Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Sometimes we need to discern the difference between someone who doesn’t understand Christianity but who wants to believe and someone who doesn’t understand because they refuse to believe. But whichever is the case, we cannot make people believe and come to faith in Christ… only God can do that. In John’s gospel, chapter 6, Jesus himself makes that perfectly clear. He said: ‘All the Father gives me will come to me (v37)… No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him (v44)… Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me (v45)… No-one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him (v65).’ Personally, then, I see little point in wasting much time or effort in trying to answer questions or convince people about the truths of Christianity if they refuse to believe (unless, of course, it is in a public setting where there are others in the audience that God may be touching and drawing to Jesus.) To find out if someone is either a ‘moth’ or a ‘mole’ – moths are attracted to the light but moles are repelled by the light – you could ask them plainly: ‘If I could answer all of your questions to your complete satisfaction, would you believe and follow Christ; would you like to have faith and know God personally?’ In any event, and however people react to the Christian faith, we must always be gracious in the way we respond to any criticisms, comments or questions, so… let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. This section gives some suggested approaches to answering the most frequently asked questions that people ask.
Q. How do you know that God exists?
Q. How can there be a God when theres so much evil and suffering in the world?
Q. Hasnt science disproved God and Christianity?
Q. How can you believe the Bible?
Q. What about other faiths; arent all religions the same?
See Other Faiths
Q. Who is Jesus and whats so special about him?
See Jesus Christ
Q. How can one mans death on a cross 2000 years ago possible affect me?
Q. Does God still heal today?
See Healing Ministry
Q. Why would a God of love send anyone to hell?’
‘The burning flames of hell mentioned in the Bible may be picture language, but the reality that they represent is no figment of the imagination.’ Ask yourself this question: ‘If hell is not a reality then what did Jesus come to save us from; why did Jesus bother coming at all? ‘I have not come to call the righteous but sinners,’ said Jesus. If sinners don’t really need rescuing, then why the rescue mission?’ Citation
‘All of us would like to believe there is no such place as hell, but it’s noteworthy that the One who had most to say about hell in the Scriptures is none other than the Son of God, who is love incarnate.’ Citation
‘Jesus never threatened people, but he did warn them. There is a big difference between a threat and a warning: we threaten people we don’t like; we warn people we love.’ Citation
One Bible student has counted 162 references in the New Testament which warn people of hell – 70 of these were spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ. It is because God loves us so much that He warns us about hell so much. Whether we heed God’s warning or not is down to us.
One author writes: “To each of his disciples, Jesus simply said, “Follow me.” That was an invitation, not a requirement. An invitation respects the freedom on the invitee to accept or decline. That men and women can go to heaven is an expression of God’s love; that they can go to hell is an expression of the value he places on their freedom. God desires, not requires, a relationship with us. It is not a one-sided affair; we are co-participants with him, both in our relationship with him and in our work in the world. God does not pull all the strings. He counts us too important to do that. To find without seeking, to hear without listening, to say yes without the possibility of saying no is to negate the value of my seeking, my hearing and my participating. God did not make us to be puppets.” Citation
Jesus never met a disease he could not cure, a birth defect he could not reverse, a demon he could not exorcise. But he did meet sceptics he could not convince and sinners he could not convert. Forgiveness of sins requires an act of will on the receiver’s part and some who heard Jesus’ strongest words about grace and forgiveness turned away unrepentant. Citation
Hell is eternal separation from God: being shut out from the presence of the Lord forever. In the Bible we read: ‘… when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven with his mighty angels, with a flaming fire, to punish those who reject God and who do not obey the Good News about our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from his glorious might.’ (2 Thessalonians 1 v7-9 GNB) Hell is eternal separation from God: being shut out from the presence of the Lord forever.
