Monday, April 26, 2010

Responding to God's Saving Grace (1 Peter 1:13-16)

Audio available here (click to stream, right-click to download) or on our podcast on iTunes.

Along America’s network of railroads, one will periodically find hubs called “classification yards.” As incoming trains arrive, their cars are separated one by one, and each one is “sorted” on separate short tracks according to its classification. Then an outgoing train is reassembled with special care taken to make sure that the cars are reassembled in the proper order. The destination, contents, weight, and other factors of each car are taken into consideration as the train is reassembled before departing. But no matter what order the cars are placed in, one thing never changes – the engine is always in the front of the line to pull the whole thing along the tracks. If the engine isn’t in the front, the train isn’t going anywhere.

When it comes to understanding our relationship with God, it is important that we get the engine in the front of the train, otherwise we will never get out of the station. If we were to imagine the elements of our salvation like a train, we might imagine a car that was labeled “Grace.” Another one might be labeled “Faith,” and a third one labeled “Works.” Now, which one is the engine? This is what separates biblical Christianity from nearly every other worldview and religious system that has ever existed. In almost every system throughout history, the engine of the train has been thought to be “Works”. What you do is believed to earn you favor with God, who may or may not reward you then with blessings such as prosperity, fertility, or immortality. But if that is the case, then we aren’t talking about grace, are we? We are talking about merit, wages, or earnings. But when we talk about grace we are talking about something we don’t deserve and cannot earn. So, the Bible teaches us that the engine of the train is Grace. Based on absolutely nothing that we had done or not done, God initiated the process of our salvation. In verse 15 here Peter refers to Him as the Holy One who called you. He took action to redeem us and restore us to Himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus in spite of our sins. So grace pulls the train, and faith is in the second position. Ephesians 2:8 says that it is “by grace you have been saved through faith.” We place our faith in what God has said and done for us through Jesus Christ. So then what does works have to do with it? Works is the caboose. When Grace is pulling the train, and faith is attached to it, works come along for the ride. Our lives are transformed into the likeness of Christ as we live in relationship with Him. So, it is not that works are unimportant. The Bible is clear that God’s people are marked out in the world by their distinct conduct. But what must be always understood is that conduct, our works, does not pull the train. We do not do good works in order to be saved or to gain favor with God. God has already shown us infinite favor in the life, death, resurrection, and indwelling presence of His Son. Our works are a grateful response to His gracious initiative.

That is why the first word of our text today is perhaps the most important one: Therefore. Every time I come across this word in Scripture, I can hear my old hermeneutics professor’s voice in my mind saying, “Whenever you see the word ‘therefore,’ you have to ask, ‘What’s that there for?’” And in this case, it is there to suggest that all that has come before this verse serve as the basis of what follows. What comes before? Verses 3-12 amount to one long sentence in the Greek language, the main thought of which is that God is to be praised because, through Jesus, He “has given us new birth according to His abundant mercy into a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and into an imperishable, pristine, and unfading inheritance.”[1] And it is on this basis that the imperative commands of the rest of this letter are issued. Nothing that we are commanded to do in this or any other portion of Scripture is a means of receiving God’s favor. God has already given us favor by His grace in Jesus Christ. Now, we respond to Him. As Edmund Clowney writes, “The imperatives of Christian living always begin with ‘Therefore.’ Peter does not begin to exhort Christian pilgrims until he has celebrated the wonders of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. The indicative of what God has done for us (and in us) precedes the imperative of what we are called to do for Him.”[2]

So, how do we live in response to the grace God has shown us through the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Specifically, in light of God’s saving grace, we are to live in hope and to live in holiness.

