1 PETER #16: GOD AND GOVERNMENT

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I am free, no matter what kind of government exists in the country I live in. I am a servant of Christ, no matter how free I am politically. I am a follower of Jesus, who endured injustice, and instigated a kingdom that is not of this world. These things have profound impacts on how I relate to the governments of this world.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen. To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 16

1 PETER #16. 1 PETER 2:13-17

I will take this next section piece by piece, but we should keep in mind the whole section from verses 13 through 25, because we need to keep the context clear to understand it properly. Please read all of those verses (13-25) before continuing.

The ESV says “be subject to…” Other translations might say “submit to.” The thing we are told to submit to is “every human institution.” Just to clarify, Peter names the types of things he means: emperors and governors. In other words: “be subject to the government.” Right away, I would expect most Americans to bristle at this idea. I know I do, and I was not even raised in America. I don’t want to “be subject” to anyone. I want to be free. It gets worse when I find that it is the government to which I should submit.

Let’s start out with the qualifiers, exceptions, and objections – there are legitimate ones. Peter himself, on several different occasions, refused to obey governing authorities. If you want to find a couple of those, please read Acts 4:18-21, and Acts 5:27-29. In those cases, Peter and the other apostles were doing what Jesus told them to do: preaching repentance, forgiveness and salvation, in the name of Jesus. The authorities told them not to do it. Peter responded, in Acts 4:19: “”You yourselves judge which is right in God’s sight—to obey you or to obey God.”

This gives us a clear understanding of certain situations. If obeying the governing authorities would lead us to disobey God, we calmly choose to obey God. In addition, we accept the consequences of disobeying the government. Peter and the other apostles were in and out of prison, and sometimes beaten or whipped, for their continual civil disobedience in this way. They never said: “You don’t have the right to imprison us!” They never reacted violently. However, they continued to obey God when there was a conflict between following Jesus and submitting to the governing authorities. You might say this principle in short is: “Obey God, and accept the consequences.”

I want to make sure this is clear, however. This civil disobedience came about only from a direct conflict between following Jesus and obeying the authorities. In other words, they didn’t disobey the government simply because they perceived it to be unfair, or unjust, or even criminal. The only cause for disobedience was when obedience to the government meant disobedience toward God. In other words they disobeyed only if the authorities were telling them to stop doing something that they must do as followers of Jesus, or to do something that God says is wrong (that is, sinful). So, if the government tells you your taxes are going up, or that you aren’t allowed to raise chickens in your neighborhood, or that you can’t park wherever you feel like, you have no Biblical case to disobey.

On the other hand, if the government tells you to stop reading your Bible, or to stop participating in church, or stop telling others about Jesus, you can disobey with a clear conscience – although you should also be ready to accept the consequences of your civil disobedience. In the second category, if the government tells you to do something wrong, like murdering someone, or lying, it is appropriate to disobey the government. Again, however, don’t be surprised if you end up in trouble for it. Peter’s point is that following Jesus is worth the trouble. We do need to understand that following Jesus won’t necessarily keep us out of trouble with the government, or our bosses at work.

There’s another caveat to add. The apostles and early Christians apparently saw nothing wrong with doing what they could to avoid conflict, and even to avoid unjust punishment from the government. When a great persecution broke out in Jerusalem, many Christians fled from there to other areas, and that, in fact, helped the gospel to spread. In plain terms, they ran away before they could be caught and thrown into prison (Acts 8:1-3). The Bible does not condemn them for that, and in fact, seems to see it positively.

Shortly after Paul became a Christian, he began to preach in the city of Damascus. The authorities came after him, and Paul’s friends helped him escape one night by lowering him over the city wall in a basket (Acts 9:23-25). So, again, this is an example of someone running away from the governing authorities, and he is not condemned for it.

One of the times Peter was imprisoned is recorded in Acts 12:1-19. The apostle James was executed. The authorities were going to kill Peter, also, but, as the church prayed for him, an angel released him from prison. I want to point out that the church did not lead an insurrection that led to Peter’s release. No, they prayed for him, and trusted God with the result. After going to the house-church and telling them he was safe, Peter hid from the authorities. The Bible never suggests that it was wrong of Peter to hide for a while after escaping from prison.

Also, whenever possible, Christians used the mechanisms of the government to get relief from persecution. Several times Paul used his Roman citizenship to force the authorities to treat him better (Acts 16:37) and give him a fair trial (Acts 21:22-29). So it isn’t wrong to dispute with the government through proper legal mechanisms.

It is important to understand these types of exceptions and qualifications. But the fact remains that, in general, we are supposed to be subject to the governing authorities. Paul too, affirmed that this is normal Christian practice (Romans 13:1-7) In teaching this, Peter and Paul were only passing on the teaching of Jesus himself.  When Jesus was questioned about paying taxes, he said, in no uncertain terms, that people should pay them. These taxes were manifestly unfair to start with, and were collected by corrupt people who charged extra in order to line their own pockets. But Jesus told his followers to pay them anyway, and focus instead on the kingdom of God:

13 Then they sent some of the Pharisees and the Herodians to Jesus to trap him in his words. 14 When they came, they said to him, “Teacher, we know you are truthful and don’t care what anyone thinks, nor do you show partiality but teach the way of God truthfully. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we? ”
15 But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius to look at.” 16 They brought a coin. “Whose image and inscription is this? ” he asked them.
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
17 Jesus told them, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.

(Mark 12:13-17, CSB)

In a way, Jesus was saying, “The government is irrelevant. The corruption is irrelevant. None of that can stop the kingdom of God. None of that matters as much as your citizenship in heaven.”

So, the whole point behind the Christian attitude toward government is that we are, first and foremost, citizens of the Kingdom of God. We need to live like that, and that means that the actions of any particular government are not as important to us as our callings in God’s Kingdom.

The government when Peter wrote these verses was made up of layers of dictatorships upon dictatorships, and corruption upon corruption. The common people had very little freedom or opportunity. In other words, they put up with a lot of – [insert your own adjective] – stuff from the government, and Peter says, “obey the government anyway.”

If it is any comfort, you don’t have to like it. But the truth is, as much as I like to complain, I am still better off under the American government today than I am under any other government in the world at this time. In fact, I am better off under the American government today than I would have been in any other place in the world, at any other time in history, except possibly the American government of forty to fifty-seven years ago. (If you go back to earlier than 1964, you will find that the U.S. government legally allowed the oppression of minorities and women). So, compared to Peter, and compared to most of the population of the world throughout history, and even today, we don’t have much to complain about.

The point is though, even when we do have legitimate complaints about earthly government, our focus as followers of Jesus should be on our citizenship in heaven. Peter writes: “Live as free people, but don’t use your freedom to cover up evil. Live as servants of God.” So we are free, no matter what the government does to us. And yet, even if we live in a wonderfully free society, we are bound to the Lord, and are His servants. Peter gives us the key: “Be subject, for the Lord’s sake, to every human institution…” We don’t submit to the government because it’s a good government. We do it for the sake of the Lord. After all, we are followers of Jesus. We should expect to live life as he did. This is the way Jesus lived with regard to the authorities:

21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

(1 Peter 2:21-23)

It is not that we expect the government to always be good and just. It is rather that we entrust ourselves to God. And even when injustice occurs (as it certainly did, in the crucifixion of Jesus) God will bring goodness, glory and grace out of it, sooner or later.

Peter also uses as an example the instance of a Roman slave who is treated unjustly. He says, to such a person, “There is something bigger here than your experience of injustice. God will deal with the injustice, and it will be sorted out in the end. In the meantime, when you suffer unjustly, it is a credit to you, and there is grace for you in following in the way of Jesus.”

We often want to make our submission conditional upon whether or not the authority we submit to is good. We’re willing  to submit when we can see why it’s a good idea, or if we can see the position of the government is just. But if we think it is wrong, or unfair, we are inclined to think, “I don’t have to obey, because it isn’t just or fair.”

However, if you only submit to those authorities that you judge are good, you are left with a huge problem. Who, aside from Jesus, is truly good? You could find fault with any authority whatsoever, because all human beings are corrupted by sin. Not only that, but we are human beings, so we could not even claim that individuals should have authority over themselves, because we ourselves are also corrupted by sin, and if we are “in charge of ourselves,” so to speak, that means that we are under a corrupt authority. No, there is no legitimacy in obeying only when we think it’s fair. Again, we submit not because we approve of the government, but because of the Lord.

I say all this with a great deal of trepidation. It seems to me that the rules are rapidly changing, and the American government and institutions are rapidly pursuing a course that will result in a great deal more legal injustice, even though they claim it is in the name of justice. I think it is a very real possibility that before long I will be confronted with whether or not I can follow my own teaching in this matter. Of course, I hope it isn’t my teaching, but that of the Bible. My point is, we live in a generation where this teaching will be severely tested.

Probably within eighteen months of when Peter wrote this, Emperor Nero began a horrific persecution of Christians in Rome, the city where Peter wrote this letter. During the worst part of it, Nero had Christians tied to stakes, and then burned alive, in order to light up the palace gardens at night. This was the emperor at the time when Peter wrote: “obey the governing authorities.”

Legend has it that Peter decided to flee Rome, along with thousands of other Christians. While he was on the way, he was met by a vision of Jesus. Jesus said, “Where are you going, Peter?” Peter took that as Jesus telling him to remain in Rome, and accept the consequences. Whether or not Peter had that vision, he certainly did stay in Rome, and he was killed by the Emperor that he told his readers to obey. He absolutely put his own words into practice.

So, too, we must be prepared to accept the consequences which come, which might involve the loss of a job, or even a career. In some instances, it might involve being fined, taxed unfairly, and possibly even imprisoned. Our own property might be taken from us. We Christians have a history  of peaceful resistance that spans millennia, and even today, Christians in various parts of the world are imprisoned, lose their own rightful property, and sometimes are killed, as they follow Jesus, and refuse to return violence for violence.

Again, there are clearly instances where we will have to disobey governing authorities. And again, I say that according to the Bible, this must be a peaceful disobedience, one that accepts the consequences without returning violence for violence

I have occasionally heard American Christians say things like: “If they come to take my guns, they can have them by the end that shoots the bullets.” Or, “They better bring an army when they come for my house.” Believe me, I understand the sentiments. I truly do. I feel those same feelings. It feels like there could be a time when our very freedom is at stake. But Jesus has made us different than that, better than that. Because we belong to Jesus, we are free, no matter what kind of government we live under. We can allow our property to be confiscated because we have “property” in the New Creation that can never be taken from us. Everything we have in this life is only borrowed, anyway.

Certainly, if such a thing happens to me, I will fight it by every legal and peaceful means I can employ. But in the end, the way to achieve freedom is to follow in the way of Jesus Christ. If we taught more and more people in our country to follow Jesus, political freedom would  not be an issue. Even secular writer Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that the freedom experienced by Americans was directly connected to the fact that so many Americans were Christians at that time. If you want to “fight for freedom,” live like a follower of Jesus, and encourage others to do the same. If enough people follow Jesus, government won’t be an issue. However, according to Jesus, government isn’t an issue in any case.

In the meantime the point is, I am a citizen of God’s Kingdom before and after I am a citizen of any country on earth. Obeying the government whenever I can, and peacefully disobeying when there is a conflict with following God, becomes a way to follow in the path of Jesus, and to proclaim to the world that we have found something far better than anything this world has to offer.

1 PETER #15: A DIFFERENT KIND OF WAR

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The desires of the flesh wage war on our souls, leaving us hollow-shelled and hopeless. We learn to abstain from them not because it’s a law, but because God has already made us his people. When we connect to his love, we find strength to abstain from the flesh, and that brings glory to God, which is the best thing for us, and for the whole world.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: For some people, especially if you are using your phone, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen. To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 15

As always, we need to keep in mind the context of our verses. This time, context is especially important, otherwise we might get the wrong idea. Remember, Peter has been writing about what God has done for us. We are God’s specially selected people; a holy nation; a royal priesthood; a people obtained by, and for, God. Once we were not God’s people, but now we are; once we had not received his mercy, but now we have. God’s purpose in making us his own includes showing the universe that he is a good, holy and loving God.

Therefore – with God’s grace showered on us, with new identities as God’s people –

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul 12 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 2:11-12, ESV)

So we can see right away that we abstain from sinful desires not in order to become God’s people, but rather, because he has already made us his people. Avoiding sin is about living according to our true nature as God’s children.

