GIVING THE RIGHT ANSWER
“But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you” (1 Peter 3:15-16 NET).
Today I want to talk about witnessing. The apostle Peter told his readers that they should always be ready to “give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope (they) possess. I know some Christians who are always ready to give an answer, but unfortunately, it is the wrong answer. What many in our churches say when they have an opportunity to testify is biblically embarrassing.
Here is a popular but wrong answer: “I’m a good person and I come from a good family, so I know I am saved.”
I don’t know anyone who has actually said it that way, but I get the impression from a lot of people that they are depending on their own decency and niceness to count for them on judgment day. We know that is the wrong answer because if any of us was nice enough to make it by our own goodness, then Jesus would not have had to die on the cross. The fact is, even the goodness of the best of us is ugly, corrupt, and sinful. Isaiah was talking about his own nation — God’s chosen people — when he said “We are all like one who is unclean, all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight” (Isaiah 64:6 NET). Brother, if you are trusting in your own goodness, you are still in your sins. You might be a good person in the world’s eyes, but God’s eyes see deeper and clearer.
Here is another popular but wrong answer: “I have an immortal soul, and I know it is going to heaven when I die.”
That kind of statement is very popular but it is full of wrong answers. If we have souls, they are not immortal, because only God is immortal (1 Timothy 6:16). The Bible never calls believers immortal on this side of the resurrection. It is at the resurrection that the apostle Paul says we will put on our immortality (1 Corinthians 15:51-53). Before the resurrection, we are just as mortal as the pigs and chickens.
Another wrong answer from that statement has to do with the expectation of going to heaven. The Bible says that “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven — the Son of Man” (John 3:13). Jesus did not promise to take us to heaven. He promised to come back and take us to where he will be — and that’s not the same thing. Jesus is coming back to earth to reign as its king. I don’t know about you, but I want to be where Jesus is. If he’s not going to be in heaven when he returns, then I don’t want to be there either.
The third thing wrong about that statement is that it suggests that the goal is to go somewhere when we die. People do go somewhere when they die, but it is not heaven. In the Old Testament, the place that people went when they died was identified by the Hebrew word Sheol (שְׁאוֹל). It is the intermediate state where people wait in an unconscious state until the resurrection. The New Testament equivalent is the Greek word Hades (ᾅδης). Even Jesus went to Hades when he died, and was raised from it on Easter Sunday. That is the only place in scripture that anyone goes when they die. It is described in scripture as a dark, silent place. No one ever wants to go there but everyone eventually does. The best thing about Sheol/Hades is that it is temporary. The hope of the believer is not to go there but to be raised to live again.
The right answer begins with Jesus
The right answer has to be Christocentric. Grudem says that this passage is “preparation for active witness which will win the unbeliever to Christ” (153). It focuses on Jesus, not us. It’s not about who you are or where you are going to go. It’s about who Jesus is — what he has done, and what he is going to do. Our text tells us to “set Christ apart as Lord in (our) hearts.” There is only room in your heart for one Lord. Your job cannot be Lord. Your family cannot be Lord. Even your church or your pastor cannot be Lord. Before we come to Christ, we already have a lord set up on the throne of our hearts. His name is self. Surrendering to the Lordship of Christ means dethroning self. The Bible calls this repentance. Jesus commanded everyone to repent. He said “”The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!” (Mark 1:15). If the kingdom is near, that means the king is near. Jesus is the king. There is only room on the throne for one king. That means we need to get our hearts tuned in to who is actually on the throne.
Another reason that the right answer begins with Jesus is that he is the Savior, and you are not. You might be able to save people from a lot of things, but you are not qualified to save them from their sins, and neither am I. The angel Gabriel told Mary to name her son Jesus. It means Savior. The angel told the shepherds of Bethlehem “Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
If we are serious about giving people the right answer, then we need to be telling them about Jesus: who he is, what he has done for us on the cross, and what he is going to do when he returns to earth. It’s not about us, it’s about the Savior.
The right answer explains the blessed hope.
Peter said to “set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess.” The Bible identifies only one blessed hope. It is “our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). If you have to talk about heaven, talk about Jesus coming back from heaven. That’s the blessed hope.
We have never needed hope more than we need it right now. But we are used to using that word to describe what we want. For many, hope is wishful thinking. “I hope it doesn’t rain.” “I hope I get a better job.” “I hope my team wins.” Biblical hope is not wishing for what might happen. Biblical hope is confidently expecting what will happen.
The Bible tells us that the world as we know it today is going to be violently disrupted by the sudden, cataclysmic return of its rightful king. He’s going to set everything right and make everything new. He is going to judge the living and the dead. He is going to destroy the wicked, soul and body, in Gehenna hell. He is going to create a new heaven and a new earth where only righteousness dwells. He has invited us to be part of that new creation. That is the hope that we possess!
But giving the right answer needs to be accompanied by the right attitude.
Peter said to share our hope “with courtesy and respect.” Best says that if the readers really revere God, it should show in their attitude to others. He says “If before him they are genuinely humble they will not be aggressive toward others” (134). Those who do not share our faith in Christ are not going to be won to the gospel if we cannot share it without condemning them and their philosophies. Arrogance and pride have no place in the testimony of a believer. Paul told the Colossians to let their “speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that (they) may know how (they) should answer everyone (4:6). You can share the gospel without telling people that they are sinners. You shouldn’t tell them that they are not sinners, but you can concentrate on how good Jesus is instead of just telling them how bad they are. News flash: Everybody knows that things are not as they should be. The gospel is about how Jesus is going to change that. That is good news. We are sent to share that good news. There is an appropriate diplomatic decorum that we should follow. Part of that decorum is a courteous and respectful attitude toward everyone we share the gospel with.
The context of today’s passage is suffering as a believer. Peter tells his readers that they should witness not just when things are going right, but also keep giving people the right answer when they are suffering. Harrel talks about maintaining a policy of good works. He argues that “If the Lord is pleased by the gracious lives of his people, then men made in his image should also appreciate and be pleased by the good works done by the godly” (95).
Giving the right answer is not always going to make people into our friends.
Peter tells his readers that they are going to have enemies who criticize their good conduct and accuse them of all kinds of crimes. If they seek your good attitude, they may change their mind about your faith. But as Elliott points out “the possibility is expressed that the slanderers could also persist in disparaging the good conduct of Christians” (630). Our Lord himself predicted that we “will be hated by all the nations because of (his) name” (Matthew 24:9). That includes the nation that you and I live in. There are going to be some who hate you just because of what you believe and teach. You can give the right answer and it will just make them angrier at you. But Peter still says “always be ready to give an answer” to them.
Jesus told us that we are the light of the world. But he warned us against hiding our light under a basket. When I was in the army, they trained us on the importance of proper light discipline. There were times when darkness was our friend because you cannot shoot an enemy that you cannot see.
Sometimes we are afraid of shining our light because it makes us an easier target. It is so much easier when people do not know what we believe. But our instruction today is that we always need to have our lights on. The good news is for sharing, even if it makes us a target.
LORD, you have called us to be witnesses of your coming kingdom. You have empowered us with your Holy Spirit to enable us to give an answer to anyone who asks us about the hope that we have. That blessed hope of your soon coming in glory to take your rightful place as king is a hope worth sharing, even if it makes enemies. Give us the courage to have a biblical answer and to always be ready to share it.
Best, Ernest E. I Peter: Based on the Revised Standard Version. London: Oliphants, 1971
Elliott, John H. 1 Peter: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New York: Doubleday, 2000.
Grudem, Wayne A. 1 Peter: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007.
Harrell, William W. Let’s Study 1 Peter. Edinburgh [Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, 2004.