Instead of, “Know what you believe,” a more appropriate statement might be, “Know why you believe.” 1 Peter 3:15b says, “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.”
We’re supposed to be ready to explain why we believe what we believe. The words “make a defense” are one word in the Greek: apologia. It means, “verbal defense; a reasoned statement or argument.” Apologetics is the branch of theology concerned with defending Christianity, and we get this English word from apologia.
Not just knowing why you believe, but defending those beliefs humbly
People loosely quote 1 Peter 3:15 saying something like, “As a Christian you’ve got to ‘be able to give a defense of your faith.’” But they often leave off the last few words: “with gentleness and respect.” Peter first commands us to be ready to explain our beliefs, but he also tells us how we should do that—with gentleness and respect.
These words are important, because they prevent Christians from looking arrogant, condescending, or hostile. When that happens, even though Christians are trying to defend their faith they actually make Christ look bad.
The way to avoid this is found at the end of the previous verse: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled” (1 Peter 3:14b). We don’t need to fear those we’re speaking to, but we do need to fear God. This fear motivates us to be humble when defending the faith. We’re “afraid” of making God look bad, so we deal with people gently and lovingly. The same truth is committed elsewhere in the new Testament:
- 2 Timothy 2:25—Correct opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth.
- Colossians 4:6—Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.
Both verses highlight the need to use “gentleness” and “grace.”
If you don’t know why you believe what you believe, don’t be dogmatic
Here are two things that make us look foolish:
- Thinking we’re right and others are wrong, but not knowing why
- Having strong convictions, but not being able to defend those convictions
We’ve probably all had discussions (or arguments) with people who were opinionated, passionate, and possibly angry, but when pressed they didn’t know why they were so convinced they were absolutely, beyond-the-shadow-of-a-doubt correct and anyone who disagreed with them was wrong. And we have also probably been this person! If they (or we!) are honest they (or we) would have to say:
- “This is what my parents told me.”
- “I want to believe this.”
- “This is what I’ve always heard.”
All these statements are code for: “This is what I think without investing time determining if it’s true.”
If we don’t know why we believe what we believe, we shouldn’t argue for it. If we were being honest we’d have to say, “I’m right and you’re wrong, but I don’t know why!”
Learn why you believe what you believe…because it might cause you to change your mind
If we want to know why we believe what we believe we should:
- Study God’s Word
- Pray for wisdom and spiritual illumination
- Seek counsel from godly individuals the Lord has placed in our lives
- Have an honest desire to learn the truth
One of the benefits of doing this is one of two things will happen:
- We’ll become more convinced that what we believe is true
- We’ll learn that what we believe isn not true
Both outcomes are good! And both have occurred in my life:
- The first has taken place and given me greater confidence in essentials, such as the Gospel.
- The second has also occurred enough times that I’m less inclined to be completely rigid in some other areas.
- Have you been guilty of holding beliefs that you couldn’t defend?
- Have you held some beliefs, but changed them after studying them more closely?