I have used the marriage analogy many times in the past, and, of course, the Bible itself portrays our relationship with Jesus as a marriage. I live like a married man because I am a married man. I don’t avoid adultery in order to become married to Kari, or in order to get Kari to love me. Instead, I abstain from adultery because I love Kari, because I know Kari loves me, and because we are (already) married.

If I want to be married, is it necessary to avoid adultery? I would say so. Does that mean Kari loves me only for the things I do, or don’t do: i.e., she loves me primarily because I have avoided adultery? No. Simply abstaining from adultery is not the main basis for a marriage, but it is the natural result of a loving relationship between husband and wife. It’s about love, not law, but love affects behavior.

So, should we abstain from sin if we belong to Jesus? I would say so. Does Jesus only love and save us if we don’t sin? Is abstaining from sin the main basis for our relationship with Jesus? No – it is the natural result of first, connecting with how much God loves us, and second, our own awakening love for God. I’ll say it again, because it is so important: It’s about love, not law, but love affects behavior.

With that understanding, let’s talk about what Peter means when he tells us we should “abstain from the passions of the flesh.” First the word “abstaining,” is, in Greek, the opposite of “complete fullness.” In other words, the point is, we abstain completely. We don’t just limit ourselves to a “little bit” of the passions of the flesh. The goal is to have nothing to do with them whatsoever. Certainly, less indulgence of the flesh is better than more, but the goal is none.

That naturally raises the question: what are these “passions of the flesh?” Flesh is a term used by Paul and Peter to describe the source of sinful desires in someone who belongs to Jesus. Maybe one way to say it is this: My flesh = my body, corrupted by sin. Our sinful desires don’t originate in the spirit, or even the soul. They come from the flesh. Paul explains to the Galatians that the desires of the flesh lead to the works (actions) of the flesh:

17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.

(Galatians 5:17-21, ESV)

The list above is not exhaustive, unfortunately, but I’m sure you get the idea. If we keep in mind what I’ve been saying about love, we won’t need an exhaustive list. Instead, what we need is to cultivate our receiving of God’s love, and cultivate our own love for him.

There are three reasons to abstain from the desires of the flesh: First, because God has made us his people. That’s mostly what we’ve been talking about so far – it means our behavior arises out of God’s love for us, and our loving response to him. There’s another piece, also, about being God’s people. Peter comments that being the people of God means we are strangers and temporary residents in this sinful world. This world is not our home. We are not citizens here, and so we live differently. In fact, we are to live on this earth as though we are already citizens of heaven – because, in fact, that is what we are!

Though your present body will have to die, your spirit, and your soul, will not. In some mysterious way, your spirit-life is already with Christ in heaven.

1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.

(Colossians 3:1-3, NLT)

So, your spirit is alive with Christ. Your body is corrupted by sin, and is dying slowly. Your soul is the interface between spirit and body. It can be influenced by the spirit, or by the sin-corrupted body – that is, the flesh. The Lord wants us to remember that we belong in heaven, and in fact, one part of us is already “there” in some way (our spirit). The fact that we belong to God makes us strangers and non-citizens of the world. So we live like God’s people, not worldly people.

Peter writes that the passions of the flesh “wage war against your soul.” This is the second reason to abstain from them. The term translated “wage war” is an interesting one, in Greek. Another way to say it is that the passions of the flesh are waging a long and strategic campaign against your soul.

The Lord wants to influence your soul through the spirit. The devil wants to influence your soul through your sin-corrupted body – that is, your flesh. The soul is the battle ground. We need to remember that we are in a spiritual war.

The flesh will offer you immediate gratification, but somehow, the gratification part doesn’t last very long. As David Wilcox wrote: “You can get what’s second best…but it’s hard to get enough.” Your soul is built for God and his New Creation, but the passions of the flesh dull our spiritual senses. They take away our taste for God. They encourage us to not be thankful, always reminding us instead, of what we don’t have. When we indulge the passions of the flesh, it begins to steal our hope. We live for whatever shallow pleasure we can get, so we never get the chance to experience deep joy, which often only comes after a kind of emptiness. The flesh is insistent, and demanding, and ultimately it wears us out, and leaves us with a few tarnished cheap thrills, and nothing of lasting value. It brings us into strife with others, and even strife within our own hearts. If we let it, the flesh will leave us bored, angry, dull, frustrated, friendless, hopeless, heartless and hapless. It will blast the architecture of your soul into rubble.

God is not trying to spoil our fun. He wants us to recognize our enemies, and not be seduced by them. He wants our souls to thrive, and so, through Peter, the Holy Spirit warns us that the passions of the flesh will seek to destroy us.

The third reason to abstain from the passions of the flesh is because it brings glory to God, and whenever God is glorified, the best things in the universe happen. This is when the architecture of your soul gets built, and rebuilt. When you have one of those sublime moments of joy that somehow fill you and lift you up and make you long for even more, it is a result of the glory of God. When God is glorified, all is well within us also.

I wish it wasn’t true sometimes, but our behavior is one way that God is glorified. When we don’t meet hurt with hurt, when we say “no,” to mindless indulgence, when we live in love, others notice.

I mentioned this a few weeks ago, but it bears repeating. In Allahabad in northwest India, Hindu and Buddhist people have been present for millennia. Many of them have been powerful, wise and intelligent. A few hundred years ago, the area was conquered by Muslim rulers. They ruled the region for centuries, and they too were often powerful, wise and intelligent. No Hindu rulers, and no commoner, taught the people to read their own language. No Muslim or Buddhist did, either. Neither Muslims, Buddhists, or Hindus started schools, or provided widespread medical care to common people. But when Christians came to the area, they built hospitals, and brought medical care to even the most poor. They developed a written form of the languages spoken by the common people, and taught them to read and write. Then they built schools and universities. Christians living in the love of God do things that other people don’t normally do. It’s noticeable.

Make sure you understand here. I’m not saying that no one who calls themselves a Christian will do terrible things. I’m not saying that only Christians do good things, or that, for instance, Buddhists cannot be wonderful, loving, selfless people. I’m saying that the overwhelming testimony of history is that Christians who follow Jesus faithfully have had a noticeable impact on the world, in a way that is historically different from the impact of other world views.

Now, that’s a wide snapshot of history in a certain place of the world. I’m not suggesting that all of you reading this need to go overseas and teach literacy, or build schools or hospitals. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t either – listen to the Holy Spirit on that. But I am saying, based on this text, that we Christians are called to live like citizens of someplace that cannot yet be found on earth. When we do so, it protects our very souls, and it brings glory to God and blessing to this world.

When I hear something like that, I’m tempted to feel bad. I haven’t started a school for the poorest of the poor. I haven’t given up my house, and lived with the downtrodden. In other words, I start evaluating my performance. In fact, I bet I could find some Buddhists who have been better, more loving people than I have been. But I think that’s the wrong approach, especially if we actually want to live lives that glorify God.

I believe the right approach is to immerse ourselves in the love of God. That might seem selfish, but I promise you, it is not. God himself is not selfish. If we really connect deeply to his love, we will find ourselves naturally abstaining from the flesh, and living according to the spirit. When we fully receive God’s love for us, when we truly understand that we are his people, citizens of heaven, we will want to do the things that glorify him, because, after all, that’s what he made us for.

One thing I suggest is to ask God to let you receive more of his love. Just pray for it with a simple prayer. Ask him to help you love him, and to live through you, the life he wants you to live. After you ask, start paying attention. It’s not complicated. The hard part is surrendering to his love when he takes you (or one of your loved ones) in a direction that you aren’t sure about. So then, ask him to give you the trust in Him that you need for that, too.

1 PETER #14: AN ETHNICITY OF HOLINESS

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Jesus is the way of salvation, the only way. Every other path is doomed to keep a person separated from the goodness of God. If you reject Jesus, there are severe natural consequences – even more severe than rejecting gravity at the top of a cliff.

But rejecting Jesus is not the only possibility. Even those who once rejected him have the opportunity to turn back (that is, repent) and receive him, as long as they are still drawing breath. For those who do receive him, the consequences are wonderful: we are specially selected children, we are inducted into the priest-order of King Jesus, we are an ethnicity of holiness, and God’s specially-obtained people.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, click below to either download, or play from a new page:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 15

1 PETER #14. 1 PETER 2:9-10

There are many advantages to going verse by verse through books of the Bible. There are also a few disadvantages. One potential drawback is that we might forget the larger context of a passage. It’s all there, if we go back and look at it, and it’s all there within the overall sermon series – but sometimes individual sermons are focused on very small portions of the text, as we are today.

Therefore, let me remind you of our context. The verses just before this were about the contrast between those who receive Jesus, the cornerstone, the foundation of everything, and those who reject him. We focused last time on those who reject Jesus. Truth is sometimes hard. Only one person actually wins a race. That’s tough on everyone else who competes. Two plus two equals four; not three, not five, and six is right out. If you choose to “reject gravity,” and jump off a cliff you will fall downwards, and your body will suffer severe consequences, and this will happen to every single person who tries it. Not a single person will get to fall upwards, just by chance. So, Jesus is the way of salvation, the only way. Every other path is doomed to keep a person separated from the goodness of God. If you reject Jesus, there are severe consequences – even more severe than rejecting gravity at the top of a cliff.

But rejecting Jesus is not the only possibility. For those who receive him, the consequences are wonderful. And even those who once rejected him have the opportunity to turn back (that is, repent) and receive him, as long as they are still drawing breath. Also, the larger context is talking about how we who trust Jesus are God’s people, people that God is blessing, and using to show the world his glory. It is in this context, and after speaking about the consequences of rejecting Jesus, that Peter writes these verses:

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

(1 Peter 2:9-10, CSB)

In some ways, the key to these words is in verse 10, so I’ll go backwards. Peter is writing to primarily Gentile (that is, non-Jewish) Christians – this is obvious from verse 10:

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

God made many promises to the physical descendants of Abraham. He chose them out of all the people of the world to be his own special people, to show His glory, grace and goodness to the world. They were special, in a way that no other people were special. It was widely believed by the Jews that no one else could be called “God’s special people.”

Now, says Peter, all of those promises made to the physical descendants of Abraham are applied to those who receive Jesus – whether or not they are physical descendants of Abraham. Belonging to God is not about ethnicity, or ancestry, but about your standing with Jesus Christ.

So, when we read verse nine, we need to understand that Peter is talking about promises that were once thought to apply only to the people of Israel, and now, he is describing how they apply to everyone who receives Jesus Christ.

When we receive Jesus, a number of consequences cascade into place. First, we are a chosen race. In my amateur, Greek-hacker way, I might put the Greek like this: “specially-selected descendants.” Through Jesus, God has specially selected us to be his children. We find that all along, God wanted us. It is not a matter of an indifferent God waiting around to see if we would choose him. No, He was the one who chose us the whole time. I’m sure Peter had in mind some of the verses of the Old Testament:

Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.

(Deut 10:15, ESV)

And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

(Exodus 19:6, ESV)

We are chosen in Jesus. Because we have entrusted ourselves to Jesus, we have become the specially selected children of God. The promises above are for us.

Second, we are a kingly priesthood. In the Old Testament, there was an ancestral separation between those who could become priests, and those who could become kings. Priests had to be from the tribe of Levi, and from the clan of Aaron. In ancient Israel, no one else could be a legitimate priest. Kings, on the other hand were supposed to be from the tribe of Judah, descended from David. No priest could be a king, and vice versa. But in Jesus, the two came together. He is the rightful king because he is a descendant of David. He is the rightful High Priest because his sacrifice once and for all established the forgiveness of sins. So now God has chosen new “descendants of Jesus” who can be both royal, and priestly at the same time. Isaiah spoke prophetically about this:

but you shall be called the priests of the LORD;
they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God;

(Isaiah 61:6, ESV)

John mentions it in Revelation – not prophetically, but rather as one of the things established by the work of Jesus:

To him who loves us and has set us free from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father ​— ​to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

(Revelation 1:5-6, CSB)

We talked about what it means to be priests in #12 of this series on 1 Peter. The short version is that it means: 1. We have direct access to God, 2. We have an indispensable place in the church, which is called “the body of Christ,” 3. We are all God’s representatives in the world and, 4. We offer spiritual sacrifices to God: through praising him, submitting to God’s will, and giving him our very selves.

Peter adds here that our priesthood is “royal.” This is added first and foremost to show that we are not priests like the Old Testaments Levites, nor even the descendants of Aaron. We are priests in the line of Jesus. He is the only royal priest, and so, we too, are royal, because we are in Jesus.