But let me be absolutely clear: God doesn’t want to send anyone to hell. People make that choice for themselves. There is only one way to hell, and that is to reject the only way to heaven. Bill Hybels says, “God honours the choices we make on this earth. He would never force people who rejected Him during their earthly seasons to spend eternity with Him in the next. Their decision toward God will stand.” Citation
Similarly, C.S. Lewis in his book, The Great Divorce, says: “There are only two kinds of people in the end; those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’, and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done’. All that are in hell choose it.” Citation
In other words, ‘Far from God sending people to hell, they seem to be sending themselves. After all, it would be unreasonable to blame the doctor for my ill health if I refuse to take the medicine he prescribed… God does not want anyone to go to hell (see 1 Timothy 2v4, 2 Peter 3v9b), so he has prepared a way for the human race to escape its horrors. He is in the business of getting people into heaven, not sending them to hell!’ Citation
Q. Isn’t the church full of hypocrites?
Much of the religious establishment in Jesus’ day – the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the teachers of the law – were known for having double standards. Jesus publicly called them blind fools, hypocrites and ‘whitewashed tombs’ (Matthew 23:17, 27); showy with beautiful finery on the outside but on the inside full of dead men’s bones. Outwardly they appeared saintly and holy because that’s what people would see and they wanted people’s praise, but inwardly the remained full of corruption, greed and pride. They taught one thing but lived another. They were spiritually dead, like whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones!
‘Unfortunately, there are hypocrites or false Christians still in the church, but that very assertion also assumes that there are genuine ones too. [You don’t stop drinking water because some of it is polluted, do you?] Similarly, you don’t throw away all the coins in your pocket because there is a foreign or counterfeit coin in amongst them. Even if some Christians are frauds or hypocrites, Christ is no fraud.’ Citation
Christianity – that is, true Christianity – is not about religion; it’s not about rules or robes or rituals or reverends, it’s about a relationship; it’s about knowing God personally and knowing His purpose for your life. In ancient Greece actors in a play were called hypocrites because they wore a mask. And Jesus wants us to know that God isn’t interested in a mask of religion, He wants the real thing.
I read about ‘a man who said to his pastor that the reason he would not accept Christ was that he was once wronged by his business partner, a professing Christian. ‘That’s your real reason?’ asked the minister. ‘It is.’ ‘Then suppose we put it down in writing,’ said the minister, and taking out his notebook, he wrote: ‘The reason why I am not a Christian is that my partner, who claimed to be a Christian, robbed me in a business deal.’ Tearing the leaf out, he handed it to the man, saying: ‘When you come before the Great White Throne, and God asks you why you have rejected His Son, just hand him that paper!’ Citation
Of course, stealing is always wrong and those who do such things will have to give account to God. But people who go to church; Christians, are not perfect people. But we are being made perfect (some more slowly than others, it has to be said)! The church is not made up of perfect people; the church is not a museum for masterpieces, it’s a hospital for those who have been hurt by life, even self-inflicted.
So is the church full of hypocrites, then? Well, yes I suppose it is, and adding one more won’t be a problem so why don’t you come and join us? Of course, we can’t help being hypocrites sometimes: it’s a part of our sinful nature. Like the guy who prayed, ‘Lord, so far today I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped or lost my temper, and I haven’t been nasty or greedy or grumpy. But in a few minutes I am going to have to get out of bed, and then I am going to need all the help I can get.’ We smile, but the truth is, we all fall short.
In a sense, we are all hypocrites because we want to live in a way that pleases God but we all fail; we can’t do it, at least, not all the time. The church is not full of perfect people; it’s full of imperfect people who are seeking to live lives that please God. Having said that, it is very sad but true that many wrong and scandalous things have happened in the church and this, unfortunately, can portray the church in a bad light sometimes. But we mustn’t judge the whole of the church on the wrong actions of a few. There are a few football hooligans who behave wrongly but that does not mean that all football fans or the game itself is wrong. It is the same with the church.
Q. What about those who have never heard about Jesus or those who were born before Jesus came?
The Bible tells us: God is love; He is full of compassion and His nature is always to have mercy. How can we know for sure that God loves us? Paul answers that question in Romans 5v8: ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ While we were unloving, undeserving and far from God; while we had no love in our hearts for him, He loved us and gave up his Son to die in our place; to show us his love; to draw us back to God; to receive forgiveness and restoration. That’s how we can know for sure that God loves us. God doesn’t love us because we are loveable, but because it’s in His nature to love. 1 John 4v8 puts it simply like this: ‘God is love.’
So what about all those who have never heard about Jesus or the gospel; those who have never had a chance to respond? What will happen to them?
God is perfect; He is totally righteous, completely fair and absolutely just. Again, God is love; He is full of compassion and His nature is always to have mercy; He is kind and generous beyond measure. God will always do what is right. In Genesis chapter 18 and verse 25 we read, ‘Far be it [that God should act unrighteously]… ‘Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ And the answer to that question is, yes! We can trust that the Judge of all the earth will always do what is right.
