Why in 1 Peter 3:15 does the unbelieving world ask Christians about their hope?
Peter tells us, “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). He doesn’t say that they will ask about our faith. Or about our doctrine. Or even about our good conduct. They might ask about those things. We want them to. But Peter is expecting that they will ask about our hope. Why?
Before we look at the answer in 1 Peter, let’s define hope.
Hope is a heartfelt, joyful conviction that our short-term future is governed by an all-caring God, and our long-term future, beyond death, will be happy beyond imagination in the presence of the all-satisfying glory of God. This definition will be evident in part one of our answer.
Why does the world ask about Christian hope? The answer has three parts.
1. Vibrant, living, unshakable, blood-bought hope is the defining motion of the born-again heart — that is, the Christian heart.
Peter begins his letter on this note: “According to [God’s] great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). To be born again is to be alive with hope.
Hope is not an add-on to Christian experience. It is part of the first things. The essential things. It is a vital component of saving faith, because part of what we believe relates to our future. It is impossible to be a Christian and keep on believing that your eternity will be bleak. Saving faith is the “assurance of things hoped for,” and such faith believes that “God is the rewarder of those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:1, 6).
Therefore, Peter is relentless in his letter to urge the suffering exiles of the empire to fan the flame of their hope to white-hot fullness.
The first imperative in his letter is the imperative of the verb hope, modified by the adverb fully. “Hope fully in the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). The second coming of Jesus in glory is the earnest hope of the believer’s heart.
“Our short-term future is governed by an all-caring God, and our long-term future, beyond death, will be happy beyond imagination.”
Peter had tasted the glory with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, and he knew it was a foretaste of the second coming: “We made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). He knew that he would be “a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1).
So he was passionate about wakening this hope fully in the beleaguered saints scattered through the empire. He promised the elders among them, “When the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4).
And he explained to the suffering saints that God’s purpose in their sorrows is “that the tested genuineness of your faith . . . may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7). Their slander will be replaced with praise, their pain with glory, their shame with honor.
He tells them to hang on with hope for this short life, because soon all will be glorious: “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).
Now, Tomorrow, Forever
This hope is absolutely sure because it was paid for by a ransom that is not perishable or cheap, but eternal and infinitely precious: “You were ransomed . . . not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18–19).
So Peter urges the believers, with their blood-bought hope, to do the humanly impossible: “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).
And short of that final day, there is this daily confidence in God’s present care: “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). He cares now. He will care tomorrow. And he will care forever.
Therefore, part one of our answer to why the world asks about the Christian hope is that vibrant, living, unshakable, blood-bought hope is the defining motion of the Christian heart.
2. Authentic Christian hope gives rise to joyful fearlessness in the face of human trouble and threats.
This is the immediate context of 1 Peter 3:15, where Peter says to be ready to give a reason for your hope. We’ll start in verse 14:
Even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.
It appears that the question about Christians’ hope is prompted by their perceived fearlessness. In Peter’s mind this makes perfect sense. Hope is the root of fearlessness.
“It is impossible to be a Christian and to keep on believing that your eternity will be bleak.”
You see this in the way Peter tells the wives to relate to their unbelieving husbands. “The holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:5–6). Godward hope makes gutsy women. And men.
Hope is not directly visible. It is a heartfelt conviction. Only God can see the heart directly. But when hope produces fearlessness, it is on the way to being visible. When that fearlessness frees you to “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:13), your demeanor has now become so counterintuitive that someone may want to ask you a question.
And Peter says that what they ask about is your hope. Which shows that, in his mind, the Christian life gives the impression to others that we are not hoping in what they are hoping in (security, comfort, approval, wealth, etc.). They do not know where our fearlessness and our joy in affliction are coming from. But they assume we have a hope different from theirs. They do not assume we are indifferent to a happy future. They just don’t know what it is.
So the question from unbelievers about the Christian hope is explained, first, by the fact that vibrant hope is the defining motion of the Christian heart; and, second, because authentic Christian hope gives rise to joyful fearlessness in the face of human trouble and threats.
3. This fearless hope in the God of “great mercy” (1 Peter 1:3) and “all grace” (1 Peter 5:10) produces a life of overflowing good deeds that even the unbelieving world often finds irresistibly compelling.
If anything competes for prominence with the breath of hope in Peter’s letter, it is the wind of good deeds. These good deeds do not simply refer to a Christian morality that avoids bad behaviors — though Peter regards that as essential: “The time is past for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. . . . Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler” (1 Peter 4:3, 15).
Very few people are deeply impressed with a lifestyle that only avoids bad behaviors. This is essential. But Peter teaches that Christian hope gives rise to overflowing good deeds that go way beyond avoiding bad deeds. The God who gave us hope did so by “great mercy” and “all grace.” Therefore Peter’s letter abounds with good deeds to undeserving people — even the very people who are hurting us.
Joy in Suffering
“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). Indeed, as we bless those who revile us, it is possible, Peter says, to do it with joy: “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:13).
This radically counterintuitive behavior is possible because of hope — specifically, hope in a Christ who “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). He bought our hope, and he modeled its fruit.
Returning good for evil is possible because of hope. “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14). And that Spirit is there with you to comfort you and to assure you that the glory is coming.
Overflowing Good Deeds
It is not only joy that survives and thrives through the mistreatment of others. So do good deeds. “If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God” (1 Peter 2:20). “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19).
“Very few people are deeply impressed with a lifestyle that only avoids bad behaviors.”
The triple goal in such good deeds is to silence ignorance, shame slanderers, and convert them all.
This is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. (1 Peter 2:15)
Have a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:16)
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12)
In other words, as God wills, there are good deeds that even the world must acknowledge are compelling. When those good deeds are done for the very ones who hurt us, they become more compelling. And when they are done with joy, they are almost irresistible. Someone is going to ask, “What are you hoping in?”
Therefore, Christians are not just casual about good deeds, but “zealous for what is good” (1 Peter 3:13). That’s why I said Christian hope produces a life of overflowing good deeds.
Pray They Would Ask
The burning question for the church today is, Does the world ask? If not, why not? Peter didn’t say how often it would happen. He says be ready when it does. Surely God’s Spirit creates seasons in history when the people of God are more hopeful, more fearless, and more merciful — and the world is more attentive and more disposed by God’s grace to see reality.
Let us pray that such a season would be upon us. But you need not wait for the macro-shifts in the church and the world. There is hope to be enjoyed, fear to be defeated, and a good deeds ready to be done — today.