The next result of being in Jesus is that we are a holy people. The more-or-less literal Greek reads: “an ethnicity of holiness.” To be Christian has nothing to do with physical ethnicity. Christianity, from the very beginning, has been a religion of every nation, ethnicity and language, and our vision of heaven is firmly multi-ethnic. Part of the reason for this is that our physical/genetic ethnicity is now not as important as our spiritual ethnicity. Our spiritual ethnicity is the ethnicity of holiness. Another way of saying this is that our “true ethnicity” is based not upon physical birth, but upon spiritual birth; that is, upon the fact that Jesus Christ has made us holy.

We can praise God for our physical ancestry. We can see how God worked in our ancestors to bring glory to Himself, and grace to us. It’s good to celebrate it. It is also good to celebrate our positive or neutral cultural differences as part of the multi-faceted glory of God. So, for instance, be proud of being African-American. Be in awe of the glory of God that preserved your ancestors through slavery to bring you to this point in time. Enjoy your cultural traditions. Invite friends of different ethnic groups.

Or, be proud of your scrappy Irish ancestors, who overcame all sorts of obstacles in the past to bring you to where you are today. Celebrate St. Patrick’s day (as a Christian). Or, if you are a Scandinavian, celebrate your heritage with lutefisk festivals. You Germans, and German-descended, celebrate Bach, polka, and sauerkraut. Again, everyone invite your friends of different cultural backgrounds to celebrate together with you (except you Scandinavians: lutefisk could start a war).

However, all of us should recognize that there is something much greater and more glorious, and far more important than our physical ancestry: our spiritual ethnicity. If we are Christians, our spiritual heritage, our ethnicity as God’s people, trumps everything else. Peter is saying that all of us can claim the spiritual heritage of the Old Testament (and, of course, the new). The promises made to God’s people are made to us. Our identity as the specially selected people of God is more important, and should be more dominant, than any other possible identity.

On the negative side, I might put it like this: If you feel like race or culture separates you from a fellow-Christian, you have not fully embraced God’s promises.

On the positive side, we need to recognize that we have more in common (for instance) with a Christian from thousands of miles away, who is from a different country, and speaks a different language, than we do with a non-Christian neighbor who looks and sounds just like us. This isn’t to say that we should be uncaring toward our non-Christian neighbor. But our “primary group” so to speak, the group we call “our people,” is not defined by physical ethnicity, culture or language. It is defined by Jesus Christ.

The phrase is “ethnicity of holiness.” We’ve just talked about the “ethnicity” part of that. Let’s consider the “holiness” part. I think a lot of Christians, upon hearing that word, might say, “well, that’s not me then, because I am not holy.” My dear fellow holy-people, we really need to get over ourselves. The holiness of God’s people is not our own. I am not considered holy because I have been a particularly good person. I am holy for one reason only: because I belong to Jesus, and he has imparted his own holiness to me. For a Christian, being holy does not start with our behavior – it starts with the behavior of Jesus Christ.

Consider the following analogy: I am an indifferent gardener. Sometimes, I might leave a garden hose, with a sprayer nozzle attached to it, lying in the dirt for months at a time. When I finally decide to water something, I attach the hose to the tap, and then turn it on. It takes several seconds for the water to come through. When the water starts to come out of the sprayer, it comes in fits and starts, because the other end of the hose has dirt in it. Also, parts of the sprayer are clogged with dirt. Sometimes the hose is kinked, and I have to straighten it out to get more than a few drips. The water isn’t coming through steadily, and what does come through is actually kind of dirty. Now, does this mean the water coming out of the tap is dirty, or that the pressure is bad? Of course not. It is the hose that is kinked and dirty, and also the sprayer, and the dirt and kinks impair the flow of the water, and makes it look dirty. But the water itself is pure and clean at the source. Over time, I find the kinks and straighten them, and the water washes the dirt out of the hose, and out of the sprayer, and eventually, I have clean water coming through a fully functioning sprayer.

The hose is not the source of the water – it is merely a vehicle for the water. The same is true of the sprayer-attachment.

The water is the holiness of Christ. We are the hose and the sprayer. We don’t generate holiness – it comes through us. At first, that holiness doesn’t look very “holy,” because we have plenty of dirt in us. At first, it only comes through in dirty-looking drips and drabs. Over time, the holiness of Christ begins to unkink us, and clean us up from the inside out. Unfortunately, it takes a lifetime – the dirt is caked on thick and tough, and the kinks are hardened in. But over time, the holiness does begin to flow better, and look cleaner. Again, however, that is not because we are generating holiness ourselves – it is the holiness of Christ working its way through us.

I don’t think it is very helpful to ask how close we are to having pure water. The more helpful thing to do is to surrender ourselves more and more fully to Jesus, and let him take care of the unkinking, let him worry about how quickly, or slowly, the dirt is removed, so that the water flows freely.

The third thing is that we are a people for his possession. Another way to express the Greek is that we were “specially-obtained” by and for God. He went to great lengths to get us, to make us his own.

All that brings us to the final thing. There is a purpose for God making us his specially selected children, a royal priesthood, an ethnicity of holiness, specially obtained by and for God. To paraphrase the end of verse nine, the purpose is so that God can use us to show the world how wonderful He is.

Sometimes, I end with practical suggestions for applying scripture to our lives. Today my practical suggestion is this: Believe the word of God. Trust that it is true. God has specially selected you to be part of his people. Trust it! Lean into it! God has inducted you into a holy priesthood in the order of King Jesus. Believe it, then act like you believe it. The Father has made you an ethnicity of holiness. Trust it is true, and act as you believe. Receive your fellow Christians as family, no matter what they look like or sound like. The Father has gone to great lengths to make us his people. Believe it! Receive his special attention and love. Finally, let him work through you to show the world how wonderful he is. If we believe and trust all that these verses say, then we will naturally be letting God show his glory to the world.

1 PETER #13: THE ROCK-HARD TRUTH

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Many people, both past and present, recognize that Christianity has been a greater force for good in this world than any other religion or worldview. But some people want to have the benefits of Christianity without the difficult, almost embarrassing, business of actually entrusting their lives to Jesus Christ. That is, they want to stop short of having faith. However, Jesus’ chief apostle, Peter, presents us with something we in the modern world seem to hate: a binary choice. Jesus is the cornerstone, the foundation upon which everything depends. Those who trust in him will not be put to shame. Those who reject him will find themselves destroyed by that rejection. To be a Christian is to trust Jesus. Without that, there is no Christianity.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 13

1 PETER 13: 1 PETER 2:6-8

Every year, during the week leading up to Easter, there are always a number of articles about Christianity written by public intellectuals. (According to Kari, I am not a public intellectual, but I am a private intellectual. I’m still not sure what to make of that…)

This past week I read an article by Tim DeRoche, a writer who is wrestling with Christianity. He recognizes that many intelligent people, even today, acknowledge the power for good that is found in Christianity, and how faith in Jesus Christ: “over the last 2,000 years has largely been correlated with decreasing levels of slavery, war, crime, poverty, and general suffering.” He is not the first person to recognize this, and it is not a matter of opinion, but rather, established historical fact.

At the same time, this writer seems to want the benefits of Christianity without insisting that we actually have to have faith in Jesus. DeRoche considers the modern philosophers who are also wrestling with the fact that Christianity has been such a tremendous force for good in the world. He writes:

Instead of arguing that Christianity is factually accurate or literally true, they show us how and why Christianity works—for the individual and for the common good. 

So where do I stand now? Am I a “believer” or a “nonbeliever”? I don’t know. I’m not sure it matters all that much.

(https://bariweiss.substack.com/p/the-secular-case-for-christianity?s=r)

At a different point, he tries to argue that the Christian and secular worldviews have been “falsely” separated by – if you can imagine – “belief.” I appreciate DeRoche’s interest and honesty, but unfortunately, he is utterly confused. He is not remotely the first person to want to have the good parts of Christianity without the difficult, self-denying leap of faith. But our verses today clearly point out that faith in Jesus Christ is something that irrevocably separates Christians from non-Christians. Jesus is the cornerstone. Those who trust him will not be put to shame, and those who do not will be undone by Him.

To help us understand this Bible concept, below is a picture showing a “cornerstone.”

The illustration shows the cornerstone as the largest stone in the middle of the picture. As you can see, the cornerstone is generally quite large compared to the other stones, and it supports the entire wall along both sides. In fact, in ancient building techniques, all four walls ultimately depend upon the cornerstone. If you were to remove the cornerstone, all the other walls would collapse, at least to some extent. So, the structural integrity of the entire building rests upon the cornerstone. It is, for all intents and purposes, the foundation of the building.

There are three important implications of this picture of Jesus as the cornerstone.

First, it means that everything depends upon Jesus. He is the foundation. Without him, there is no Christian faith. When I read the article by Tim DeRoche, (quoted above) I appreciated his interest in Christianity, and his openness and honesty. But it seemed like he has no understanding of what Christianity actually is. It is faith in Jesus Christ. Without that, there is no foundation, Everything falls apart.

Imagine I said: “I can see the benefits of technology. Electricity, running water, medical devices, computers and the internet have benefitted millions. I can agree with that. But I don’t like this business of science. I want to have the technology without all that troublesome science.” That is silly, of course. Without the science, the technology would never have happened.

That is what it sounds like when someone says they want the benefits of Christianity without having to have faith in Jesus. It simply doesn’t work that way. Without the faith, there would be no benefits. The Christianity that changed the world, the religion that has led to greater freedom for billions, more economic security, the end of slavery, the reduction of crime and suffering, is faith in Jesus Christ. Without people who actually trusted Jesus Christ, none of the benefits of Christianity would ever have come to be. You cannot be a Christian without having actual faith in Jesus Christ.

Second, when we trust him, when we build our lives upon him, we are ultimately secure. We can rely upon him. We won’t be put to shame. This doesn’t mean we will never suffer, or that life will always go well for us. But when we trust Jesus, ultimately we will be vindicated for doing so. Certainly if not before, our trust will be vindicated at the final judgment, which is where it matters most. Peter’s readers were a tiny religious minority in a culture that at times ignored them, and other times mocked them, or even persecuted them. Peter is telling them: don’t worry about that. Your trust in Jesus will turn out to be the most important thing in eternity. When life is over, the only thing that will matter is whether or not you trusted him. At that point everyone will see and be unable to deny that trusting Jesus was more important than any lost opportunity, any insult, any harm suffered for his sake.

The trajectory of our lives is bound to that of Jesus Christ:

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2:6-11, ESV)

There may be a time where we are humbled by our faith in Jesus, when we may have to suffer, when it may look like the enemies of Christ are winning. But eventually, all humanity will have to acknowledge the victory of Christ. Eventually, just as we may be included in the path of his suffering, those of us who trust in him will also be included in the victory he has achieved.

This leads us to the third thing: the person of Jesus Christ is unmoving and unyielding. All who oppose him will ultimately be destroyed. Imagine trying to fight a rock with nothing more than your body. If a giant rock and your body collide, it is your body that will be destroyed, not the rock. So, Peter writes this:

7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”8 and  “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

(1 Peter 2:7-8, ESV)

I’m sure Peter was thinking of Jesus’ own words when he wrote this. Here’s how Jesus himself put it:

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is what the Lord has done
and it is wonderful in our eyes?
43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruit. 44 Whoever falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will shatter him.”

(Matthew 21:42-44, CSB)

Those who reject Jesus will eventually be broken by him. Right now, we live in a time of grace. As long as you are still alive, you have the chance to repent, and to trust Jesus. But when Jesus returns, or, when you die (either of which could happen at any time), if you have rejected Jesus, you will be broken to pieces and shattered by the cornerstone.

We don’t have the option of saying, “I’ll take Christianity, except without all the business about whether or not I actually believe.” Christianity is trusting Jesus. Jesus himself, in the passage I just quoted, made it clear that if we do not trust him, we will be destroyed. If you simply read the gospels, this is all quite clear. Jesus himself was the one who claimed that he was the only way to be saved. He consistently taught, time and time again, that our eternal future depends upon how we respond to him. That is the essential core of Christianity.

This business of being destroyed is not a threat. Christian theology has never allowed us to try and convert anyone by fear or by force. (History records Christians occasionally trying to convert people by force or coercion. But those who did so were defying the teachings of the Bible).