We can have absolute assurance that on the Day of Judgment God will judge justly; He will judge depending on what people know, not on what people don’t know. So those who live in deepest, darkest Africa; people who have never heard about Jesus; or the mentally handicapped; people who don’t have the ability to understand the gospel message; or babies who have tragically died without ever hearing about Jesus… God will judge people on what they know, not on what they don’t know. ‘Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’
Having said that, everyone who is able knows about God, or at least everyone has received some revelation, that God exists, even if only from the world about us; from creation – its beauty, order and design. Scripture indicates that God’s eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen in the created order and so no one is without excuse as to whether God exists. The world and the universe are evidence pointing to God’s existence. In St Paul’s letter to the church in Rome he wrote, ‘Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen’ (Romans 1v20). So in that sense everyone who is able knows about God; everyone has received some revelation that God exists – even those who have never actually heard about Jesus. The question then, is not so much about others, but what about you? You have heard – you should do something about it and leave others to the Judge of all the earth who will do what is right.
And so what about all those who were born before Jesus came? What will happen to them? In responding to this question Stephen Gaukroger uses a good illustration: ‘When slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1833, thousands of people in Africa were made safe from the threat of captivity and abduction to the West Indies and the Americas. Many of them knew nothing about the British Government and even less about the act of Parliament that guaranteed their freedom! Despite this ignorance, they enjoyed the freedom the act obtained for them. In the same way, any person anywhere who is really sorry for the wrong in their lives and throws themselves completely on God’s mercy for their salvation can enjoy the benefits of the Christian message, even though they do not know the facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection… [Gaukroger goes on to say] I may, for example, get my wife a gift on the strength of a pay rise I have been promised. She experiences the benefit of the increase before I get the money because I know it is coming! Similarly, God chose to accept people [before Christ] in Old Testament times on the strength of what he knew was coming; in response to their faith.’ Citation
Q. Why are there so many sex scandals in the church?
This is a question that I find difficult to answer because it offends me; it makes me angry and it brings the Church that I love, that God loves, into disrepute. It also pleases the devil immensely; he loves it when the Church is scandalised and portrayed in the wrong light!
The first thing I would say in response is that all sexual misconduct – from child abuse to adultery and everything else in between – is wrong. Period! And God will hold those responsible for committing such acts to account, and especially so when it happens in the church. God will not allow such acts to go unpunished! But I want to give us some perspective here…
There are 2.2 billion Christians in the world today (a third of the world’s population), and it’s estimated there’s a net increase of 70,000 in the number of new Christians being added to the church every single day worldwide. ‘The church is growing faster than ever before and Christianity is gaining more members than any other religion. Indeed, it is growing three times the rate of the population explosion. More Muslims in Iran have come to know Christ over the past ten years than during the previous thousand years. In Africa, 20,000 people a day are becoming Christians. Some estimate that there may be as many as 100 million Christians in China alone.’ Citation
In contrast the number of sex scandals in the church is absolutely miniscule by compassion (to a third of the world’s population and growing). The reason that there can seem to be so many is because of the vast amount of media attention such scandals are given. I just wanted to give us that perspective. The failures of a few should not be used to attack the character of all. It’s the same in football: just because a handful of ‘supporters’ are football hooligans doesn’t mean every football fan is!
That being said, there is still the problem that sex scandals do sometimes happen in the church. Why does it occur? There are at least three reasons: Firstly, some of those who claim to be Christians are not; they are unbelieving charlatans who have wormed their way into the church. Secondly, some leaders allow their position to result in pride; they have influence and can be susceptible to temptation, like all of us. Thirdly, the devil more aggressively attacks and tempts those in Christian leadership because he knows that a scandal involving a leader can have devastating results, on both Christians and non-Christians alike.
In conclusion, some people look at the church from the outside and they really don’t like what they see. Negative experience and the wrong behaviour of a few can repel rather than attract people, but true Christianity, real church is not like that. Real church is all about seeking to reflect Jesus. It’s like the owner of an orchard who invited a man to come and taste his wonderful fruit. ‘Oh, no,’ said the man, ‘I have seen the orchard and I have tasted some of the fruit… its apples are sour and bitter!’ ‘Ah,’ said the owner of the orchard, ‘I planted sour apple trees on the outside of the orchard to stop thieves coming in and stealing the fruit. But come with me into the centre, taste and see; the fruit is sweet and good to eat.’ – Jesus would not have us remain on the outside or be persuaded by the scandalous few; He would have us come in, taste and see that the fruit He offers is good and sweet. – 2.2 billion Christians around the world, and growing; they can’t all be wrong.
