A Speech given at Hope PRC’s Conference on Personal Witnessing
(April 3, 1993)
This theme is taken from I Peter 3:15, where you read: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to given an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”
I think this text has often instilled a certain feeling if discomfort in many of us. “Be ready always.” Am I ready? How ready must I be? What kind of answer am I expected to give? Some of you, I am sure, have had the same experience as I, in failing to speak when I really knew I should have said something. I had a golden opportunity to witness of the hope that lives within me, but I didn’t know quite what to say, or was afraid of getting questioned further. Or maybe you have found yourself in a heated debate, when what was really needed was careful listening to what was being said, and only then a careful answer from the Scriptures. I have kicked myself for my own failure in that regard, too. Other times perhaps you have gotten involved in a discussion only to be embarrassed by your inability to demonstrate from the Bible the truth of your position. Several years ago I had that experience, too. So, this text can certainly cause some discomfort.
But I would emphasize that no matter how uncomfortable you may be initially when this calling is set before you in Scripture, you cannot escape it. It is the God-ordained calling to all believers to defend the faith, to witness of the hope that is ours. You who are the children of God have the calling to bear witness and give answer concerning the hope that lives within you.
Furthermore, on a more positive note, with proper spiritual preparation there is no need to feel uncomfortable when you have an opportunity to speak concerning the hope that is in you. And I say that, because we of all people have reason to speak and to witness of the blessed hope that is ours!
That is a matter that deserves much emphasis among us. You and I must see that our Christian faith – and that is our Protestant Reformed faith – affects every aspect of our lives. We have a hope that, when properly understood and believed, isn’t just for Sunday and isn’t just for when we are feeling spiritual; but our hope affects for good every aspect of our lives! In a world where there is such a vacuum, such emptiness, in the lives of so many, ours is a message that is truly good news. We have the gospel for our answer to others.
We have reason to prepare thoroughly to give answer for the hope that lives within us. And when we examine I Peter 3:15 for the purpose at hand, we will find that the inspired Apostle shows in some depth what is involved in preparing yourself to give an answer.
I call your attention, first of all, to the fact that you must be prepared spiritually. The Apostle writes to those who are being questioned. When you are questioned in such a way, there is also a reason for such questioning. That reason is the particular way in which you live, a way which sets you apart.
Preparedness for witnessing to the power of the gospel begins by knowing that hope yourself, and living under the power of the gospel yourself. That is something that we might take for granted; but it deserves emphasis nevertheless. An inescapable implication of this Word of God is that our conduct as Christians is called into question.
When the Apostle speaks here of an “answer” he speaks literally of an apology, an apologetic answer. We often use that word “apology” or “apologize” in the sense of being sorry for something we did wrong. Obviously, that is not the meaning of the word here. There is no need to be sorry, when you are living as a Christian. So what does the word apology mean, as interpreted here by the word “answer”? There is a course called “Apologetics” which is taught in many seminaries. It is a course in the defense of the faith. To give an apology for our hope means, then, to give a rational and intelligent defense of our conduct.
When our hope is mocked and rejected, when our conduct is called into question as being too prudish or too religious, then we are called to defend our hope with an appeal to an authority higher than ourselves. We defend our faith and lifestyle by an appeal to the Scriptures which is the absolute authority for what we believe and how we live.
The calling set before you here is not that you all must go up to strangers in the grocery store and on the streets and in shopping malls and the like, trying to persuade them of the truth of Scripture. That is not required of you here. Though it is evident from Scripture that the preaching of the Word may take place in peculiar places, that does not make it your calling to do so. And even in your daily contacts with people, you do not further the cause of Christ by repeatedly harping on religion, rebuking and trying to teach. Christian wisdom must be our teacher here; for Christ also teaches us that pearls are not to be cast before swine. But neither may we hide our candle under a bushel.