I. We respond to God’s saving grace by living in hope (v13)

As this past week progressed, and we began to look toward the weekend, I know many of us uttered something like this: “I hope it doesn’t rain this weekend.” We saw that the forecast called for storms, but perhaps we had plans for outdoor recreation, cooking out, and yard work that rain would have greatly interfered with. So, regardless of the forecast, we hoped for a sunny and dry weekend. This is the way we usually think of the word hope – a positive wish for the future, based on absolutely no grounds of certainty. But this is not the way the word “hope” is used in the Bible. The New Testament idea of hope is a confident expectation that what has been promised will certainly come to pass. It is strong enough for us to take assurance in and to take action upon. This is because our hope is built not on the shifting sand of wishful thinking or happy dreams, but on the solid rock of something that has already happened in the past – namely, the death and resurrection of Jesus. What do we sing? “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.” And because He has already done what He had promised to do, we have every reason to believe that the promises which still linger for the future will likewise come to pass.

So, Peter says we are to fix our hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. How do we live in response to the grace that God has already shown us? By living in the confident hope of the grace He has yet to show us. When Peter speaks of the revelation of Jesus Christ, he uses a word that means “unveiling” or “uncovering.” We might say, “But hasn’t Christ already been revealed when He came into the world?” Yes, but that revelation was veiled so that His true and glorious divine nature was covered over in His humanity. But the New Testament is filled with promises that He is coming again, and when He does, the veil will be removed. The glory that shone through Him on the Mount of Transfiguration will be visible to all when He returns. We will, as 1 John 3:2 says, “see Him as He is.” And when He returns, all of His gracious promises made to us concerning our redemption, our glorification, and our eternal home in His presence will come to pass. Peter is telling us here that our belief in the coming of that day should affect the manner in which we live in these days.

We are to fix our hope completely on this. All of our confidence and assurance, all of our hopes and ambitions for the future are bound up in this reality of Christ, and His salvation, and the consummation of His Kingdom. We put no confidence in the flesh, as Paul says in Philippians 3:3, whether that is ourselves, or others, or the things that this world cherishes. So our hopes are not built upon our abilities, or our education, our status or our wealth, our occupation or our recreation, our reputation or our relationships, our supposed power or influence in the world. Our hope is undividedly placed in the future grace that is going to be revealed when we see Christ face to face.

This past week, I attended a seminar on Christian Funerals that Hanes-Lineberry hosted which featured Dr. Thomas Long. Dr. Long has been researching the history and present trends of Christian funerals for fifteen years or more and has concluded, among other things, that for the better part of 1800 years or so, the focus of a Christian funeral was that the deceased was a righteous saint of God who lived in the hope of eternity. Today, Dr. Long discovered that the focus seems to be on demonstrating that the deceased was somewhat of a celebrity who had attained his or her fifteen minutes of fame in this life. Somewhere we got off track, didn’t we? We are not living for what this world offers. We are living in hope for the eternal future, not for the fleeting pleasures of this life.

So how can fix this problem? How can we reorient ourselves to live with our hopes completely fixed on this future grace? Peter tells us two things we can do here. First he says we must prepare our minds for action. Cumbersome as the wording of it is, the King James Version really translates the Greek very literally here when it says, “Gird up the loins of your mind.” In ancient times, when the typical dress of most people was a long robe, a person would pull the robe up and tuck it into a belt around the waist whenever they needed to act with quickness and intentionality. This would prevent their feet from being tangled up in the robe. So, for instance, in Exodus 12:11, God instructed the people to eat the Passover Meal as they prepared to leave Egypt with their loins girded, so they could exit quickly. Jesus taught His followers to be ready for the Master’s return in Luke 12:35-36, saying, “Let your loins be girded about.” Here in this text, Peter is telling us to be ready in this way, by girding up the loins of our minds. We are not to let our minds be occupied with trivialities and the idle things of this life and this world. We are to be mentally resolved that this life is being lived in preparation for eternity and take action based on these things. The way we live our lives should reflect our confidence that what we say we believe is true. Do we live as if we really believe that Christ died for us, rose from the dead, and is coming again? Do we live as if we believe that heaven and hell are real? Do we live as if we really believe that Christ is a more precious treasure than anything this world offers us? When Peter tells us to prepare our minds for action, to gird up the loins of our mind, he is telling us that we need to let the reality of these beliefs drive us to a conscious decision to act upon them. A failure to do so only indicates that deep down we are really not sure about them. So, if our hopes are fixed completely on the grace that is coming when Christ is revealed in His glory, we will also act with this mindset.