Q. What about all the wars undertaken in the name of religion?
In the American Civil War, a minister told the US President, Abraham Lincoln that he hoped God was on their side. Lincoln’s response was cutting, and biblical: “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”
The question: is war ever right? In the Bible, one of the Ten Commandments is “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). It’s true that in the Old Testament ‘God often ordered the Israelites to go to war with other nations (1 Samuel 15:3; Joshua 4:13). And God also ordered the death penalty for numerous crimes (Exodus 21:12, 15; 22:19; Leviticus 20:11). So, God is not against killing per se, but he is against murder; premeditated murder. War is never a good thing, but unfortunately sometimes it is a necessary thing. (…) In a world filled with evil people, sometimes war is necessary to prevent even greater evil. If Hitler had not been defeated by World War II, how many more millions would have been killed? If the American Civil War had not been fought, how much longer would African-Americans have had to suffer as slaves?’ Citation
But what about war in the name of religion; a holy war? ‘The concept of “holy war” is most commonly expressed as a war justified on the grounds of religious differences. As typically understood, this concept is neither taught nor encouraged by the Bible. [So the Crusades; the Spanish Inquisition; Catholics killing Protestants during the seventeenth century Reformation; the current day religious war being waged by ISIS – such wars are based on hatred and intolerance are absolutely wrong.] Jesus Christ explicitly contradicted the holy war concept through both His teachings and His example. [We need to understand] the concept of “just war” meaning justifiable war waged by a legitimate government [to overthrow evil], is not the same as a “holy war.” Citation
Holy war in the name of religion is, and has always been, wrong. But let me make one point clear: Christianity, true Christianity, is not about religion: it’s about a relationship. A Christian is someone who enjoys a person relationship with the risen Christ, a person who knows God personally. Christianity – true Christianity – is not about rules, robes, rituals or reverends. Christianity is not about religion, it’s about a relationship; it’s not about intellectual head knowledge, it’s about heart knowledge; it’s not about religious rule keeping or doing things a certain way, it’s about our love for Christ expressed in our willing obedience to follow Him.
Q. What about all the wealth in the church; isn’t the church just after your money?
The story is told… that as the collection plate was being passed around the church an old man looked at his grandson and said, “How much you got on you, son?” The little boy dug into his pockets, pulled out two coins and replied, “I’ve got 60p – a 50 and a 10.” … “Well, decide which one you are going to give,” said grandpa smiling. “And remember, the Lord loves a cheerful giver!” … As the plate passed by the boy added his coin to the collection. Then his grandpa turned to him and whispered, “How much did you put in, son?” “I put the 10p in grandpa.” “But I told you that the Lord loves a cheerful giver!” – “Yes”, said the boy, “and I felt much more cheerful giving the 10p!”
In the Bible there are around 2300 references to money, wealth and possessions. It is obvious, then, that someone thought the subject and our attitude towards it, very important! There is nothing wrong in having riches. It’s our attitude and what we do with our riches that matters! Someone once said “No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions. He had money as well.” There is nothing wrong in having money; it’s what we think and what we do with our money wherein lies the danger. Billy Graham summed it up best when he said: “There is nothing wrong with men possessing riches. The wrong comes when riches possess men.” You see, rich people are especially prone to becoming proud and pushing God away; because financially they are capable of meeting their own needs, they forget God; they take things for granted and think they do not need God.
It’s said that money is like manure: if you let it pile up it stinks, but if you spread it around it helps things grow! In the Church, for the most part, “money is like another pair of hands to heal, feed and bless the desperate families of the earth.” The Church around the world can and does a great deal of good with the money that has been entrusted to it.
