Gospel Fueled Change

In Peter’s first letter he spends a great deal of time setting down the foundation for why we as believers should live holy lives. He reminds the church of the need to grow up in the faith and not become stagnant. In the first ten verses of chapter two he helps reorient our focus to the reality of who we are and our relationship to Christ and one another. A couple weeks ago I walked us briefly through some of the direct application of living out the faith as sojourners in a land that is not our home, and how our lives should look different than those around us, and more importantly than our old lives. Today I want to briefly reminds us of the foundation of our Hope and the cause of our changed lives that comes only through the power of the Gospel not through human effort.

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good

Peter opens with the reality that our lives are now marked by a change in desire. No longer do we desire the things of the world or do we mirror the attitudes of those around us, rather we desire the pure spiritual milk of God’s word. This is seen in the concluding passage of 1 Peter 1:25 where Peter reminds us that the gospel has set us free from sin and death and gave us the hope we have today. It is from this driving force that the desire to put away all malice and long for the joy of God’s word springs. From the Gospel hope we are now called to put away the old life with all of its vices and anger and strive hard after God, for it is only from growing in the faith that these things are possible. We know that healthy and physically maturing people don’t indulge constantly on Doritos and hot dogs, when someone sets it in their minds to grow healthy they long towards the things that will bring that to fruition, like a healthy diet and exercise. The same is true of spiritual life; we cannot indulge on the things of the flesh and expect that growth and maturity will simply take place. We are called through Christ’s power to yearn for the hope that brings spiritual maturity, the true spiritual milk.

For If you have tasted the joy of the Lord and savored His goodness why would you want anything else. Sometimes it seems we need to be reminded how good God is and how appetizing the Gospel’s message is to our soul. If you have tasted the goodness of God, like a nice porterhouse steak, (or some eggplant type dish thing vegans must enjoy), then you know how satisfying He is. How He fills your stomach with life and hope everlasting. Peter is then asking us the question why aren’t you longing for that every day. Why do you keep running back to the attitudes and hostilities of the world that will leave you empty and starving. If the Gospel has taken root, then eat the only thing hat will truly satisfy and grow you into maturity, Jesus Christ & His word.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 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,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

Once we have evaluated our desires, we are asked by Peter to see ourselves through the lenses of Christ. Here Peter is encouraging us to see our growth in maturity in light of the fact that we are like Christ. He was the true living stone rejected by humanity, so too are we living stones who are rejected by humanity. The world rejected Jesus and we should not be surprised that it will reject those who look like Him. Therefore we should not be shocked when the world rejects us, but rather we should see all the more clearly that we are not alone in being rejected. Rather, we are a part of a living temple being built together, into Christ. The rejection of the world should build our spiritual unity as believers, and as our unity of spirit grows so too does our witness, and as we mature in Christ we will continue to turn our hearts over to him, preparing our minds for action and seeking to live our lives in a manner that seeks to glorify God and not our flesh.

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

Finally, we are grounded in the reality that we have a new identity as heirs with Christ. Just as you grew up physically and learned about who you were and where you came from, so too as we grow into Christ we learn who we are in Him and what that means for us.  We learn more and more about our identity and the family that we now have been given. We also begin to see that within our new family we have been given a new occupation as priests proclaiming the greatness of God who set us free from our own sinfulness. As such we call others to experience the greatness of our God who has changed us and given us a lasting home in his presence. We proclaim to the world the mercy of God, the hope of heaven, the living stone rejected by the men.

We have been Chosen, we have been set apart, we have been made Holy, and we have been given a home. These things were given to us we never earned them nor could we. God in his infinite grace bestowed them on those whom He called out of darkness and who through His grace have called upon the name of His Son. Before you can begin to evaluate how you are able to living in a dying and sinful word, you must first remember and know that you are His and that all that you are is found in Him. Before Peter begins a long discussion on living out the faith in a world that will mock, ridicule, and at times persecuted you, you have to know who you are and whose you are, so that you may live out the faith in response to this good news and in a way that reveals it to others.