The situation is like this: you are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and your ship has sunk. There is nothing around you but empty ocean for three-thousand miles in every direction. There is only one lifeboat. If  you want to be saved, that lifeboat is your only option, and there is plenty of room on it. Anyone who is willing to get on it will be helped to do so. If you don’t like the idea of being in that particular boat, or you don’t like the people on it, you don’t have to get in it. But it is the only option if you want to live. If the words of Jesus are correct, he is the only lifeboat in the entire ocean. If you reject him, you have refused your only chance of living. The result will be predictable.

That might sound arrogant – to say that Jesus is the only way to be saved. But that is the claim of Jesus himself, given in his own words, and also in the words of those who knew him personally, and knew what he taught about himself:

6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, CSB)

1 This Jesus is the stone rejected by you builders, which has become the cornerstone.
12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12, CSB. This was said by Peter, who wrote the letter we are studying)

11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 The one who has the Son has life. The one who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:11-13, CSB)

There are many other places in which Jesus clearly taught that the only important thing was how people responded to him. The heart of the teaching of Jesus is that we must trust him to be saved. There is no Christianity without that.

Some people might be troubled by Peter’s words in verse eight. It makes it sound as if some people were born to go to hell. I  find the words of Matthew Henry to be helpful here:

God himself hath appointed everlasting destruction to all those who stumble at the word, being disobedient. All those who go on resolutely in their infidelity and contempt of the gospel are appointed to eternal destruction; and God from eternity knows who they are.

1 Peter 2:4 – Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible

As Matthew Henry points out, God knows who will receive Jesus, and who will reject him. So, in that sense certain people were always going to end up in hell. But even so, they go there by their own choice. What God foreordains is not who goes, but rather where they go. Those who reject Jesus are destined to be lost, because they have refused the only way of salvation.

So where are we today? Perhaps this idea of Jesus as the cornerstone is new to you. Perhaps you didn’t realize that Jesus calls each person to have allegiance to Himself above all others. Maybe you didn’t realize that Christianity without faith in Jesus is no longer Christianity. Maybe you need to hear his call today. He is either who he claimed to be, or he is a liar, or a crazy person. He doesn’t sound like a liar or crazy person, though.

The movement Jesus founded has unquestionably brought immense good into the world. It sounds bigoted to say this next thing, but it is indisputably true: Christianity has brought more good into the world, and has resulted in more human flourishing, than any other religion or worldview. Though Hinduism and Islam were dominant in the country of India for many centuries before Christianity, it was Christians who built the first hospitals and universities in India. It was Christians who turned Hindi and Urdu into written languages and taught Indians to read. It was a Christian woman (Mother Theresa) – not a Hindu mystic – who founded the first and most famous organization to bless the poorest of the poor in India. The same kinds of stories can be repeated about almost every country in the world. It is hard to believe that a liar or crazy person would have such an incredibly positive influence on the world. Maybe it’s time you came to grips with the real Person, Jesus Christ.

Perhaps you have already trusted Jesus with your life. But maybe you need to hear again today that those – like you – who trust in him, will not be put to shame. Life can be hard and cruel sometimes. It’s easy to feel abandoned by God. But we have a promise that we will be ultimately vindicated. Our trust in him is not misplaced. We may sometimes walk in the valley of the shadow of death, but we do not need to fear any evil there. Jesus too, walked through that valley, and he does so still – alongside his people who are suffering. We have eternal promises that can never be broken by this world. Our hope is in the right place, and will be rewarded with more than we could ask or imagine.

Finally, perhaps some of you need to hear that the choice is binary, because Jesus himself makes it binary. To choose against Jesus is to choose ultimate suffering, and blackest darkness, forever. This doesn’t sound like much of a choice, but that doesn’t really matter if it is a reflection of reality. If you decide you don’t like the binary confines of gravity, and you jump off a cliff, you will die, whether that seems fair to you, or not. Truth matters, and sometimes truth is hard. The incredible grace of God is that, in the person of Jesus Christ, he reconciled the truth of our rebellion against him with the truth of his immeasurable love for us. His tortuous death shows us just how serious our rebellion against God is. It also shows us how much God loves us – how much he went through to save us. The cross, and the resurrection, offer us a gateway to new life, to a new kind of life. Perhaps today is the day you will decide to receive it.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you today!

1 PETER #12: ORDINARY PRIESTS, SPIRITUAL SACRIFICES

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In Christ, we do not need priests to help us connect to God. ALL of us have direct access to God through Jesus Christ. This means that in a sense, we are all priests. That priesthood extends to the fact that all Christians are called to represent and serve God wherever we live, work and relax.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 12

1 Peter #12.  1 Peter 2:4-5

As you come to him, a living stone—rejected by people but chosen and honored by God—5 you yourselves, as living stones, a spiritual house, are being built to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 PETER 2:4-5

As in pretty much the entire letter, when Peter writes “you,” in Greek, it is plural. In English it should be “you all,” which is just one more argument for adopting “Y’all” as an actual, proper word. Anyway, Peter is saying that Christian communities are part of something that God is building. He begins the building with the foundation of Jesus – the living stone, rejected by humans – but he is building us Christians, through our local church communities, into living stones, and those living stones are making a spiritual house. Next, he explains that within the spiritual house of God, every single Christian is a priest.

I want to unpack this a little bit. We will deal with Jesus as a “living stone,” next time. Peter also calls his readers (that is, all Christians) “living stones.” He is providing an analogy about the church. If we needed any reminder that the church is not contained in physical buildings, here it is: we, the people who follow Jesus, are the building blocks, and we are being built into a spiritual house, not a physical one. Remember, there were no “church buildings,” until three hundred years after Peter wrote this letter. One of the main points Peter is making is that God lives within the community of his people (not within physical buildings). When we gather together to worship (even when it is on zoom), God inhabits our spiritual community in a special, and spiritual, way. Part of our purpose as Christians is to be a community in which God dwells.

Let’s spend the bulk of our time exploring the fact that Peter calls Christians “a holy priesthood.” In the first place, in ancient times, only a priest was allowed to “approach God” to make a sacrifice. For the Israelites, the priests had to be born into a particular bloodline. Most people were not priests, and as close as they ever could get to the presence of God was to stand outside of God’s temple, in the courtyard. The priests (lucky enough to be born into priestly families) were allotted into divisions, and the divisions were rotated in their service at the temple. The priests had to go through various cleansing rituals in order to be considered holy enough to complete their service of offering sacrifices on behalf of the people. No one but a priest ever got to go inside the temple, and even for a priest, it was probably a once in a lifetime chance, because you were chosen for the duty by random chance.

Most of Peter’s first readers were probably not Jews, so they might have been more familiar with the pagan religious rites of Greece and Rome.  Although perhaps the requirements were not so stringent, certainly, to engage in anything beyond a minor act of worship (like burning incense in front of an image in your own house), a priest or priestess had to be involved. If you really wanted to connect with a deity, or enlist its help, you needed someone in the class of priests. You couldn’t do it directly.

But Peter says: “Now, through Jesus, you are all priests!” This is one of the revolutionary aspects of Christianity: Because of Jesus Christ, by God’s grace, anyone can directly approach God through faith. You don’t need a priest to pray for you: you yourself can pray directly to God. And in fact, the prayers of a Christian priest/pastor are no better than those of any other Christian. Our prayers are heard because of Jesus Christ, not because the one who prays is somehow special. I have non-Christian friends who sometimes say something like this: “Put in a good word at the Pearly Gates for me.” I usually respond like this: “My word is no better than yours at the Pearly Gates. But I can introduce you to the guy I’m counting on to get me in.”

I am a called, trained, and ordained minister of God’s church. That does mean something. It means that I have a particular kind of calling to spend as much time as I can (ideally, all of my “working hours”) teaching people the Word of God, helping them to grow closer to Jesus, and training them to engage in the callings God has for their lives.. The calling to vocational ministry is relatively rare – maybe 1-5% of Christians are called to it. But my calling does not give me some special hotline to God that other people don’t get. It is about my role in the church, and about dedicating myself entirely to God’s service. It most certainly does not mean that people have to use me as an intermediary to talk to God. In fact, there is no point in trying to use a priest or pastor that way.

So that’s the first part of all Christians being the “priesthood of believers:” we all have direct access to God through Jesus Christ. No one is excluded. There is a second thing, also. While it is true that being called to full time vocational ministry is fairly rare, every single Christian is called to live in such a way that God is glorified, and the church is built up. Ephesians 4:11-16 explains:

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

(Ephesians 4:11-16, NLT)

This passage lays it out plainly. There are callings and gifts for vocational (full-time) ministry: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher. Some people say that all of these gifts are found in one person, and they call this “the five-fold ministry.” Others say that they are all supposed to be in separate people, so that every church should have at least five leaders (one with each of the gifts). My own inclination is to believe that all of these gifts are present, to some degree, in anyone who is called to full time ministry, but that they are not all found in equal measure.

So, for example, I have a friend who is also called to full time ministry. His strongest gift is that of pastor, and he has a clear gift of prophecy, also. He undoubtedly serves the broader church, like an apostle. He can also lead people to Jesus, as an evangelist (and has), and he can teach, but those are not his greatest strengths. Each of us who is called to vocational ministry has a unique combination of these five things. My friend is a bit older than me, and he has observed that over the many years of his ministry, at times he was called to be more of a prophet, and other times more of a pastor, and right now is doing more with his gifts of apostle (serving not just one congregation, but the church at large).

We see that one of the main aims in the work of those who are called to full time ministry is to equip everybody else in the church to also minister in some way. It is not the full time ministers who are supposed to do everything, but rather, we (the vocational ministers) are supposed to train others to use their talents and time to build up the church, and let love overflow to the world. In other words: every Christian is called to minister in some way. This is part of what it means to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices to God.

Pastors do have a particular and unique calling and gifting. But so does every other Christian! This is Christianity 101. Being a Christian means to follow Jesus, and that involves all of your life. It means your life is now to be used to lift up and glorify Jesus Christ. Paul describes it like this:

4 Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are different activities, but the same God activates each gift in each person. 7 A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial

(1 Corinthians 12:4-7, HCSB)

This does not necessarily mean that you should quit your job and just “live for Christ.” For most Christians, instead, it means, live for Christ where you are right now. If all the Christians who worked in a factory quit their jobs, who would be left to show the grace and truth of God to the others in the factory? If everyone became pastors, so many important things would be left undone.

12 For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body — so also is Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 So the body is not one part but many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” in spite of this it still belongs to the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,” in spite of this it still belongs to the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted. 19 And if they were all the same part, where would the body be? 20 Now there are many parts, yet one body.

(1 Corinthians 12:12-20, HCSB)

No, for most people, it means that you are called to represent God where you are right now. And, according to the verses above, that role is indispensable. God desires Christians in factories, in offices, in homes raising children, in transportation, in technology, in government, in education, in law, in sales, in small business – the list is almost endless. We are called to be priests wherever we are – that is representatives, and servants, of God. We are called to glorify God, and to touch others with God’s truth and love. That doesn’t mean you can never change jobs, but it does mean that whatever you do, wherever you go, you do it as a priest of God.

The third thing about the holy priesthood is that now we are set apart, special to God, just as priests were considered specially set apart to God. This can offer us a helpful rule of thumb for everyday behavior. You might ask yourself: “Can I say what I am about to say as a priest of God?” In other words, do my actions and words reflect my calling as one of God’s priests where I am? If not, maybe we need to change what we do and say. We can’t make that change without the help of the Holy Spirit, but recognizing the need to change is the first step.

Another aspect of this is integrity. Being a priest of God where you are may get you fired sometimes. I don’t mean that we should be unnecessarily confrontational. We shouldn’t go out of our way to create conflict. But at times, we may find ourselves facing a choice between doing what is right – that is, doing God’s will – or doing what our boss tells us to do. In such cases, being God’s representative may cost us something in material or financial terms. God promises, however, that whatever we lose in this life is more than compensated for:

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.

(Romans 8:18, HCSB)

In addition to being a priest in the workplace, and at home, you are a priest within the body of Christ, as well. That is, you can provide encouragement and support to other Christians in unique ways. You may have a call to lead a ministry to serve the poor, or to teach the Bible to children, or lead worship, or help maintain the physical resources of your church. You are probably called, at least from time to time, to say things to your fellow Christians that they need to hear. We are all called to pray together, and pray for one another. We are called to love one another, and the way we do that reflects the unique way God made each of us. God has designed you to encourage his people, and to help bring them to maturity, in a special way.

