But sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15).
You have probably heard it asked at some point or another: if you were charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
The question is designed to be a pointed reminder that we must not just profess Jesus Christ but actually demonstrate our faith in word and deed (cf. James 1:22-25). As such, it is important for us to consider: is our faith at work in our life?
Yet there is another question that could be asked that is just as important: if you were charged with being a Christian, could you make a defense for the hope that is in you? Peter is encouraging us to be able to do this very thing.
Before any defense for the faith can be made we must make sure that we have purified our hearts and fully submit ourselves to Jesus’ Lordship (cf. 1 Peter 1:22, 3:22). An oral defense that is not consistent with the way we live our lives will be next to meaningless. If we are going to believe that our hope is in Jesus and the resurrection, we must pattern our lives after Jesus (cf. 1 John 2:6). Christianity has never been and never will be just a set of dogmas for intellectual consideration, for Christ demands the transformation of mind, body, and soul.
We must then obtain understanding and know the substance of the faith– to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). The defense is for the “hope that is in us,” the sustaining confidence that Jesus is Lord and that as He obtained the resurrection, we also can obtain the resurrection (1 Peter 1:3-7, Philippians 3:11-14). Are we able, as Paul was, to persuade men on the basis of our proclamation of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 5:11)? Or do we find ourselves speechless when we are asked about our beliefs, not knowing what to say or to where we should appeal in Scripture? We ought to strive to have the knowledge and ability to make that defense!
But we must make that defense in a way consistent with our Lord. It must be done in “meekness and fear,” or, as in other versions, “with gentleness and respect.” Far too many attempt to defend God’s truth with the Devil’s tactics, and when that takes place, only the Devil wins. We must always remember that we stand up for the faith and defend it to persuade others to accept it and not to prove ourselves correct. If we make a masterful defense that clinches the argument but pushes a soul away from Jesus, we have utterly failed! No religious argument is ever worth “winning” if it exhibits the qualities of the works of the flesh and not the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-24)!
Our defense must not involve ridicule of others and their belief systems, for if we refuse to respect the sincerity of the beliefs of others, we do not deserve to have our beliefs heard or respected (cf. Luke 6:31). This is not to say that we believe that others are correct simply because they are sincere– people can be very sincere and very wrong at the same time (Acts 23:1, 1 Timothy 1:12-14). But people perceive when respect is not being accorded to them, and they are much less willing to hear us if we speak in condescending, arrogant, or sanctimonious ways. A defense of the faith made without gentleness and/or respect is actually counterproductive!
There are many souls who are thirsty for the knowledge that leads to life but do not know where to turn. In these times we must all take on the responsibility of not just believing in Jesus but also knowing what precisely it is that we believe, why we believe it, and why others should believe it as well, and then work diligently to persuade others regarding the truth that is in Jesus Christ. If we do not make a defense for our faith, who can be encouraged to believe? If we will not stand up for the truth of the Gospel and gently and respectfully correct misunderstandings and misapprehensions, why should we be surprised when others reject the faith? Let us make our defense for the hope that is in us with gentleness and respect, and may God receive the glory!
Ethan R. Longhenry