“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 . . . .”
This verse is often used as a proof text of sorts for the biblical practice of what is known as apologetics. Apologetics can be briefly defined as the “reasoned defense of the Christian religion” (Classical Apologetics, R.C. Sproul, John Gertsner, and Arthur Lindsley, p.13). It is a reasoned or rational defense – that is, making a case for the logical coherence, rationality or reasonableness of the Christian faith.
Notice where Peter tells us to start – by honoring Christ the Lord as holy in our hearts. What does that mean? It means that we resolve to put Jesus Christ first in our hearts, to give Him preeminence above all other things in our thoughts and affections. And Peter specifically instructs us to set Jesus apart in our hearts as the Lord. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) translates this verse helpfully as “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts . . . .” We are not just to sanctify Christ in our hearts or set Him apart in general, but to set Him apart in our hearts “as Lord.”
In other words, we need to set our hearts firmly on the truth that our faithful Savior Jesus Christ is Lord, that He (and only He!) is even now ruling all things at the right hand of God the Father. Why is that so important to our witness or apologetic toward unbelievers? The key, as usual, is found in the context of the verse. In v.13-14 (the verses immediately before v.15) Peter writes,
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,”
The context of the whole passage is suffering for the name of Christ. We are not to be afraid of our enemies, the enemies of the name of Christ. We are not to allow suffering for His name to cause us to fear or be troubled. Sounds like a pretty tall order, doesn’t it? So what is the solution? What is the Christian’s antidote to the fear of man? It is the fear of the Lord! Many commentators believe that in v.15 Peter is actually quoting or alluding to Isaiah 8:12-13, which says,
“Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.”
The context and main point are more or less the same here, aren’t they? At times it may seem like the whole unbelieving world is out to get us. But when we fear that there is a “conspiracy” against us, we are thinking that our enemies are actually in charge, causing all things to work together against us, for our harm. But who is actually in control of all things? The Lord! The “LORD of hosts” (v.13) is the One we are to “honor as holy.” He is the One who should be our only fear and dread.
The fear of the Lord is the antidote to the fear of man. And when we set Jesus apart as Lord in our hearts, we will rest secure in the knowledge that He alone controls our destiny, and not a hair can fall from our heads apart from His will (Matthew 10:30). It is the Lord who makes all things (even our suffering for His name) to work together for our good (Romans 8:28). And that is where a truly biblical apologetic must start. A ready defense of the faith must always start with sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts (1 Peter 3:15).
We may not all be called to or gifted for making an intellectual or philosophical defense of the Christian faith against skeptics, atheists, and idolaters, but we are all called to make the kind of ready defense that the Apostle Peter primarily has in view here – setting apart Christ in our hearts as Lord, obeying Him even when it leads to suffering, and being willing to tell others that the Lord Jesus Christ is the reason for the hope that is within us, even in the face of suffering or persecution.