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Whether it is in the workplace, school, or community, we come across those who doubt, question, or scoff at the idea that God exists. This is not a new phenomenon. It has been this way since the beginning. Genesis 6–7 reminds us how quickly men and women begin to doubt, question, and scoff at God and His works. Men and women in Noah’s day mistook God’s patience for God’s nonexistence or at least His uncaring attitude toward men and sin (1 Peter 3:20).

In 2 Peter 3:1–7, Peter reminds those believers who were scattered throughout Asia Minor and who were then suffering persecution to remember “the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles” (v. 2) that scoffers would go on with their attacks:

They deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. (vv. 5–6)

What did Noah do in the face of the skeptics? He patiently followed God’s instruction to build an ark and testified to God’s coming judgment by way of a flood. How were the persecuted believers in Asia Minor to respond? By “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

First Peter 3:14–17 is a classic text for Christian apologetics. Peter tells believers that they are always to be prepared to make an apology, translated “a defense” in the ESV, for the hope that is in them. This defense is to be a reasonable presentation of the gospel that has brought them hope and why they as believers have this hope in light of their present circumstance of suffering persecution.

Believers must regard Christ’s control, authority, and presence in the center of their being.

Persecution can come in many forms. It can be verbal, such as slander and ridicule, or it can be physical, such as deprivation of necessities or imprisonment. It can be a combination of some or all of these forms. Believers are not to be afraid or fearful, Peter says:

Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but 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, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (vv. 14–16)

Peter outlines for all believers in any age how they are to conduct themselves when confronted with the skepticism of unbelief.

First, believers are to “honor Christ the Lord as holy.” Have you ever stopped to think what it means to call Jesus Christ Lord? What is the biblical concept of lordship? One theologian has defined it as God’s total control, absolute authority, and abiding presence. Peter is saying that in preparation for encountering a skeptical world, believers must regard Christ’s control, authority, and presence in the center of their being. Their lives, in all aspects, must rest in and rely on Jesus Christ the Lord. He is the Lord who controls all things, whose word will never pass away, and who has promised never to leave us (Matt. 28:18–20). In a world of change, He is the Lord who “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). All that believers experience is part of the plan of He who works all things together for good. It is this confidence in Christ’s lordship that delivers from fear and trouble and overcomes a skeptical world of opposition or challenge.

When believers set Christ apart as Lord in their hearts, it makes them holy as He is holy. As Christ abides in the hearts of believers, the power of God transforms them in every area of their lives. Their minds will be captivated by Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Their affections will be set on things above (Col. 3:1–4). They will shine as lights in the midst of the darkness (Phil. 2:14–18). This will draw the ire and curiosity of the world and make them ask, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12).

Second, believers can now give a reasoned presentation for the hope that is in them. Peter’s exhortation focuses on the hope that is built on the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3). It is a living hope because He is a living Lord who has by His death secured eternal life for all who put their hope in Him. Believers are not to be intimidated by unbelievers’ attacks but are to offer their defense of why trusting in Christ is not only reasonable but absolutely necessary. To do this, believers must begin with confidence—not in themselves but in Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, who alone can not only change the thinking of the skeptic but make him a new creation (2 Cor. 5:12–17). The gospel is good news. It is good news about how sin-laden, destruction-bound people can find reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ.

The gospel message is a message of peace, but it is delivered in the midst of spiritual warfare. Yet, it is not to be presented in a harsh or vindictive manner. It is to be presented with a respectful and gentle imploring of those lost in darkness to come to the Light of the World. The gospel fruit of gentleness and respect make the believer’s words powerful and effective, because the believer’s weapons are not weak but mighty through God to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

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