salvation, a breastplate of righteousness. His feet are fitted with the readiness of the gospel and in his hand is put a sword and shield.
This armor would be tested right away. Upon leaving the house he promptly met up with the great dragon Appolyon. And on coming to the ferocious beast Christian found himself terrified. He trembled at its rage and feared that he would be overcome by the fiendish monster. His initial thought was to turn back and run. But he realized that if he did turn he would surely be dead for he had no means of protection on his back. The armor that he wore did not cover his back. The only strategy that it safeguarded was a forward progression.
The point that Bunyan was making was the point the Bible makes with the armor of God: We must always be on the advance. We are called to maturity and there is no turning back. At every point we must charge ahead and face the attack head on.
And that is the same point that Peter makes in this passage. Peter tells us that Pilgrims are to make progress. We are to always be advancing in the faith. There is not to be any stagnation. We must always be moving towards maturity and gaining greater ground in our Christian walk.
So today I want to talk about the Pilgrim’s Progress. Our progress. I want us to consider what Peter says regarding the goal of our progress and the grounds for our progress in the faith.
The first question that comes to mind regards our goal. For what are we to be shooting? What is it we are to be aiming for as Christians?
I. When it comes to progressing in the faith, what is to be our goal?
Peter talks about this in the first two verses, and he renders our goal in both a negative and positive way.
On the negative side Peter says that our aim should be to “Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”
If I might summarize it, your aim ought to be to cleanse your motives. Every item listed here deals, not mainly with overt, external actions, but with the intentions and motives of your heart.
For instance, malice is wanting someone’s harm or downfall. In other words, you want this guy to suffer some sort of setback. But you all know that you don’t just walk up to someone and punch them in the nose or take him out. No, you know that you can’t do that. You know you have to be more crafty than that and hide it a little. So normally, it means wrapping their undoing in the garb of doing something nice for them.
So kids, here’s an example of Malice. You walk in the house and say to your little brother that you’ve just raked a big pile of leaves for him to play in the back yard. And your brother can’t believe it? He thinks, “That’s so nice! That’s great!” And he’s so happy, he can’t wait to get out there and jump in it. As he runs out that door you just smile because as you raked up the leaves, you raked up all the sticks and thorn bushes into the pile too. He’s been on your nerves all day long, and now he’s going to get it.
Now that’s malice: It’s wanting someone to be hurt. It’s wanting someone to suffer, but you go about getting it in a way that actually looks like you are helping. So basically malice is all about the intentions of the heart.
The same is true for envy. Envy is something that happens in your heart. It’s that jealousy you experience because someone else has what you want, and you don’t want them to have it because you can’t have it.
You young people know what this is, don’t you? When your brother or sister has a toy, all of a sudden you want that toy don’t you? So you start fighting over it. And when mom comes in she takes it away. And you’re happy now because your brother or sister doesn’t have it. That’s envy. And envy is something that occurs deep down inside your heart.
The same could said for deceit and slander. When you lie (deceit) it’s because deep down inside you don’t want people to know the truth. And slander is saying something about someone to someone else. And why do you do that? It’s because, down inside, you want to see them cut down. It doesn’t matter if what you say is true or not. You pass on that little tid-bit of information. You don’t want to see them get the promotion, elected as an elder, or receive special attention from the friend you are talking to.
So Peter says that our goal as Christians is to take all these impure motives and put them away. Your main objective is to discard them and have nothing but the purest and best of intentions all the time.
Now I really like what Peter is doing here, because this is a congregation that needs to hear this kind of thing. We all have our sins, for sure. But from what I’ve seen, we’re not involved in a lot of gross sins. There’s very little murder going on here. I don’t know of any of you who are rapists. And I would suggest that we don’t have a lot of overt sins in general. No one to my understanding is a flagrant sinner. But there are people in this congregation that are jealous. You come to church with a smile on your face, but on the inside you are just brimming with discontent. And I’m sure you would never say anything to someone’s face that would provoke them. But in hushed voices and behind closed doors you are not afraid to vent your views about good old so & so.