 

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Are you a Sojourner?

For most of us we may hear the word Sojourner and think about taking a long journey or maybe back-packing around Europe like a well off 20 something with lots of time on their hands, but in reality the idea of being a sojourner is one that strikes at the heart of the Christian faith. When we look around us each day and see the lives that we have built: our cars, our houses, our children, our friends, our family it is very easy to fall into the trap that this is what really matters. That this is our home, and that this is what we are striving to attain. However, biblically speaking, for those who are in Christ this is the furthest from reality, for those who are in Christ where we lay our heads down every night is not our home, but a temporary settlement. 

So today let us look at some facets of this reality that we must remember about the fact that we are sojourners in this life.

Our Citizenship is not of this world

Our lives are  on a journey from this Life to the next, but we are not traveling to a new kingdom or awaiting a change from national identities to our spiritual Christian identities.  We already have been changed. Our citizenship and eternal concerns are not with the decisions made here and now in these earthly kingdoms but with what is being done for the eternal kingdom. Too often the Christian Church seems more concerned with gaining political or temporary authority in this world, then with seeing lives transformed and shaped by the gospel, an event that has eternal rewards rather than the temporary gains of the kingdoms of this world.

We must remember that we serve an eternal kingdom that will not end, and kingdom that cannot be overthrown by any military force or weapon. Should the greatest armies of the world rise up against Christ and His bride their destruction is assured, for His Kingdom has no end. That is the Kingdom we belong too. Once there were citizens of Rome, no longer, there existed the great citizens of Constantinople the pinnacle of art and wealth, no longer, there once was a day where to live in almost any corner of the world you would find citizens of the British crown, no longer, the citizenships and kingdoms of this world are in flux, you may move tomorrow to New Zealand and find it so overwhelming amazing that you take up citizenship there forsaking your previous home. But our citizenship is not so fickle; our citizenship belongs to an eternal Kingdom, and includes believers from all generations who once sojourned in the countries and cities that now lie in waste. We don’t belong to the temporary establishments of this world, but to an eternal kingdom which changes who we are fundamentally.

Our Mission is not the World’s Mission

With the mission of God being so antithetical to the world it makes complete sense than that His children would share the same mission and engage in the same discipline. In the book of 1 Peter this is the essential theme that Peter wishes to strike with his audience that our mission is not of this world, nor is our mission a matter of happenstance. Peter opens by pointing out the reality that we have been called out by God for this mission, we are elect sojourners, and we are people who have our hope set on the Father, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, with full assurance in Christ’s blood which moves us towards obedience. This is an important thing to see that you didn’t stumble into your citizenship, this is not a mistake, you have been chosen and called to a new life, a new mission, once not looking for the things of this world to bring lasting joy and pleasure, but to God who brings eternal peace and joy in Christ.

With this in mind we see that our mission begins with our lives, we are being sanctified for obedience. Discipline is essential in any mission, it is the means by which we accomplish the goal set before us. In the case of our lives as sojourners it is found in living our lives in pursuit of God and his righteousness. It is acting and speaking in ways that reflect the truth of God’s work in us. We aren’t being conformed any longer to the passion that rage in us, but rather are being conformed to the Image of Christ who calls us to preach the truth and love our neighbors. While the world tells you to do whatever feels right to you, or will make you happy, God calls us to seek the good of those around us above ourselves, the mission involves sacrifice for the purpose of Christ and the hope that others may come to faith and be transformed.

Our Lives won’t be easy

Lastly, Peter continually reminds us that the life we live as sojourners here reflects the fact that this is not our home. When you think of home, where ever that may be for you, it brings to mind images of safety, comfort, peace, maybe a bed to lay down at night, or the old cliché “home is where the heart is.” For us our true home awaits us, and as such we are reminded that in this life easy is not a guarantee, rather Peter will show us that because we don’t belong here we will be treated as such. We will suffer for doing the God honoring thing, we will be persecuted for speaking the truth in love. Suffering is not an exemption for a believer but rather the expectation, so we are encouraged all the more that our persecution leads other to see the truth of God’s goodness and love.

