Written by David Frees
David Frees is Director of Online Learning for Our Daily Bread University and has worked in the areas of course development, digital publishing, church planting, game development, and writing for many years. In his spare time he enjoys backpacking, online gaming, chess, and reading.
Most of us grow up accepting the things we are taught as true. As children we are taught that the earth is a globe and not flat, that there are seven continents, and that the universe around us is made up of tiny particles called atoms, which in themselves are composed of even smaller particles.
If we happen to grow up in a family that embraces the Christian faith, we learn the stories of Abraham, Joseph, David, Jesus, and others, and accept those stories as historical narratives. In addition, we are taught that there is a God, that the Bible is God’s revelation to humanity, and that Jesus is God’s only son who died for the sins of the world and rose from the dead, thereby offering eternal life to those who follow him.
Whether we grew up in a Christian home or came to accept the beliefs of the Christian faith later in life, at some point we’ve probably wondered whether what we’ve been taught is indeed true. Perhaps you’ve been challenged with, or have asked yourself, such questions as, “How do I know Jesus rose from the dead?”; “How do I know the Bible is true and not filled with errors or the made-up ideas of individuals from the past?”; or “How do I know God really exists?” These are common questions that have been asked of the Christian faith for generations. And these are the types of questions every believer should be prepared to respond to, both for themselves and for others.
One of the more noted verses in the Bible that instructs Christians to be ready to answer these types of questions is found in 1 Peter 3:15. To provide some context, the book of 1 Peter was written to believers who had been dispersed throughout the area of modern-day Turkey and who were experiencing persecution because of their faith. In fact, Peter’s purpose for writing this letter was to encourage these believers to live faithful and holy lives in the face of suffering.
He writes in 1 Peter 3:15, “…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (NASB1995). In this verse Peter offers two main challenges.
A Call to Sanctify Christ
First, as believers we are challenged to “…sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts.” The word translated sanctify is from the Greek verb hagiázō, which refers to the act of treating something with a sense of awe or viewing it as separate from other common items.
What is Peter asking his readers, and us, to do when he says, set apart, revere, honor, sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts? Simply put, Peter is asking believers to recognize Christ as someone who is distinct, holy, and unique.
When we sanctify Christ in our hearts we are putting him first. That is, we are putting his will for our lives first regarding our thoughts, our actions, and our words, which entails making decisions that honor and bring glory to him through how we live. It’s important to note that Peter’s admonition to set apart Christ assumes the reality of salvation in a person’s life. Only by embracing the life-changing truth that Jesus Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins can we truly honor him as Lord. And honoring Christ in our daily lives begins by acknowledging him as Savior and following him as Lord. Through faithful allegiance to Jesus we will lay the foundation upon which the defense of our faith will rest.
A Call to Defend Our Faith
Second, not only are we told to set apart Christ, Peter also challenges us to be ready and able to provide answers as to why we believe what we believe.
The practice of giving a reason for what we believe as followers of Christ is called Christian Apologetics. The term apologetics is derived from the Greek word apologia. In the first century, during the time of Peter, it referred to the practice of preparing a well thought-out legal defense or argument used to refute charges levied against an individual or a particular philosophical position. Peter uses the term to refer to a defense of the hope that comes from faith in Jesus.
The term apologia occurs eight times in the New Testament. These uses of the word apologia indicate that Christianity is not a blind-faith, but a reasonable faith that can be defended and supported with facts. This is not to say that one can argue another person into salvation. According to Ephesians 2:8-9, salvation is only through faith because of God’s grace. Period. The purpose of apologetics is to prepare the way to faith by allowing an unbeliever to clearly see what Christianity teaches. Facts do not destroy faith, they support it.
And contrary to popular thought, the word apologia does not mean to apologize, even though the English word is derived from the Ancient Greek original. As believers we are never asked to apologize for God’s truth or our faith, but we are called to defend it.
When we seek to understand the Christian faith and communicate that understanding to others, we are loving God with our minds (Mark 12:30). And when we love God with our minds, we come to know better why we believe what we believe. As we dig deep into God’s Word and “study to show ourselves approved” (2 Timothy 2:15), we will prepare ourselves to give answers to the questions being asked by the world around us and thereby not only love God with our heart, soul, and strength, but with our minds as well.
The Believer’s Hope
Peter’s two challenges to sanctify Christ as Lord in our lives, and to be ready to give an answer to those who ask about our faith both center on the believer’s hope, “…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you…” But what is the hope we are called to defend?
In contrast to how some conceive of the term today, the word hope (elpís) does not refer to “wishful thinking.” The New Testament concept of hope, when directed toward God, entails a sure expectation, or the patient waiting upon something that was divinely granted. Our hope in God is evidenced by what he has done in the past, what he continues to do in our lives now, and what he promises to do in the future. In the context of 1 Peter 3:15, Peter’s use of the word “hope” can represent the Christian faith as a whole or it can more specifically refer to the hope we are given through salvation—a hope that includes multiple aspects.
First, because of Christ we have the hope that our sins have been forgiven. In Ephesians 1:7, Paul reminds believers that in Christ we have redemption through his (i.e., Christ’s) blood, that is, the forgiveness of our sins. The fact that our sins have been forgiven means that we stand before God spotless and without judgment (see Hebrews 9:11-28).
Second, we have been given eternal life. One of the great promises of the Christian faith is the promise of eternal life for those who have given their lives to Christ. In perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible we read, “…whoever believes in him (Jesus) has eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:15-16).
Third, we have the promise of Heaven. The eternal life granted a believer is not an emotionless, never-ending state of consciousness, but life forever with God. In John 14:1-3, Jesus said to his disciples,
Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.
The place Jesus is preparing for those who love him is described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:9 when he writes, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him.” We cannot even imagine what Heaven will be like, how wonderful it will be, or how beautiful it will look.
While there are many other promises we have in Christ, the above three summarize some essential elements of what our hope in Christ offers.
Notice, finally, that when answering the questions of others about our hope, we are to display an attitude of gentleness and reverence. All too often Christians are characterized as intolerant of the practices and beliefs of those around them. Sadly, this is sometimes true, but it ought not be.
When our faith is challenged as followers of Christ, we are not called to respond with anger, hatred, or resentment, but instead with kindness, respect, and compassion. We would do well to remember the popular saying, “how we say something is just as important as what we say.” As members of the body of Christ, our mission is to be a light to those who do not know Christ, to be living examples of the Spirit of God within us, and to graciously offer answers to those seeking to know God.
Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from Our Daily Bread University’s Apologetics Basis Lesson 1 “Introduction to Christian Apologetics”.
Apologetic Basics is designed to provide a foundational understanding of what Christian Apologetics is and why it is important to practice. This free course will examine that call and seek to provide basic answers to the major questions that are commonly raised against the Christian faith. Check out more details here.
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