How do I respond more effectively when someone questions my faith?
“You don’t actually believe in God, do you?”
“Why would you read the Bible?”
“Why in the world do you go to church?”
Have you ever been asked any of those questions?
Last year I did a survey of topics. Turns out that more of you wanted to know about how to respond more effectively when someone questions your faith, than you did to other huge questions like “Why would a loving God send people to hell?” or even “Why do bad things sometimes happen to good people?”
That tells me that many of you often feel overwhelmed and/or unprepared to respond effectively when someone questions your faith.
But it doesn’t need to be that way.
On March 11 at Westminster, I offered some help by looking at 1 Peter 3:15-16. We explored five biblical tips to help you respond to questions about what you believe—faithfully and respectfully. If you take these seriously, I think you’ll feel more confident and more prepared when questions come up.
Here’s the main Bible passage from 1 Peter 3:15-16:
“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, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
When Peter wrote that in the years after Jesus’ resurrection, he was speaking to Christians who were often feeling persecuted or marginalized because of their faith. Because Christians were extremely loyal to the one God of the Bible (and wouldn’t worship other gods or the Emperor, like many other people did), and because of their commitment to the teachings of Scripture, and adherence to a powerful ethical code of love and truth in their faith communities (which they called churches) they were often considered radicals or subversives. As a result they felt different, and were sometimes excluded from their families and some employment opportunities.
So Peter wrote to encourage them—not only so they had renewed strength in the face of critics, but so that would feel better prepared to give a reason for their faith when asked.
What Peter said back then is still good advice to us now when someone questions our faith. Although what I’m about to share doesn’t cover every possible topic, here are five tips to make you feel more confident and prepared:
1. Revere Christ as Lord (verse 15)
First and foremost, this means that Jesus should be, as the Lord of our lives, our first priority. If Jesus is first in your life, that means you care more about being loyal to him than you do about what others think… and about fitting in… and about measuring up to the standards of popular culture.
Another implication of this verse is that you shouldn’t be surprised when your faith makes you feel different. Expect it. Anticipate it.
2. Be prepared (verse 15)
This means you need to organize some of your thoughts ahead of time. And when asked a question about your faith, seize the 5-second window to respond. There’s an ideal moment to respond to someone’s question. If you wait too long, you may have missed the opportunity, and it may be awkward.
3. “Give the reason for the hope that you have” (verse 15)
Be prepared to share one REAL reason for the Christian hope that is in you. This shouldn’t be what you think the answer should be, but what the answer actually is for you.
Santa Clara University did a survey of 2600 business managers. Do you want to know what they identified as the number one leadership quality? It was honesty—more than intelligence, competence, and ability to inspire. It’s true not only for the business world but in your relationships too. People care about honesty. So make your answer honest.
Do you want to my know the reason for my hope? “Jesus and his teachings give me the most hope for our world and for the future of our world.” That’s been the main reason for my hope since high school. Are there other reasons for hope? Of course there are. I fully believe in the hope of the cross, the resurrection, and of eternity. But the words from Jesus’ mouth give me the most hope for our world and it’s future. And since that’s the real reason for me, it’s natural for me to talk about, and I’m passionate about it.
Notice that hope is a part of the equation. Peter says we should give the reason for the hope that we have. A lot of people don’t have it; a lot of people want it; and a lot of people aren’t even sure what it means. That’s a huge opportunity.
So take some time and think through the real reason for the Christian hope that is in you. Write it down in one sentence so that your thoughts are clear and you’re better prepared.
4. Be gentle and respectful (verse 15)
This speaks to your manner. It’s a warning against aggression and arrogance. Sometimes it’s not just WHAT you say, but HOW you say it. Arrogance and aggression close doors; gentleness and respect open them.
"Arrogance and aggression close doors; gentleness and respect open them."
— Matthew Ruttan (@MatthewRuttan) March 13, 2018
5. Walk the talk (verse 16)
In other words, make sure you’re trying to live in a way that reflects your beliefs. Are any of us perfect? Absolutely not. But it should be evident to other people that we are trying to live differently—with integrity—in light of our beliefs.
If we are blatant hypocrites, not only is that an issue to God, but it will undermine anything we have to say to other people.
Be at peace
Having said all this, let me also tell you to be at peace.
Because our faith can be so personal and meaningful to us we get nervous about getting shut down or being criticized. But don’t fear. When someone questions your faith, you don’t have to hit a home run; you just have to step up to the plate.
Faithfulness is your job; effectiveness is God’s.
You may not think your few words make a difference or having any meaning. But don’t rule them out. God can take your act of faithfulness and go from there…
Perhaps at think, at first, that someone shrugged off what you had to say. But maybe the next day, out of view, they give it another thought.
Maybe another person in their family says something similar the following week and it prompts them to ask a follow up question—to you, online, or to someone else.
Maybe they get into a difficult situation five years down the road, and even though they didn’t seem to be impacted by your words at the time, they remember that you were a respectful and faithful person. In other words, they realize you’re someone they can go to for wisdom and encouragement.
So, to summarize: Revere Christ as Lord. Be prepared. Give a (real) reason for the Christian hope that you have. Be gentle and respectful. And walk the talk.
And remember to be at pace. You don’t have to hit a home run; you just need to step up to the plate. Faithfulness is your job; effectiveness is God’s.
You can year the whole 24-minute podcast message here: www.WestminsterPC.ca/Sermon/RespondMoreEffectively
By Matthew Ruttan
March 31, 2021