Peter informs us that when we are persecuted especially, that our response should mere that of Christ and not the world. Our response to the trials and tribulations of this world is to be a light and a glimpse in the nature of Christ, not a proof that we are in the end just as selfish and egotistical as the world. We don’t punch back harder; when we get punched; our lives should show that it was unjustified to be punched in the first place. We should not fall into shame, but our lives should reflect the glory of God in such a way that we can be continually proclaim the gospel or as the martyrs of old sing the psalms while being put to the torch.

 

For the Lord’s Sake….Submit to Trump

Donald Trump is our new President. I’m sure there are many mixed responses to this. Joy. Fear. Angst. Maybe even anger. Whatever you’re feeling I want you to be encouraged today. I’ve written a longer than usual post today. As you can expect it is political, but Lord willing, I’m hoping it will give you some guidance on how to live in light of these current events.

1 Peter 2:11-17 says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 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. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”

First, let’s see the context our passage by looking at the first two chapters of 1 Peter.

Peter is writing to Christians living in Asia Minor who are beginning to suffer for their faith. In the first verse of his letter he calls them ‘elect exiles of the dispersion.’ This dispersion or ‘diaspora’ is a term used to describe believers who were scattered abroad due to persecution. That he calls them ‘elect exiles’ reminds his audience of two things. First, that he calls them ‘elect’ reminds them of God’s predestining love and His election of them to salvation through Christ. Because God sovereignly saved them they would have been encouraged to remember that God can sovereignly keep them in the midst of suffering and difficulty as well. Second, that he calls them the ‘elect exiles’ reminds them that because of their faith in the risen Christ they are truly exiles, aliens, and sojourners in this present world. They do live in the world but this world isn’t their true home. They’re to be looking ahead to the heavenly country whose Maker and Builder is God where their citizenship truly is.

These two things were meant to be encouragements to this group of suffering Christians Peter is writing to, and today these same two things are meant to be encouragements to any Christian in difficulty or suffering. We have been sovereignly elected by God from before the foundation of the world, we have been ransomed by the blood of Christ which is more valuable than silver or gold, and because of these things Peter reminds us that we have an inheritance that is ‘imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us.’ So for the Christian, at all times and especially in times of suffering, we must remember that the best is always yet to come. This raises a question: in the meantime while we’re doing life as exiles and aliens here, how are we to live? Peter begins answering that question for us in chapter 2 by calling us in 2:1 to ‘grow up into salvation.’ It’s a call toward maturity and away from immature faith. Well how do we do that? How do we mature or grow up into salvation? Our passage tells us.

v11-17 answers our question about how to do life here while we’re passing through as exiles waiting to be in glory by bringing up the Christian’s conduct. v11 calls us to abstain from the things called ‘passions of the flesh’ or in other words those things ‘which wage war against your soul.’ The word abstain doesn’t just mean do ‘not do’ but ‘keep a far distance from.’ Just as a traveler doesn’t embrace the customs of the nation he’s traveling through, Christians as exiles here in this world aren’t to embrace the customs of this world.

Even more, the customs and natural ways of this world wage war against our souls, which is more reason to abstain from them. The word flesh here doesn’t mean physical or bodily. ‘Flesh’ means the old sinful nature that is within us…always luring us away from God and seeking to enslave us to sin. v12a brings this same thought a bit further by extending our inner struggle against fleshly passions to a public setting. We’re to keep our conduct ‘honorable’ or good, excellent, and upright before the Gentiles, basically before the watching world. So taking v11 and v12 together the meaning is that the inner life of a Christian abstaining from fleshly lusts leads to an honorable public life from the Christian. So if you’re doing v11 and you really are abstaining from sinful lusts you’ll at the same time be living an honorable life before the world as v12 calls for. And the opposite is also true. If you’re not doing v11 and you’re not abstaining from sinful lusts inwardly you at the same time won’t be living an honorable life before the world as v12 calls for.