This means as well that we will keep sober in spirit. If you are using the New American Standard Bible, you notice that the words in spirit are in italics, which means that they are not represented in the Greek text, but have been added by the translators to aid us in our understanding. I am really not sure they are necessary here though. We understand what it means to keep sober. We know that the opposite of sobriety is intoxication. Obviously we should understand that as people who live in the hope of what is to come that we should avoid the intoxication of alcohol and drugs. Our minds are to be sharp and alert, prepared for action; not dulled by the effects of these substances. But we also know that drugs and alcohol are not the only things that can intoxicate us, don’t we? We have seen and maybe experienced the drunkenness that comes from overindulgence of power, materialism, greed, and a host of other pseudo-intoxicants that this world throws at us. So this admonition to keep sober directs us to not only avoid physical drunkenness, but also to avoid having our minds lead astray into any other kind of mental intoxication, addiction, or laziness that would inhibit our spiritual alertness or make us to be spiritually careless. Peter will use the same phrase in 4:7 and 5:8 to indicate that spiritual sobriety will enable us to be fervent in our prayers and to be alert in our defense against the schemes of the devil.[3] Clowney writes, “Drunken stupor is the refuge of those who have no hope.”[4] But we have a living hope that is fixed upon Christ, and therefore we should be spiritually sober, alert, and clear-thinking as we make our way through this life.

God has given us a great and gracious salvation through Jesus Christ. How do we respond? By living in hope – with our hope completely fixed on the grace that will be brought to us in its fullness when Christ comes in His glory. And as we live in this hope, we gird up the loins of our mind, preparing ourselves to act on what we believe and we keep ourselves free from the intoxicants of this world that would dull our spiritual sensitivities to the reality of Christ and His Kingdom to come.

There is another response to grace indicated here in the text as well.

II. We respond to God’s saving grace by living in holiness (vv14-16)

See, when we get the railroad cars in the wrong order, we think like this: “I bet if I will try as hard as I can to be holy, then God will love me, and He might save me.” That’s like trying to pull the train with the caboose. The fact is that God already loves you, and in Christ has made salvation available to you by His grace. If you have received this gift by faith, then you will respond to Him accordingly by living in the manner to which He has called you. And one word summarizes that way of living: holiness. “Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves,” Peter says in v15. Our lives are to be a reflection of His holiness.

This word holy probably evokes a range of images and ideas in our minds. Perhaps we think about medieval Christian icons in which the holy people are recognizable because of the enormous halos around their heads. Or we think that being holy means walking around in brown robes tied at the waist with a rope and speaking to each other in Gregorian chant or something like that. But the word actually means to be separated. When the objects of the temple and tabernacle in the Old Testament were called holy, it means that they were pulled aside from ordinary use and devoted to the service of God. You might think of this sanctuary as a holy place, and we don’t mean by that it is a magical place where the miraculous occurs on a regular basis. We mean that it has been set aside for the specific purpose of worshiping God. So you wouldn’t be surprised to walk in here and find people singing or someone preaching, or people getting married, or a funeral in progress. You would not expect to walk in and find a high school prom or a Graeco-Roman wrestling tournament taking place or something like that.

When we say that God is holy, we mean that He is completely separate from sin and completely devoted to the magnification of His own glory. Sometimes people take exception to that and think it makes God sound self-absorbed, but really, whose glory should He rather magnify? Yours? If you say yes, then who is the one who is self-absorbed? He pursues His own glory because there is nothing more valuable for Him to pursue. If God pursued anything besides His own glory, He would be guilty of idolatry. So, He is holy—separated from sin and devoted to the magnification of His own glory. And we are called to be like Him in holiness—set aside from ordinary things and marked out as distinct among the people of the world because we are devoted to the magnification of God’s glory above all else. So this holiness is about priority—God’s glory above all else; it is about passion—nothing should be the object of a higher loving devotion than He is in our lives; it is about purpose—we exist and have been redeemed by Christ for God’s own use; and it is about purity—because He is separated from sin, we should be as well. And it is a process—we are called holy when God saves us because He removes our sins from us and covers us in the righteousness of Jesus in the divine work of justification, but we progress in holiness throughout our lives as the Holy Spirit works in us in the divine work of sanctification, making us more and more like Jesus.