And my friends, you need to put that away. Right now, there are people who are taking their Halloween decorations, putting them in a box and throwing them in a closet or in the attic. And that’s exactly what you need to do with your hypocrisy, your envy and your gossip.
If you want to advance in your walk with the Lord, then the place you need to begin is deep within your very own heart. Peter says that as Christians our aim ought to be discarding the ill intentions and impure motives that lurk in our hearts.
But if you look at the second verse, you’ll see that he states the goal in a more positive light.
He says, “Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that you may grow up unto salvation.”
We as Christians are to have an insatiable hunger for the Word of God. Because it is by the Word of God that we are made more holy and more obedient.
Think about the imagery that is being used here. That’s where the real meaning of the verse is. Elizabeth and I have a wonderful little baby in the house now. And this little girl is fantastic. We’ve been really blessed with this one because she is what you would call a “good baby.” By that I think you know what I mean. During the day she’s quite easy going. She hardly ever cries and she does a fantastic job of sleeping at night for being only 3-4 months old. But there are times when she gets herself in a real tizzy. When she wakes up in the morning, she’s hungry! And she lets us know it! She can’t wait to get to that bottle. When you come into the room shaking that thing, she knows exactly what is going on. And you can see her starting to get excited, sometimes she’ll even start fussing because she knows its right there. Then when she gets it in her mouth, she just sucks and sucks on it because she wants it so bad.
Then when you go to burp her, and pull it out of her mouth, she really gets mad. She’s normally a very good baby. She’s usually all smiles. But when you pull that thing out, boy does she get upset. She immediately breaks into the most pitiful cry you ever heard. And she won’t’ stop until you put it back in her mouth.
And Peter uses this imagery of intense longing to say that this is the kind of craving you should have for this book. This is to be what we are shooting for. Our goal ought to be that our strongest desire is for the truth of the Scriptures. Our deepest yearning is to be getting to church so we can find out what God wants us to believe and do.
And the reason for this is because it is by this book that we come to grow up unto salvation. It is through regular contact with the Scriptures that we grow in the faith.
I can use Geneva as an example again. Just by looking at her you can see that she hasn’t missed too many meals. The girl is only 4 months old and she’s starting to outgrow the 3-6 month clothes. Now that wouldn’t happen if we skimped on her feedings. She couldn’t grow up if she didn’t have the proper nutrition.
The same is true for your soul. If you want to grow in the faith then you need to feed on the nutrients that God has provided you. You need to crave the Scriptures and seek to satisfy your soul with them. This is to be one of your highest priorities.
A Quick Excursus for Practical application
Before I go on to the next point, I want to give you a tip on how to develop this craving. That is what Peter is telling you to do. You are to crave it. But how do you make yourself crave it? I believe that the passage gives us some practical advice on how this is done. The way this passage is constructed in the original language is quite unique. It is actually quite difficult to translate into English accurately. Literally, it reads something like this “Putting away all malice, and all deceit, and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the spiritual milk.”
Though it doesn’t come out well in the English, the idea is that our craving for the Word of God is dependent upon our putting away the evil intentions of your heart. That is to say, as you put away these impure motives, you will be more able to crave the word of God.
To put it another way: If you let your heart be clogged with all these vices that he mentions here, then you won’t be able to crave Scripture like you should.
At the beginning of the year I began a new diet. I became convicted that I was consuming too much sugar. So I cut way back on how much sugar I was consuming, and I started eating more fruits and vegetables. And after a while I found that something quite interesting happened. The fruits and vegetables actually started tasting better. Because I cut out that load of sugar, my pallet could more readily sense the flavors of the fruits and vegetables. But lately, I’ve fallen off in my little food regiment. And you know what? I am finding that the fruits and vegetables don’t taste as good as they did. And as a result, I don’t seek them as much as I did.
That’s exactly what is being said here in this passage. If you let these vices clutter up your heart, you will not have the hunger that you ought to have for the word of God. If you cut these vices from your life, your spiritual pallet will be freer to seek the truth contained in Scripture.
That is what you are to be striving for. You are to make it your aim to cleanse the intentions of your heart, and by doing so, create within yourself a strong desire the word of God.
I know that was a bit of an excursus, but I thought I would bring that out and just emphasize how important it is to be seeking to purify your inward desires. But let’s now move on.
After Peter states what our goal is he gives us a reason why we should make that your aim. And he says that the grounds for your progress in the faith is found in your own experience.
II. What is the proper grounds for our progress?
He says in verse three that you should do this, “if indeed you tasted that the Lord is good.”
In other words, each and every person who has personally become acquainted with the Lord Jesus Christ will want to do this because Jesus is so appealing. If you have experienced his grace and forgiveness, you know you can’t help yourself. You won’t be able to stop yourself.
His grace is so magnificent. His person and presence is so tantalizing to the spiritual pallet that you are forcefully drawn to him.
A while ago the potato chip company Pringles had a commercial that said, “I bet you can’t eat just one.” It was a pretty audacious claim. They were so confident in their chips and how good they were they were willing to make the claim that one just wasn’t enough. If you ate just one chip, there was no doubt in their minds that you would be back for more.
That’s the claim right here. If you have tasted that the Lord is good—If you have had a real and personal encounter with the saving work of Jesus Christ, if you have embraced his atoning sacrifice with true faith, if you have had your own soul resurrected from its spiritual deadness, and if you have witnessed his providential activity in your own life where he has preserved, protected and pitied you—then there is no possible way that you can go on savoring sin in your life.
Of course, if you have not tasted the Lord—that is to say, if you have not made a personal application of Christ’s mediation to your life or truly put your faith in him or had your heart changed by his Spirit, then you won’t have this automatic draw. You could care less about the Bible and see no real need to make any headway in putting off sin.
This verse speaks to the fact that there are some within the church that are false professors. They may profess Christ, but they do not really possess him in their heart of hearts. Some people will come into the church and become members, but they really have no real spiritual acquaintance with Christ.
And you will hear people talk this way sometimes. You will hear someone who has left the church say, “I tried that.” At some point in their life they “did the church thing.” They tried religion. But they found it unpalatable. They couldn’t stand it, so they left the church.
But the truth is, they never really tasted Christ. And these people might make a show of piety. But the piety that they have was driven by their own carnal desires, and not by their familiarity with the gospel. That kind of person never had a true and vital union with him. They may have tasted the church. They may have “tried religion.” But they never had any real acquaintance with Jesus Christ. I tell you, if you try religion without ever having really tasted the sweetness of the gospel (or never really savored Christ), then there’s every reason to leave the church! That would be the most distasteful thing in the world! I tell you, there is nothing really all that palatable about the church. The church is going to disappoint you and mere formalized “religion” is not a turn on at all.
But Christ is!
And if you have truly been united to Christ by faith and do have that relational bond with him, then he is exceedingly sweet to your soul and sin is exceedingly distasteful. And if this has happened, then you will savor him. And that taste will so entice you that it will create within you a burning desire for more.
And here is where you need to examine yourself. You need to ask yourself if you have become so acquainted with him. Are you feeding upon him? Is his grace a delight to your soul? Do you crave him and savor him as the only one who can satisfy the thirst of your soul?
Better yet, ask yourself this, “Does he impel me to seek righteousness? Am I driven to the Scripture by the thought of him and because of what he means to me?” If that is not true, then you have not really tasted Christ. If from time to time you do not lift up a prayer and say, “Lord, show me my sin and help me be rid of it,” then you are not really a Christian.
And my only recommendation to you is that you truly seek to partake of him in a living and active way. For the goodness of Christ is a delectable thing. It’s something you cannot get enough of and it provides you with the greatest delight.
Whenever we have deserts at our house, it is a wonderful thing. This time of year is always good because we may have a slice of pumpkin pie or apple crisp. And its so sweet that when we get done, I’ll sit there wiping up the plate so that there’s not a crumb left. And the whole time I’m running my finger through the remaining morsels, I’m thinking how much I’d like another sliver of it. Finally, my wife will say, “Would you like another piece, dear?” And I’ll say, with a great deal of self control, “sure.” Then, when we are done we’ll start cleaning up the dishes. And I’ll take my plate into the kitchen. And while everyone else is busy in the other room, I’ll nab another little bite out of the dish.
It’s just so good, that I can’t get enough.
My friends, that is the way it is with Christ. Even if you only get a little taste—and really, that’s all we’ll ever get this side of heaven! But even if it is just a droplet upon your tongue, it will be enough to whet your appetite and make you inclined towards more.
In the book “The Miracles of Missions” it was recounted that a missionary to the South Seas was once approached by a crippled man. Disease had greatly afflicted him so that he lost the function of the lower part of his legs and hands. He had to walk upon his knees and use his arms to drag himself wherever he went. Yet, when the missionary came by the lame man rose up and went to meet him. And upon coming to him he shouted, “Welcome, servant of God, who brought light to this dark island!” The two men began to engage in conversation regarding the lame man’s experience. And the missionary was quite impressed with the lame man’s knowledge of the faith. He asked, “You have become quite well acquainted with the things of the Lord. Where did you obtain all this knowledge? I do not remember ever seeing you at the settlements where I preached. And besides, your hands and feet have been eaten off by disease and you have to walk upon your knees!” The lame man answered, “As the people return from your services, I sit by the road and beg from them as they pass by for a bit of the Word. One will give me one piece and another will give me another piece. I gather them together in my heart and think over what I thus obtain, praying to God to make me know and understand.”
Though this man could not go very far due to his condition, he was able to make a great deal of progress in the faith. He had tasted of Christ, and so he craved any crumb or scrap of Scripture that he could get. And such morsels so fed him that his life could turn the eye of a missionary.
May Christ so enthrall us that we crave His Word with the same fervor and strive with the same zeal for purity in heart.
The passage we are looking at this morning deals with what is perhaps the greatest of all the themes of the Bible. It is the theme of God’s love.
When you read the Bible, I believe this subject sticks out more than any other. Certainly, a lot of passages talk about God’s wrath and how he can become inflamed with anger. We read many passages dealing with his holiness too. As you turn the pages of Scripture, you can’t help but see that quite clearly. However, these themes pale in comparison to the theme of God’s love. This thesis presides over all the others. For in the Bible you cannot help but see how God pursues his wayward people tenaciously and passionately.
Perhaps this topic is so prevalent in Scripture because so many are prone to doubt it. I believe that it needs to be at the forefront of the Scriptures because it is so necessary for us to understand. When we come to be persuaded that God really loves, then we are more ready to love him in return. Trusting him follows right on the heals of having the assurance of his great love for us.
This last week my daughter and I went for a walk in the woods. It is something we do somewhat frequently, but this time was a little different. It was at night. As we marched through the trails in the darkness, I thought about how much my daughter trusted me. She was not afraid in the slightest bit to be out there in that creepy place. She was not afraid that I would do anything to her while we were out there. She had full confidence that she could follow me anywhere because she knew that I loved her.
The Lord wants us to have this sort of confidence: that we can trust him through anything and follow him anywhere. So in this passage our Lord confirms his love. He shows us just how great his love for us so that we may sweetly rest in it.
In order to reassure us of his love the Lord talks first about the sheer extravagance of it. The first mention of God’s love is found in the last half of verse 5, and it says that God’s love has been “poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
I. Its profuse extravagance
You might not notice it at first glance, but we understand how profuse God’s love is by those words “poured out.” This word literally means “to spill” or “to run out greedily.”
Now you can spill something and it is not all that big of a deal. If you are almost done with your soda and you accidently knock it over, that’s not going to be much to worry about. But if that soda “runs out greedily” then that is something completely different. You get the idea that it is the jumbo size that you ordered and you haven’t even had the chance to take a sip of it yet. Now it is all over your lap, running down your legs onto the seat and creating a huge puddle on the floor.