Peter doesn’t stop here, he continues. Did you notice the reason why Peter wants us to live such an honorable life in v12b? “…so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” What? This should be strange to you. We’re accustomed to thinking that an honorable life would be seen as honorable, but in v12b Peter says the honorable life of a Christian will cause the lost world around you to think you’re an evildoer even though they can recognize your own good deeds. Notice it doesn’t say ‘if’ they speak against you, it says ‘when’ they speak against you. This is a promise. An honorable life before God will lead to being dishonored before men. Remember what Paul told Timothy in 2 Tim. 3:12? ‘All those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Does that seem odd? That the world would recognize good deeds yet still conclude us to be evildoers? Sin never does make sense does it? But even when the world labels us as an evildoer, the reason we want to be honorable is that the world would see our good deeds and glorify Christ at His 2nd Coming.

This is the principle at work here: we don’t need our own good works to be saved. Praise God?! We’re saved not by our own works, not even by the most righteous of our own works, but by the fully sufficient work of Christ in behalf of sinners like you and me. We praise God for the work of His Son because Jesus took the punishment for us and became man so that men could become sons of God. All of this leads to something within the heart and life of the Christian. Redemption doesn’t stay stagnant within us, no, it’s always moving deeper inward and further outward. Once Christ’s fully sufficient work has saved us, His work within us by His Spirit produces good works in us. Thus, a true understanding of God’s grace to us in Christ leads to holy living. These good works are cultivated in us by God inwardly (through enabling us to abstain from fleshly lusts and passions and live honorably before the world) and then those good works are put on display publicly by God so that the world sees them and glorifies God.

So here is the principle Peter has set up for us to see: God doesn’t need our good works, but who does? Our neighbor does. Because it’s by seeing our good works that our neighbors will glorify God.

Now comes the question that flows from this: what kind of good works does Peter have in mind?

This is where we must get political, be prepared.

From chapter 2:13 to the end of his letter he mentions many kinds of good works we can and ought to engage in, and all of these are good works our neighbors can witness for themselves. But what is the first good work Peter mentions? What is the first good work that our neighbors are to see in our lives so that they would glorify God? v13-17 gives it to us – our submission to governing authorities, and that means submission to our next President, Donald Trump.

In v13-14 Peter states it, in v15 Peter gives the reason for it, and v16-17 Peter summarizes it. Let’s take these as they come in the text.

The Statement (v13-14)

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”

Many people today believe that the Biblical authors do not agree in their doctrine. They pit Moses against Isaiah, Paul against Jesus, and Peter against John…and claim that because there’s no unity in doctrine throughout the Bible we should throw the whole Bible out. Hogwash. See here the evidence of the agreement among the Biblical authors. What Peter says in v13-14 is, on its right, a concise summary of what Paul has already said to us in Romans 13:1-7. They not only agree on our call to be subject to our governing authorities, they both place a heavy weight and a high importance on our call to do so to governing institutions, whether it be emperors, kings, or monarchs, Presidents, Senators, or Representatives, or their governors sent out throughout the nation to administer penalties on the law breaker and give praise to the law keeper. We are to be subject to our authorities. But note that Peter says something explicitly here that Paul only says implicitly in Romans 13. Peter says we’re to be subject ‘for the Lord’s sake.’

So, the submission we’re to give our civil authorities is a submission that is done to honor God. For the Lord’s sake we submit to Caesar. For the Lord’s sake we obey laws. For the Lord’s sake we pay taxes. For the Lord’s sake we engage in political matters. This shouldn’t surprise us because Scripture is filled with multiple examples of the call to have a Godward bent on all of life. 2 examples: 1 Cor. 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Col. 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” The Bible doesn’t allow us to think any sphere of our life is a sphere that God isn’t Lord over. So when you vote or when you don’t vote; when you discuss political matters with a friend; when you state a political opinion; or when you share a politically charged meme on Facebook, remember that Christians are to engage in politics ‘for the Lord’s sake’ because all of life is to be done ‘for the Lord’s sake.’ God is the One who needs to be honored in our political affairs. Don’t mishear me. This doesn’t mean God frowns on us having or sharing/talking about deep political opinions in public. This doesn’t mean we can’t call the government to repent when they refuse to function in their Romans 13 God ordained manner. God is truly honored when we obey our governing authorities for His sake as much as God is truly honored when we disobey our governing authorities in order to be obedient to Him. So this is the statement, let’s look at the reason.

