Misusing I Peter 3:15 — “Be Ready Always” — Part One

I’ve done a couple posts recently on misused Scripture passages, and this one keeps popping up in things I’ve read, so I’ll take it on, too.

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:

Three “Interesting” Usages of the Verse

Be always ready to explain the Gospel.

This is the “evangelism book” usage.  Paul Little used this verse in How to Give Away Your Faith (IVP).  The general idea was that we need to be ready to explain the Gospel to someone, and the book helps you know the right things to say, and when.  So I Peter 3:15 is telling you the purpose for reading an evangelism book — to get “ready.”

Be always ready to give a reason.

This is the “apologetics ministry” usage.  Such ministries focus on “giving reasons”, on defending the truth and reasonableness of the Gospel and the Bible against opposing arguments, atheistic attacks, etc.  These ministries are especially active in a university context.  Examples of such ministries using this verse include CARM, Ravi Zacharias Ministries, and CRI.

Be always ready to defend Biblical Christianity.

I’ve encountered this one several times recently.  I’ll call it the “teaching / defending” usage, that we should always be prepared to explain to anyone (particularly a believer) who asks why we live the Christian life the way we do.

These three usages are all misuses of this verse (more later).

“Misused” Doesn’t Mean “Untrue”

I Peter 3:15 shouldn’t be used for these statements, but that does not make them untrue, or poor reflections of our responsibility.  I’d like to support these statements Biblically, before we look further at I Peter 3:15.

Be always ready to explain the Gospel.

There is no problem in principle with books and/or teaching to Scripturally prepare believers to give the Gospel.

Ephesians 4:11-12

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

The leaders of the church are responsible to “perfect” / equip the saints.

II Timothy 3:16-17

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

The Scriptures are the basis for this equipping to “all good works” — including giving the Gospel.  Biblical teaching to equip believers to witness is Biblically mandated (though not all books or teaching on the subject are Biblical).

Be always ready to give a reason. 

Apologetics ministries are intended to show that our faith is reasonable, both in an evangelistic context in answering seemingly honest questions, and also in strengthening the faith of believers in refuting the attacks of skeptical criticism.

Titus 1:9

Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

This says a pastor/bishop/elder needs to be able to convince/refute the gainsayers — those who oppose the truth.  Apologetics, defined properly, has its role in the life of the church and our contact with the world around us.  In principle, apologetics ministry is Biblically sound. (In practice, some apologetics ministries and actions are not sound at all.)

Acts 14:17

Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.

Much apologetics ministry uses truths that unbelievers can see, just by looking around, to show Biblical truth.  Theologians call these things “general revelation.”  Paul used general revelation as he was preaching in Acts 14.  It is entirely appropriate to appeal to general revelation when giving the Gospel to unbelievers.

Be always ready to defend Biblical Christianity.

II Timothy 4:1-2

1 I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;
2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

This verse tells Timothy to “be instant in season, out of season” — be prepared to teach, reprove, rebuke, exhort.  He is to be ready to defend and teach Biblical Christian life and doctrine to those who want answers — presumably whether they are believers or not.

We can see, then, sound Biblical support for these three statements.  Evangelism training is Biblical.  So is using general revelation to strengthen believers and equip them to answer skeptics.  We should be prepared to explain and teach Biblical Christianity.  But I Peter 3:15 is not about these things, and to make it such obscures teaching which is likely to become more and more important as our society increases in hostility to Christians.

Checking the Context

I Peter 3:13-16

13 And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?
14 But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;
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:
16 Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.

In context, this verse is clearly about how believers should respond to persecution.

Peter is not saying “be ready” for formal debates with a famous atheist in a comfortable university setting.  He isn’t talking about a polished Gospel presentation to push all the right mental buttons with our hearers.  This isn’t about preparing for a cozy coffee shop chat about someone’s intellectual questions / doubts about Christianity, and it isn’t telling pastors or Bible teachers to be ready to “go anywhere, any time, to defend Biblical Christianity,” as I read recently.

All this stuff would be totally alien to the people to whom Peter was writing.  They weren’t concerned about losing a debate, but about losing goods, freedom, and even life.

Peter is telling his readers to be courageous in the face of persecution, to answer everyone with the reason for their hope — even those trying to instill terror in them.   This verse is talking about boldness (not expertise), about giving the Gospel even to persecutors (not how to function in debating chambers).  He isn’t talking about which venues we’ll go to, but which fear we should fear.

