As graduates around the country begin making plans for the next phase of their lives, it will be worthwhile for them to take some time to prepare for the challenges that will come with it. For Christian young people in particular, we must prepare for the faith challenges we are very likely to face. This is especially true for students preparing to make the transition to college life of some kind.
In the first part of this blog I argued that the apostle Peter gives some great advice on how to handle the persecution Christian young people are going to face as they begin making their way into a cultural environment that is not only not Christian in any recognizable sense, but in fact openly hostile to the Christian faith. The first part of his advice is that we are to respond to such challenges with truth. This truth he commends has three aspects to it: we must not fear the challenges, we must be thoroughly grounded on the identity of Jesus, and we must be prepared to give an answer to those who seek a reason for the hope we have. In this part I want to look with you at the second part of Peter’s response.
Peter offers this up starting in the second half of verse 15: “…yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered [notice he says "when" not "if"], those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” We are to respond to challenges with truth, yes, but we are also to respond with gentleness and respect—even when our ideological opponents deserve neither. If I could sum this part up in a word it would be grace. We are to respond to challenges to our faith with grace. The reason for this Peter gets to at the very end of the verse: so that the slander of our opponents doesn’t stick.
You see, the assumption of many of the folks who would challenge our faith from one direction or another is that it is invalid intellectually, but also morally. Far from believing that a little bit of faith can make for better people, there’s a good chance that, if they’ve spent any time marinating in the intellectual milieu created by guys like Christopher Hitchens whose book God Is Not Great argues that religion in general has been a great stain on the human species, they believe having religious faith of any kind actually makes for worse people. If we are anything other than totally gracious in responding to them (even and especially when they don’t deserve it) we will only serve to justify their negative assumptions.
Let me add this one more piece as well: grace is the proper balance to truth even as truth is the proper balance to grace. Without grace, truth becomes hard and unloving. Without truth, however, grace becomes permissive and squishy. Both are absolutely necessary if we are going to make well this defense Peter commends.
Speaking right to the graduates now, you need to take this message to heart: The reality of the next few years of your life is that you are going to face challenges that are both more numerous and more significant than any you’ve faced before in your life. This goes for both the high school and the college grads. For the high school grads the challenges are likely to come from specific people who enter your life be they a professor or an unbelieving but really charismatic friend. But, they will also come in the form of various experiences that are set before you but which run counter to the moral framework that comes part and parcel with your faith commitment. They will appear to be opportunities to live large—like the party culture or the hook-up culture—but the truth is that they are merely doorways to smaller and smaller living.
For the college grads, you are going to be in a place where the expectations on you to live a certain way are as low as they will ever be. You are in a place where you are setting up what your life will look like for many years to come. If you haven’t already given up on practicing your faith you will have to decide whether or not you want to incorporate it into your new life. The choice is a far more difficult and significant one than it now appears. The opportunities to pursue life apart from it will be numerous. Sometimes they will come subtly, but sometimes they’ll slap you right in the face. This goes for all the challenges you are going to face from here forward. But, when the world rises up to strike you in the face, we know from the wisdom Peter left for us that we are to respond to the slap with truth and grace. When the world rises up to strike you in the face, respond to the slap with truth and grace.
If you want your faith to survive the college experience, if you want your faith to survive the transition into real adulthood, this is the approach that is going to allow it to happen. When the world rises up to strike you in the face, respond to the slap with truth and grace. Because the fact is: you are going to get smacked around by the world. It’s going to happen. You can’t avoid it. The reason is: the world hates your faith. Your faith is in and of itself an act of judgment on the world. It is a bold declaration that the way the culture around you says people should live is not right. Culture says: However you want to live is fine. Your faith says: No it’s not. There’s not really a middle ground there.
The thing is, though, the world, the culture is sitting in the power seat. It’s making the rules right now. It’s devising the punishments for divergence. If you stand firm in your commitment you are going to get slapped in the face. Jesus guaranteed it. Paul guaranteed it. James guaranteed it. John guaranteed it. Peter guaranteed it. It’s going to happen. But fear not. When the world rises up to strike you in the face, respond to the slap with truth and grace. Have confidence knowing that this reception was predicted and experienced long ago. As Peter wrote a bit later: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Friends, He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world regardless of how it may seem. Have confidence and courage and stand strong in what you believe. When the world rises up to strike you in the face, respond to the slap with truth and grace. Blessings on you as you journey.