Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere 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 (1 Peter 3:13-16).
Not a private faith
The New Testament leaves no doubt that a private faith in Christ is not an option (Mark 16:15; Matt 24:14; Matt 28:19-20). If Christ is our Saviour, He is also our Lord. Christians are Jesus’ ambassadors, through whom God makes his appeal to the world (2 Cor 5:20). It’s why Paul says, “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” Even Timothy, a naturally shy and unconfident type, was expected to do the work of an evangelist as part of his job as pastor of a church (2 Tim 4:5).
I must confess before I write another word that I’m naturally timid and unsure in the arena of evangelism. But I also long to be a more faithful ambassador for Christ. I want my hope to show, so that unbelievers may wonder and perhaps ask me about its source. I want to share the true message of Christ with joy and love and boldness. If my confident hope as a Christian is rooted in the grace of God, I want it to show in my manner of evangelism. Were it not for His grace, I would still be hoping for the best and trying to make the most of this brief and uncertain life on earth. So, while I know that evangelism doesn’t earn my place in God’s family, I long to be an active and enthusiastic witness to Jesus as Lord and Saviour, because I’m convinced He’s the only one who can give life and purpose to dying people. I believe that evangelism is part and parcel of being God’s salt and light in the world— His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10).
Peter’s instruction is to always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks us to give a reason for the hope that is in us. That’s pretty unequivocal and comprehensive! But it can also be frightening.
Don’t fear—Revere Christ as Lord! (1 Peter 3:14-15)
Rebecca Pippert identifies fear as a major obstacle to sharing our faith: “Fear, not ignorance, is the real enemy of evangelism. We fear that our friends will reject or marginalize us if we speak about our faith; we fear that what we don’t know will be exposed; we fear that our beliefs will be challenged.”
If we read the whole of verse 15 instead of just focusing on the second half, we see that Peter gives us the antidote to fear: “Revere Christ as Lord in your hearts”. This is the basis for being a bold and fearless witness for Christ. Revering Christ as Lord in our hearts is a hinge statement with massive implications, not just for evangelism, but for all of life as a Christian.
Revering Christ as Lord in our hearts is much more than praying the sinner’s prayer and coming to a decision that Jesus is our Saviour. It is a continuous invitation to the Lord Jesus to rule our hearts—- to excite, teach, shape, guide and motivate our lives every day. We need to first look to Jesus to show us the kind of life to which he calls us and his model for reaching out to others. We need awe of Jesus the Saviour and King, which includes his grace and coming judgment. Only this reverence for Christ as Lord will overcome our fears of causing offence and being a nuisance to people.
Revering Christ as Lord in our hearts will also spill over into the goodness Peter speaks of in verse 13 and 16. We will communicate our message with gentleness and respect, because our manner will reflect how Jesus valued people from the least to the greatest (1 Peter 3:15). Our evangelism will be energized by our belief that the Kingdom of God is at hand and the living Christ is still stirring and breathing life into people’s hearts—perhaps even the person right next to us. If Jesus taught his friends and enemies alike how extravagant and unfailing God’s love is for people, so should our message and manner reflect this truth.
A flesh-and-blood example.
We see this in the story of Stephen, a man whose wisdom, faith, godly character, power and grace were evident for all to see (Acts 6:3; 8; 10). Stephen continued to speak the truth about Christ boldly, even while being stoned to death. His message of Christ crucified was especially offensive to the hostile Jews in his audience, but Stephen saw the glory of God and Jesus sitting at His right hand (Acts 7:55-56). His reverence for the living Christ moved him to keep speaking, even though he knew his words were his own death sentence. Truth mingled with grace as Stephen forgave his murderers and prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). I cannot think of a more graphic picture of both the love of God and the truth of the gospel…except in the life and death of the Lord Jesus.
We can thank the Lord that we will probably never face the same degree of suffering, harm and threats as Stephen or Peter’s original readers experienced (1 Peter 3:13-14). However, unless our hearts are captivated by the real Jesus of history, who personifies love, grace and compassion; justice, holiness and majesty in equal measure, our attempts to share our faith will lack conviction and ring hollow.
Always be prepared!
How do we prepare ourselves to give an answer to everyone who asks about our hope?
There are two engaging books that have challenged and inspired me to get out of my holy huddles and reach out to non-believers. They are Becky Pippert’s updated classic, Out of the Saltshaker and into the World: Evangelism as a way of life, and the biography of the late Nabeel Qureshi titled, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. With Christmas around the corner, I’d encourage you to buy these books for family members and friends, and request a copy for yourself! They will make you more intentional about discipleship and aware of your opportunities. From these two books, I’ve distilled seven practical ways to live out 1 Peter 3:15-16:
- We do not need more programmes, agendas or evangelism techniques, but more of Christ in our hearts! Spend time with the Lord Jesus and delight yourself in Him.
- You will cause most offence if you treat someone as your evangelistic project instead of a person! Care for the people God has placed around you and don’t feel guilty for not spewing out the whole gospel to every non-believer you meet.
- Ask questions and then listen! Find out who the person is and what their life is like before you give them a gospel presentation.
- Love people enough to answer their questions and overcome road blocks which prevent them from believing there is a God, trusting the Bible or seeing who Jesus is. If you don’t have the answers, invite them to a course like Christianity Explored or investigate the question together using a credible resource (eg, Ravi Zacharias Ministries, Lee Strobel or Josh Macdowell). Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is a brilliant apologetics resource, couched in an engaging story.
- Be yourself! We are called to be witnesses of what we have seen and know, not to pretend what we don’t know! There is no more powerful witness than an ordinary Christian telling people what Christ means to them and His work in their lives. Click here for an example of one such Christian called Anita, a young single mom, who wrote this sincere testimony on her blog.
- Don’t be wishy-washy or apologetic about your faith. Ironically, people ultimately respect a person who communicates reasonable and definite ideas, rather than someone who cowers and dilutes the truth for fear of being labeled a religious bigot.
- Pray! Unless the Spirit opens doors and hearts, our ‘seeds’ will fall on the path and be snatched away before they take root. Yet, even our most feeble scattering of seed can prove fruitful if God’s Spirit is on the move.
Grace to fail
The best thing about 1 Peter 3:13-16 is its author! Writing these instructions must have triggered painful memories of that night in the high priest’s courtyard when Peter warmed his hands at a fire while Jesus faced the cross. Peter was the one who had identified Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God. But when it mattered most, he had answered, “Woman, I do not know him,” “Man, I am not one of them,” “I do not know what you are talking about.” Peter would’ve winced to remember his repeated denials, the cries of the rooster and the sight of the Lord’s face (Luke 22:54-62). Yet, despite his failure and cowardice, Peter was the one asked to feed Christ’s lambs and tend his sheep (John 21:17). After spending 40 days with the risen Jesus, Peter delivered the most fearless testimony to thousands of Jews at Pentecost and never stopped witnessing for Christ until his own crucifixion (Acts 2:23-41).
Like Peter, you and I might not always be prepared to give an answer for the hope within us. We may tremble, fumble with words and leave out crucial bits. We may regret lost opportunities and incongruities between our walk and our talk. But our hope is rooted in the grace of God, not our evangelism prowess. That’s why we need to keep revering Christ as Lord in our hearts and trusting in his grace to make us faithful ambassadors of the King.
“For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chronicles 16:9a).