Peter says as God’s priests, we offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. There are several important things to understand about these “spiritual sacrifices.” The first thing is they are something different from the actual, physical animal sacrifices common to almost all religions at that time. In the ancient world, most major worship events involved sacrificing animals in the name of one god or another (or, in Israel, the sacrifice was for the God we worship today). Usually, after the sacrifice, the worshippers would eat together, consuming the meat of the sacrificed animal. In the case of non-Jewish worship, any leftover meat was sold in the public marketplace. So, people understood that one of the primary acts of worship was an actual, sacrifice: a physical animal. In some cases, instead of an animal, an amount of grain was used, or a drink was poured out in honor of the deity.

Peter says, now, through Jesus Christ, we are no longer killing animals or burning up food or wasting drink as part of worship. Instead, what we offer God is spiritual. How do we do that? What is a spiritual sacrifice? Paul tells us, in Romans:

So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2 Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.

(Romans 12:1-2, GNT)

The spiritual sacrifice we offer is our very selves. We make ourselves available to God: body, soul and spirit. The verse above explains that part of that sacrifice involves allowing God to transform us inwardly in such a way that results in outward changes. . What God wants is our hearts. He wants us to willingly come to him in love, and trust him, even when we have doubts and don’t understand. The transformation begins through God’s Word as we learn it, and believe it.

In case that gets too esoteric and difficult to understand, let’s make it practical. It starts with reading the Bible and believing what we read. And it continues like this: When I believe that all the good in my life proceeds ultimately from God, and I thank him for it, I am offering  a spiritual sacrifice. When I am hurting, and struggling, but I choose to trust that God is good, and is working good in my life – even though I can’t see or understand it at the moment – and I thank him for that good, that is a spiritual sacrifice. The contemporary song Blessed Be Your Name captures both of these types of spiritual sacrifices beautifully.

Blessed be Your name // When the sun’s shining down on me // When the world’s all it should be:

Blessed be Your name.

And blessed be Your name // On the road marked with suffering // Though there’s pain in the offering: Blessed be Your name

There are other types of spiritual sacrifices that we can offer God. When I want to do certain things, but I learn that God does not want me to do that, and I obey him, rather than my own desires or preferences, that is a spiritual act of worship. When I give God my time and energy, to be used as he wishes, that is spiritual worship. When I choose to let God love others through me (though I might prefer not to) I am giving God my spiritual worship through Jesus Christ. Prayer is spiritual worship, as is music. Quieting my mind to listen to His Spirit is spiritual worship.

I hope you can see, that it all comes back to giving ourselves wholly to God in faith, through Jesus Christ. Why don’t you spend some time offering yourself to Him right now?

1 PETER #11: DELICIOUS WORDS

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God’s Word is life to us. Without it, we die spiritually. Though it takes time and energy, when we regularly read the Bible and ask God to speak to us through it, it becomes delicious spiritual food to us.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 11

1 PETER #11: 1 PETER 2:1-3

Last time, Peter laid the foundations for authentic Christian community: Truth, and Love. Every Christian is called to be involved in the lives of at least a few other believers in authentic love and the truth of God’s word. He continues the same theme in these verses. (Remember, chapter and verse markings are only there to help us navigate around the Bible. They are not part of the Word of God, but were added almost a thousand years later). Peter begins by describing some of the implications of truth and love. If we are to be in Christian community, we can’t have malice toward one another. We cannot deceive one another, or regularly practice hypocrisy, or envy, or slander. These things destroy both Truth and Love, and they make real Christian community impossible.

All of that is a great example of how our beliefs are connected to our behavior. This isn’t a list of dos and don’ts; it’s not another set of laws to follow. But as sure as night follows day, you cannot Love other Christians in Truth if you are nasty or mean toward them, or deceive them, or live as a hypocrite, or envy, or slander them. Our behavior naturally lines up with what we really believe, and what we really think is important. Our behavior does not save us, but our behavior does tell us how much our faith is having an impact on our lives. If we cannot see any impact at all of faith on our behavior, then we need to revisit faith first. Trying to change our behavior without changing our beliefs, or what is important to us, is doomed to failure.

Peter revisits the truth aspect in verses 2-3: He tells us to crave God’s word like newborn infants crave their mother’s milk. By the way, Paul, and the writer of Hebrews, also talk about “spiritual milk.” But both of them describe it as only for spiritual babies, and they rebuke various people for still needing milk when they should be eating solid food. (1 Corinthians 3:2, and Hebrews 5:12-13). Don’t let this confuse you – there is not some universal spiritual meaning for the word milk. Even within the Bible, writers do use the same words in different ways, sometimes, and they use the same words to create different word-pictures. Paul and Hebrews are using the picture of babies and milk to make points about spiritual immaturity. However, right here in our passage, Peter is using it in a different way – to show that we are in desperate need of God’s Word, and we should crave it, and that we need it in order to grow.

This is a powerful picture. In the first place, in those days, there was no such thing as infant formula. A baby needed mother’s milk, plain and simple. Without it, the baby would die. Milk was life to the baby. So, God’s Word is life to us. Without it, we die in our sins. Paul explains it like this:

13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.”
14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”
16 But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “LORD, who has believed our message?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.

(Romans 10:13-17, NLT)

We have to have the Word in order to have faith. And Peter adds that we need it “so that by it you may grow up into your salvation.” Many other verses also explain that even after we initially have come to Jesus, we need the Word to develop and sustain our faith.

4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

(Romans 15:4, ESV)

4 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, 15 and you know that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

(2 Timothy 3:14-17, HCSB)

12 For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 No creature is hidden from him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.

(Hebrews 4:12-13, CSB)

We are only one quarter of the way through Peter’s letter, and we can see that God’s Word – that is the Bible – is a major theme. That’s because it is a major theme to Christianity as a whole. Without God’s word, we have no truth, no reality. With God’s word, when we trust it, we have salvation, and instruction about how to know God better, and how to live as we were intended to live. If you are struggling in your Faith, or struggling to live as a Christian, the very first question I have is this: what role does God’s Word play in your life? Do you read it regularly? Do you ask God for help in understanding when you read it? Do you seek to live by it? Are your values and priorities formed by what you read in the Bible, or by other things? In short: Do you regularly feed your soul on God’s Word?

If you are serious about God’s Word, but you don’t really know how to read it properly, or understand it, PLEASE reach out to me! We can have an email conversation, if that would help you. Or, if you are interested, I have written a book to help regular people understand the Bible, called: Who Cares About the Bible? It doesn’t cost that much, but, in case anyone thinks I’m pushing this in order to make $1.75 (the amount I get, if you buy a copy), I will give you a free copy, if you ask for it. It is also available in ebook form. If you want a free copy, contact me. Or, you can buy it from amazon.com.

Peter adds another thought about God’s word. He says: if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:3, ESV) This a theme that recurs throughout the Bible – that as we engage in faith, and particularly as we receive the Word of God, it brings a sweetness and joy to our souls:

8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

(Psalms 34:8, ESV)

When Ezekiel was called by God to become a prophet, God gave him a special vision involving His Word:

1 He said to me, “Son of man, eat what you find here. Eat this scroll, then go and speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth, and he fed me the scroll. 3 “Son of man,” he said to me, “feed your stomach and fill your belly with this scroll I am giving you.” So I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth.

(Ezekiel 3:1-3, CSB)

The scroll, is of course, a pictorial representation of God’s Word. When he ingested God’s word, when he took it into his soul, it tasted sweet to Ezekiel. Jeremiah had a similar experience:

16 Your words were found, and I ate them.
Your words became a delight to me
and the joy of my heart,
for I bear your name,
LORD God of Armies.

(Jeremiah 15:16, CSB)

The writer of Psalm 119 felt exactly the same way:

102 I have not turned from Your judgments,
for You Yourself have instructed me.
103 How sweet Your word is to my taste —
sweeter than honey in my mouth.

(Psalms 119:102-103, HCSB)

Let me put this all together by telling you what happened this very morning. I was doing my normal Bible reading – in which I read through a book of the Bible, a little bit each day. Currently, the book I’m reading is Proverbs. I prayed briefly before I started – something like: “Lord, I need to hear from you right now. What do you want to say to me?”

Then, I started reading from where I left off yesterday. Here’s what I read:

11 I am teaching you the way of wisdom;
I am guiding you on straight paths.
12 When you walk, your steps will not be hindered;
when you run, you will not stumble.
13 Hold on to instruction; don’t let go.
Guard it, for it is your life.

Proverbs 4:11-13

This verse tells me about wisdom. I know the historical context, and I know the context of the verses, because I read the previous chapter yesterday. I know that in general, these verses are telling God’s people to pursue the wisdom that comes from God, which, actually, goes along well with this sermon I am working on. That’s all very great. But this morning, God made this word living and active to me. As I read this with a heart of faith, a heart that said, “I want to hear from God,” these words became God’s word to me, today. It was as if the words in Proverbs were addressed right to me. It felt like God was saying:

“Tom, I am pleased with you. I am here. I am teaching you. I am guiding you. Your spiritual steps will not be hindered, your way is clear. I am bringing you deeper into my Life, my ways. You are on the right path, I have given you wisdom, and will give you more. Don’t be worried – continue on this path. I am pleased with you.”

It’s hard to describe exactly what it means to me, but the main point is this: I felt like God spoke to me directly and personally. He imparted his favor and love to me through the words of the Bible. It was food and drink for my soul; it was sustaining substance for my spiritual life.

I have actually read those verses in Proverbs many times. Certainly, I’ve read the entire book of Proverbs at least four times, or more. But today, verses that I have read before became living and active. The Holy Spirit applied them to me, personally in a fresh way. What I heard this morning was not the universal meaning of those verses for all people and all time. What I heard was God’s Living Word to me, for today.

I have experienced this sweetness, this “taste of God,” many times in my life through studying the Bible. Lest you think that means you need to become a Bible scholar to achieve it, let me say that I experienced it first when I was only a teenager, as I tried, for the first time, to seriously engage with what I read in the Bible. I continued to experience it as a college student. In other words before I could have been called a “Bible scholar” in any meaningful sense, God used His Word to let me “taste and see” that He is good. Even today, what I received from God was not about intellectual understanding, but about receiving His Living Word in faith.

So, if you are a teenager, with no college education, God can still give you tastes of His goodness if you engage with the Bible. If you are an adult with no college education, the same thing applies.

It isn’t about us knowing a lot, but rather, it happens when we genuinely want to know God better, and we seek that knowledge through His Word, and through the community of believers. It happens when we read the Bible with faith that God is indeed imparting His life to us through it.

I invite you, too, to immerse yourself in God’s Word so that you can taste and see that He is good!

1 PETER #9: THE HERO OF MY LIFE’S STORY

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Jesus was foreknown from before the foundation of the world. That means that God knew ahead of time all of the pain and suffering that would occur after he created the world, but he did it anyway. He did it for love. The fact that Jesus was planned from the beginning also means that He is the Hero in the story of my life. My life is here to show the glory of Jesus to the world. This is true of all of us who have trusted him.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 9

1 Peter #9.  1 Peter 1:17-21

Last time in our 1 Peter series, we talked about what it means to live in the fear of the Lord. Among other things, it means we do not need to fear anything else at all. Next, Peter reminds us that our salvation does not come from perishable things, like silver or gold, but rather from the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

This is one of those places that we might miss if we read too quickly. I think most of us do not think of silver or gold as perishable. To get literal about it, there are Roman gold coins from the time Peter wrote still in existence. That doesn’t seem very “perishable” to me. In fact, to get even more technical and literal, even though it is rare to find a two-thousand-year-old gold coin, the actual gold that was used in Roman coins is still almost certainly in circulation today, one way or another. What I mean is, over the centuries, people who had gold coins, or acquired them in some way, melted them down for other purposes. Nobody just throws gold away, and two-thousand year old gold is just as valuable as gold that was mined yesterday. The same goes for silver. Even though, unlike gold, silver tarnishes, it does not lose its value, and it does not cease to be silver, no matter how much time passes.

It is almost certain that Peter knows all this. In those days, people used coins made of actual precious metals (and some less precious, like copper). They were quite familiar with the properties of those metals. Peter certainly knows that fire does not destroy gold, but only refines it (1:7). So, why does he call gold and silver “perishable?”

In the first place, he knows that most people would think like me, and say, “wait a minute. Gold doesn’t really perish.” He’s getting our attention, and saying in comparison to the preciousness of Jesus Christ, yes, it is perishable.

