“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:
Having 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.”
It is evident from the context that the apostle is giving final instructions to his readers respecting their relation to their fellow men. And because they stand closest to their relation to their fellow men. And because they stand closest to their brethren in Christ the instruction pertains first of all to their relation to them. In respect to the brethren the believers are to live in unity of purpose, to be compassionate, pitiful, and courteous, which means that they exercise hearts that are humble, tender, exemplifying brotherly love. Instead of rendering evil for evil, as by nature they would be inclined to do, they are to bless. This is their calling in respect to those of the same household of faith, to those who are of their Christian brethren.
But the apostle is concerned also with respect to the relation the strangers and pilgrims must realize concerning those who are unbelievers, the children of this world. The believers do not live in physical isolation, in local separation from the world; but they live in the world, though not of it. They are confronted daily by evil men, who despise the righteous. Of their terror the believer is not to be afraid, and when they are required to suffer for righteousness’ sake they are to count it a matter of pure joy. The children of God must learn to sanctify the Lord in their hearts, and be ready to give answer to everyone who asks concerning the reason of the hope that is in them.
Being ready to give answer concerning the reason of your hope—that is the thrust of our text quoted above.
The hope that is in you!
This epistle is often called, and correctly so, the epistle of hope. The reason for this is the fact that the apostle throughout dwells on this grace and spiritual activity. The idea that hope is a grace finds its principle in regeneration. As all the graces of salvation are implanted in our hearts in seed form in regeneration, so also among these graces resides the grace of hope. The spiritual activity of this grace is prompted and encouraged by the promises of God set forth in His Word. Not only are we saved in principle in the moment of regeneration, but we are promised the perfection and fulfillment of that salvation in the day of Christ, in the new creation where righteousness shall dwell. It is with a view to this that the apostle wrote earlier in this epistle: “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (I Pet. 1:18) That this hope has its principle in regeneration is clear from what the apostle writes in I Pet. 1:3ff: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively (living) hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. . . .”
Because this hope is implanted in our regenerated heart, and because the nature of the activity of this hope is to look for the fulfillment of the promises of God concerning the perfection of our salvation, this hope comes to manifestation in a threefold way in our experience. First of all, this hope is characterized in an expectation. The children of God are looking for something which they expect to receive. Secondly, this hope manifests itself in a calm assurance that the object they expect will surely come to them. There is therefore in this hope no doubt. As the term “hope” is used in our daily speech there is always the element of doubt in it. When we are asked whether we are going to do this or that, we say: I hope so, which means that we are not quite sure. There are so many things that could happen which may make the doing so uncertain. But when Scripture uses the term “hope” there is not the faintest semblance of doubt in it. It means that the object of one’s hope is absolutely sure, and that we are assured of its reception. In the third place, this hope manifests itself therefore in a certain longing for its object. It is not a cold, indifferent expectation, but the desire for the object is so strong that one possessing the hope can hardly wait for its reception.
Make no mistake about it, one possessing this hope cannot hide it under a bushel, nor can he remain silent about it. It must come to manifestation in our lives, in our daily walk in the world. It is because the world of sinful men about us do not have this hope, and they observe in us that we have it, that they are bound to ask us to give a reasonable account of it.
Be ready to answer everyone asking you a reason of the hope that is in you, says the apostle.
You understand, of course, that no one is going to ask you to explain your hope if it is not seen in your walk that you possess it. If you never speak of it, and you never reveal it in your attitude in your daily walk, no one is going to wonder what motivates you, or as they say, what makes you tick. But as soon as you show that you are different from the world, that you seek the things other worldly, that you are expecting that which the world cannot see, then the worldlings will ask you to explain. And then you must not be found just with a mouth full of teeth, but you must speak, and give to them an intelligent answer, the reason of your hope.
This inquiry concerning our hope may come about when you are hailed before magistrates and officially under oath are required to speak. Or, this may come about in an unofficial manner when your unbelieving neighbor may marvel at the way you treat him. He may say to you that he has been observing you for some time and is wondering why you live as you do. And he will ask for your explanation. Then your answer will be not a blind testimony, but an intelligent word that clearly defines your actions. And this means that you know what you are talking about, and that you leave the impression that you know what you are talking about. It means that you are founded in the truth of God’s Word, that you believe in and live from His promises. It means that there is no semblance of hypocrisy in your life and walk, but a clear demonstration of the fear of God.
