But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you. — 1 Peter 3: 15
Our Bible text first of all assigns us the task of sanctifying Christ in our hearts. What does this mean? Christ lives in our hearts—through faith (Ephesians 3: 17). Apostle Paul brings this conviction of faith—which all reborn souls share—to expression in striking fashion: “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2: 20).
Sanctifying Christ in our hearts
Sanctifying Christ in our hearts is a process. At first it takes place in the innermost part of a person: human beings who have been sanctified through the sacraments are called upon to hear the word of God, to occupy themselves with it intensively, and to move it in their hearts just as Mary did (Luke 2: 19). By internalizing the word of Christ, which we hear in the sermon, our knowledge grows and our faith is deepened. Superficiality disappears and we begin to believe with the heart (Romans 10: 8–10, 17). Believing with our hearts leads us to be filled with the life of Christ.
Sanctifying Christ with our mouths
Those who believe with their hearts will also want to profess their faith with their lips. This brings us to a further task incumbent upon us from our Bible text, namely that we should give a defence of our faith to everyone who asks for it. Faith and profession are inseparably linked. Those who feel secure in the doctrine will find it easy to justify their faith to others. Here it is important to avoid fanaticism and the compulsion to always be right about everything. Let us treat our neighbour “with meekness and fear [of God]” (1 Peter 3: 15).
Sanctifying Christ in deed
As Christians, let us live credibly by exhibiting love for both God and our neighbour. Love for God shows itself in our endeavour to live in accordance with His will, as well as in our collective worship in the divine services. Our love for our neighbour is revealed when we treat our neighbour in the same way as we would want to be treated by him (Matthew 7: 12).
And yet our love for our neighbour does not end with daily matters. Belief in the gospel motivates us to share salvation in Christ with all people.
If we are permeated by the love of Jesus and convinced of the universality of the divine will to save (1 Timothy 2: 4), we will recognize our tasks, namely
- To spread the hope of eternal salvation founded upon Christ to others.
- To draw attention to the special grace afforded the bridal congregation, who will be the first to enjoy salvation.
Sanctifying Christ in the congregation
The sermon, which produces faith, is accessible to us in the divine services. For this reason, we invite others to our congregations in order to celebrate the divine services with us.
From the holiness of the services and the conduct of the congregation it should be possible for others to recognize that the word of Christ dwells there richly (Colossians 3: 16). If our congregational life were to be characterized by disagreements and annoyance, this would make access to the word of God more difficult.
So if our hearts, conduct, and congregation are filled with Christ, we will profess with our mouths (Matthew 12: 34). However, if our mouths remain mute, the question arises: where are we lacking in this fullness of Christ—in our hearts, in our conduct, or in our congregation?
* Thoughts from the Chief Apostle adapted for divine service for the departed held on 10 July 2016 at Midrand Congregation.