Second, he knows that, no matter how long they may actually last on earth, the value of gold and silver to human beings does not last. To be very direct about it: the moment I die, gold becomes completely worthless to me. I might spend my life amassing millions. When I die, it will mean nothing to me. Most of us spend our lives desiring, and often pursuing, more money. When it comes to the end, however,  the amount of money you have is meaningless. It can’t help you when you stand before the throne of God. The moment you die, it is absolutely worthless.

Third, the value of gold and silver is relative, not fixed. There is nothing absolute, or permanent about its value. A  huge, untapped gold mine might be discovered, and then suddenly gold could become as common as rocks, making it worthless. Or humanity might decide for some reason that they don’t care so much about gold anymore – after all, other metals are much more useful for making things. Gold is only worth something because people have decided it is. They could just as easily decide they don’t care about it anymore. This is even more true of paper and “electronic” money. Inflation is the process by which money becomes less valuable. It happens all the time, and, in fact, is happening in 2022, when I am writing this. You can’t trust money to remain valuable.

Finally, in comparison to the preciousness of Jesus Christ, gold and silver are like moldy bread. That is the message of these verses: that Jesus Christ is infinitely valuable, and through faith, we have a part in that infinite value. What we have in Jesus is the most precious thing in the universe, and it will remain the most precious thing in the universe for all time. Remember, we have a hope that can never perish, spoil, or fade.

Just a quick note about the first part of verse 18. Peter mentions that his readers were ransomed from the futile ways handed down from their forefathers. This statement makes it almost certain that at least some of the readers were Gentiles. Neither Peter, nor Paul, nor any New Testament writer, considers the heritage of the Jews to be “futile ways.” They all agree that the Jews did not recognize Jesus, who was the point of it all, but they are clear that the Old Testament scriptures point to Jesus, and that, taking into account that it is about Jesus, the Old Testament is a reliable guide to faith and life. Peter would never call the Old Testament, nor Jewish traditions, futile. He might have argued that people used those things in futile ways, but the things themselves have value.

Peter continues:

20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

1 Peter 1:20-21

Here is a stunning truth, tossed out rather casually by Peter: Jesus was foreknown before the foundation of the world. This sounds very theological, and so we often get a kind of glazed look in our eyes and move on. But it says something incredible about God.

Before He even began to create the cosmos, God knew that the humans he was going to create would turn against him, and reject Him. Before he spun the first light out of nothingness, he knew that we humans would create a massive mess of things, and bring death, and evil, and cruelty and horror into existence. Before anything at all existed (except for Him) he knew that he would enter a world of suffering; he knew that he himself would suffer a torturous death, and even go to a hell that had not yet been spawned, in order to save the creatures he was going to make. He knew it all long before it even began, before he put creation into motion.

And he created us anyway.

Knowing the horror that we would unleash by rebelling against him, God created a plan to neutralize our rebellion. He planned out ahead of time how he would defeat evil. That’s what Peter means when he says that Jesus was foreknown before the foundation of the world. When Adam and Eve fell, and sinned, in the Garden of Eden, God was not taken by surprise. His plan was already in place.

Now, why would God do this?

We Christians believe that God is one being, but that he is a Three-Person Being. The three Persons of God love one another with an eternal, infinite love. In fact, of all the worlds’ religions and philosophies, Christianity alone can legitimately show that love is at the core of God’s nature, and therefore, love is the foundation of the universe.

Because there is no limit to God’s love, he chose to make creatures who could share in his love. Now, love must always involve a choice. Imagine you could create a person who would love you unconditionally, no matter what. If you slapped this person in the face, he would adore you. If you mistreated him, ignored him or threw him out, he would still adore you. There would be no choice.  He would have to love you, because you created him without any say in the matter. Now, for the first few days, it might be kind of fun to have someone like that. But after awhile you would realize that this person actually has no will of his own. He doesn’t love you for your own sake. He doesn’t appreciate your good qualities, or forgive your foibles. This person simply does what he is programmed to do. In fact, after a while we would realize that if there is no choice in the matter, then it is not actually love. Real love involves a choice.

Now, if God is ultimate goodness and love, the choice against God has to be a choice for evil. So, as soon as God created angels and humans who were capable of love, he also created the possibility that evil would come into being. And, of course, it did.

To put it simply: He planned from the beginning that he would make creatures who are capable of true love. Therefore, he had to take into account from the beginning that there would also be evil. Therefore, he also planned from the beginning that he would send Jesus Christ into the world in order to defeat evil without destroying love. And he did it all for us, so that we could love each other, and especially so we could love him.

There is another important implication of the fact that Jesus was foreknown before the foundation of the world. It means that Jesus is the hero of the story. First, he is the hero of the grand salvation story found in the Bible. Second, Jesus is the hero in the story of my life, and the story of your life.

I don’t naturally think that way. I tend to think that the story of my life is about me. This leads me to act as if life is all about what I want, and what I need. Even if I devote myself to unselfish things, like my family, and the ministry of the gospel, I still look at it as if life is all about me. However, this way of thinking – that life is all about me – does not typically make me happy. It leaves me trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do. It leaves me trying to solve problems on my own. Even if I let Jesus enter the story of my life, if my life is still all about my own aims and goals, then it is up to me, ultimately, to figure things out. Jesus might help me (in this way of thinking), but the final responsibility for everything is still mine.

But Jesus was planned before the world began. Every person’s story is actually the story of what Jesus will do in and through their life. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the world-famous Sherlock Holmes novels. He made a very interesting choice in telling the stories. The action is narrated by a man called John Watson. We are told the story from the point of view of Watson’s life. To illustrate what I mean, it reads like: “I met Holmes at our club, and then I told him about the empty room,” and so on. You might say, it is the story of Watson’s life. However, the story is not about Watson. The hero of the story, and really, the main character, is not Watson, but Sherlock Holmes. Watson’s life, and his story, were designed by Conan-Doyle to show the greatness of another character: Sherlock Holmes. If we were to put it in theological terms, we might say that Watson’s life becomes a platform to give glory to Holmes.

In the same way, our own lives are meant to be a platform to show the greatness of Jesus Christ. The story is not about us. Yes, we see it from our own perspective, just as Watson sees things from his own perspective. But the real story of our lives is not about us; the real story is about the Hero, the One who was known from before the foundation of the world: Jesus Christ.

When I realize that my life is not telling my story, but rather, telling the story of Jesus, a lot of pressure is taken off me. I don’t have to perform. I don’t have to save the day, or move things forward. Jesus is the main character of my life’s story. Jesus is the hero. I’m a sidekick. We sidekicks are still important. Without Watson, the story of Sherlock Holmes would not have been told. In a similar way, God wants to tell a story about Jesus through my life. There is a story through my life that will bring glory to Jesus in a way that is different from the story told through someone else’s life. But I am not the point. I’m along for the ride, along to admire and trust the Hero, who was foreknown from before the foundation of the world.

Now, this sounds very wonderful and lofty, but what does it really mean: “Jesus is the hero of the story of my life?” Let’s get real. I was thinking about this just a few minutes ago, while my pain was starting to get worse. Some nights, when that happens, I’m looking at hours and hours of pure misery. I prayed without much hope, “OK, Jesus, since we’re talking about this, I need a hero to save me from the pain in this moment.”

I’m telling the truth when I say that within a few minutes, the pain stopped getting worse, and even backed off a little bit. But let’s keep it real. I have often prayed for relief, and received none. What then? What happens when the hero doesn’t save you?”

Here’s the truth: He has already saved us. Yes, I live a difficult life. But the end of the story was written before the beginning of time, space and matter. Jesus always planned to go through hell so that I only have to go through earth. I won’t be thrilled if my suffering lasts a few more decades, but a few decades is nothing compared to the eternal joy that awaits me, because the Hero has already won the final battle. For followers of Jesus, every defeat in this life is temporary – even death! Every moment of suffering will be overwhelmed by joy piled upon joy. The Bible fully acknowledges the reality of suffering in this mortal life. But the end of the story makes everything else more than worth it:

6 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. 18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.

(Romans 8:16-19, NLT)

So, recognizing that Jesus was foreknown from before the foundation of the earth, we can live a life of hope:

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

(2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NLT)

1 PETER #8: THE REWARDS OF OUTRAGEOUS GRACE. 1 Peter 1;17.

This verse draws our attention to two important things: the Fear of the Lord, and his promise to reward us in addition to an eternal life filled with the joy of God. When we learn to fear the Lord, we learn also to trust Him. And when we have the true fear of the Lord, there is nothing else in all the universe that we ever need fear again.

As to the second thing: we will be rewarded for living out our faith the way God designed us to, and empowers us to, through the Holy Spirit. This is on top of the free grace-gift of eternal life lived in the joy of God. It’s far too much. We don’t deserve it. That’s exactly the point.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 8

1 PETER #8. 1 PETER 1:17

Last time, we looked at the motivation for living holy lives: the Love of the Father for us, and the Hope that he has given us through Jesus Christ. When we are deeply connected to those two things, the Holy Spirit will enable us to live lives that are different from those around us. Now, Peter reminds us to take this very seriously: “Since we are those beloved children of the Father, let us remember that the Father also judges our works with perfect judgment. Therefore, let us live out our time in this mortal life with a healthy awe of God.”

Depending on the Bible translation you use, this little section might confuse people into thinking that our salvation is dependent upon how we behave. Just before this, remember, Peter was telling us to be holy, because the Father in heaven is holy. Now he’s talking about recognizing that the Father judges everyone according to each one’s works (I think “works” is the better translation of the Greek word here). It’s starting to sound like being a Christian is all about how well you perform at living an outwardly good life.

Before we go too far with that, we need to keep reading: Peter says, immediately afterwards, that we were saved by the precious blood of Christ, who was made manifest for us, so that our faith and hope are in God. So, when we read that the Father judges each one’s works, it cannot mean that this is the basis of our salvation. The basis of our salvation, our hope, are clearly in Jesus Christ, and his sacrifice on our behalf. Our faith and hope are in God, not in our own efforts. Peter has already said much the same thing, in several different ways, in verses 1-16. Of course the rest of the New Testament also says the same thing, many times over in many different ways.

But what does it mean, then, that the Father judges each one impartially according to their works? Why does Peter even say that, if we are saved by the work of Jesus Christ, not our own? This is another thing that the rest of the New Testament makes very clear: in addition to giving us salvation by the grace of God (not by works) God also wants to bless us by giving us the opportunity to have even greater rewards in the New Creation. In other words, we are saved purely by God’s grace, not by anything we ourselves do, or could earn. AND… God also created us to do good works – things which he particularly prepared in advance for each of us to do:

10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.

(Ephesians 2:10, CSB)

Those good works cannot earn us salvation, but God lays them out for us, and as we “walk in them” (that is, as we live a life of Hope in Christ, and do the things God leads us to do) God grants us special rewards, in the New Heavens and New Earth. He judges how we have lived our lives in accordance with this plan, and than grants us extra rewards based upon that. Some people want to claim that we get those rewards in this life (not in our eternal lives) but that is not at all the way it is taught by Jesus and His apostles.

Many Christians, especially from Western culture, instinctively cringe at the idea of rewards in the New Creation. But we need to evaluate the source of that cringing: is it really Biblical? I think people from other cultures have less of a problem with this than Americans, and European-originated cultures. Many of us Westerners are deeply egalitarian – which means we have a problem saying one person deserves honor above any other person. We think that if God gives rewards in heaven, it will mean some sort of inequality. Some people will have more, others will have less, and we believe that such an arrangement must be intrinsically unfair, and will cause the New Creation to be less than perfect. But a lot of other people in the world have no real problem with the idea of a heaven where people are given extra rewards for their works. They would say it would be unfair if those who worked harder and better than others to follow Jesus received no extra reward at all. I have to say, the cultures who take that view are probably closer to the kind of culture that existed during the New Testament period.

We need to face the fact that the Bible does indeed paint a picture of people being rewarded in the New Creation, including some people receiving greater honor than others. In the Parable of the Talents, at the end, the servant who did the most was given the most, and honored most, as a reward. The next servant was also rewarded and honored, but not as much as the first. It does not look like an equal-outcome, egalitarian kind of system (Luke 19:12-27; and Matthew 25:14-30).

In fact, we find all over the New Testament, the idea that even after we have salvation, we should be encouraged to work for the rewards of those who follow God faithfully and well. One of the classic passages for this is found in 1 Corinthians:

5 After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. 6 I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. 7 It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. 9 For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.
10 Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.
12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.

