A Christian Cheat Sheet? Bear with me, this goes to a good place.
Apologetics, as we all know, is the ready defence of the Christian message. The councils of the early church, from Acts 15 onwards, convened to formulate a defence of established church doctrine against the assaults of heretical teachers and groups.
It is a nonsense to say they met to cobble together some jerry-built Christianity from the wreckage of an apostate church. We shouldn’t put up with such nonsense and should be ready to correct anyone who brings it. I think we all too often lose a sense of the gravity, the sober urgency of apologetics work.
Jesus did it zealously when he spoke to the Pharisees, even going so far as being roundly polemical in his teaching (Mt.23).
Paul did it on his missionary journeys and when he wrote to warn about the circumcision party, even going so far as to wish the heretics would ‘go all the way and emasculate themselves.’ (Gal.5:12)
John did it when he confronted the threat of early Gnosticism and the rise of Antichrists (1 John 2)
Peter urges us to ‘always be ready to give an answer.’ (1 Peter 3:15)
Many Christians today seem reluctant to engage with a world full of voices, afraid to offend. More than this, they seem ill-equipped in themselves to hold their own in a conversation about the urgent questions people have about the world. When I do see Christians engaging biblically with a confusing and challenging world I think, ‘I want to be like that. How can I be more like that?’ Don’t you?
I had this wacky idea that there should be a Christian Cheat Sheet, you know, for busy Christians who don’t have time to pick up and read God’s Word. It was a lame idea intended to underline the fact we shouldn’t need a Christian Cheat Sheet. There is no such thing and, anyway, we are so sold out for Jesus we would laugh the idea to scorn, right? Then I put ‘Christian Cheat Sheet’ into a search engine and…
To be fair, some I found were more memory aids than shortcut guides to understanding the ways of God (there really is no such thing). Do you think your life is so busy you might benefit from a Christian Cheat Sheet, a sort of potted gospel for the busy believer in a hurry? Then you are far too busy to be a Christian and my advice to you is, give it up, or take it up…seriously.
A True Christian Doesn’t Cheat
‘A true Christian doubtless delights in religious fellowship, and Christian conversation, and finds much to affect his heart in it; but he also delights at times to retire from all mankind to converse with God in solitary places. And this also has its peculiar advantages for fixing his heart, and engaging its affections. True religion disposes persons to be much alone in solitary places, for holy meditation and prayer…’ Jonathan Edwards
We see many examples in our Bibles of those to whom God was everything spending time in meditation and prayer. The greatest example of, course, is Jesus who often drew aside to meditate and pray. When the devil set out to derail God’s purposes, at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, Jesus was able to confidently answer him with (a) a clear understanding of his Father’s purposes, and (b) the ability to quote chapter and verse, ‘it is written’ (Mt.4:1-11).
Nearing the end of his life and ministry, the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy:
‘Do your best to come to me soon…Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry…When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Traos, also the books, and above all the parchments.’ (2 Tim.4:9-13)
Paul awaits death in a Roman prison. Abandoned and desolate except for faithful Luke, he is anticipating a cold winter, which explains his need of his cloak. He yearns for more and useful companionship but, still thinking of his work for the sake of the gospel he writes, ‘above all the parchments.’ Among these there would, surely, be a copy of the Jewish Bible, the Old Testament, in Greek. Paul knew his Scriptures and found consolation and hope in them. In whatever circumstances, a Christian doesn’t finesse the faith, a Christian doesn’t cheat.
Hunger and Thirst
Perhaps you have tried a daily reading programme, the Bible in a Year (2 years?). Or perhaps you use one of the ubiquitous online themed reading guides. I know they can be useful. Yet you feel ill-equipped in your witnessing. ‘I don’t know the Bible as I should,’ you say to yourself, as the Jehovah’s Witness walks away with a smile on his face. You ‘hunger and thirst’ to be among the blessed (Mt.5:6) to, like Paul, soak in the Word and there find consolation, hope, and understanding.
