Rev. Joostens is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Lynden, Washington.

“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 Peter 3:15

Like Abraham of old, we are pilgrims and strangers on the earth. We have no abiding place here below, but seek a heavenly homeland. For this very reason we are so different from the world by which we are surrounded. They oftentimes do not understand our actions and behavior. They find it hard to believe we will not run with them in their lustful ways. How could they understand? They cannot even begin to understand the hope that is within us. They operate on the level of the earthly and carnal. They seek the mundane and are not able to set their sights on the higher things of heavenly bliss and glory which they cannot see. So they look at us askance as we walk seeking the kingdom of heaven and refusing to become involved in their concerns of the flesh.

From time to time the world will even take harsh exception to our way of living and will persecute us. This is, no doubt, what Peter has mind in the context of the verse we are considering together. For just before this we read, “…if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: be not afraid of their terror neither be troubled.” When the world takes exception to our life and conversation we must not be afraid or disquieted, but be ready to give an account to those who ask us for a reason of the hope within us! That is a calling which, I fear, we often neglect. It is far easier to walk the way of least resistance, to walk away and not face the issue. But we do not have that as a legitimate option, though we often sinfully exercise it!

God tells us here in His Word that we must be ready to give an apology to those who ask. No, I did not misread what Peter has to say here in this epistle. The word “apology” is what we literally find here! We would immediately protest. As Christians who walk a godly life in obedience to God’s Word and in anticipation of heaven, we have nothing to apologize for. But do not misunderstand. We use the word “apology” in a different sense. The word has come to mean, almost exclusively, a confession. We apologize for having done something amiss. We tell our children, when they have mistreated each other or done one another wrong, to say they are sorry. That is how we understand an apology or to apologize. If you look in the dictionary, however, you will find the first meaning (even today) to be, rather, an intelligent and rational defense of a certain proposition or truth! That’s what Peter had in mind. As children of God in the midst of the world, we do not have to be sorry for who we are and how we live! When we strive after a sanctified life we are not in the wrong, but stand in obedience to God and serve Him as we are called to do. It is the world, in their ungodliness and rebellion against His Word and commandments and in their persecution and mockery of us, that is wrong. One day they will know that and suffer for it eternally! But meanwhile, as they question us, we are required to give an apology, that is, a good defense, for the hope that motivates us to live as we do in this world.

The world wants to know why we live the way we do. The whole of our life-style provokes this question! The way we live attracts attention in the midst of this world. This is not because we are of a mind to do things a little differently in order that others may take note of us. It is not our desire to be noticed or to gain some sort of notoriety. We would just as soon lead quiet and peaceable lives here upon earth. But we cannot help but be noticed and marked as different and rather peculiar because of who we are! Now that is not a matter of adopting certain styles and behaviors that make us stand out. There are some who crave that kind of attention. They deliberately go against the norm in society in order that they may stand out. They like the attention! But for us it is a matter of living the conviction of our hearts, and of living according to the principle of the new and heavenly life that has been placed within us. God has made us distinctive! He has made separation between us and the world from a spiritual point of view in that He has changed us in our heart of hearts and made us citizens of the kingdom of His dear Son. It is not simply a matter of our acting a little strange in the midst of this world, but of our being strangers in the earth! It is the spiritual principle of regeneration, which God has wrought in us His chosen children, that makes us wholly distinct and unique. And it is that principle of regeneration that so begins to dominate our living as to make us appear rather odd to others who do not share in that powerful transforming work of God.

The world cannot understand why we live the way we do! Why do we spend glorious and sunny weekends sitting in stuffy old buildings called churches? And then sit still in order to listen to dry sermons for an hour or more! Why do we allocate a large portion of our budget and hard-earned monies to finance the ministry of the gospel and other kingdom causes—to say nothing of Christian school expense? And then some are even so odd as to deny themselves good or better paying and more profitable jobs because they will not move away from a certain church or belong to an ungodly union! The world cannot fathom why we do not live for the things of this world which are so all-important to them. And they consider it so strange that, from time to time, we should be offended by the things they do and say. The world cannot understand our living a life of self-denial and sacrifice. How can they? They are blind to what is important and of true value. They are ignorant of the distinction between what is true and abiding and what is but of the moment and passing. Being wholly carnal in their minds, they follow the philosophy of the world, let us “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.”