Modern Western Christians need to stop murdering this verse for our own purposes.  We may not be that far from needing its real meaning.

Part Two — “Courage, Dear Hearts”

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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20 Responses to Misusing I Peter 3:15 — “Be Ready Always” — Part One

  1. Shellie says:

    Very good point about this verse and it’s context.
    Recently I’ve had to rethink some verses as to how I’ve known them to be applied. Usually it’s when I question God as to why this verse isn’t working for me that He shows me that I’m misusing it. We seem to have this desire to have pat answers that work every time in every situation. We find a verse that sounds good. Then a situation happens that we really need it and it’s not what we thought it was going to be for us. Thankfully God has already anticipated that and gives us what we need when we need it.

  2. Brother Gleason,

    I have greatly appreciated your past few postings concerning misused (out of context) verses.

    I may be “jumping ahead” of you here, but grammatically this verse actually teaches us to be ready to give an answer concerning — the HOPE that is within us. Certainly, this fits a persecution context quite well. Under persecution for the faith, we believers should retain a godly spirit of hope (through having the Lord sanctified in our hearts, through abiding in Christ, through being filled with the Spirit). As those who persecute us, as well as those who simply observe the persecution, take notice of our godly hope in the face of that persecution, some will desire to know the reason that we can have such hope in the face of such persecution. Yet this means that they actually have to notice godly hope in us, for they will never be moved to ask for the reason of something that they do not actually notice.

    What then is the reason for such a godly hope? Short answer — “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27) (See also 1 Timothy 1:1; 1 Peter 1:3. 21)

    (Side question: Is there a way to bold, italicize, and underline in these comments?)

    • Jon Gleason says:

      This study on this verse will have either four or five parts, I believe. This is not the first time you’ve jumped ahead of me. 🙂

      I know that I can go in and edit a comment to bold / italicise / underline, etc. I don’t know of any way that you can. I’ll research it. In the meantime, f you would like me to edit your comment with those features, please email me with the details.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      OK. You can bold by using “” around a “b” before the text, then again around “/b” after it. Italic is the same but with “i” and “/i”.

      Underlining doesn’t seem to be working. I’ll pursue this further.

      edit:
      Underlining works with “u” and “/u”.
      “blockquote” also works, indenting the text and putting it in italics.

  3. ukfred says:

    I believe you are only too correct in saying we may not be too far from needing its true meaning, Jon. In the town where I live, a man was faced with disciplinary proceedings at work for the terrible crime of having a palm cross in his works van. We have had the recent European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rulings on four cases which have basically said we can claim to be Christian but we must act as if we are not if we want protection from the law. At times I wonder if the Church in the UK is sleepwalking into a disaster, or whether the more popular denominations are more concerned with enjoying the trappings of the world than transforming it.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Fred, re: your last sentence, perhaps both are true. Although persecution may not be a disaster, it may be the purifying hand of God to purge out the dross and strengthen / refine those who are His, but weak.

      I Peter 1:7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

      (fixed your typo, deleted your correction comment)

  4. Jon Gleason says:

    testing
    testing bold
    testing italic
    testing bold and italic

    testing blockquote

    testing underline
    testing

  5. The Birding Bunch says:

    I’ve heard some of those uses given, but it is so clear in the context you gave. I wonder if persecution will come sooner, rather than later. At times I fear for our children, what they may have to face, but they are in God’s hands and He knows better than I.

  6. gary says:

    I Peter 3:21…Let’s take another look at this controversial Bible verse

    1 Peter 3:21 (ESV)

    1 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

    Ask an orthodox Christian what this Bible passage says and this will be his response, “Baptism saves you.” Pretty simple interpretation of the passage, right?

    Ask a Baptist or evangelical what this passage says, and he will say something like this: “Water baptism is a picture of our appeal to God for a clean conscience which occurs in our spiritual baptism: our decision for Christ/our born again experience. This passage is not talking about water baptism, it is talking about spiritual baptism.”

