Apologizing for the Gospel

Fathers, please, for God’s sake and for your children’s sake, be apologetic for the gospel. If you do not then your children may grow up ashamed of the gospel.

In a recent Family Bible Hour series we came across 1 Peter 3:15 where the apostle exhorts believers, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks a reason for the hope that is in you.” The word translated “defence” is the Greek word apologia, from which we derive our English word “apology.” But the meaning of “apologize” in our day is generally very different from its original meaning.

As we normally use the term, an apology is generally accepted to mean that one is “sorry” for some action or attitude. But as 1 Peter 3:15 reveals, the word originally meant “to give a reasoned defence.” It did not originally convey the idea of confessing a wrong but rather referred to explaining one’s action by a reasonable explanation for why they did what they did. For instance, “I apologize that I ran over your toy, but I did not know that it was under my tyre.” That is a reasonable explanation for an unfortunate outcome.

In fact, it was because of this understanding of the roots of “apology” that Jill and I deliberately sought to train our children to ask forgiveness when they wronged another rather than to merely apologize. For instance, they were to say, “Please forgive me for tearing the head off of your doll when I was angry” rather than saying, “I am sorry for your decapitated doll but if you had not made me angry then I would not have been led to such murderous behaviour.” As you can see, it is all too easy to “give a reasoned defence” for why Johnny hit Janie rather than for Johnny to take responsibility for the wrong he has done. But back to the issue.

Just as Paul declared that he was not ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16), and just as the Hebrew believers were to “boast in the gospel” (Hebrews 3:6) so Peter expected his believing readers to be so hopeful by the gospel so that others would enquire as to a reasonable explanation both for and about the gospel.

And I want to make the assertion that believing parents should be so committed to the gospel that our children will ask us to convincingly apologize for the gospel. And we should be ready to do so, especially as fathers (Ephesians 6:4).

We must begin with the matter of our own love for and confidence in the gospel. Do our children see this? In other words, is the gospel so centrally important, because so personally life-shaping, that our children are curious about it? Do we so live in the light of the good news of what God has done for us as believing sinners in Christ Jesus that our children are drawn to question how they can “get in” on this wonderful grace from God?

Fathers, we need to live in such a way that it is clearly evident that we are “considering Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1), and therefore our children will want to consider Him as well.

And when this is true, and our children begin to ask questions about what we believe and why we believe it, we must be ready to give a biblically and therefore reasonable defence of the gospel. We must be the primary “apologist” in their lives.

For instance, when your child asks you, “What is the gospel?” are you able to give a biblical answer?

When your child questions the historicity of Jesus Christ, and of His death, burial and resurrection, are you able to reasonably answer? When your child asks you how it is that they are sinners, or when they ask you for an explanation of sin, are you able to respond biblically, and persuasively? Can you explain why Jesus had to die as a substitutionary sacrifice for sinners? Can you reasonably explain that salvation is by grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone to God’s glory alone? Can you do so by Scripture alone? That is, can you confidently apologise for the gospel?

These questions are just a few examples of a multitude, which children are bound to ask. And they have the expectation that their father, who claims to believe the gospel, will be able to answer. And if Dad is not able then the child should be confident that he will take them seriously and do what is necessary to find the answer.

Of course, fathers must be equipped if they will be able to biblically apologize for the gospel. The local church is designed for such a purpose. By faithful exposition of Scripture, through various channels, parents are to be increasingly grounded in the gospel. Sadly, however, it is often the mom and not the dad who takes the initiative to learn. This by the way is quite evident in most churches where there is a demonstrable zeal among the women to study the Bible. And this can often be seen in corporate worship on Sundays, where the wife is furiously making notes while the husband sits seemingly disinterested. Thank God for conscientious mothers. Nevertheless, fathers need to take the initiative to be doctrinally grounded through the ministry of their church. And if his church will not do so then he needs to find a healthy church where he and his family can get what their souls require.

But further, fathers also must be committed to reading and to studying if they will be in a position to persuasively give a biblically reasonable defence of the gospel. Whether or not a man is “naturally” inclined to be a reader is irrelevant. Fathers must dig deep and do the hard thing. Ask your elders for recommended books that will help you to understand the answers to the questions your children are asking. The 21st century church is greatly blessed to be exposed to a plethora of books that are gospel-centred. There is no excuse for remaining in ignorance.

Someone should write a book on this matter. But until that book is published, let this brief article serve both as an encouragement and as a challenge to fathers: Be the chief apologist in your family. And may God be pleased to use your labours to equip your entire family to be apologetic and thus not ashamed of the gospel; the gospel through which God graciously saves their souls.

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