The final verses in Matthew’s gospel are some of the final instructions from Jesus to His followers. Jesus commanded them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Therefore, as believers we are to go out into the world and tell others about Jesus because you can’t make a disciple of Jesus without telling a person who Jesus is. That means we ought to be having a lot of conversations with those who do not know Jesus, who have never heard of Jesus, and who do not believe Jesus is the Son of God.
Peter reminds us of this directive in his first epistle. In 1 Peter 3:15 he says, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Here, Peter even highlights that we may not even be going out into the world in order to tell others, others may simply ask us questions. And we have to be ready for those conversations as well.
So whether we are intentionally going out and telling others or we are living our lives in a way that invites others to question us, we are supposed to be capable of telling others about Jesus. So why do we feel so incapable of having that conversation? Because we have failed to do like Peter says – be prepared.
Being prepared consists of two main things: knowing what you believe and why you believe it.
Know What You Believe
This seems like the easiest part of preparing for conversations with unbelievers. After all, as a Christian, you believe the Bible. However, that answer is a very vague answer to an unbeliever. Obviously, an unbeliever does not believe the Bible to be true and, oftentimes, does not have a correct understanding of what the Bible claims. They’ve most likely never studied the Bible for themselves. Or they may have a very flawed idea about what the Bible states. Therefore, your answer of “I believe the Bible” does not give a proper answer to an unbeliever of what beliefs you actually hold. You need to be able to articulate the specific beliefs you have from the Bible.
This is why catechisms and creeds are so important. A catechism summarizes the principles of Christianity in the form of questions and answers in order to help believers learn and remember the essential beliefs that are necessary as a Christian. While there are variations of catechisms for each denomination, for all true Christian denominations, the core essentials will be the same.
I’m actually using a catechism as a way to teach my children what the Bible actually says. Yes, we study the Bible, but we also study the catechism to define each core belief that is found in scripture. That way they have read the words of the Bible for themselves in our Bible study, but they also know how to articulate those core beliefs to others. Who made you? What is man’s purpose? How can you glorify God? Who is God? Do you have a soul as well as a body? What is sin? What effect had the sin of Adam on all mankind? Those are essential things all Christians must be able to answer – for ourselves and for unbelievers.
Creeds are another way of codifying and summarizing the basic beliefs of Christians. This isn’t a new thing for believers to have to do either. In the early days of the church, the Apostle’s Creed was established to summarize and document the basic doctrinal beliefs that Christian held. Then 325 AD the Nicene Creed was established as a way to detail that Jesus was not created like a human. He was and is God. These creeds were a way for those who were following Jesus to give the details of exactly what they believe when they called themselves followers of “the Way,” or followers of Jesus. For example, the Apostles’ Creed states:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, begotten Son of God, who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again. He ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father. From there, He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.
Those are the essential things that you believe when you claim to be a Christian. Do you see how that’s much more specific, and more informative, than just saying you believe “the Bible”? Granted, all of that is in the Bible, but those statements explain more specifically what believing in the Bible really means. Therefore, the preparation for understanding what you believe is knowing the Word of God and the essential core doctrinal beliefs of Christianity. Study the Bible and study the creeds.
Those doctrinal creeds exist for a reason – to establish for believer and unbeliever alike what Christians believe. You must understand the doctrinal beliefs of Christianity. Though “doctrine” can sound like a very boring thing to study, it is essential to know what you profess to believe. On this note, keep in mind, you are not trying to convince an unbeliever to be a Baptist, or a Methodist, or a Presbyterian. You are trying to call them into a life of obedience unto Jesus. Don’t spend your time hashing out the minor denominational differences. Spend your time explaining the work of Jesus and the merciful gift of salvation from God.
Know Why You Believe What You Believe
Now that you have stated what you believe, you need to understand why you believe that. Why do you believe those things and not something else? Why do you claim the truths of the Bible and not what some other religious book claims? Is it because that’s all you’ve been exposed to? Or is it because it is truth? And how do you know the Bible is truth? Those are the ways in which you must be prepared. You have to know why you believe the things you do and be confident in the truth of Christianity before you can effectively communicate that to someone else.
This preparation is knowing apologetics, that is, the defense, the reason why you have this hope. You must start preparing now for those conversations by understanding the foundation of truth of Christianity. There are tons of resources out there to study so that you can anticipate some of the more common questions that are typically asked. My book is certainly one of them (found here) that will give you the overview of questions you will encounter so you’ll have some way of addressing those main concerns of unbelievers.
However, Peter says to “always be prepared.” So it isn’t just reading through a book one time and checking that box off. Just like you wouldn’t sit through one week of Bible study and consider it sufficient to really know God’s word, you can’t take that approach to knowing how to defend the truth of Christianity. You must always be challenging yourself by studying and reading so that you can always be ready.
While being prepared to answer why you believe begins with the study of apologetics (the evidences for God, the proof of the validity of the Bible, the uniqueness of Jesus from other religious leaders), it ends with the personal reasons of what drew you to Jesus. When you look at the great theologians and apologists, you can see how God used different things to draw them into salvation from their unbelief. Those things were based on their personality, their interests, and even their purposes for God’s kingdom to lead others into faith.
For Lee Strobel, it was in his effort to prove the lack of historical validity of the Bible that convinced Him the Bible was true. For C. S. Lewis, it was the argument from morality, that he has no grounds to call things immoral if there were not an ultimate Moral Law Giver. For John Lennox, it was the intricate design found within science and mathematics that told him there was a Creator of all things. This is where you can use your personal testimony of how God drew you into salvation. What amazed you about the truth of God and His Word that compelled you to follow Him?
There was some compelling reason that drew you and convinced you Christianity was true. Those are the things that must be shared with unbelievers, so that they may see those reasons as well.