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Earnestly Contend for the Faith (3)

I Peter 3:15

I.   With a Necessary Antidote

II.   In a Continual Preparation

III.  By a Gracious Manner

 

Sanctify Him in your heart. This means separate Him in your conceptions from all that is not God, from all that is human, imperfect, finite, temporal, changeable, evil. This in itself is to think and act apologetically, in the best sense of the term, that is, not according to man’s supposed independent mind and will, but in harmony with God’s will and dependent on His revelation in scripture. For to do any less than commanded here is to profane God’s name and to desecrate His temple (II Cor. 6:16) and become guilty of idolatry. Peter’s meaning is, regard God as He really is in your whole intelligent, volitional and affectionate nature. It means, worship God, who is Spirit, in spirit and in truth. “In thy heart’’ means with all the powers of your being, and not superficially, for that would be to dishonor Him and profane His holy name. Failure to worship God as commanded here would mean that we would lift up His name into vanity, in worship add insult to injury, and it would make our praying self-adulation and our speaking babbling.

To be fearless defenders of the Christian hope, “fear not their fear, neither be troubled’’ (disturbed). Don’t let them scare you! (v. 14). The fear of God is the antidote for the fear of man. Moses’ parents sanctified the Lord in their hearts, making Him their fear so that they “were not afraid of the king’s commandment.” Moses himself did likewise so that he “forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king.”  The fear of God annihilated the fear of the Babylonian tyrant and his fiery furnace so that the three Hebrew youths stood uncompromisingly for the true God. The fear of God drove out of Daniel’s mind the fear of persecution and the horror of the lions’ den. They all thought it unnecessary to have the approval of the world, but utterly necessary to have the favor of God.

As Christians we possess a living hope (1:3). This is no imaginary, groundless hope. Reason can, and must, be given for it, and it can, and must, be defended. It cannot and must not be hidden. When called upon, we must be prepared to state the grounds of our hope in Christ and defend them. We ought to do this by pointing out to men that unless they, too, as we do, stand on the Christian position and the ground of the Bible, they “have no hope’’ (Eph. 2:12). Not groundless is our hope, no airy dream, no mere possibility, nor probability; no, for our hope is based on “the word of the truth of the gospel’’ (Col 1:5) and therefore it stands on the rock! In this connection use I Thess. 2:13 in your defense.

As we have shown, all our thoughts are to be held captive for the obedience of Christ; yet the truth is not to be held captive, nor can be; it must be declared, testified, proclaimed. If we did not do this it would be evidence that we neither possess the truth, nor that it possesses us.

Be ready always to make defense of your hope to every man who asks you a reason concerning the hope. Christians are called to defend their hope in the gospel to those who call on them to give an account of it. The word answer is, in the original, apology. We understand the word in the sense in which Christ himself, Stephen, the apostles and Paul made their apologies, their defense of the faith and of the whole cause of Christ before the Sanhedrin; yes, and in the sense of Calvin’s dedication of his Institutes to King Francis of France, which was a defense of the Protestants and their reformed faith against their persecutors and a remonstrance against all Romish detractors. These are examples of what Peter is talking about in his command to defend the faith and hope of the gospel. These all testified that the hope of eternal life is no mirage, but based on the solid foundation of certain truth; that the Christian faith and life are reasonable, the only reasonable service (Rom. 12:1-2); and that to reject this hope and doctrine is to become a fool and a madman. We must be Christian apologetics like them. Tell men how you once held a deceptive hope; how you were made ashamed of it; how it always puts those who hold it to shame; how then, when destitute of hope you, led in faith based on the rock of truth, lay hold on the hope of the gospel. Tell them they must, as you do, receive the Bible as the only divine revelation from heaven. Show them how reasonable it is, on this foundation, to ground their hope on Christ and His truth, and how unreasonable it is to do otherwise. Use Matt. 7:24-27. It is reasonable to ground hope and faith on the holy scriptures because “all scripture is God-breathed’’ (II Tim. 3:16), which means that scripture is the breathing of God. Scripture is the living word of the living God. The Word of God is the very life and breath of God, of the God who cannot be deceived and cannot deceive.

