Thus far we have examined how shining as lights begins with our behavior–simply acting in a way that is contrary to the world and sin nature, and as a result serves to shine as a light in the darkness of the world. We also discussed the importance of teachers and staff members who live out what they are teaching, since actions speak oh-so-much louder than words. We examined the importance of learning and knowing the Word of God so that we can “hold fast” to it as Paul instructed. Peter addresses this issue as well, in 1 Peter 3:15, instructing believers to be always prepared to “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (ESV). Part of holding fast to God’s Word is knowing it thoroughly enough that we can explain what it means and how it impacts our lives when we are asked by others to do so. Students who are effectively taught from a biblical worldview and thoroughly grounded in biblical truth will be always ready; they will not need to request a “time out” to put together an answer and they will not stutter and flub their way through some garbled explanation that makes no sense to anyone (including the speaker!).
I am not suggesting that every student will become an eloquent speaker or a world class apologist for a relationship with Christ. I am, however, suggesting that students who are trained to shine as lights in our world will know, to borrow titles from Paul Little, both what they believe and why they believe it. Does that mean they will never need to look up an answer or say “I don’t know” in response to a theological question? Of course not. But it does mean that they are equipped with answers and they are ready to give them.
Immediately after the exhortation to be always ready with an answer Peter adds that said answer is to be offered in “gentleness and respect.” This is another part of training students to shine as lights in our world–teaching them how to be lights in the world in an appropriate manner. We are not to be gentle to the extreme of being cowardly; in other words, we are not to shy away from opportunities to speak out for our Lord or His teachings. Peter himself boldly proclaimed the gospel message even in defiance of the instructions of the Sanhedrin, stating that when the two are in contradiction it is far more important to obey God rather than man. But the answers that we offer, and the life that we lead, must not be offered in a way that is offensive. The message will be offensive, whether it is a spoken word or a lived-out message, because the cross and the teachings of Jesus are an offense to the world in and of themselves. We cannot hide the offensiveness of the message to the lost, nor should we ever try. We must never “hide our lamps under a bush.” But we must take care to ensure that it is only the message that is offensive and not the way in which we deliver it.
Several things are important to keep in mind here. First, we cannot convince anyone of the truth of Scripture or the need to accept Christ by our own persuasion or rhetorical eloquence; the Holy Spirit will convict hearts and draw unbelievers to the Lord in accordance with the will of God. Our responsibility is to faithfully plant seeds and shine our lights. Second, as believers we are not better than unbelievers, and we must never carry ourselves or present our messages in a manner which might suggest otherwise. We were born in sin, too, and until God, through His mercy, drew us to Him allowing us to accept the gift of Christ’s death and resurrection we were headed to hell, too. We are no better now than we were then–in and of ourselves. We are now members of the family of God, but “not by works of righteousness which [we] have done.” We did not do anything to earn or warrant salvation, nor could we have. So the only difference between the believer and the unbeliever is that the believer has already accepted the free gift of God. Accordingly, we must never come across as arrogant, superior, or more deserving.
It is not by mistake that in my discussion of what it means to train students to shine as lights in our world that I have not yet even touched on academic instruction. As important as that is, and as large a part as that plays in the training of the students, it will be for naught if the proper understanding of the spiritual side of this relationship does not come first and foremost. An individual can have all of the academic honors man can offer, but if he does not know Christ and understand the biblical instructions for believers to shine as lights in this world his book learning will benefit him not at all. That is why I have spent so much time trying to clearly articulate what this really looks like. The academic portion of the equation is important, however, and Lord willing I will address that part tomorrow.