Our life must give reason for others to question us. And we are called here to answer every one that inquires for a reason, or an account, of that hope that lives within us. Obviously, such questioning will e made of us only when we live in a way that will attract the notice of others, a way quite different from the norms of society in general. There is not much that we Christians do that is not watched by unbelievers. And when we are known not only as Christians, but Protestant Reformed Christians, then there is not much we do as Protestant Reformed Christians that is not watched by those around us.
In I Peter 2:11,12, the importance of a godly walk is emphasized. Our godly walk is crucial when it comes to maintaining our integrity among other Christians who may have a wrong understanding of what we “PRs” are all about. But the text here emphasizes the same point with respect to those who are unbelievers. If you do not walk godly, if your life is played out in the company of unbelievers and you live no different from them, then this text does not say much to you directly. Oh, it does – by implication. It calls you to repentance and true conversion. Do understand that. But the text speaks directly to you who are living in hope, who are striving to live in obedience to god, and who are bearing the consequences. For by such a life we make ourselves noticeable to the world.
The Apostle writes: “Sanctify the Lord God in your heart.” Obviously, this means that you are yourself a true Christian, regenerated by the Spirit of Christ. This means that your religion is indeed real, that the life of Christ is your life. It means that your regenerated heart is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It means, too, that all the issues of your heart, everything that proceeds from your heart, is to be dedicated to Christ as He reveals Himself in the Scriptures as the Lord of your life. Because Christ lives in you, you also desire to devote yourself to doing what He wants you to do. That is what it means, in very general terms, to sanctify the Lord God in your heart.
But more specifically, this means that we must be ready from a spiritual point of view. We must have a focused awareness, let me say an experiential awareness, of the importance of the Christian faith. We ourselves must be spiritually confident in Christ Jesus.
The hostility of unbelief is not easy to fact. For that very reason it is easy for us to be intimidated and afraid to give an answer. We easily become ashamed of the gospel, compromise our Christian walk, and hide our light under a bushel. It takes spiritual courage and spiritual strength to face the hostility of unbelief and to explain why we live in spiritual separation. That courage we must have, in order to be ready with an answer.
We must have the confidence of faith, knowing the fellowship of our Savior. There must be a living consciousness of the relationship, yes, the covenant relationship that is yours in Christ with the Triune God. There must be a living consciousness that God is your heavenly Father, your Redeemer, your Friend. Only with such a living, conscious relationship is there a spiritual preparedness for witnessing to that which is our hope.
There are many whose Christianity ends with pious talk. Pious talk and church-going is the end of their goodness. They will not sacrifice their pleasure-seeking, will not part with a penny for the cause of the kingdom of God, and their lives are unfruitful in the works to which Scripture calls them. They will be religious as far as the appearance of good works will go, which cost them nothing; but when James writes, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world,” with such religion they want nothing to do.
There is hardly anything that brings more discredit to religion and the cause of Christ than those who profess to be Christians but whose passionate and zealous pursuit of earthly things puts God off into a little corner, attempting to appease Him with a little superficial service. How can unbelievers see that our happiness is in heaven, if our labor and focus is only for the earth? Can our treasure be in heaven, when our hearts and minds are laid up on earth?
We must live our lives in the sight of men in such a way that they may see that we are more set on gaining heaven, than getting or keeping the world; that we believe a greater excellency in the things spiritual, than in the things earthly and temporal. In the midst of the hopelessness and despair that fills the hearts of many unbelievers, we live and speak from the principle of hope. In between both the sharp pessimism and the superficial happiness of pleasure-madness, we live in the balanced perspective of biblical realism knowing that Christ is coming. Though we face many of the same afflictions and sorrows as unbelievers, in the midst of them all we lay hold of the truth that our heavenly Father is working all things for our good, enabling us to be patient in adversity.
