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?
I have definitely changed beliefs once digging into the Bible and I’ve also been even more convinced of other beliefs because of the Word.
Either way it is very liberating.
Perfect! The same has happened to me.
Reading your last sentence my first thought was, “The truth shall set you free.”
This post comes at a great time, as I am studying 1 Peter in my small group at church. You bring up some great points and some of them are painful. It’s very true that we often can jump on the “bandwagon” from time to time and not fully investigate the very thing we are getting behind and often end up in hot water for it. I’ve learned that I need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk because all so often, you are going to have someone come out and call you out on it and ask you to elaborate. If you can’t, than you are going to be ridiculed and it will even most likely cause your credibility and trustworthiness to be hurt.
Glad to hear that! Yes, when you’re asked to elaborate (or explain) that’s when it becomes obvious to everyone really quickly whether you know why you believe, or just what you believe. It can be a destroyer of credibility…but also a builder of one if we’re studied.
This is such a great post, and a very needed one. I’ve struggled with this before. I can be an argumentative person without even trying to be; I love debates. I realized a year or so ago that I was arguing for the sake of arguing, not because of what I believe or why I believed in it. I needed to get focused, learn how to properly fight for the Bible and stand up for it for the right reasons and the right way. This post reminded me of these hymn lyrics:
“But I know whom I have believed in,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.”
When we know who we believe in and find the reason why, our strength will grow so much more as Christians. I’ve had to ask myself this before, am I fighting for MY belief or for my parent’s beliefs? For my church’s beliefs? My Pastor talks a lot about how personal salvation is, and how personal our Christian walk should be.
Thank you Kay!
I notice your posts on Facebook, and of course I’ve read much of your blog. Just to let you know, I’ve never thought of you as argumentative. But you’d know better than me :).
Yes, those ware wonderful lyrics. We sing a number of hymns each Sunday, and that’s one of my favorites.
This is a thought-provoking post. Having grown up in a deeply legalistic church, I have spent years looking for answers about why I believe things…and if I had reason to believe differently from my parents.
I have been pondering the relationship between truth and grace lately. You handled this well in your post.
Good for you as far as checking things out for yourself!
It’s so easy to do: to grow up in the faith and take for granted the beliefs you assert.
Searching the Scriptures, personally, and being able to then articulate it in verbal form and/or written is a good practice for all Christians – regardless of your vocation.
As a supplement to the Scriptures (and never a replacement) reading books by well-respected pastors/theologians/scholars (from all sides of a particular issue that is often a point of departure from other Christians) is helpful too. I’ve found when I study a particular topic that I am then exposed to the other sides’ hermeneutics – their approach to how they interpret the Scriptures.
Doing this (exposing yourself to the arguments of other Christians with whom you disagree) is good practice for recognizing the errors that exist in the arguments of those out in the world. It can also help you discern with whom you should be in a local church with and with whom you can simply enjoy other types of fellowship outside the church.
It reminds me of a typical outcome of evangelism to Muslims (it applies to other types of people too): when first evangelizing Muslims, it’s very very common that they actually become “better Muslims”, first. Having opposing views presented to you very often drives you back to your source of faith (for us, as Christians: the Bible; for Muslims: the Koran). In our case, when in disagreement with other Christians, we can be thankful for the opportunity to have it revealed to us that we did not know *why* we actually believed something. Had the intersection with the Christian from a different background never happened we would have gone on our merry way taking our beliefs for granted.
Thanks for the comment. I think you made a lot of great points about ways to better “know why we believe what we believe.” I almost wish you had put your thoughts together as a bulleted list, because your suggestions are so helpful.
I think one of the biggest obstacles though is when we’re learning – whether through other books or discussions – we might not be receptive. I’ve seen this with people: holding on to beliefs that are untrue, simply because it’s what they’ve known for so long.
This is so true. When I was a teen I hadn’t made a choice to fully follow Christ, but would still say I believed and get into debate. It was really futile and pointless because I hadn’t even made a full decision yet, let alone have knowledge to defend my beliefs. That was then, now I am really interested in apologetics and teach a youth group and have been able to share more in depth with them reasons behind my belief in hopes that they would make the decision as well. Thanks for sharing.
Yes, there aren’t many better ways to learn what we believe than to teach others. I’m sure in your preparation for teaching you anticipate questions you’ll be asked and that forces you to know “why you believe what you believe.”
I appreciate how you approached 1 Peter 3:15. I am very passionate when I get into discussions, and need reminded that, although passion is good, it must be tempered in gentleness to those who hear, and reverence for our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanks for your humility Paul.
The truth though I’m sure is the same passion you might have to temper at times is evidence of your passion for Christ.
Hope you and your family are doing well Brother.
This is very well done, Scott! I look forward to the rest of this series; am about to go to Arizona (Nov. 23), and will be with my daughter and her husband and all three of their adult children and their spouses. My two grandsons were saved when each of them was nine years old (just happened to be the same age), but neither had any follow-up by their parents . . . Sunday School, church, etc. Both my daughter and her husband are saved, but don’t believe in “organized church” (an excuse for spending the weekend as they like). The oldest of the boys was saved when he spent a few weeks with us and attended church here. He wanted to be baptized before the family moved to Japan, and with the help of our interim minister, it was possible. The younger boy accepted Christ at the home of his aunt and uncle and attended with them only a few times. Consequently, I don’t know the level of their “belief”. The middle child, a daughter, says she doesn’t believe in my God or any God. All of these children love me and show me the greatest respect, yet I fear they, even the boys, will put up a great defense if I attempt to present any part of the gospel. I am really looking forward to your next sermonette. There is very little time left. Thanks, Erma
Date: Mon, 10 Nov 2014 15:50:20 +0000 To: email@example.com
Great to hear from you Erma. Thanks for the comment; a great reminder to disciple and train our children.
I’ll pray for your evangelism to them when you visit in a few weeks. If you remember to send me an update after to let me know how it goes, that would be great!