This is the same word used in the book of Acts when it talks about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. You know when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles it wasn’t as if God was using a dropper. The Spirit is described as coming down in an overflowing manner, much like a torrent and it filled the room where the disciples were. The funny thing about that passage is that the disciples were gathered in the upper room when the Spirit was poured out. Then without any sort of transition the disciples are outside preaching to all the people who were gathered in Jerusalem. It is almost as if the title wave of the Spirit came gushing down from heaven in such incredible deluge that they disciples were carried outside by the overflow of it. You might have seen in pictures of a flood where a car is hit with a wall of water and then carried down the street by the overwhelming volume of water. That’s what seems to be described in Acts chapter 2.
And that is exactly the same way God’s love is described here in this passage. There is no shortage of God’s love. God is not holding anything back. His love comes down into our hearts in a lavish overwhelming manner! The extravagance almost sounds sloppy because it reminds you of a child with the garden hose. He just lets it all come gushing out.
I’m glad that God’s word describes His love like this here because a lot of people don’t have that kind of view of it. Some people (maybe you are one?) tend to think that God is up in heaven with a clip board taking an inventory of our lives and then rewarding with a pinch or two. Or maybe we compare it to our own lives and how we always have a tendency to be a little stingy. I know how we guys are. When we want to show our wife how much we love her, we will go and buy her some flowers. And we can’t wait to walk in that door and overwhelm her with a nice bouquet of flowers. But what do we do when we get to the store? We look for the cheapest arrangement. We look and say, “$15 for a dozen measly roses? That’s ridiculous!” So you go over and start looking at the carnations.
God doesn’t operate like that. His love is never stingy, but always excessive.
Tim Keller is a PCA pastor in New York, and he has recently written a book based on the parable of the prodigal son. The title of his book is Prodigal God. The term prodigal means reckless, wasteful and absorbed with excess. And it is characteristic of the first son who takes his inheritance and goes and spends everything in a wildly extravagant lifestyle. Keller makes the point though that the father figure in that parable is just as excessive with his love. He spends his days looking for the son, waiting for him to come back. Then when he sees him far off in the distance he runs to him. He does one of the most undignified things, hiking up his garments and sprints through the village thoroughway, right where everyone could see him. Upon reaching the debauched child he showers him with kisses. He lavishes his love, and puts a ring on his finger and a robe on his back. Then he calls for the fattened calf to be killed and prepared. The party he puts together on behalf of this child is almost wasteful in and of itself because he spares no expense.
He is the Prodigal God, and he wants you to know just how profuse his love for you is.
I’m sure you will agree that if we stopped here you would have sufficient evidence of how great God’s love is. But, if the truth be told, we are not even scratching the surface yet. We can’t know the depth of his love until we consider who exactly he loves! And if you look at what this passage says, you see that it has some of the most unlikely objects.
II. Its unlikely objects
This passage uses 4 words to describe us, and the picture it paints is not a pretty one. You’ve all heard the expression, “He’s got a face that only a mother could love.” Well, when you consider what this passage says about us, you wonder, “How could anyone love us, let alone God.”
The first word that we come across is the word “weak.” The KJV is perhaps a little more accurate as it describes us as being “without strength.” The idea is that of being impotent. The word is typically used to describe sick people, or people who are infirm. In Acts 4 it is used to describe a man who is paralyzed! These are all people who are so weak they can’t do anything.
What does it mean that we are weak? For what do we not have any strength? What is in view is our moral inability. When it comes to pleasing God we do not have any power to do anything that pleases Him. We are completely impotent—we are like an ethical paralytic!
The Bible uses this language to describe how depraved we are in a number of places. The best reference is in Jeremiah 7:9. In my version it says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick.” Some other versions say, desperately wicked. The New International version says beyond cure. In other words, there is no remedy because the illness is so far gone. Today we might say it is stage 4 cancer, the deadliest and most severe.
If we think we are good, or have some goodness deep down inside somewhere, we are only kidding ourselves. That’s why Jeremiah says the heart is deceitful above all things. We lie to ourselves and make ourselves out to be more upright than we are and say that we can please God, at least to some degree.
That’s not what the bible says though. When it comes to pleasing God we are completely impotent.
The next word that the Bible uses to describe those God loves is ungodly.
Rob and I have been going through Jerry Bridges book, Respectable Sins, a book that deals with the sins we find acceptable. Before getting into the different sins though, Bridges talks about ungodliness. He says that we typically think ungodly people are people who extreme sinners. You know, the kind who are murderers and rapists; people who are open blasphemers and God deniers. Bridges says that is not necessarily so. He says a person can be a nice, respectable citizen and still be an ungodly person.
Ungodliness has to do with living your life with little or no thought of God, his will, his glory, or of your constant dependence upon him. That’s how we were (and are!). Tell me, how often is God on your mind? How often do you think about him or pray to him? I’m sure that the thought of being in his constant presence is relatively rare.
It is funny if you think about it. God loves the ungodly. God loves those who are facing the complete opposite direction.
The next word that is mentioned is found in verse 8. It is the word sinners. What is descriptive here? It is that we are chiefly characterized by that which God finds most offensive. We have a corrupt nature that we have inherited from Adam. So we are slaves to sin and under the dominion of sin. The power of sin is constantly at work so that everything we do is tainted with sin.
It is a lot like one of those old smokestacks that you would find on an old factory. It is black within and without. And all that comes billowing out of it is nothing but the darkest, most putrid smoke. You look at that smokestack and find it repulsive. You don’t want to go anywhere near it, let alone have a loving, personal relationship with it.
That’s what God does though. He loves impotent, ungodly sinners. The last word that he uses is the word enemies.
The idea here is that of open hostility. It is not just a rejection of God (what might be seen in the word sinner). An enemy does more than reject his opponent. He does more than despise him. He attacks him.
This is perhaps the ugliest of all the terms used so far. You could say He goes and saves the worst for last. The think is that most people don’t see it this way. To put our relationship with God in these terms, will make a lot of people object. Nobody thinks that they are God’s enemy. Everybody thinks the world of God, don’t they? He’s the big guy in the sky. If you ask them everybody is always on good terms with God.
The truth of the matter is that the exact opposite is true. If we could get our hands on God, we’d kill him. It is as simple as that. All you have to do is look at what we did to Jesus when he came to earth. What did we do with him? We attacked him. We whipped and beat him. We crucified him. We killed him. We proved that we were God’s enemies.
You see. God doesn’t love the lovely. If he did, he wouldn’t love any of us. He might love the angels and the creation, but he would not even lay an eye on us. Yet, the love that he loves us with is that grand.
You might say that the test of true love is what you are willing to love. I said earlier, mothers are able to love a lot more than most people, aren’t they? You could be as ugly as sin, and the only person who would love you would be your mother.
Well, the Bible says that we are as ugly as sin. And if our mother could see us as God does, she wouldn’t love us. But God sees us just how ugly we are and he still loves us.
Hopefully by now you are beginning to see something of how great God’s love for you is. His love is extravagant and it comes to the most unlikely people. But we will not really understand how much God loves us if we do not consider the cross. For the cross is the ultimate proof of his love for us.
III. Its proof
In verse 8 it says, ‘God demonstrates (or proves) his love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
What the Lord shows us here is that his love is not just talk. His love is more than words.
A woman may question whether or not her husband lovers her. She might ask him, “Do you love me?” He can talk about how much he loves her all he wants. He can describe it in the most eloquent ways, but if he doesn’t ever get out of his Lazyboy and show her that he loves her, what he has is not real love. We all know that talk is cheap. If he never proves his love, be it by helping with the dishes or going out and getting a job, she will know that he doesn’t really love her.
We all know that dying for someone is the highest expression of love. As a matter of fact, Jesus says in the gospel of John, no greater love has anyone than this, that he lay down his life for his friend. It doesn’t matter if it is the guy in the fox hole who dives on a grenade or the father who takes the place of his child in an execution, those are the chief expressions of love.
The difference here though is that Christ died for those who were unlovable by nature. Verse 7 points this out. It says, “Romans 5:7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die.” In other words, people don’t usually have this kind of love where they are willing to give up their lives for someone. What’s more is that even in those rare occasions where someone does die for someone else, it is typically for someone who is close to them and it is someone who is worth dying for. They are outwardly what you might call a “good person.” They aren’t a profligate of some kind.
Christ’s death is the ultimate expression of love because he died to save those who were in no way appealing to him. The fact of the matter is, he died to make them appealing! That’s what it means that Christ died “for us.” That’s the Bible’s way of saying He gave his life as an atoning sacrifice. And the rest of the passage fleshes that out: He died that we might be “saved”. He died that we might be “reconciled.” He died that we may be “justified.” All of these words are pointing to the fact that his death was for the purpose of cleaning up the unclean.
But can you imagine dying for someone Osama bin Laden? How about a serial rapist? Would you say to the executioner who is ready to administer the lethal injection, “Wait! Don’t put the needle in him. I want to take his place. I want you to inject the serum into my veins instead.”
I could go on and make the illustration more graphic. But I would assume even the thought of giving your life for such a person is repulsive to you. Yet, that is exactly what God did for you. Christ went to the cross and died in your place.
Surely, the expanse of God’s love could not have been shown in any greater way. And when we behold all that is said of God’s love in this passage, we can’t help but confess that it most certainly is an amazing love.
There is a bit of hypocrisy in that isn’t there? Something just isn’t right. There was disconnect—and inconsistency from what he was and what he was doing.
I find in that story something quite instructive for us. It is often the case that people in the church resemble that horse. There are a lot of people who come to confess Christ—they come into the church and wish to be part of that team—but when it comes to how they live, it doesn’t match up. There is a huge inconsistency. Instead of fulfilling their calling, they shirk their duties before God and coast along as they please.
It is that disconnect that I wish to address today. We as Christians must recognize that we cannot lead such a double life. Our job is to press on in the faith, living a robust life of obedience.
Peter tells us as much in this passage. In verse 17 Peter tells us that we are to “conduct ourselves with fear.” That is to say, our lives are to be characterized by the reverence for God and loving obedience to his commands.
And we must do this because our piety, doctrine and salvation demand it.
The temptation we face is to follow our culture in the way they live. We are immersed in a world that embraces a certain ethical system. But Peter tells us that we should be on guard against mixing the two. He says that we can’t be a hybrid of Christian and worldling. We must be conscious about living a consistently Christian life. One reason why is because your piety demands it.
I. We must fear God because our piety demands it
Let me read you this verse in a little more abbreviated manner. The verse starts out by saying, “If you call on him as Father…conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.”
Now what is this saying? What were these people doing? They were being very pious, weren’t they? They were calling upon God. That is to say, they were praying to him. They were invoking his name and engaging in acts of worship, offering up their petitions and supplications. And we commend them for that. That’s a great thing. This is part of what it means to be a Christian. Part of what pious people do is pray.
But Peter says, “If you are going to pray to God, well then you need to live for God too. Otherwise you are not being consistent.” If your piety is only in your lips and not in the rest of your life, then it’s really no piety at all.
A converted cowboy rendered it like this: He said, “Lots of folks that would really like to do right think that serving the Lord means shouting themselves hoarse praising His name. Now, I’ll tell you how I look at that. I am working for Jim. But if I would do nothing but sit around the house here telling what a good fellow Jim is, and singing songs to him, he would not stand for it. However, if I buckle on my straps and hustle among the hills and see that Jim’s herd is all right, not suffering for water and feed, or being driven off the range and branded by cow thieves, then I am serving Jim as he wants to be served.”
That’s exactly the way we ought to see our relationship with God. You can’t just come in here and sing some songs and invoke God’s name and then walk out of here and live as you please. That is the most absurd thing in the world.
I would even suggest that it’s a rather raunchy thing to do to God. It is rather presumptuous to come boldly before the throne of grace and tick off your list of the things you want, and then walk away and live as you please.