The ungodly are not able to see the great treasure and inheritance we have from God in Christ Jesus our Lord and therefore have no appreciation for our longing after that treasure! They think themselves rich in the frivolity and treasures this world can offer, but in reality they are poverty stricken. They are without the true treasure of Christ in whom we have all things. Soon death will claim them, and their belongings will be passed on to others. More serious, not being clothed with the robes of Christ’s righteousness they will face their Maker, who is the Judge of all men!

But as the wicked dance their way to hell, they will often ask of us a reason of the hope that is in us. We are, no doubt, often asked this question? It cannot help but come up when we refuse to run with the world in their rioting and lustful excesses. What answer do we give? Are we ready to make our apology? It is required of us! We must give a defense of our life-style as it becomes those who live hopefully.

Such an apology is not simply an emotional response in which we state that we are Christians. Nor may it consist of a lame excuse for being a Christian. But it must be a good, logical, and reasonable defense and reason why we walk as we do here below! To be able to give such a defense we must be well versed in the Word of God, which contains the promise of our future hope. Our Heidelberg Catechism, in Lord’s Day 7, reminds us of the fact that an integral part of our faith is knowledge. We must know in order to believe. This is impressed upon young people when they make confession of their faith. Such a confession may not be a mere emotional feeling that has no basis in fact. It has not pleased God so to work salvation in His saints. God brings us through a “certain knowledge” of the truth to a “sure confidence” in the promises of His grace in Christ Jesus. And so, walking by faith, we must be ready to give a reasonable explanation as to why we behave as we do.

Now, don’t misunderstand. Not reasonable according to the wisdom of the world, which is pure foolishness with God. But, recognizing that our faith is eminently reasonable, we must be able to defend our walk by laying out the great design of the wonderful grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Not quickly brushing off the question, we must be able to take those who ask concerning our hope to our Bibles and witness to them of the greatness of God’s glory and salvation shown us in Christ which is the deepest motivation of our godly living.

That responsibility doesn’t belong just to a few preachers or elders, but this is the duty and obligation of each believer as he is asked to give a reason for the hope within him. Only the knowledge acquired through diligent and ongoing study of the Scriptures will give us the confidence and boldness we need to fulfill this calling!

Peter points us to the way in which this must be done. First of all, we must do this in the way of “sanctifying the Lord God in our hearts.” God, in Christ, must be enthroned in our hearts. We must be dedicated to Christ, making Him our Lord and Master. And, notice, that is a matter of the heart. Peter is not talking about some sort of outward conformity to the demands of the Word of God, but about a desire that comes from the new man in Christ who seeks to live after all the commandments of God. That desire, which is the beginning of a sanctified and holy life, will be seen by others. They will ask us to give an apology. If the request for such a defense is not heard, perhaps we must seriously examine ourselves to see whether we have sanctified our hearts to Christ’s lordship! Unless daily submission to that lordship of Christ is evident in a godly walk, the question concerning it cannot surface. When we submit ourselves to the rule of our Lord Jesus Christ, our walk will corroborate our confession and give credence to our apology. Apart from that, no one will believe our apology.

Furthermore, Peter warns us against any haughtiness and pride. We must answer those who ask a reason of the hope according to which we walk with “meekness and fear.” We may tend to be arrogant in our witness to the world, but we have no reason to be proud. In ourselves we find nothing worthy of the object of the hope that is within us. We are, in ourselves, no better than the world which asks of us the reason for our peculiar walk among them. God, in His grace, has set us in covenant lines, or providentially brought us into contact with the gospel, and so instills that hope in our hearts. When we realize this, our reason for the hope within us will not be given with our noses in the air. Rather, our apology will go something like this: “My dear fellow, you ask me why I walk as a pilgrim and stranger in the earth? I am a wretched sinner like you, and if it were not for the Lord and His grace, I’d be walking with you. But the Lord has touched me and shown me the wonder of Calvary! Let me tell you about that…. Therefore, I live in reverent fear and thankfulness before God in anticipation of the great reward He has set aside for me in Christ!”

Such an apology honors God. And it may be according to His good pleasure through our godly conversation and witness to bring others to Christ.