1 Peter 3:15 declares “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…”
As I’ve been meditating and reflecting on this verse over the past few weeks, a few things have stood out to me that I think are often missed. Before I get to that it is important to note that 1 Peter was written to Christians who were scattered because of persecution (1 Peter 1:2-3). He writes to address their hope in Christ as well as how they are to be holy and reflect the holiness of God to people as they witness for the Gospel (1 Peter 1:3-25). He instructs them in how they are a particular people and priests unto God (1 Peter 2:1-12). He then explains how they are a people under authority and how to live under that authority and honor God (1 Peter 2:13-25). He exhorts wives and husbands on how to live with one another (1 Peter 3:1-7). In the context surrounding 1Peter 3:15, Peter is instructing believers how to suffer and speak for the gospel (1 Peter 3:8-22), with I Peter 3:14 stating “but even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled…” Moreover, in the following chapter, Peter looks at how Christians are to be stewards of God’s grace (1 Peter 4:1-11), suffer as a Christian (1 Peter 4:12-19), how pastors are to shepherd the flock of God (1 Peter 5:1-11), concluding the book with greetings to several people (1 Peter 5:12-14).
This quick overview of 1 Peter gives us a sense of what the overall thrust of the book is about. Understanding the context of 1 Peter 3:15 will help Christians understand that 1 Peter 3:15 is not the only verse in the book. I often get the feeling that we are so focused on the task of Apologetics from this specific verse, that we miss out on the rest of what the great epistle of 1 Peter has to say to us. Peter is talking in 1 Peter 3:15 not only about how Christians must make a defense and give a reason for the hope they have, he is noting how their entire life must testify to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Remember that Peter is writing to “elect exiles” (1 Peter 1:2), a people who were in exile because of persecution. He was writing to encourage them in the hope they have in Christ (1 Peter 1:3-25). These were men and women were suffering for the sake of the Gospel in the fires of affliction. It was to these people that Peter spoke the words of 1Peter 3:15.
As I read books on Apologetics I get the sense that we are so focused on methodology that we have missed out on how Apologetics relates to the Christian life. The task of Apologetics can in no way be divorced from our Christian lives, but rather must testify of the fact we are Christians. By that I mean Peter emphasizes this by stating “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy” (1 Peter 3:15), a statement that goes back to what he said in 1 Peter 1:13, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Let me try to explain why this is important so you can see some of the weight of what Peter is saying here so we can begin to see that Apologetics is more than just a task Christians perform. Conversely, it is essential to the daily Christian life and ministry of the people of God.
My experience growing up in the Church as a child and in Bible college and seminary has taught me that Apologetics often emphasizes more on “how” we are to reach certain people. It is often assumed those engaging in the task have a biblical worldview when researchers at Lifeway Research Group among others teach us that we cannot assume people in the Church have a biblical worldview or even read their Bibles. Yet what Peter does in 1 Peter is set forth the Christian worldview, that of the hope believers have in God because of the finished work of Jesus and how that is to impact our ongoing growth in sanctification (1 Peter 1:3-25). Since Peter has said that his readers are to “prepare your minds for action” (1 Peter 1:13) that builds upon his premise in 1 Peter 3:15 that if we are to honor Christ the Lord as holy, we first must know the hope we have.
The biblical authors always build upon their thought in order to help their readers understand the topic. Peter is the same way as the rest of the Apostles in this regard. His argument then in 1 Peter 3:15 is that in order to defend and commend the Christian faith, we must understand that what is all important is Christians grounding their worldview in the Word of God and the Gospel of God. Only through that lens can our defense of the faith commend the faith, or in the words of Peter “honor Christ the Lord as holy”. The only reason any of us can do this is because the wrath of God no longer burns against our sin because we have been given a new heart, with new desires and affections for the person and work of Christ. This means the Christian life is a lifeview and our Apologetic efforts must spring from that lifeview. The formation of a biblical worldview begins with understanding the hope we have now in Christ by understanding how Christ has saved us and how He wants to grow His people in His grace. By understanding that foundational point, we will come to see that apologetics is more than just offering defenses and commending the Christian faith. Instead, we will understand that apologetics is a lifeview rooted in holding fast to the authority of the Word of God and declaring the excellencies of the Gospel.
As I’ve meditated on 1 Peter 3:15, what God is teaching me is a bigger vision than just giving an answer to why I believe what I believe. Apologetics is not only giving answers for the reason for my hope in Christ but also how my life testifies of Him. The New Testament has much to say about how we are to know, live, enjoy, and minister for God. When we take all that into account along with 1 Peter 3:15, I don’t know about you but I’m struck with wonder at the God who no longer calls me His enemy but rather calls me His friend. While I believe firmly in apologetics, I think we first need to be Christians, grounding our thinking and methodology in the Word of God. The outflow of that will be ministry to God and a defense of the Christian faith that is first and foremost concerned not with the latest apologetic approach, but rather with what God has said in His Word as the ultimate standard for life.
At the heart of Christian discipleship is the need to hear, heed, and obey what God has commanded. Apologetics is surely at the heart of that but first we must ground our hope in Christ and grow in Him. The outflow from that growth will be ministry that glories in the Gospel of grace and marvels that He calls His people to the task of commending and defending the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. Lastly, understanding apologetics in this way will enable us to heed Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:15 and hear them as he means then, namely, “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” (1 Peter 3:15).
I don’t know about you but understanding apologetics through the lens I’ve described is less burdensome and more joyful. It is also more hope-filled because it isn’t grounded in our methodology, but rather in the unchanging and inspired Word of God. God calls His people to be a people of His Word and to testify of its Truth. Let the people of God know and declare the excellencies of Jesus in gentleness and respect to the glory of God.