1 Peter 3:15 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.
I think this verse can best be broken down into three parts. The first part, “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” I want to note that the word “but” may not be the best translation, in fact it is a different Greek word than in 1 Peter 3:14. You could use moreover or and just as easily and I think it makes more sense in the English.
What does it mean to sanctify something? The word for sanctify comes from the same root word that is used to describe the spirit of God. ‘Holy Ghost’ is a common description in scripture, or Holy Spirit ; the idea behind this modifier is that God’s spirit is set apart, clean, chaste, and pure. It is the same word translated saints in the New Testament. You are a saint today if you’ve been set apart by God for His purpose. Many accuse us Christians as being holier than thou ! I believe there is good reason for this, WE ARE. It is a verifiable fact that the saints of God are holier than those that are outside the fold of the body of Christ. In fact, when someone senses that you are holier than they are, it is not a bad thing, necessarily. What we want to avoid is having an arrogant attitude as the result. We should direct all praise and honor to Christ, for it is His imputed righteousness that we have that makes us holy. And it is only by His grace that we are made pure in His eyes and have the discernment to talk to others about sin and holiness.
Next, I’ll focus on the last part of the verse, “with meekness and fear.” Or in the ESV, “with gentleness and respect.” It is our self-abasing humility and God-exalting preaching, teaching and exhortation that will protect us from the sin of pride. Follow me for a minute:
Imagine you are drowning, you’ve ventured far enough from the shore that you cannot survive…there are others with you. You, as well as most of the others, are a very good swimmer. You all believe if you just keep swimming, you’ll eventually reach safety. You’re not even tired.
Then a boat appears in sight. You look and see ‘those people.’ You know the type: the ones that cannot swim. They always need a crutch, because they are not as strong and intelligent as you. Then one of them declares to you that you are drowning. That the shore you believe you will reach is too far for anyone to swim to! You’re not sure exactly how he knows, or why you’ve started to believe him, but you do. He throws you a life preserver and you grab hold with all your life and are pulled onto the boat safely. Suddenly it hits you: all your old swimming partners are not in the boat! Quickly, desperately you call to them with this new knowledge! Your goal isn’t triumph or pride, but rather, an earnest desire that others know the truth that has been revealed to you! You don’t stand on the boat in haughtiness, lording it over swimmers that you were so smart to get on the boat. You realize your own intelligence was keeping you in the water! Your own strength wasn’t enough, even though you proudly relied upon it previously. No; you are nothing but a garden-variety swimmer, destined for self-destruction until another reached out to save you. You plead with your old friends and colleagues because you care. You are so confident that you are in the ‘right’ boat that it doesn’t bother you when they say you are weak and stupid; that the ship you are safely being carried in is nothing but a crutch upon which you lean.
Of course this little allegory was meant to prove a point. True followers of Jesus Christ: those with a God-exalting theology, will be unable to evangelize without meekness and fear. Christians who personally identify with ‘garden-variety’ sinners of this world must be kept from pride. Keep an eye on Jesus at all times (Sanctify Him in your heart): this will make you humble as you accept His grace daily and try to pass it on to others! Gentleness, meekness, respect and humility…quite possibly the most mocked characteristics of our day. Not the qualities you would expect to hear uttered about a world leader or a successful businessman in the 21st century…but qualities of the king of kinds and lord of lords!
Finally, the middle portion of the verse: “and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you for a reason of the hope that is in you.”
There are two aspects to “being ready.” One aspect is the idea of simply being available. You must plan that you may need to ‘defend your faith’ each day so that you are mentally prepared to do so. There’s nothing quite like going to a doctor’s appointment, thinking about your own ‘stuff’ and then someone asking you a question that requires an answer from your faith. Or being at a party or soccer practice or at work and the topic of religion or evolution or death arises. Do you become a deer in the headlights at those times? Dear Christian, you must pray the Lord will prepare your heart; as well, you must be striving for holiness.
The second aspect of being ready has to do with actually being prepared to explain the scriptures. Read the following two scriptures to encourage you to the importance of being able to do this:
2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
Jude 1:3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
I believe God has called us to study the scriptures so that we can answer some of the hard questions that might arise. We preach Christ crucified, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have explanations for things that we know the world will protest! Shall we be prepared to explain (as least basically) why we do not believe in evolution? Should we be able to tell people why there is disease and suffering? Can you? Are you able to tell people why you trust Christ? Are you prepared to explain to someone why you don’t believe a Christian needs to, nor can do any works in order to obtain salvation? Do you know enough about other religions like Catholicism, Islam and Mormonism, for example, to be able to take someone of those faiths through the differences in your beliefs?
Study to show yourself approved, so that you may be prepared to lead others toward Christ. We are already perceived as fools for believing the gospel and the Word of God; let’s not give our detractors more ammunition by not being able to answer their protests intelligently. We may not impress those that are still in the flesh, but God is always your audience, and He deserves our best effort at getting to know Him! Keep with it; He is always with you and His spirit will guide you.