We are not those who cut ourselves off from the world, who live in communes and monasteries. We associate with unbelievers in so far as is necessary as neighbors and fellow workers – though never in violation of II Corinthians 6:14ff. We live in our neighborhoods and play and worship and buy and sell and do all else that is part of our daily existence in this world in which we sojourn. But we do all things in the service of God, living beneath the shadow of Calvary, as citizens of the kingdom of heaven and subjects of the exalted King Who is Christ. That is what I mean by being spiritually prepared to give an answer as a Christian.
Now let me stop a moment and ask: Do these things characterize you? To what degree do they? Think about it.
Peter is speaking here to those whose homes bear the influence of their fellowship with their covenant Friend-Sovereign. They bear that influence in godly conduct, in faithful instruction of children in the truth, in intimate family relationships as husbands and wives, parents and children, reflective of the love of Christ for His Church and the loving care and discipline of our heavenly Father for His children. He is speaking here to young people and adults who refuse to be swept along by the behavior and speech and dress and social standards of the ungodly, but whose lives are governed in doctrine and in practice by the truth of the Scriptures and love for God. They are noticed as people of God, spiritually different and distinct from the world.
To what extent is this true of you? Again, to the extent that it is not true, you are called to repentance and conversion by this text. For, after all, Peter is speaking to those who are willing to be different, even if their distinctness causes them to be persecuted. He is speaking to those whose lives stand out to such a degree, that they may have to die. He is speaking here to Christians who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their confession, to those who are so strong in their adherence of the truth and so jealous of their rich heritage in Christ Jesus, that they will sacrifice it for nothing. If they must go hungry for their refusal to work on the Lord’s Day, if they must be ostracized for their refusal to participate in the sins of others, so be it. They will accept the suffering and entrust their lives and well-being to the hands of their faithful and almighty Father.
No wonder, then, that such conduct attracts attention. The world, which lives by the motives of lust for money, for pleasure, and such like fleeting things, cannot understand nor appreciate such self-sacrifice and self-denial. They cannot comprehend such devotion to things that cannot be seen nor proven by the standards of men. And seeing such devotion in us, our unbelieving neighbor or co-worker may demand an explanation.
So those who are unbelieving – and that is the perspective of the text – ask us why we live the way we do. Often those questions come in a spirit of hostility. Often, in fact, they do not even come in the form of questions; but in the form of charges, accusations that demand an answer. The world does not appreciate those who do not conform to their ways. They are especially intolerant of those who walk in strict obedience to the Bible, the authority of which they deny. And so they may ask us: Why won’t you get involved with our social issues? Why won’t you support this Sunday community affair? Why is Sunday so different at your house? Why won’t you work with us to make this world a better place in which to live? They are full of “whys.” Why shouldn’t you go to movies? Why may not your children watch these television programs at our house? Why don’t you go to our dances? Why won’t you join our labor union? Why don’t you support our public schools? Now, such questions are only a very small sampling of what might be asked us.
And understand as well, though the perspective of the text is that of questioning by unbelievers, the simple fact is, in our day it is often those who are religious, who are at-least-by-name Christian, who ask the same kinds of questions. There simply is not much living out of the Scriptures today, not much adherence to the truth. And even by church people sometimes, we are asked these same things with a degree of hostility.
But again, you see, all of these questions imply that we are living differently. If you join the world in their activities and their affairs, in all their customs and language and goals, etc., you certainly will not be questioned – except by God in the day of judgment.
So the first question we face from this text is this: Are your neighbors, those with whom you come into contact from day to day, able to see something different about the way you live? Does the world see anything strange about you? If not, there is a very simple reason, with very dreadful consequences. If you do not live differently, it is because you are not living in the power of the Christian hope as a spiritual citizen of the kingdom of heaven! And again, to you comes the powerfully inspired word of James, in James 4:4: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”
But I speak now to those whose hope is in heaven, whose walk is that of pilgrims and strangers in the earth. Your life as Protestant Reformed Christians must be characterized, first and foremost, by a spiritual preparedness for witnessing to the power of God’s grace. And in that way, when others question us, you and I must give an answer for the way we live.