“Sanctifying the Lord God”
I’ve been writing on a commonly misused verse, I Peter 3:15. (Part One, “This verse is about persecution.“ Part Two, “Courage, Dear Hearts.“ Part Three, Apologia and “Be Ready.“) We’ve seen that it has in view boldness when facing persecution, and obedience to the Holy Spirit as preparation for persecution — a timely message for believers today.
The previous posts have mentioned some ways people often misuse the verse. In this post and the next, I want to look at using the verse rightly.
A friend wrote that in his 70 years, he didn’t recall ever hearing or reading any teaching on “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” This is the main clause of the verse, with the rest being supplementary / explanatory, so we’ll try to get it right, and end his wait.
I Peter 3:15
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.
Sanctifying the Lord
To sanctify something means to set it apart as holy, or to make it holy. That makes this statement seem a little strange, because we certainly can’t make the Lord holy! Fortunately, we see similar language in other places in Scripture, and that helps us get a handle on what is being said here.
We’ll start with Isaiah 8, since this passage quotes from that one.
12 Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.
13 Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
14 And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
In this passage, Isaiah says the Lord told him not to fear what others were fearing, but to “sanctify” the Lord, and He would be a sanctuary, a place of safety.
3 Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.
Two sons of Aaron offered “strange fire.” We are not told the exact detail of this, but it was idolatrous, either after the pattern of false gods, or in self-idolatry exalting themselves as having the right to decide how God should be worshiped. For this sin, they died. The force of the Lord’s words here is not entirely clear — He might be saying that He destroyed these men because He had not been sanctified in them, or it might be that he was saying that He was sanctifying Himself in them by judging them.
And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
God told Moses to command water to come from a rock. Instead, Moses said, “Must we fetch you water out of this rock?” and struck it. God provided water, just as He had once before — but there were problems. First, God told Moses to speak, and he struck the rock instead. Worse, his words said not that God was providing, but that he and Aaron were. God said Moses had not sanctified him in the eyes of the children of Israel.
This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.
God “fixed” it. Moses and Aaron had not sanctified Him in the eyes of the children of Israel, but He was sanctified in them, anyway.
But the LORD of hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and God that is holy shall be sanctified in righteousness.
In this verse we see that God is sanctified in demonstrating His righteous judgment.
Other passages where we see God being sanctified include Isaiah 29:23 and Ezekiel 20:41, 36:23, and 38:16.
The general idea of sanctifying God is that his holiness is seen (and righteous judgment is frequently part of the picture). When God sanctifies Himself, He demonstrates His holiness by judging righteously. When we sanctify God, we give Him glory for who He is as a holy, righteous God who provides for His people and judges evil.
Sanctifying “the Lord God”
Frequently (though not always) in the New Testament, “the Lord” refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. The expression “Lord God,” though, occurs twice in Luke 1, once in Jude, and several times in Revelation, and in most contexts it is either referring to the Father or perhaps the entire Godhead, the Three-in-One. It seems to emphasise His might, and not uncommonly judgment is in view.
These two things, the concept of sanctifying God and the term “Lord God,” both seem connected to His power and His supreme role as the righteous Judge — and that fits the context of this verse. Remember, this verse quotes Isaiah 8, and Isaiah 8 talks about God’s protection of Isaiah and His judgment on the wicked.
In Your Hearts
This brings it all together. When we sanctify the Lord God in our hearts, we are seeing Him as the powerful and righteous Judge who will deal with sin. When we see God for who He is, we will not fear persecution, for we know His power and His righteousness. We will not fear the persecutors, we will fear for them, for we know they must answer to the Almighty Judge.
We will not fear it, but we also will not fight persecution. We do not need to “strike the rock,” to fall into the trap that Moses fell into. An all-powerful One is dealing with the situation. We must sanctify Him in our hearts, give Him His place, as the Lord God Almighty, who cares for His people.
When we answer, we will answer in meekness and fear (not fear of the persecutors, but of the Lord). It will not be our eloquence or our preparation to answer that succeeds — as we saw in an earlier post, we aren’t even supposed to prepare an answer in persecution. That would be “striking the rock” with Moses, failing to trust the Lord, to sanctify Him in our hearts as the Lord and Master of the situation. He has told us to be ready, but our preparation for this is spiritual, not a mental exercise.
To sanctify the Lord God in our hearts is a call to us to holiness and purity, but it is also a call to trust Him, trust Him to do right, to judge evil, and to preserve His loved ones. It is also a call to trust Him to guide our words and actions. It is a call to humility, to avoid trusting our own strength, our own skill, our own intellect. When we sin in these things, we have not sanctified Him in our hearts. We have behaved as if He is not holy, as if He is not the Righteous Judge. When we sin, the god we hold in our hearts is a false one, an idol of our own making.
“Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” It’s little wonder we don’t teach it — too many of us aren’t very good at doing it. But it is the best defence we will ever have, when severe persecution comes.
Part Five — Your Reason for Hope