As a veteran believer, I’m going to give you my take on apologetics through my own personal experience. The story starts when I was young, real young. I accepted Jesus as a child. To the best of my memory, I was probably about three years old. I was presented with the gospel message in my before-bed Bible story time with my parents, I believed, and I asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins. Obviously, I had not gone through levels of evidence or thoroughly weighed out the arguments of the leading apologists of the day. I accepted the testimony of someone I trusted. It was definitely a case of childlike faith (Matt 18:2-4).
However, that childlike faith was challenged along the way as I encountered the history of life as it was presented in my science classes. As a sciency kind of kid, I was forced to walk solely by faith for several years. I didn’t have answers to the assertions of the atheistic scientific community. I remember the confidence and strength I felt as I learned the evidence and counter-arguments to the nagging claims that had left me speechless in the past. I knew the tables had been turned in my favor and I would not be left speechless again. Perhaps the best part was that I felt like my faith had been vindicated and therefore strengthened for the future, knowing that even though it may not look like it for a time, God always turns out to be right in the end!
When considering apologetics, one thing that needs to be established is that faith does not need evidence. We know this because by definition,”… faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Apologetics is an attempt to make the conviction seen. We take the evidence, analyze it, put it into a logical argument and connect all the dots. In this sense, are we weakening faith with our work? I believe in some instances, this may be the case. We all need to keep this in mind when presenting our arguments. Not everyone needs this evidence because they have the gift of faith (1 Cor 12:9). Even though they have not seen (the evidence and arguments), they believe. These people have a special blessing (Jn 20:29) and we should not discount their lack of interest or look at them as ignorant Christians. In reality, these people are probably way ahead of us. They are walking by faith while we are relying on sight.
In most cases, though, I believe apologetic arguments strengthen faith. For those who have questions, we are providing the boost to faith necessary to keep them spiritually alive. Even Jesus provided this boost to Thomas when his faith was failing. He did this by giving him more evidence to the resurrection (A lot more!). This idea is further strengthened by scripture in Ephesians 4:7-16 which talks about “equipping of the saints for the work of service” so that “we are no longer… tossed here and there by…deceitful scheming”. If you have a bent toward apologetics, it could very well be a gift from Jesus (vv. 7-8), and it is to be used “in love” (v.15), “for the equipping of the saints”(v.12) so they “are no longer… tossed… by waves”(v.14). Through this work, we are “building up the body of Christ” (v.12) and giving that boost to faith keeping our brothers and sisters from spiritual peril. The apologist supports the work of the evangelist and also equips the pastor and the encourager who strengthen those who are falling into doubt.
Apologetic arguments are also used to carry out the instruction in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5. They are used for “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God”. The world throws these “speculations” and “lofty things” (v.5) at Christians on a regular basis. They are the challenges to our “knowledge of God” (v.5) which we receive from scripture. If they take root, they give rise to doubts, which can pull the believer down and prevent the unbeliever from coming to faith. When we use apologetic arguments we are engaging in spiritual warfare by “destroying speculations” and taking thoughts “captive”. These arguments can be the “weapons of our warfare” and “divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses”. I believe “divinely powerful” refers to how the Holy Spirit uses the truth of the arguments to bring powerful conviction to people (Jn 16:13). It is exciting to think about the Holy Spirit working through you to destroy the devil’s “fortress” in someone’s life so that they can move on with their relationship with the Lord in peace.
As I said earlier, I remember not having a defense against the assertions of the atheistic scientific community. When we do not have an answer, sometimes people want to make us look stupid, but in those moments, we are being “persecuted” for our faith and have a reward in heaven (Matt 5:10-12). If you have ever felt that way, think about the reward and be careful how you act when the shoe is on the other foot and your antagonist doesn’t have an answer. As you learn more and more apologetic arguments, the shoe will be on the other foot most of the time. Your graciousness in these situations will do more than all the arguments in world in getting them to come to faith.
Many times I have been strengthened by the work of apologists. I am thankful for those who have labored to bring the truth to me. Let me now encourage you to continue on your mission destroying the enemy’s fortresses and equipping the saints so that the body of Christ will be built up with the truth you have been given.
What Jesus says…
Jesus’ mission was to bring people back to God. So naturally He would have the answer, and most importantly be the answer on how to be forgiven and be returned to a right relationship with God.