    Ok. Let’s take a look at another passage of Scripture:

    Hebrews 10:22 ESV

    let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

    What is it that gives us the full assurance of faith according to this Bible passage? Our decision to accept Jesus into our hearts? Our decision to be born again? Our decision to make a decision for Christ? No. The simple, plain rendering of this passage of Holy Scripture tells us that our assurance of faith is based on God sprinkling our hearts, cleansing us of our evil conscience, AND washing our bodies with pure water!

    There can be only one explanation for the “when” of full assurance of salvation: WATER BAPTISM!

    Both of these passages talk about having our consciences cleansed, and the verse in Hebrews clarifies that this cleansing does not take place in our mind or as a public profession; it takes place in our heart, our soul; and this cleansing occurs at the same time as “pure” water is applied to our body! This is water baptism, Baptist and evangelical brothers and sisters! Stop twisting and contorting the plain, simple words of God to conform to your sixteenth century false teachings!

    Believe God’s plain, simple Word.

    Gary
    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals
    an orthodox Lutheran blog

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, Gary. This is off-topic to this post, but I’ll let it stand and give one response.

      In I Peter, the Scripture specifically says baptism is a figure / pattern. The Greek word is antitupon. For some reason, the ESV translators obscured that by using “which corresponds.” C.H. Lenski, who was a Lutheran, and extremely skilled with the Greek, translated it as “type.” He misinterpreted the passage, but at least he didn’t water down what the Greek says. So, baptism is a type / figure / pattern. Or, to use the wording you wanted to put in my mouth, “picture.”

      Baptism is not what washes away sins — the blood of Christ does. So I Peter 3:19 has to be describing a figure / type / picture / illustration, and not surprisingly, it says right in the passage that it is — though the ESV obscures that.

      According to your interpretation, the unbaptised thief on the cross could not have full assurance, despite the sure word of the Lord. If baptism saves, Cornelius and those with him received the Holy Spirit before they were saved (Acts 10). And in I Corinthians 1, Paul was wrong when he said he came to preach the Gospel but not baptise, because by your interpretation, baptising saves and is therefore part of the Gospel.

      We have to look at these in the light of what Scripture clearly says elsewhere. We can’t just take an interpretation and throw out the rest of Scripture. God does not lie, so if another Scripture clearly contradicts our interpretation, we have to look at that passage again more carefully and say, “Hmm. Maybe I was missing something.”

      There is much more I could say. But this is not a debate blog, and this thread is not about that passage, so we’ll leave it with that. Please review my comment policy, notably points 3 & 4, before posting again.

  7. Dr Thaddeus Irvine says:

    Hi Jon,
    Some very nice points.
    1 John 1:7, makes it clear that Christ’s BLOOD cleanses us – hence no need for a literal baptism, with regard to sin.
    Acts 20:28 tells us that we are bought with God’s blood, not by water baptism.
    Hebrews 9:22 makes it clear that redemption comes through the shedding of blood, not water baptism.
    Ephesians 2:8, 9 demonstrate that it is by faith + nothing (no works or rituals) that we are saved; Note Jesus’ words in John 19:30 – tetelestai (it is finished, completed, paid in FULL).
    God bless,

    Thad

  8. Rod says:

    Hello Jon,

    I cant add much more to what you have touched on in (1Pet 3:15) Perhaps this scripture could help any people thinking that water baptism somehow is a requirement for salvation and cleans us from sin.

    (Eph 5:25) ..even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

    (Eph 5:26) That he might SANCTIFY and CLEANSE it with the washing of water by the word.
    (caps mine)
    Regards: Rod.

    • Thad says:

      This is an interesting example. Verse 26 makes it cristal clear that the washing is done “by the word”, not water baptism.
      It reminded we of Leviticus 1:9 “but its inwards and its legs shall he wash with water: and the priest shall burn the whole on the altar, for a burnt-offering, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savor unto Jehovah.” Paul teaches that we – the offering and the offerer – are washed by the water of God’s WORD.; howvere the emphasis in Leviticus 1:5-17 is primarily on the operations of the priest. We begin to see Our Saviour’s intermediary and intercessory work in this imagery, indicating that everyone, regardless of their seeming capabilities, needs the outside help of our own High Priest – the Lord Jesus Christ. The word ‘by’ is ἐν in Greek and speaks not only of position but, by implication ‘instrumentatlity’ – the means by which sanctification (spiritual) and purification (spiritual) are both achieved – God’s Word (spiritual), and not water baptism (physical).

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