As the Spirit works in us in this way, we should find ourselves being transformed more and more by His power, and conformed less and less by the influence of the world and our own sin nature. So, v14 says that we must no longer be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance. For a period of time in our lives, we did what we wanted to do with no thought of right and wrong, sin and righteousness. We lived for our own pleasures and satisfaction. But that is not to be so anymore as we grow in Christ. We have been set free from slavery to sin and have the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to overcome those desires for the purpose of pursuing holiness. We are now the adopted sons and daughters of God, and the family resemblance should be increasing in us. Our lives should look more and more like our Father, as obedient children—holy as He is holy.

This is not merely a religious change, but a total life transformation. This holiness should pervade all our behavior as Peter says in v15. It is not just that becoming a Christian means we hang out at church rather than at the bar or something like that. It’s not just that we read the Bible instead of other books now. It means that holiness affects my life as a husband, as a father, as a son, as a brother, as a worker, as a neighbor, as a friend, as a citizen, and so on. In all areas of my life, this holiness of my Father in heaven should be becoming more and more apparent.

This command to be holy is not a new one. Peter tells us that the foundation of this command is found in the written Word of God (v16). This command, “You shall be holy, for I am holy,” and similar ones like it are found throughout the Old Testament, including at least four times in Leviticus. The Greek wording of v16 is an exact quotation of the Greek translation of Leviticus 19:2. Now it is very interesting that Leviticus 19:2 says, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” And this verse is immediately followed in Leviticus 19:3 with this statement: “Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father.” That is interesting because Peter’s exhortation to be holy is based on the command of Scripture found in verse 2 and the principle found in verse 3 – that our holiness is a reflection of our obedience as children to our Heavenly Father. He has called us His own, and He desires that the world would know that we belong to Him by the resemblance they see in us.

The Psalmist of Psalm 116 recognized that God had delivered him from death and blessed his life in innumerable ways. We who are in Christ by faith know that God has done this and immeasurably more for us. And so we can ask, like he did, “What shall I render to the LORD
For all His benefits toward me?” (Psalm 116:2). And like the Psalmist, we recognize that we could never repay the Lord – if we could, it wouldn’t be grace. He has given us what we do not deserve by saving us from sin, giving us eternal life, and indwelling us with His Spirit to empower us to live for Him. We are utterly bankrupt to repay Him for this. But the Psalmist said this, “I shall lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the LORD. I shall pay my vows to the LORD” (Psalms 116:13-14). John Piper says concerning this that the Psalmist’s response to the Lord is that he will “go on receiving from the Lord so that the Lord’s inexhaustible goodness will be magnified.”[5] By lifting up the cup of salvation, he indicates that when he drinks of it, the Lord will continue to supply more. This is living in hope for future grace. We respond to what the Lord has done for us by living in the confidence that He will do what He has promised. We will see Him, we will behold His glory face to face, and the assurance of that will keep us living in hope spiritually sober and alert, prepared to act out our faith and hope in Him. The Psalmist also says that he will call on the name of the Lord. He will respond to the Lord’s grace by making it well-known that he is dependent on this grace. And so we are as well. As we live in hope, we live calling upon His name to meet our needs and guide us through our days here, and expressing our devotion to Him. And the Psalmist says he will pay his vows. He will do what the Lord requires of Him. And what the Lord requires of us all is to be holy as He is holy. So we devote our lives to His holy purposes, allowing Him to separate us from sin and set us on the passionate pursuit of His glory above all else. In short, like the Psalmist who said, “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?”, we will respond by living in hope and living in holiness.

[1] Karen Jobes, 1 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 109.

[2] Edmund Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter: The Way of the Cross (The Bible Speaks Today; Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1988), 61.

[3] Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries 17; Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1988), 81.

[4] Clowney, 62.

[5] John Piper, Future Grace (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 1995), 38.

No comments: