God’s Word for You
1 Peter 3:15-16 Prepared to Answer
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, April 28, 2022
15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (NIV)
The Christian sets Christ apart as the LORD God. The Christian’s good behavior is one shield against attacks. Another shield or defense is Peter’s urgent call for all Christians to be prepared to give “an answer.” This is the Greek term apologia (ἀπολογία). This might look like the English word “apology,” but it doesn’t mean “I’m sorry.” Rather, it means “This is why…;” it’s an explanation or defense. There are two forms of such apologies open to Christians. The first and perhaps more common is the explanation or defense which exposes flaws in one’s opponent’s point of view. I shall refer to this as a negative apology. For example, no ancient document has as many excellent copies made within the first two centuries of the original as does the New Testament, not by far. We are far more confident in the precise wording of the New Testament than we are of any other ancient writing (such as Homer, the Greek playwrights, Anglo-Saxon or Norse literature, or the Indian sutras). Only the Old Testament comes close, and the ancient Jews even had the habit of destroying or burying worn or damaged copies of the Scriptures.
The other form of defense is the positive apology. This is an explanation that is based entirely upon the message of the gospel. Since human reason cannot accept the gospel, this defense probably seems less effective to many Christians. However, only the gospel message can change hearts. Therefore, if someone is going to try to use a negative apology (that is, the preaching of the law), it must be followed by a positive apology, which is the preaching of the gospel.
This is where the Christian needs to be careful. We hear a lot about the art of apologetics, which is giving a Christian apology (explanation or defense) these days. Seminars are given, Bible class series are taught, sermon series are taught, all about this special branch of theology. But be careful: To use the law without the gospel is the same as tilling the soil or poking holes in the ground without planting any seeds. It won’t produce anything.
Since Peter’s words here are to “give the reason for the hope you have,” we see that this must include the gospel, because the law offers no hope whatsoever. The law condemns. The law crushes. The law damns. The gospel gives hope and the reason for the hope.
As for a good conscience, a good conscience is being clean in thought, word, and deed as we stand before God’s judgment seat. None of us has this without faith in Christ, for apart from Christ we stand condemned, judged, shackled, and chained up, ready for the fire. Yet everyone who trusts in Jesus and his blood shed on the cross has a perfectly clean conscience. The Spirit gives us this faith, and “no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). We are justified, not in the world’s eyes, but in God’s eyes. So we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. When we are called on to give an answer for our faith, we will want to do it with humility, gentleness and respect, so that the straying soul is won over by the gospel and not simply crushed by our words or (worse) left feeling smug over what seems like a victory of reason and logic. Let the gospel do the work. Let the gospel be what you most want to share.
Pastor Timothy Smith