Strangers And Aliens (16c): Defending The Faith (1 Peter 3:13–17)

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,16having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (ESV). 13 Καὶ τίς ὁ κακώσων ὑμᾶς ἐὰν τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ζηλωταὶ γένησθε 14ἀλλ᾿ εἰ καὶ πάσχοιτε διὰ δικαιοσύνην, μακάριοι. τὸν δὲ φόβον αὐτῶν μὴ φοβηθῆτε μηδὲ ταραχθῆτε, 15κύριον δὲ τὸν Χριστὸν ἁγιάσατε ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν, ἕτοιμοι ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι ὑμᾶς λόγον περὶ τῆς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐλπίδος, 16ἀλλὰ μετὰ πραΰτητος καὶ φόβου, συνείδησιν ἔχοντες ἀγαθήν, ἵνα ἐν ᾧ καταλαλεῖσθε καταισχυνθῶσιν οἱ ἐπηρεάζοντες ὑμῶν τὴν ἀγαθὴν ἐν Χριστῷ ἀναστροφήν. 17κρεῖττον γὰρ ἀγαθοποιοῦντας, εἰ θέλοι τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, πάσχειν ἢ κακοποιοῦντας.

v. 15: Defending What?
The Christians of Asia Minor were under cultural, informal pressure. Within 50 years, that pressure would become more formal. Doubtless they were aware of what was happening to Christians in Rome about the time Peter was writing to them. Further, they were well aware that there was great pressure in Roman culture to conform, at least outwardly, to the status quo. In some ways Roman culture was like the Plains cultures in which I was raised. Conformity was highly valued. If, in a small town, the local Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, and Evangelical Free churches were planning to play softball on Sundays, dissent by the Reformed churches would have been regarded as rude and arrogant. So it was in the 1st and 2nd centuries with the pagans and the Christians. The former wanted the latter to conform, to confess with everyone else that Caesar is a god, to offer libations (a drink offering poured out to a deity), outwardly to deny Christ, and to conform to accepted social norms. For the most part they did not care what the Christians thought. Of course, the Roman demand for conformity created a serious problem for the Christians. It is essential to the Christian profession to say “Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3). It is absolutely contrary to the Christian faith and practice to deny Christ.

When one’s neighbors or co-workers demanded conformity or should the authorities demand to know why Christians refused to conform, what and how should they respond? In the last installment (for the whole series click on the link below for “Strangers and Aliens”) we saw that Peter’s first concern was why we should respond: because we have, in our hearts, set apart Christ as Lord. He is no mere common, local deity. Christians recognize Christ alone as the Lord. The gods of the Greeks and Romans were nothing more or less than worthless idols.

It is not always been recognized when we are to give a defense: when we are asked. This is why I have been emphasizing the original setting. We have no information about lay Christians aggressively proselytizing. There is precious little evidence for what, since the mid-19th, has come to be called “every-member ministry.” That is a pragmatic theory in search of clear biblical support. Peter envisions a situation in which it is discovered that one is a Christian and is called (formally or informally) to give an account or a word (λόγον). The Christian is being asked (αἰτοῦντι) a question. Since Tyndale, in 1525, chose “resen” (reason) most English translations have chosen to translate λόγος (logos) as “reason.” This is understandable in light of Peter’s use of ἀπολογία (apologia) above but we must not import all that we mean by “apologetics” into this context. The noun often translated “reason” is the very same word John uses in his Gospel to say, “In the beginning was the Word.” Though a couple of commentators in Christian history have proposed “reason” that is a tendentious translation. John’s point is not to identify our reason with God’s but to say that God the Son, who became incarnate, is the co-eternal, consubstantial, self-disclosure of God, the Word. It seems likely that translators have (again) been influenced by the Vulgate’s choice of “ratio” for λόγος (logos) instead of verbum or sermo. If we translate λόγος (logos) with “word” or “account” (NASB) we get a slightly different picture, however. It is not that our account of the faith should not be reasoned but rather it is to say that Peter’s exhortation is more like the program followed by Augustine and Anselm. Christians must be prepared to explain what they believe and why. Our faith rests upon divine authority and not human reason. We do no believe because the Christian faith is the most reasonable thing. We do not set up reason as the judge and then seek to satisfy it. In that case human reason is God and we should worship it. Of course, that turns Peter’s argument on its head. No, we receive Christ as God and we worship him. That is a perfectly reasonable thing to do and we seek, when called upon, to explain why. Anselm spoke of “faith seeking understanding” (fides quaerens intellectum). Paraphrasing he Augustine, he also “I believe in order that I may understand” (credo ut intelligam). We start with divine authority, Christ and his Word in Scripture, and we seek to explain it to others as well as possible but, of course, there are limits. It is not possible for human reason to comprehensively understand the incarnation (two natures, one person) or the Trinity (one God in three persons). We are not fideists, however. We do not refuse to give a word, an account of our faith.

Thus, when we are asked we explain that we Christians believe in God the Father Almighty, that Jesus of Nazareth is God the Son incarnate. That his humanity was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that Jesus came as the Last Adam to obey, suffer, and die in our place as the substitutionary Savior for sinners. We believe that he was raised on the third day, that he is ascended to the right hand of the Father, that he has established a spiritual kingdom, and that he is returning in glory. We should explain to our pagan enquirers that we are good, law-abiding citizens, that do not seek to overturn the existing social order, that we hope to be able to live among them quietly, and to gather for worship according to God’s Word.

After all, we are called by Peter to give an account of our hope (ἐλπίδος). Most fundamentally, that hope is that we are right with God, that we are united to Christ, that are being inwardly renewed by his Spirit, and that, in our resurrected and glorified bodies, we shall stand before Christ who saved us from the wrath of God. Our hope is not utterly alien from this life but it is grounded and anchored in the life to come.

Peter is not here calling all Christians to become Josh McDowell, C. S. Lewis, or Cornelius Van Til. He is, however, calling us to be prepared to say what we believe and why. On its own terms our faith is coherent. It is most reasonable to believe that Christ was raised from the dead—our faith is founded on objective facts—but we only receive and understand those facts rightly because God the Spirit raised us spiritually from the dead, gave us eyes with which to see and new hearts, minds, and wills with which to believe. When our pagan neighbors, co-workers, or relatives ask from us an account it is an act of love to give it.

Next time: The manner of our account.

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