To do this, we must learn the truth, know it, and know it well, or we cannot give a reason for our hope, much less, defend it. We had better study the Word of God all the time. “The heart of the wise studieth to answer” (Prov. 15:28). Only in this way may we be prepared to answer when called on to state and defend our hope, so to “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (I Pet. 2:15). Always our prayer must be, “Uphold me according to Thy word, and let me not be ashamed of my hope” (Ps. 119:116).

Our apologetical approach, then, must be to confront men with the call to examine themselves in the light of eternity whether they have any hope at all; whether, if they have a hope, it is the hope of the gospel. Men who profess no faith must be told that then they can have no hope. Tell them that if they have no solid hope for eternity, it is surely because they have never believed the gospel.

We see from the Old Testament as well as the New that we are obligated to prepare ourselves by study of scripture to become witnesses to Christ. As already noted, Prov. 15:28 adds to I Pet. 3:15 how we are to “be always ready to answer every man that asketh you …” We ready (prepare) ourselves by studying how to answer, how to defend the faith. But there are scripture passages which at first glance may seem the opposite to this idea of preparation and study. Take the following: “But when they deliver you up, take no thought (no anxious thought, i.e., don’t worry about) how or what ye shall speak, for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak; for it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you” (Mt. 10:19-20). And this: “But when they shall lead you and deliver you up, take no (anxious) thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate; but whatever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye; for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost” (Mk. 13:11). And this: “Settle it, therefore, in your hearts not to meditate before what ye shall answer (make defense for yourselves); for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist” (Lk. 21:14-15). But reading these verses in their context will show that they refer not to normal circumstances under which we can and must study, but they refer to times of persecution when as Christians we may be threatened with man’s judgment and death. In such emergencies by the operation of the Holy Spirit in our hearts we will receive from Him exactly what to say. We’ve seen how these promises were all fulfilled when Stephen and the apostles made their defense of the cause of Christ before the council of the Sanhedrin, and Paul also before kings. Paul further testified that it was the Lord who strengthened him to present his case and marshall his arguments in cogent apologies (defenses). II Tim. 4:16-17. Thus “the preparation of the heart in man and the answer of the tongue are from the Lord” (Prov. 16:1). So these verses may not be appealed to in order to teach that there is no need to prepare ourselves in study for witnessing in defense of the faith before men. It is wrong to assume that we may in some mystical way depend on the Holy Spirit to guide us on the spur of the moment without a bother to seek competent instruction and persist in faithful study. This is wrong, too, because it is a kind of arrogance, sinful presumption and failure to submit to the lordship of Christ (as Peter enjoins in I Pet. 3:15).

In Phil. 1:7,17, what Paul is saying is that just as all we Christians are appointed to afflictions (I Thess. 3:3), so he is appointed for the defense (apologia) of the gospel. He was chosen, foreordained and appointed a defender of the faith before the world was, separated to it from his mother’s womb, called and sent to his task personally by Christ, set apart for it by the church, and beginning his ministry immediately by defending the gospel in preaching, disputing and earnestly contending for the faith. The Philippian believers in love to Paul and his gospel joined his cause, faced the issue with him in also becoming defenders of the gospel. Paul always recalled this fellowship of theirs in furthering the gospel (v. 4) with joy and a prayer of gratitude. He deemed it right to think of them all in this way because they all shared God’s grace with him whether in imprisonment or in defense (apologia) and confirmation of the gospel (v. 7). Paul was the great Christian missionary apologist and the Philippian believers were won to Christ to become co-apologists with their missionary. They experienced the same conflict that they saw him engaged in (1:30). They, too, immediately upon their conversion were found faithfully and earnestly contending for the faith. They saw that not only the ministers but every believer is called upon to be a contending, defending witness to Christ. Peter reminds us as to how we are to do all this—in meekness and fear. “The servant of the Lord must not strive, but in meekness instruct those who oppose themselves’’ (II Tim. 2:25). Contend earnestly for the faith in gentleness toward men and in reverence toward God.

 

Suggestions for Further Study:

1. Read the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chap. I, Of the Holy Scripture.

2.  Read in Calvin’s Institutes, the Dedication.

3.  Read A. W. Pink’s “The Doctrine of Sanctification,’’ chapter: Its Procuror.