Daily reading plans don’t suit everyone. Furthermore, they don’t equip you for the kind of witnessing we do in this ministry. You are just going to have to read your Bible, and just as well since:
‘All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.’ (2 Tim.3:15-17)
Paul knew the worth of the Scriptures. How did so many of us come to forget such a fundamental and exciting truth? What a prospect is ours with a Bible in our hands and the Spirit as our guide, ‘competent, equipped for every good work.’ What Christian wouldn’t want that?
Crossway has published an interesting infographic showing how long it takes for an average reader to read each book of the Bible. I think you might find it encouraging. In 2013 they published their helpful Bible Eater Plan (believe me, it will make sense). It takes the average reader less than an hour to read Romans. The same is true for 1 Corinthians. Twenty minutes to read Galatians! forty-four minutes to read Hebrews!! So what’s stopping us reading a book at a sitting?
What you Will Meet ‘Out There’
As we move about in our daily lives we come across people with all kinds of ways to explain the world to themselves. From the carefully prepared, though let’s be honest, naive presentations of the Mormon missionaries, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, through the some time condescension of the neo-atheist, the earnest of the Pagan or Wiccan, to the person holding forth at the local coffee shop with ideas he found on the back of an envelope
Everyone comes along with a world-view, whether well thought through or ill-considered. What is your world-view? Might the Bible help us here?
Romans is a closely argued theological treatise explaining the plight of sinful man, God’s rescue mission in Christ, the means of grace, and the role of faith and works in God’s purposes. The first eight chapters, read in a sitting, introduced me to the grace of God and was instrumental in my becoming a Christian. You will struggle to follow Paul’s reasoning if you read Romans in a month. What is stopping you reading Romans in an hour or less…then reading it again to dig deeper?
1 Corinthians, read in less than an hour, covers several key themes: patience with the weaker brother; culturally sensitive evangelism; worship that is accessible to the unbeliever; corporate worship and fellowship that builds up the church.
More than anything, this letter presents the history of salvation, of God’s family being one, the temple of the Spirit, holy and set apart, reflecting God’s character and showing the world God’s purposes in calling out a people for himself. The good news isn’t bitty, disjointed, much less is it about me, it is comprehensive, complete, centred on Christ, and glorifying to God.
Galatians, read in twenty minutes, is a corrective for those tempted to go back to works righteousness. It presents Christ as a substitute for Christians, the benefits of his sacrifice; our justification, appropriated by faith not works; a warning to those falling back on outward, legalistic show; an appeal to the Old Testament to show faith works in us to justify; the dramatic gospel claim the Christian has died to self and renounced the flesh; the Spirit as the source of power to live the life of a called out people, pleasing to Christ as our master.
Hebrews, read in forty-five minutes, is a masterful presentation of Christ as greater than any angel, priest, or old covenant institution. It is a summons to recognise him, all that he has done for the believer, to hold to the faith and find our true rest in him. Here Jesus is fully God and fully man; the agent of Creation; superior to Moses, to angels, to the earthly tabernacle of the Old Testament; the one we will face in judgement.
Here is a call to please God by trusting him, even for those things we don’t yet see, a call to perseverance, to grow up, to go on to the meat of the gospel; the assurance from history that God’s promises can be trusted; a clear picture that the last days have begun and we await the final consummation of all God has purposed in his Christ.
How will we understand Christ and his work if we don’t understand God’s promises, first to Adam, then to Abraham and the patriarchs, pictured for us in the called out people of Exodus, in the establishment of a nation? How will we begin to understand grace if we don’t know how gracious God has been to his people under the old covenant? How can we grasp the imperative to know and obey God’s Word if we don’t appreciate that Word delivered through the prophets to a wayward people?
You can read Genesis or Exodus in three or four sittings. The histories 1 and 2 Kings in less than five hours, 1 and 2 Chronicles the same. Why not read these, time and again, and build a Christian world-view to take into the world that so desperately needs answers?
You know you want to, but you have been side-tracked by habit, by peer pressure, by ‘Day-by-Day’ reading programmes that carve up the Scriptures into ‘manageable’ parts.
Unshackle yourself, enjoy the freedom to read a whole book in a sitting. Apologetics is so much more exciting this way and, for you, may never be the same. Maybe the Bible is the ultimate Christian Cheat Sheet.