Unfortunately, though, this is not always the case, and some people – false teachers – who call themselves Christians, have become rich preaching what’s known as a ‘prosperity gospel’. – Prosperity theology is all about God blessing you, answering your prayers and making you rich; it’s all about you, and about your kingdom, not really about the Kingdom of God. – Prosperity preaching is often truth mingled with lies. Yes, its true God wants to bless believers, with the fruits of the Spirit and the riches of Christ and possibly with wealth, but ‘did God really say’ He would bless all believers with financial prosperity? What about all those Christians who live in poor countries around the world? The prosperity gospel is very prevalent today on many Christian satellite and Freeview TV channels, and that’s a real shame because a lot of this programming is excellent material – and broadcasting costs enormous amounts of money – but all too often there’s a flamboyant, well-dressed and articulate preacher shouting inspirational hype to drum up an emotional response, and promoting the message that ‘the more you give to our ministry the more God will bless you.’ Sounds attractive: Who doesn’t want to be more abundantly blessed by God? But we need to be very careful here, because giving in order to receive is not giving, it’s trading! When the motive for our giving is thinking that God will be impressed and we’ll earn His favour, His blessing and rewards, then we’re not really giving at all, we’re trading. And God isn’t into trading!
Having said that the Church needs money to operate and to make a difference in the world, and the church relies on people’s generosity in giving.
(I have used this on Alpha): Many in our society think Christianity is irrelevant and the church insignificant, but at recent Christian conference one the main speakers reminded us of some key facts, and I wanted to conclude by asking a few questions as a way of reminding ourselves just how relevant and significant the church really is… I am looking for some interaction from you here and so the response to each the following questions is – “No, it’s the church actually!”
Do you know who provides half of the parent and toddler support groups in the United Kingdom? – Is it Sure Start? – No, it’s the church actually!
Do you know who provides the biggest network of debt counselling across the UK with 190 drop in centres helping over 19,000 people last year alone? – Is it Martin-money-saving-expert-Lewis? – No, it’s the church actually!
Do you know who will feed over 100,000 hungry people this year in the UK, through food banks and drop in centres? – Is it the Red Cross? – No, it’s the church actually!
Do you know who brought hospitals, schools, universities and democracy into our country? – Was it the Vikings? – No, it’s the church actually!
Who invented Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Bolton Wanderers, Everton, Fulham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Queens Park Rangers, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur football clubs? – Was it the Football Association? – No, it’s the church actually!
When the doctors, the police and the social workers move out of an area and go and live somewhere safe, who is it that moves in? – Is it Richard Dawkins and the militant atheists? – No, it’s the church actually!
Who is it that is the hope of the world? – Is it the United Nations? – No, it’s the church actually! Citation
God expects us to give so that the church can operate effectively, serve others and make a positive difference in the world.
Q. What about all the denominations in the church; what’s the difference and why is there so many?
‘The implication behind this question is usually that there are so many different ones to choose from, how can we possibly know which are right? Why don’t all Christians believe the same things? Well, firstly, the difference between denominations is not as fundamental as some people think. The difference between Buddhism and Christianity is like the difference between chalk and cheese. In comparison, the difference between [Anglican and] Baptist is like that between Cheddar and Edam.’ Citation
Imagine we all dined out together and we went, say, for a curry. Now you might choose to have a Tandoori, someone else a Rogan Josh; another prefers a Vindaloo and another something milder like a Chicken Korma. In other words, we have different tastes. Its different strokes for different folks. The church is a bit like that. Some people prefer a more Pentecostal or charismatic style church with live music, bands, lively preaching and being open to the moving of the Spirit. Others prefer a more catholic or quieter, liturgical service; some are liberal in their theology; many are conservative, and so on and so forth. Basically, they are all different flavours of the same thing.
‘The rise of denominations within the Christian faith can be traced back to the Protestant Reformation, the movement to “reform” the Roman Catholic Church during the 16th century, out of which four major divisions or traditions of Protestantism (protestors) would emerge: Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist, and Anglican. From these four, other denominations grew over the centuries. The Lutheran denomination was named after Martin Luther and was based on his teachings. The Methodists got their name because their founder, John Wesley, was famous for coming up with “methods” for spiritual growth. Presbyterians are named for their view on church leadership – the Greek word for elder is presbyteros. Baptists got their name because they have always emphasized the importance of baptism. Each denomination has a slightly different doctrine or emphasis from the others, such as the method of baptism; the availability of the Lord’s Supper to all or just to those whose testimonies can be verified by church leaders.’ Citation
When it comes to going to a church, the most important thing is to find a church where they talk about Jesus, believe in the Bible and where you sense something ‘special’ during the service.