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” – John 5:24
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” - John 3:16-18
“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” - John 11:25-26
“Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come. This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’? But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.” – John 8:21-24
“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” – John 7:37-38
“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” – John 6:38-40
What the Disciples echoed…
After Jesus, the apostles took the commands and teachings of Jesus and obeyed His command to spread the good news. They echo the same things Jesus spoke of in receiving Him and forgiveness from God.
“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:13
“They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” – Acts 16:31
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” – Hebrews 11:6
“But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” - John 20:31
“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” – Romans 10:9-11
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” – Ephesians 2:8
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” - 1 John 5:13
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” – John 1:12
What are works for then?
Some confusion has then entered on whether we still must do good deeds/works for salvation or to keep it, or whether it is unnecessary now since salvation. Scripture gives a resounding neither. First, let’s look at what Scripture says about salvation by works:
"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." - Ephesians 2:8-9
""I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly."" - Galatians 2:21
"So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." - Romans 9:16
"But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace." - Romans 11:6
"What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS."" - Romans 4:1-7
"Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified." - Galatians 2:16
Scripture is clear here, that a man cannot be saved by his own merits and works. For if he could, then why would Jesus have to come to die in the first place? Man should just work harder. Scripture is adamant that man’s works are worth nothing to God in light of man’s sin:
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away." - Isaiah 64:6
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” – Hebrews 11:6
“Because they were ignorant of God’s righteousness and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” – Romans 10:3
“Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” – Romans 4:4-5
“Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.” – Acts 13:39
Scripture therefore closes any route to salvation by the Law or works. So therefore, we do not do works to keep our salvation because it couldn’t even attain it; and to suggest doing works to keep our salvation attempts to claim that we can lose it. Scripture says:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” –
2 Corinthians 15:7
Here Scripture calls those who are saved entirely new. Our old self is gone and a new creation in Christ is now here. It therefore seems impossible being entirely new and in Christ to return to our old self which is no more.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Romans 5:1
Here we are formally declared justified once saved. This justification is to be completely righteous through Christ. It says we have peace with God. For God to revoke salvation is for God to go back on His Word and rescind what He formerly declared righteous.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” – John 3:16
The most recognizable verse in the Bible also shares with us the eternity of one’s salvation. God tells us that whoever believes in Christ will have eternal life; and to claim God would take that promise away is to make God a liar.
“You also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” – Ephesians 1:13-14
When a person becomes saved, he is marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit as a guarantee and a promise of their inheritance of salvation and life with God; once again, to claim God would revoke such a promise is to claim God lies and breaks His promises.
“for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable.” – Romans 11:29
Here it is made clearer. Promises, gifts, and even life given by God cannot and will not be taken back.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39
Once we are saved, nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God.
“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” – John 10:28
“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” - John 6:39
Those whom God has will not be taken from His very grasp, for they are His.
So now that Scripture has established that no one will come to God through his own works, and that one who is saved cannot lose their salvation, what does Scripture say works are done for in terms of the Christian?
“Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” – Romans 7:4
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” - 1 Peter 2:24
“For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:19-20
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness”, and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” – James 2:14-26
Even here James says Abraham believed God, had faith in Him, and he was given righteousness only through faith. Here James is asking people who say they have faith but nothing to show for it: “how can you prove your faith with nothing?” The works, as James says, proves our faith that already save us. This is why James says I will show you my faith by my deeds, not I will show you my work for my salvation from my deeds. The faith saves, the works stem from an already saving faith.
Jesus said you will know them by their fruits: "15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits." - Matthew 7:15-20
Here Jesus explains this concept further for us. An already evil tree, unsaved, will obviously bear evil fruit. A healthy tree, one who is already saved, will obviously bear good fruit and show that they are good trees already. Jesus then says you will be able to recognize true believers by their fruits/works. You can recognize if they are really saved from genuine faith. This is what James draws on here. He stems from Jesus's statements and explains that those who are saved will have works to couple their faith and prove it. The faith is already there or not, the works prove it.
In the end, our faith is what saves and justifies us and our works stem from that faith and prove it. They are entwined and inseparable, which is probably why some people mistakenly interchange works for faith in salvation. Jesus did the works and lived a righteous life. He gives His righteousness to us and declares us righteous. We are then set free from the bondage of sin through our faith and become servants to God, loving His Word and hating sin. This love for Him will cause a natural gravitation towards obeying His commands, though not perfect still in the body of corruption, but being continually sanctified. That natural desire to obey Him is where our works flow from our already saving faith.