(1 Corinthians 3:5-15, NLT, bold formatting added for emphasis)

All of this is only echoing what Jesus himself taught. Time and time again, Jesus talked about being rewarded by the Father. I’ve already mentioned his Parable of the Talents. Since we know that salvation is a free gift of grace, and we cannot earn it, these rewards must be something additional that we receive in the New Creation. Here is just another one of many examples of Jesus, talking about rewards:

1 “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. 2 When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. 3 But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. 4 Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
5 “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. 6 But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

(Matthew 6:1-6, NLT, italic formatting added for emphasis)

There are many more verses and teachings like these. In parables, in direct statements by Jesus, and in the letters of His apostles, the New Testament consistently teaches us that, in addition to salvation, we will be rewarded for walking in the good works that God designed for us. Just in case you need them, here are two more examples:

Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 8 Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free.

(Ephesians 6:7-8, NLT, formatting added for emphasis)

3 Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 24 Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.

(Colossians 3:23-24, NLT)

Now, there is another piece, implied by Peter, and also by the passage I gave you above, from 1 Corinthians. Peter says, because God judges our works impartially, we should live out our time in exile in a certain way. By “time in exile,” Peter means to remind us that this world is not our home; we belong with God in Heaven. When I say “heaven,” I mean, of course, our eternal future in the New Creation which involves perfect, eternal physical bodies, living in a perfect physical universe. We were created for Heaven, not this fallen, temporary earth. So, to put it clearly, by “time in exile,” he means, “this mortal life.”

Peter tells us that we should live that time in fear (that is really the best translation of the Greek). On the face of it, that seems a bit strange, considering how many times in the Bible the Lord tells us: “Do not Fear!” But Peter is talking about one specific, certain kind of fear: the fear of the Lord. Our modern culture does not do well with understanding what the Bible means by “fear of the Lord.” I like to think of it as a healthy perspective on God’s power, or a kind of awe of God that motivates us. One popular way of putting it comes from author C.S. Lewis. “God is not safe, but he’s good.”

The fear of the Lord is a recognition that we don’t control Him, and he can do absolutely whatever he wants. There is a wildness and power in him; he can create, or destroy, entire galaxies in an instant, if he wants to. But pay attention: this means we should recognize that God is more powerful, and more to be feared, than anything else we might fear: loss of loved ones, poverty, wealth, injustice, conflict, loneliness, suffering of all kinds, or even death. The only thing we ever need fear is God. I’ll repeat the thought a different way: When we live in fear of the Lord, we find that there is nothing else in all the universe that we need fear.

But now comes the wonderful part. Unlike the other things we might be tempted to fear, we have a firm basis to trust that God’s intentions toward us are good and loving. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we can know for sure that God loves us, and that we can trust him. We can trust a God who has died for us, who has literally walked through hell for us. So our fear of the Lord is not terror – it is a fear that allows us to entrust ourselves, body, soul and spirit, to God, especially in times when we don’t understand.

In the Corinthian verses above, Paul says that if we don’t build well on the foundation of Jesus, we will still be saved, but it will be a harrowing experience. Jesus, in his parables, tells of people who acted as if their deeds were of no concern to God. Those folks did not have ideal experiences, come time for the Father’s judgement.

So, in addition to the blessing of rewards in heaven, there is a kind of warning: “Take this seriously.” We don’t belong in this mortal life – we are citizens of Heaven. We really ought to live like it. This isn’t a demand for perfection, but it is supposed to help us realize that we really should be different people than those who have no hope. God is not some old guy up there who is kind of out of it, and doesn’t know what is going on. Our deeds are of concern for God – in fact, he made us specifically to do certain things and live in certain ways. We really should be living for those things, and for the joy that is coming to us, not for the transient pleasures and shallow satisfactions of our mortal lives. It’s not a threat, but it is a warning: This is serious. Don’t blow it off. There is great reward waiting for those who do live their lives as strangers in this world, followers of Jesus Christ.

Let me briefly address the idea that rewards will somehow cause trouble in the New Creation, and somehow make it less than perfect. We have to remember, that when we are rewarded, we will be free from sin, and we will trust God perfectly. So, if God chooses to give someone a reward, there will not be any part of us thinking, “I’m not sure that’s fair.” No, we will be rejoicing at how God’s reward for an individual blesses that person, and enhances the glory of God. We will not experience jealousy. There will be no injustice in the way that God gives his rewards: that’s part of what Peter means when he says that the Father judges impartially. In the joy and perfection of the New Creation, no one will feel slighted, or forgotten. We will be able to agree wholeheartedly that what God does is perfect and right, including the giving of rewards to those who followed him in this mortal life. When he gives a reward, we will all gasp in awe at the justice, mercy and grace of God, who would not only give us eternal life in the joy of his loving presence, but even pour more joy into us through the struggles and work we have had on this earth. As each reward is given, we will shout “That’s perfect! That’s exactly what it should be!” We will not feel a lack within ourselves, nor envy of others. Trust me, no one is going to be unhappy about the way these rewards are given, or feel that something is unfair, when we stand before the Father.

Some people have another objection: “If I am motivated to be a good Christian by the thought of extra rewards in heaven, isn’t that somehow wrong? Isn’t that self-serving?”

Remember, we begin with salvation. We begin with the knowledge that we deserve worse than nothing: we deserve death and hell and eternal suffering. Then we come to the knowledge of God’s incredible love and grace to us. We are humbled and grateful, and filled with joy and hope. We serve God willingly, connected to the love and hope we have in Him. Finally, the rewards are merely icing on the cake. In other words, we shouldn’t see them as entitlement, but as grace piled upon already giant heaps of grace. They show us that God sees what we do in secret. He knows the silent struggle we have with sin at times, He sees us making the hard choices that no one else sees. He sees the business person not taking unfair advantage of a situation to get a promotion. He sees the young mother working hard to raise her kids as followers of Jesus, when no one is watching. He sees the persecuted Christian losing his livelihood because he won’t deny Jesus. God’s rewards are a way of saying: “It’s not in vain. I see what’s going on with you. I know it’s harder for you to do certain things. Your faith and perseverance will not be overlooked, and they will not be forgotten.”

I think sometimes we need to know that God does indeed take note of the things that no one else does. I don’t think it’s wrong to be sustained, in part, by the knowledge that God perceives everything in your life, and even within your heart and soul, and he will make it up to you for every difficult decision, every struggle, every moment we live for him rather than for ourselves. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting motivation from that. Clearly, neither did Jesus, who encouraged us to remember that our Father in heaven, who sees what we do in secret, will reward us for it (see verses above).

What I am trying to say, politely, is that if you have a problem with rewards in heaven, you have a problem with Jesus. I’ve given you some of the verses. You can look up others. Comment, or contact me, if you want to. Wrestle with this if you need to, but this is in fact, a solid, ordinary part of the teaching of Jesus: we will be rewarded for living out our faith the way God designed us to. This is on top of the free grace-gift of eternal life lived in the joy of God. It’s far too much. We don’t deserve it. That’s exactly the point.

Yes, we need to learn to fear the Lord, so that we can be free from every other fear. We can also trust that his intentions are good for us, and that means that it is a good thing to live this temporary life with a heart that seeks not only eternal life, but also to hear the Father say: “Well done! Your life and your choices did not go overlooked. Enjoy even more of my joy!”

Let the Lord speak to you about all of this right now.

1 PETER #7: HOPE RESULTS IN HOLINESS

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Because we have an expectation that our amazing future will indeed come to pass, we will make different choices than those who have no such hope. And that will make us look different, sometimes, even strange, to those who do not share our hope. That differentness is a picture of the holiness of God.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 7

1 PETER #7. 1 PETER 1:14-16

There is a reason we have spent so much time in 1 Peter looking at the hope we have as Christians. In order to understand our next verses, we have to have that hope firmly in mind. After telling us to fix our hope firmly on the grace that will be ours when all things are made new (the revelation of Jesus Christ) Peter goes on:

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

If we did not have the foundation of hope, these verses might sound to us like some kind of difficult and hard duty that we have to perform in order to please God: “Now look, people, you’ve got to do the right thing. You have to be holy. Get it together.”

But we need to remember that all of this begins with the grace that God has already given us, and the hope that we have in Jesus.

Before I go on, let me make sure we define “hope” a little bit. Let’s contrast it to a wish. A wish is something that would be nice if it happened, but for which you have very little expectation. I might wish to win five million dollars at the lottery. I might wish I was six inches taller, or wasn’t losing my hair. I have no real expectation of having those wishes fulfilled. In fact, my wish about the lottery is so weak that I don’t even buy lottery tickets. Wishes don’t change the way we live.

A hope is a reasonable expectation of something that will one day come to be in reality. It is still in the future, but we have a strong belief that it will, in fact, come to pass. Because hope expects fulfillment, it influences and changes the way we behave.

When I was at Oregon State University, I happened to have two friends who were on the women’s gymnastics team. At that time, OSU (Oregon, not Ohio) had a stellar women’s gymnastics program. The team was typically in the top five in the nation, for several years in row, number one, more than once.

One of my friends won the title of top female college gymnast in the country just a month before I met her. My other gymnast friend was a couple years younger, and she went on to win the national solo title the year after I met her. As I mentioned, their whole team also won the gold medal a few times.

Both of these women were part of my “core friends” group. This group of friends would get together, hang out, grab pizza, do Bible study, and even take trips together. But our two gymnast friends lived different lives than the rest of us. I had no hopes of ever becoming a top-ranked college gymnast. But my friends had legitimate hopes of being on the medal podium, when the NCAA gymnastics tournament came around. Their hope led them to make choices that made them different from the rest of us. Sometimes, they didn’t eat the pizza we had ordered. Sometimes, they couldn’t get together with the rest of us, because they had to practice. While the rest of us did our normal things, they spent hours doing abnormal things, like hurling their bodies into the air, twisting, flipping and turning, and landing on their feet.

Don’t miss the point: their hopes directed them to lead different lives. They didn’t practice for hours because “it was the right thing to do.” They didn’t do flips and twists in the air because that’s what good people are supposed to do. They did it because they had a wonderful, amazing hope, one which they fully expected would come to pass: that they would be on the medal podium, come tournament time. And so, they lived in continual expectation of that hope.

Significant hope changes how you live. If you have hopes that are different from those around you, you will live a life that looks different. Peter tells us that we should have every expectation of the fulfillment of our amazing hope. That leads us to live differently, to behave differently than we did before we had this hope. So, in the first place, we need to let go of the way we lived before the hope. At that time, we lived according to whatever passions motivated us. In other words, we lived to satisfy our own desires as best as we could. We decided on hopes that we thought might be workable, and lived for small things, mostly for ways to satisfy our own desires and needs.

Peter tells us that now, we should live as children who love their Father, and want to be like Him. In other words, this change of behavior comes out of love and hope, not law. When I was young, there were two men that I loved with all my heart, and looked up to: my father, and my maternal grandfather. They were different from each other in some ways, but I loved and respected both of them so much, I wanted to be like them. I didn’t try to be like them because someone told me that was the rule. I didn’t do it “because that’s what good people do.” I imitated them as a result of love and respect. I was tremendously blessed by God in that I knew for certain that both my earthly father, and my grandfather, loved me. And because they loved me, I loved them back, and I wanted to be like them.

That’s supposed to be the motivating factor with God. Now, I know not all of you were as blessed as I was by your earthly fathers or grandfathers. Some of you did not have that love growing up. But you can trust the love of your heavenly Father. He proved his love to you beyond any doubt by sending Jesus to suffer death in your place. Let the Holy Spirit pour that love into your heart and convince you of his Father-love for you.

2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:2-5, ESV)

So, we live different lives, holy lives, because we know that God loves us, and we love him back. We live different lives because we have a different hope. Now, let’s talk about holiness for a moment. Peter writes:

15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Remember, one of the key things about holiness is that it is different, set apart. I have previously used the analogy of clothing. Most of us in the Western world have “everyday clothes,” and then also “fancy clothes.” We reserve our fancy clothes for special occasions. They are set-apart – they are different, intended to be special, to celebrate special occasions. When we wear those clothes, we are sending the message that something special and important is going on. Or think of it this way: Many years ago, some friends gave us a very special set of plates, glasses and eating utensils. This set of dishes is very fancy, and each piece needs to be washed by hand. We don’t put those plates in the microwave either. Those dishes are set apart – they are intended for special occasions: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Passover, and so on. When we use them, it says: “Pay attention! Something important and out of the ordinary is going on right now!”

