The third detail that Peter now highlights is consecration. We see this in his words, ‘in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy.’ For Peter, an important element in resisting opposition is regular reminders of who Jesus is. It is as if he is saying, ‘Before you do anything, remind yourself who Jesus is.’ We are not merely to think about Jesus, but we are also to honour him. Consecration requires bowing of the heart before the confession of the lips. The reason why we fail to serve Jesus is often traceable to this necessary action of giving him first place in our hearts because of his unique person and position.
Peter mentions a fourth detail – convictions. The term for ‘defence’ that Peter uses points to the real possibility that he has a court case in mind. He is not merely telling Christians that they should always be ready to tell their neighbours about the faith in the sense of personal witness. The situation seems to be one where Christians are being slandered and reviled because of their Christian outlook. Peter’s teaching includes preparation and practice.
The preparation involves understanding the Christian message. It is interesting that what the Christians will need to explain is their hope, which draws attention to what they believe will happen in the future. This must include their expectations regarding the return of Jesus, the resurrection, and the eternal state. I suppose the reason why they would have to explain these details is because the Christian message about another King would be regarded as threatening by the Roman authorities. Whatever the reason, the Christians had to prepared at any time to explain what they believed.
But how were they to give their explanation? Given that it is very difficult to undergo false accusations, the temptation would have been there to answer in an aggressive manner. In contrast to such a response, the Christians were to defend themselves with gentleness and with respect to the authority of the court. In other words, they were to be Christlike.
The fifth requirement for a Christian response to persecution is a good conscience (v. 16). When in their defence they would claim innocence of the charges they had to have a conscience that was clean. There is no benefit in claiming innocence if one is guilty. This is a reminder by Peter that God’s people have to live circumspect lives all the time, so that when they are accused, their conscience will testify that the slander is false.
Peter has a sixth requirement and that is compliance with God’s sovereign will (v. 17). Sometimes Christians will be unjustly punished and when that happens believers should acknowledge the sovereignty of God and wait for him to vindicate them, whether in providence or at the judgment seat. They know that he has a big plan and that one small element in it is their current circumstances. Their situation is not a denial of his wisdom or his power or his love. Instead, they submit to his providence because they know that he knows what he is doing.