One day I was walking down the street in a major U.S. city when I saw a man dressed like Jesus shouting at people who passed by.
“Repent! Repent!” he called out. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand!” I watched as naysayers mocked him. Some began to respond violently to this man who was simply pointing out the obvious need for people to honor God with their lives.
Seeing all of this, I turned to a friend and said, “We need to go save this guy before the crowd decides to beat him up.”
As we approached, one of the man’s companions intercepted us. He asked us if we knew Jesus, and told us how God provided Jesus as the sacrifice for our sins. In an attempt to see how much this man really knew about Jesus, I asked him, “Why should I choose Jesus above all other religions?”
We engaged for about 30 minutes, and he named off all the “stock” apologetics answers he had learned. All the while his tone was argumentative. He was literally trying to argue me into belief by laying out a series of facts and quotations. Thankfully I was already a believer. If I had not been, I doubt if his attempt to convince me of the truth of Christianity would have succeeded.
Let me explain. The facts revealed by apologetics can give us confidence that the Bible is true. Archaeology, history, philosophy, and even science can help show that the Bible tells the truth about God, the world, and humanity. It can be especially helpful in supporting the biblical portrait of Jesus—that He really did the things the Bible says He did.
So apologetics helps us understand Jesus and the reason why the world works the way it does, but does that mean we can use apologetics like a weapon when talking to someone about Jesus? Do relationships not matter? In my experience, truth without grace is ineffective. Grace toward people always trumps knowledge. In fact, the Apostle Paul said, “We know that ‘we all have knowledge.’ Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up. If anyone thinks he knows anything, he does not yet know it as he ought to know it. But if anyone loves God, he is known by Him” (1Co 8:1-3).
As you grow in your understanding of the nuts and bolts of the Christian faith, do not forget the importance of being graceful. Truth builds our confidence, but grace builds our effectiveness. Grace toward others allows them to see the strength of God in our lives far better than our ability to rattle off facts that support faith. And ultimately it is God’s grace that can provide your listeners with the hope they long for. Always remember what Jesus once said to a Pharisee: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37-39).