By Rick Shallenberger, Equipper Editor
For most of my life I wasn’t sure how to deal with Peter’s admonition, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” The sad reality is no one asked me for the reason of my hope because I never gave them reason to ask. I didn’t talk about my hope, and people didn’t see that hope in me. Part of the reason is because my hope wasn’t on the right thing. Another reason was because I attended a church that believed and taught that sharing the gospel was the responsibility of only a few.
As I grew in my faith, I was still not sure how to give a reason of the hope in me. I wasn’t sure how to explain my faith to others; I wasn’t even sure I could explain it to myself. Then something happened: I started realizing it wasn’t my faith that gave me hope—it was Jesus’ faith that gave me hope. Let me explain.
In this portion of Peter’s letter, he is telling believers how to treat each other. He reminds them that we often suffer for doing good. He tells them to not fear any threats from false teachers, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.” This made me stop in my tracks.
The emphasis here is on Christ. Jesus Christ is the reason for the hope in me. It’s not about being the only true church; it’s not about what theology I know that others might not know; it’s not about following a religious way of life. My (our) hope is in Jesus—knowing him and knowing he knows us.
Once Peter establishes where this hope comes from, then he tells us to be prepared to talk about our hope. And why wouldn’t we? We didn’t do anything to receive salvation; Jesus did it all. He revealed himself to us, accepted us just the way we are, forgave us of our sins—even the ones we haven’t committed yet—paid the price for those sins, and died for us. Then he rose from the grave telling us death is no longer the great enemy and he ascended to the Father, telling us he took us with him and we already have eternal life in him.
What did we do in this process? Believe. That’s it. This brought new life to Peter’s instructions for me. So what’s next? How do we give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have?
We’ve already established that the hope Peter is talking about is Jesus. So how do we get people to ask about this hope? Let’s ask a couple questions:
Who is most likely going to ask you to give a reason for the hope you have?
Someone who knows you, and knows you are approachable. Someone you are in relationship with. It could be a personal relationship, a work relationship, a community relationship. Often it’s a family member or close co-worker, someone who spends a lot of time with you. This doesn’t negate the times a church guest might ask you, or you may get asked in a small group environment or when someone points out that you are a Christian. When we have an answer, I believe God provides numerous opportunities to give that answer to others.
Why would someone ask you to give a reason for the hope that you have?
More times than not, the person will ask you to talk about your hope because they have heard you talk about it. They have seen that what you say is in alignment with how you act. You are genuine, you are sincere, you are approachable. They are aware that this hope is important to you. They’ve watched you listen to others and offer to pray for them. They’ve seen you face suffering and still have hope. They’ve seen you go through trauma without losing your sense of peace. They have watched you repay evil with blessing. Your life is filled with expressions of love for others. They want to know what makes you the way you are.
In what manner do you give a reason for the hope that you have?
Peter has one more part to his admonition: “But do this with gentleness and respect.” When our motivation is to love others as Jesus loves us, we will respond to questions about our hope with enthusiasm and love. We don’t pull out the Bible and give a list of scriptures. We don’t list all the dos and don’ts of our belief system. We don’t tell them what we used to believe and how thankful we are that we don’t believe that anymore. We don’t tell them to go see a minister. Rather, we give a reason. We share what Jesus means to us. In other words, we share our personal testimony.
Wait! Don’t panic. Let me explain how easy it is to put together your personal testimony by sharing one I sometimes use.
The reason I give for the hope I have—my testimony
I’m often asked, “How can you be so positive with all the trauma you’ve faced in your life?” Note something about this question: it’s based on relationship. For someone to know I’ve faced trauma, they have to know me. This means we’ve already shared time together. This means I’ve already asked them a lot of questions to show my interest in their life. (Remember, you have to be interested, before others find you interesting.) This likely means I’ve heard a lot about their story and they’ve come around to asking me about my story.
So going back to their question, “How can you be so positive…” I simply respond, “Without knowing that Jesus has my back, I couldn’t be.” That answer brings out a lot of responses:
- Oh, I believe in God, but don’t really think he is that involved in day-to-day life.
- I wish I believed in God, but I don’t.
- I’m glad that works for you; it wouldn’t work for me.
- No really, how do you handle the trauma?
- I used to believe in God, but that didn’t work out for me.
- I wish I had your faith.
- Tell me more.
I have answers for all these and any other response that can come up. They aren’t profound answers—they are usually turning the answer around into a question.
- So what do you believe about God?
- Did you ever believe in God? What happened?
- Why do you think it wouldn’t work for you?
- Do you think believing that Jesus has my back is silly?
- Why can’t you believe in God? Did something shake your faith?
- What didn’t work out?
- Do you think I have faith? What do you think of when you hear the word faith?
- What do you want to know?
I don’t have to prepare for more than this. I let the questions guide the conversation, and I always make it clear my hope is in Jesus.
When Peter says “be prepared…” he isn’t asking you to write down your testimony and keep a copy in your pocket or purse. (Though writing it down will prove to be an amazing exercise for you as you start to write down why you hope in Jesus.) I suggest he’s asking you to be prepared with a simple answer. It might include a simple illustration, or an answered prayer, or something personal to you, but the key is to keep it simple. And then allow the Holy Spirit to direct the rest of the conversation.
Jesus is our hope; that is something to talk about.