How to respond more effectively when someone questions your 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 an online survey of topics. More people wanted to know about how to respond more effectively when someone questions their faith, than they 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 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 steps to help you respond to questions about what you believe.
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:
“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.” -1 Peter 3:15-16 (NIV)
When Peter wrote those words 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 true 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 their adherence to a powerful ethical code of love, truth and serving others in and through 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. Sometimes they faced physical harm as well.
So Peter wrote to encourage them—not only so they had renewed strength in the face of their critics, but so that they would feel better prepared to give a reason for their faith when asked.
What Peter said back then is still good advice to us today. Although what I’m about to share doesn’t cover every possible topic, here are five biblical considerations to make you feel more confident and prepared when someone questions your faith.
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. Consider it a blessing.
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. 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 one’s ability to inspire. It’s true not only for the business world but in our 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 my hope? Of course there are. I fully believe in the hope of the cross, the resurrection, and of eternity. But the words from the Messiah’s mouth give me the most hope for our world and it’s future. Jesus, standing tall and radiating integrity, is a power unto himself of incomparable magnetism.
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 hope, but a lot of people want it, and a lot of people aren’t even sure what it means. Ergo, 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.
Seriously. That’s your homework. Think about it and… Write. It. Down.
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.
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? Nope. 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 being shut down or 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 you think, at first, that someone shrugged off what you had to say. But maybe the next day, out of view, they give it a second 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 remember that you’re someone they can go to for wisdom and encouragement.
Let me sum up:
Revere Christ as Lord. Be prepared. Give a (real) reason for the Christian hope that is in you. Be gentle and respectful. And walk the talk.
And 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 audio podcast message here
By Matthew Ruttan
- To sign-up for my daily devo called “Up!” click here. It’s 1-minute helium to start each day in a biblical way.