The Reason (v15)

We know we’re to be subject for the Lord’s sake, but while that attitude of the heart largely happens inside of us, Peter continues on and gives us a reason to be subject that is more public. “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”

‘For this is the will of God’ is a statement so rarely used in the Bible that when it is used we ought to pay close attention to it. Do you want to know the will of God? Do you want to know what the will of God is for your life today? Peter’s answer: do good, for it will silence fools. When Peter says here that we’re to ‘do good’ he doesn’t just mean a general kind of decency or virtue done to mankind like picking up trash on the side of the road, as good as that is. In context, the good Peter is speaking of here is civil obedience. When the believer obeys the governing authorities their conduct not only serves as an example for all men but also serves to silence the foolish ignorance of others who refuse to submit to the governing authorities and act as their own king. We know of a bunch of examples of this happening. Isn’t this how movies always end?

For example: in every Back to the Future movie even a child can tell who the good guy is and who the bad guy is. Biff, always tries to be his own man and act according to what he thinks will best serve himself, while Marty and Doc always try to right the wrongs caused by fluctuations in the space-time continuum by their own moral and good actions. What happens at the end of each movie? Marty and Doc win, Biff loses, and somehow Biff always finds himself underneath a pile of manure. When we read v15 about the fool who is silenced, Biff is the character I want you pay attention to. Other than being covered in manure at the end of the movies what always happens to Biff? He is always shamed by the uprightness of Marty and Doc.

Peter says the same thing is in play with Christians and the watching world in relation to government. By the Christian submitting to governing authorities, obeying the laws of those authorities, and even disobeying those same governing authorities for the sake of obeying God there is something about our actions that even fools recognize as good, and from seeing our good works the false charges or accusations from those fools are silenced. So when God’s grace is poured into our hearts at the moment of conversion, that grace changes how we engage with the government, and when unbelievers see how Christians engage with the government they will be silenced…that is, if we truly are submitting. So where does this leaves us? We’ve seen Peter’s statement, we’ve seen his reason, now to end see his summary.

The Summary (v16-17)

“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”

So we’re to live in freedom. By faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us, we’re to live in, enjoy the fullness of, take great delight in, and drink deeply of the freedom and liberty that Jesus lived and died and rose to give us. This freedom defines our lives. If God is for us who can be against us? But, freedom isn’t the only thing that defines us. Peter continues…he also says, make sure our living in this glorious freedom doesn’t lead to a cover-up for sin or an excuse for rebellion.

Rather, what does freedom in Christ lead to? Serving everyone around us. Peter’s argument here is that for the Lord’s sake, we serve our neighbors by submitting to our governing authorities….when we do this our neighbors see the glory of God.

Jesus Came to Bring us to God

Some Christians are very big on the forgiveness offered to us in the gospel, this is not the end goal of the gospel.  Other Christians are very big on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness offered to us in the gospel, this is not the end goal of the gospel.  These two reasons for Jesus coming to earth are very huge, very Biblical too.  But there is another reason that is almost never mentioned that I want to mention today.

Christ died on the cross to give us what we needed most, God.

1 Peter 3:18 says, “Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…” Jesus died so that you would have God. In God, is the fullness of joy and pleasure forevermore (Psalm 16:11).  In God, is a river of pleasure (Psalm 36:8).  Therefore Jesus died to bring us to that infinite pleasure.  If you do not receive this pleasure, then you are like a person dying of thirst in the desert who comes across a beautiful oasis, only to eat a mouthful of sand thinking it will satisfy you.  Stop eating sand, come to the waters, come to Jesus.  Infinite joy is waiting.