In the same way, we have already been set apart by God. We saw in 1 Peter 1:2 that God was the one who set us apart, who has made us holy through Jesus Christ. So, we don’t have to become holy – God has already made us that way. But what we are called to do is live out that holiness, that differentness. And, as I have just mentioned, part of living as holy people is driven by our hope of something different than the world hopes for. If we live according to our hope, we will also be living out the holiness that God has imparted to us. It will look different to the world, not “everyday.” We won’t cheat someone when it’s obvious that we could get away with it – not even the government or a large corporation. We won’t use alcohol or drugs, or sex, in inappropriate ways, (for instance, to numb the pain of this life), but instead we will rely on the hope of the grace of God that is coming. We won’t take the opportunity to indulge our sinful desires, even when we think we could “get away with it” without consequence. Because we have an expectation that our amazing future will indeed come to pass, we will make different choices than those who have no such hope. And that will make us look different, sometimes, even strange, to those who do not share our hope. That differentness is a picture of the holiness of God.

At a few different times in my life, I was making a living apart from ministry. In almost any job I had, others would comment about the fact that I behaved differently from most of our coworkers. I didn’t behave that way simply as a point of honor. I did it because I have a hope that my coworkers didn’t have. The same was true of another group of friends I had in college. These were not my “core group” but they were people I ate with regularly, and with whom I hung out occasionally; I don’t think any of them were Christians. Three of us were named Tom. One “Tom” was in the agricultural program, and wore a Stetson hat, so everyone felt the obvious way to distinguish him from the other Toms was to call him: “cowboy Tom.” They had a name for me, too: “holy Tom.” I don’t remember anyone discussing this much, or asking why they should call me “holy;” everyone else seemed to think it just fit, just like we thought “cowboy Tom,” was obvious. I was the only one who objected to that name. But they could see something that I didn’t yet understand: I was different. I wasn’t trying to be that different – but my hope made me different. In fact, I understand now that it was God Himself who makes us different – that is, holy – when we receive Him in faith.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to say I was in complete control of my behavior, or that I tried to put on a good front to impress people. In fact, I’m saying the opposite. It was the hope I have, and the love that God has for me, that made me look different to my coworkers and friends. They recognized something in me as “holy,” when I was not even consciously trying to look that way.

Remember, this different behavior proceeds not from laws about what we ought to do, but rather from our hope, and from our love for God. If you find yourself struggling to bring your behavior in line, I recommend meditating on your hope, and upon the love of God. There is a place for self-discipline, a place to have integrity for the sake of your own self-regard, but the engines that really drive our behavior should be hope and love. If we have a behavior problem, it might be that we have a problem connecting with the love of God, or with the amazing hope of our future in the New Creation.

So don’t be afraid to read:  “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” I’ll say it again: it isn’t about trying with your own strength to make yourself behave. The key to holiness is hope and love.

That last part “you shall be holy,” is also a kind of promise. We shall be holy, because God has already made us Holy in our spirits, giving us His own Holy Spirit as kind of a down payment on the promised hope.

And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. (Ephesians 1:13-14, NLT)

To encourage our resolve to live different lives according to our hope, let’s end with another statement of that hope:

1 For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. 2 We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. 3 For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. 4 While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. 5 God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5, NLT)

1 PETER #6: FIXING HOPE

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We were made for place we have not yet been. We need to learn to use our minds to fix our hope fully on the grace that is to come. Every good thing we hope for on earth is just a blurry reflection of the glorious hope that is to come.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 6

I apologize for any typos, etc. I am getting this out at the last second for our churches to use, and I did not have time to edit properly.

1 Peter #6. 1 Peter 1:13.

13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

We will focus on just one verse this time, because it holds the key to a number of the verses that follow. Peter is going to exhort us to “be holy,” but we have to understand that being holy can only occur when we set our hopes fully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The old bible-study expression still holds true: “Find out what the “therefore” is there for. In other words, to understand the next section, we need to realize that Peter is connecting it to everything that has gone before, which we will now summarize:

We Christians are strangers and aliens in this world, but we have the superb hope of a future that can never perish, spoil, or fade. That hope sustains us, even in difficult times, and we know that while the difficult times are hard, they are temporary; but our hope is eternal – when we enter it, our joy will have no limit. All of this has been delivered to us by the remarkable writings that we call the Bible, which continually reveals to us the solid core of hope, which is Jesus Christ.

Therefore – because of all that –

preparing your minds for action…

Let’s start with “preparing your minds for action.” Peter is saying: “Get ready to move. Get ready to think clearly and well. Get ready to act according your faith.” Part of idea from the Greek is also to secure anything that might get in the way. Don’t leave any loose ends. It was actually a common phrase from the ancient world, almost a slang expression about tucking your robes up into your belt so you could be ready for running, or other vigorous physical activity. Picture an action movie when the heroes finally understand what’s going on, and they commit to doing what it takes to deal with their enemies and win. Ready to roll! Shake off the dust. Roll up your sleeves. Lock and load. Let’s do this!

Peter applies this specifically to our minds, or, to our thinking. There are people who believe that to be a Christian means you have to give up thinking. The truth is, the Christian faith teaches us that our minds were created by a rational, intelligent God, and that he has given us intelligence as a gift to be used. In other words, there is a fruitful purpose in using our minds. Our faith also teaches us that God created the universe with purpose and design, and that design can be discovered and studied. In other words, it is possible and useful to study the world around us and learn what we can. Studying the world will also tell us things about God, in indirect ways. It was these two important aspects of the Christian view of the world that led to the development of modern universities, and particularly, what we call “science.”

There were centers for learning in the ancient Greek world, the Islamic world, as well as in the Buddhist, Hindu and Confucianist (Chinese) cultures. Certainly those cultures have contributed to the accumulated knowledge of the human race. However it was only in Christian culture that modern methods of study, including modern science, developed. That was because a biblical view of the world and of the human mind, and of thinking, led us to believe that we could, and should, explore our world in an orderly and methodical way. There would be no science without Christianity. That is not an opinion, it is simply a historical fact. There was no modern science anywhere else in the world, until the cultures founded by Christianity developed it and exported it. So, it is entirely appropriate to see Peter’s words here as an encouragement for Christians to be thinking people. We aren’t anti-science. And science is not anti-God. Though many atheists refuse to admit it, science depends on Christian presuppositions in order to function. Meanwhile, we Christians are supposed to use the minds that God has given us.

Now, I don’t want to misrepresent what Peter is saying. Though he is saying that Christians should use their minds in general, he also intends that we use our minds particularly to strengthen the faith of our hearts. He tells us:

and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

What does it means to be “sober minded?” Well, sober is the opposite of drunk, right? It has other connotations as well, like calm, thoughtful, and serious. In other words, we should engage in our hope with clear eyes, and clear thoughts, taking it seriously, not frivolously. Faith is a big deal. So, we should remain in control of our hopes, keeping them fixed on Jesus. We should use our minds to direct our hopes to Him.

What does that actually look like? Suppose you are single, and you really want to get married. And you think, “If I’m honest, one of my biggest hopes is to get married someday. I think I might hope for that even more than I hope for Jesus.”

First, it is good to be honest with yourself about things like that. That’s part of what it means to be sober-minded. You are thinking seriously and clearly about your deepest hopes.

But what of that fact that you hope for marriage more than you hope for the return of Jesus? Consider this possibility: What you really desire so much in marriage is exactly what you will get when Jesus returns. In other words, your hope for marriage is a kind of muddled echo of your hope for Jesus. In marriage, you want to be fully known, and loved, even as you are fully known. You want the joy of intimacy. You want the security of knowing there is a special someone, someone you is yours and someone to whom you belong fully. You want someone who always has your back, who will stand with you when the chips are down and the house is burning. Someone with whom you will share joy, fun intimacy and life.

You might not believe it, but I think that is a pretty good description of what we will have with Jesus when he returns. We don’t always realize that those sorts of desires are actually desires for Jesus. We think what we want is marriage. But our desire for marriage is actually looking beyond marriage to the relationship we were created to have with God.

I think this could be true of many other things that we deeply desire: beauty, intimacy, adventure, peace, security, rest, excitement, and even achievement. I think we desire such things because they are shadows or reflections of what a sin-free relationship with God is really like.

It’s like teenagers who want a car. The truth is, what they want is not mainly a vehicle to help them travel quickly from one place to the next. What they really want is freedom, and adventure, and independence, and to be cool, and have status, and the opportunities that come from being your own master. But try to convince a teenager that what they really want is all that other stuff, and they’ll probably say: “Nah. I just want a car.” But they don’t. They want what a car represents.

I think even adults make similar mistakes. We think we know what we want: financial security. A beautiful relationship with another person. An endless vacation. Freedom from fear and worry. Physical health. None of those things are necessarily bad, though we can pursue them in sinful ways if we aren’t careful. But none of them will truly satisfy us unless we have them in and through Jesus Christ. If we have them apart from Christ, they will always eventually end. If we have them apart from Christ, we will find a way to ruin them somehow.

Some desires, of course, are sinful, and we need to learn to recognize and reject those. But I think many of our desires are simply misplaced. We don’t realize that our desires represent a deeper reality: we were made for intimacy with God in a perfect creation, with things to do that we were created to partake in. That’s what we truly desire, even though we have a hard time realizing it.

It’s unfortunate, but sometimes it is hard to tell, with some Christians, how their hopes are any different from those of the secular people around them. They want the big house, the nice cars, the successful careers, and children they can brag about. They want leisure time and money for travel and fun. They live for the same sorts things everyone else lives for. Sure, they’re happy that the New Creation is waiting for them, but their focus is on the things of this life. They’ll think about their eternal future later, after they have gotten all they can from this present life.

There is fine line here, which why Peter tells us to use our minds well. It isn’t wrong to want your children to do well. It isn’t wrong to have leisure or fun in this life. But I believe what Peter wants us to think carefully about, is where we put our biggest hopes. If I hope more for a new house than for my eternal home, something is not right. If I am seeking intimacy with another human being more than with Jesus, I need to recognize it as an issue. Author John Eldredge puts it like this:

If I told you that your income would triple next year, and that European vacation you wanted is just around the corner, you’d be excited, hopeful. The future would look promising. It seems possible, desirable. But our ideas of heaven, while possible, aren’t all that desirable. Whatever it is we think is coming in the next season of our existence, we don’t think it is worth getting all that excited about. We make a nothing of eternity by enlarging the significance of this life and by diminishing the reality of what the next life is all about.

(John Eldredge, Desire)

C.S. Lewis wrote about this same thing. He says that we set our sights too low, going for the things we know. We are as foolish as children playing in the mud:

We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”

Scripture tells us that what is coming is far better than anything to be had on earth. The things we desire are mere poor shadows of the reality that will be ours when Jesus returns and ushers in the New Creation. It’s as if someone is offering us a gourmet meal, and we say: “No thanks, I just want McDonald’s quarter-pounder.”

Now, some of the problem is that we know what a quarter-pounder tastes like, but we have not yet tasted the gourmet meal. Peter is telling us that we should train our minds to desire the gourmet meal. There are tiny tastes of it available even now. The ache you feel after a beautiful piece of music. The excitement and satisfaction after reading a great book, or seeing an amazing movie. The inexplicable joy that hits at unpredictable moments.

So we must learn to fix our hope fully on all that we have in God, through Jesus Christ. God is eternal, and infinite. There is literally no end to the wonderful things we can have in Him and through Him. We are actually incapable of imagining anything better than what we could have when Jesus Christ returns. We need to train our minds to recognize and remember this.

When we set our hope fully on the grace that will be our when Jesus is fully revealed, it can create a longing. I believe an authentic life of following Jesus will always involve deep longing, because we were made for more than this life. Sometimes we can’t even put a name to what we want, because God’s resources for us are infinite – there might not even be words yet invented to describe what God has in store for us. But if you find yourself somehow wanting “more,” you are on the right track. Just remember to discipline your mind to recognize that the “more” we want can only be found in Jesus. We should also remember that although God offers us much in this present life, all of his promises will only truly be fulfilled when we stand face to face with him in our new bodies, inhabiting the New Creation.

When we train our minds and discipline our hope in this way, it leads to a different way of living. We will talk about that next time. But it is vital to understand that this different way of living – which Peter calls “being holy” is a result of setting our hope fully on the grace that will be ours when Jesus fully comes into His own.

We can’t really train our minds to do this without the power of the Holy Spirit working within us. So let’s ask the Lord to help us keep our hopes fixed fully on Him.