their heads low, staring at the ground, searching for an answer. After about thirty seconds of silence, one of the men answered with a quivering voice, “I don’t know.” My friend had cut straight to their hearts—in a belief system where salvation is earned through good works, you can never know if you’ve done enough. What a heavy burden to carry.

One of the best ways to speak to another person’s heart is just by sharing yours. You don’t need a Ph.D. in theology. You know how you’ve been transformed. That story will resonate with people because their heart is longing for the same thing.

I once spent forty-five minutes arguing with an atheist on the UO campus, answering all his questions. After every reply instead of relenting, he kept bringing up more arguments. Answering one question would spawn three more. I had a guy with me I was training in ministry who hadn’t gone through any formal theological schooling. The atheist, tired of hearing my voice, turned to my friend and asked him to speak up. He nervously said, “I don’t know much about all this science and creation and stuff. But this is what I do know.” He then shared about his redemption out of a brutal life, about how Christ came crashing into his world and wrecked him. By the end of the story, tears were streaming down the atheist’s face. He longed for the same redemption.

The Apostle Peter is not wrong that you should be ready to defend the truth. Do it with “gentleness and respect,” declaring why you have hope—because Jesus gave you a new heart, a new life. Be honest, be open, and trust the Gospel to do the rest (Romans 1:16).