To be able to give such an answer one must be sanctifying the Lord Christ in his heart. And that means that our regenerated hearts are the very temples in which Christ by His Spirit dwells. Because all the issues of the heart are concentrated in Christ, they also will be consecrated to Christ and the things of His heavenly kingdom. It means also that Christ is sanctified in our hearts as Lord, the One Who purchased us with His own precious blood, and Who therefore possesses us in body and soul. And, being His property, we are also His servants. He is our Lord Whom we serve from the heart. Where this service obtains in our walk in hope, it will not take the world about us long to observe, nor will it take long for them to ask Who or what it is that motivates us in all our actions. And lest you deny Him with your silence, you must speak.
Moreover the apostle adds, “having a good conscience that when they speak against you as of evil doers, (or, speak evil against you), they may be ashamed that accuse your good conversation in Christ.”
Conscience here is the ethical-moral consciousness within us which registers in us when we are confronted with good or evil. It is the voice within us that tells us whether what we do or contemplate doing is good or evil. The word means literally: to know together with. And in this case to know together with God or Christ the Lord what is His will and whether or not we comply with it. That is why the apostle speaks of a “good” conscience. Such a conscience makes us to be fully aware that we live in harmony with the will of the Lord. The ungodly about us do not possess a good conscience. They have a conscience alright, and that explains how they can be ashamed when they falsely accuse the children of God, unless, as Paul says in a certain place, their conscience is seared as with a hot iron. When that is the case then their conscience no longer speaks, for it is insensitive through their awful depravity and God’s judgment over them. But the apostle in our text is not speaking in general terms about the conscience. He refers specifically to the conscience of the child of God whose conscience is good because it tells him that he is living according to the Lord’s will even when he is required to bear the false accusations of the ungodly while he is in the performance of God’s good pleasure. The purpose of the good conscience in giving an intelligent answer concerning our hope is that those who falsely accuse may be ashamed.
This the Christian does, not in pride or boasting, but in meekness and fear.
Because the apostle adds this to the exhortation of the text there is reason to believe that he conceived of the danger that the Christian who still lives in the flesh might give answer in the spirit of pride or boasting. When the Christian is made to suffer for righteousness’ sake, and when he is confronted with the question concerning the reason of his hope, because he is still in the flesh he may either be afraid of his persecuters, or he may assume the attitude of boasting. The little conjunction “but” that introduces the text seems to indicate that. Therefore it is necessary for the apostle to say, “be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled”; nor must we assume the other attitude of pride and boasting, leaving the impression that somehow we are better than the ungodly who question us. If such would be the case, we would spoil all, and our conversation in the world would become tainted, lose its spiritual color, and would be hypocritical. Such it must not be! Rather are we to give answer with meekness and fear.
Meekness, because our testimony is not vindictive and vengeful, but gentle and mild. It is not the testimony of one who is going to get back at his adversary, but that of one who knows that all vengeance belongs only to his Lord. And this explains how, like Jesus, the sheep of Christ bear silently the persecutions heaped upon them by the wicked. The adversaries of Jesus were amazed at His meekness, and Pilate wondered at His silence. Thus it must also be with us. When we remember that by nature we also were ungodly as the rest, and God in His sovereign mercy in Christ saved us when we were ungodly, proud, and boastful, then all our pride crumbles into the dust, and meekness takes its place in us.
Fear, not the fear of fright, but the fear of love and trust! The Christian is not afraid of their terror, but he fears the Lord Whom he loves, and in Whom he places all his trust. It must become evident to the worldlings that we fear the Lord because His love has been shed abroad in our hearts, and out of that love we would do nothing that is displeasing to Him.
And where this meekness and fear is manifested in our walk in hope, all the more will the question rise out of the mouths of the worldlings: What is it, this hope that is in you?
And you and I must be ready to say precisely what it is. Our hope will then become our confession. And our confession will be the expression of all that we believe our Lord has promised us, which promise stretches out to the perfect day, the day of Christ. Let us never be ashamed of our hope! Let the world be ashamed that falsely accuses, for so it shall be when it discovers through your answer that they have been persecuting those who are innocent, those whose citizenship is in another world.