By Mike Willis
Christians have always been distinctive. The worship of the New Testament church was distinctive from both Jewish and pagan devotions. The morals of Christians made them so distinguishable that the pagan world thought “it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you” (1 Pet. 4:4). The Christians’ love for one another also set them apart from the world (Jn. 13:35).
Christians today still should be distinctive. In addition to the things mentioned above, Christians are set apart by their insistence on book, chapter, and verse preaching. They also are distinctive in their willingness to defend what they preach in public and private discussions.
Long before doctrinal apostasy occurs, the attitudes of Christians who eventually depart into apostasy begin to change. Among the attitudes which we witness changing today are the commitment to book, chapter and verse preaching (it is ridiculed as “proof-texting”) and the willingness to defend what is taught. Peter insisted that we should always be willing to defend what we preach. He wrote, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3:15). Let us study this text.
“Sanctify the Lord God in Your Hearts”
1 Peter 3:14-15 quotes Isaiah 8:12-13 with application to Christ What was said about sanctifying Jehovah as Lord of one’s life is here applied to Jesus, identifying Jesus with Jehovah of the Old Testament. A stronger affirmation of the deity of Christ cannot be given.
To sanctify Christ as Lord recognizes his lordship over us. Enthroning him as the Lord of my life means that I submit myself to every commandment he has given. Jesus explained lordship when he ask ed, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Lk. 6:46) When I have truly enthroned Christ as my Lord, I will submit myself in obedience to his every commandment. Anything less than this means that I have not truly removed self from the throne of my heart and put Jesus there.
Be Ready To Give An Answer
Peter insisted that Christians always be ready to give an answer to those who ask concerning the hope that is within us. There are several points of emphasis:
1. We should always be ready. To be ready to give an answer demands that preparation be made to give an answer. Therefore, we must study the word of God that we might be prepared to explain and defend what we believe (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Pet. 2:1-2; 2 Pet. 3:18; Heb. 5:11-14). How sad is the situation when a person has the opportunity to use the sword of the Spirit to strike a blow for the Lord, but is incapable of wielding it (Eph. 6:17).
2. The best answers to give. Peter explained that Christians should so long so live that they have a “good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ” (3:16). Hence, the best answers are: (a) a good conscience, (b) good conduct, and then (c) good words (3:15). When a good scriptural defense is given without a good conscience and good conduct, it is hollow hypocrisy.
3. Give an answer. The word “answer” is translated from apologian, from which our English word “apology” is derived. It means a defense. Christians need to be prepared to defend what they believe, teach, and practice. The only proper defense is Scripture. Arguments such as “we have always done it this way” have no more merit when made by a Christian than when made by a Catholic. Can you give a scriptural defense for the following:
Water baptism is immersion?
Water baptism is essential to salvation?
There is one church?
A man must be a member of the Lord’s church, his kingdom, in order to be saved?
One should partake of the Lord’s supper on the first day of every week?
Using mechanical instruments of music in worship is sinful?
We should not be offended when someone asks us why we believe what we believe. Rather, we should be prepared with a scriptural answer.
4. The hope within us. Christians should be prepared to explain why they have the hope of eternal life. This hope rests on the immutable nature of God. God has promised eternal life and he cannot lie (Tit. 1:2). The hope of eternal life is assured by the resurrection of Christ from the dead (Acts 17:31). This hope motivates us to abound in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58).
5. To whomever asks you. Christians must constantly be looking for open doors to speak the word of truth. However, we also must recognize that not all men want the truth. Jesus said, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matt. 7:6). When men plainly tell us to leave them alone, we must respect their freedom of will.
6. With meekness and fear. The word of God sometimes is preached from envy and strife (Phil. 1:15). It can be spoken in a way that detracts from God’s revealed message. This occurs when we speak arrogantly, belligerently, selfrighteously, and condescendingly. We must guard ourselves that we “speak the truth in love” (Gal. 6:1).
The word must also be spoken with “fear.” We speak the word of God. Therefore, we speak the truth like the apostles who were careful not to misrepresent God, lest they should become “false witnesses of God” (1 Cor. 15:15). We must guard against leaving out part of what God has spoken; instead, we must preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). So long as we fear God more than men we shall not hesitate to preach all of his will.
Unhealthy attitudes have developed among us when brethren become incensed because someone has the audacity to question anything they have written or preached. The reactions of anger, personal assaults, and veiled threats are contrary to the Spirit of Christ. A simple Scripture is sufficient answer when men question what we teach. We recognize this is so on such subjects as water baptism, the organization of the church, and instrumental music in worship. But suddenly some forget this when someone challenges their claim that divorce and remarriage should be treated on the same basis as the covering, pacifism, and other matters in which God allows liberty – their teaching that we should fellowship those who are admittedly teaching false doctrine on divorce and remarriage. If the doctrine can be defended, present the Scriptures to defend it. If there are no Scriptures which teach unity-in-diversity on the divorce and remarriage issue, one should have the humility to admit his error and give up the doctrine.
Rather than becoming angry because someone questions our teaching and our practice, let us “be ready always” to give an answer for the hope that lies within us with meekness and fear. This still is a distinguishing characteristic of God’s people.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 24, pp. 738, 754
December 17, 1992