I would like to begin by telling a story about an event that took place some years ago when I was beginning my studies in apologetics, an event that has had a major impact on my approach to the ministry to this day. I had a neighbor who was deeply committed to a version of the New Age movement. He and I had many conversations about God in the course of several months. He was a highly educated man with a couple of PhDs to his name, and so he provided me with an opportunity to test my training. But the training I was receiving in apologetics was good, and I soon realized that I could not only answer the questions he was asking about my faith in God, I could also poke holes in his worldview in a way that forced him to check books out of the local library to try and put his worldview back together. And I was feeling very good about myself. I was actually getting get it!
Finally I decided to challenge him to consider giving his life to Christ. His reaction surprised me; he did not seem to care at all about what I was telling him. So I said to him, can you please explain to me what is going on? You don’t seem to care about what I am telling you. His answer was even more baffling to me. He said to me, “Listening to you asking me to become a Christian is like listening to a naturalist asking me to become a naturalist.”
I said to him, “What in the world do you mean. I just asked you to consider giving your life to the God who created you, and you are accusing me of being an atheist? What do you mean?”
He said to me, “All you Christians have are statements and creeds. You think that if people accept those statements and creeds, everything will be okay. When I pray, I get in touch with powers that you know nothing about.”
And that was one of the most convicting things anyone has ever said to me. Because what this man was saying to me was essentially this: “Yes, you can say a lot of very convincing things about your faith, but does your faith really rise beyond well-argued propositions?”
In his book, Beyond Opinion, Ravi Zacharias says that the greatest obstacle to the reception of the Gospel is not its inability to provide answers; it is the failure on the part of Christians to live it out. J. I. Packer writes similarly in his classic book, entitled, Knowing God: “From current Christian publications you might think that the most vital issue for any real or would-be Christian in the world today is church union, or social witness, or dialogue with other Christians and other faiths, or refuting this or that -ism, or developing a Christian philosophy and culture… it is tragic that…so many in our day seem to have been distracted from what was, is, and always will be the true priority for every human being—that is, learning to know God in Christ.”(1)
Whatever your position of faith, it is helpful to occasionally step back and ask a similar question of priority. Whatever your calling in life, what is the ultimate goal of all that you do?
The Bible addresses this question in many places, in both the Old and New Testaments, but none so much as in the person of Christ himself. If there is a message we hear loudest in his coming to earth it is this. The primary call of God is to know God, to be near God, not to serve God or to argue on God’s behalf. Apologetics is important, but it is only a means to an end, and the end is knowing God. Even the scriptures were given to us a means to that end. For when all is said and done, when the dust settles, it is the eternally incarnate Son of God who lies behind that hauntingly inescapable question, “Who do you say that I am?” It is a question we must answer, with our words and with our lives. There is no neutral ground.
But how wonderful it is when the curtain is pulled back, and we see God for Who God truly is, and we are able to say with Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God?”
No, we don’t have only statements and creeds. We stand on holy ground, before a holy God, and it is this God that we present to the world.
J.M. Njoroge is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 279.