How would you like it if your kids came up to you and handed you a list of all the things they want from the store, and then walked out on you and never did a single thing you asked them to do. Really, think about it. This is what a lot of people do when it comes to their Christian life. They are like a child that comes up to their father and says, “Dear daddy, you are so wonderful. You make me so happy. I’m so fond of you. Can you get me a bike, and a new dollie, and a set of new tea cups? Thank you daddy. I love you. You are so great.” They ask for all these things, but they never make their bed or wash the dishes. They never take the trash out or clean up their toys. Other than coming to their father to ask for their every desire, they have absolutely no regard for him.
So you see that’s no piety at all. If you are going to come to God in prayer and present your supplications to him, then you need to give God his due reverence with the rest of your life too. You need to be consistent because your piety demands it.
But it’s not only because your piety demands it. The fear of God needs to characterize our lives because our doctrine demands it too.
II. We must fear God because our doctrine demands itYou know why we are such sticklers when it comes to doctrine? There is perhaps no other church around here that is as picky as us Reformed people are when it comes to the doctrine of God. We get very uptight about our doctrine. But do you know why we are so persnickety about such things? Of course, the main reason is because it’s God. We want to understand him rightly. But there’s another reason. One of the main reasons we are so particular about doctrine is because our doctrine determines the way we live.
What we believe will affect what we do. If you embrace certain truths, then your life will be shaped in a certain way.
Last time we were together we learned about the holiness of God. Now if you believe that God is holy and cannot stand the presence of sin, then that is going to affect your life, isn’t it? If you understand that God is holy, then you’ll recognize that you need to find some way to get right with him. He is too pure and he cannot tolerate the least sin.
I have spoken with people and they do not have a right view of God’s holiness. And when they come to understand holiness, they will say that if that is true then no one can go to heaven in and of themselves. And I say, “You’re right!” That’s why Christ is so essential! Only he can take away your guilt and make you holy before the Lord.
So doctrine is very important. It shapes the way you life.
And in this passage we find another doctrine that is very important to understand. In verse 17 it says that God is an impartial God who judges each person according to his deeds.
In other words, God never overlooks our wrongs.
Of course, that’s not what most people today believe. Most people believe that God is some Grandfather that never takes account of any wrong we do. There is this twisted belief that God is so loving that he could never judge anyone for their sin. And this belief affects the way people live. They go on about their days indulging their flesh all they want.
But you need to recognize that this isn’t so. God does judge sin. And if you are here today and you’ve thought that God would never do that, then you need to think again.
And even if you are one who has come to Christ, I want you to recognize what this is saying. A lot of so called Christians are guilty of this and need to take this to heart. We have such easy believism today. It is rampant in the church. You think that once you come to Jesus all your sins are taken care of and God doesn’t judge them anymore.
This isn’t true. It is true that once you’ve come to Christ you will not face judgment that leads to condemnation. You cannot be damned because that judgment has been dealt with on the cross. But we will continue to be judged. Christians can be judged by their Heavenly Father in that they will be disciplined for their misdeeds.
Those of us who are fathers do this all the time, do we not? When our kids start squabbling and acting out, what do we do? We come in there and we act like a judge, don’t we? And our kids turn into little lawyers, ready to prosecute the case. Jonny says, “She started it!” And little Suzie says, “But he took my dollie.” They start making their case against each other because they know you are there to be the judge, jury and executioner!
Now when we get to the bottom of it all we divvy out the punishments, don’t we? And whoever is in the wrong gets disciplined.
We will never condemn our kids, but we will discipline them. Because we love them.
And that’s exactly what God does. The only difference is that he is the perfect judge. He never shows partiality like we often do.
And that’s what we need to remember. Just because we are his children, we shouldn’t think that we can do anything we want. We believe that God is our father, but we also believe that he is a father who is fair and holy. And so we should expect that God will discipline us when we sin against him.
And if we are experiencing some difficulties in life, we should take some time to examine our lives. If you ever find yourself in a miserable state, then you might want to ask God if there’s anything in your life that you need to correct. It might not always be the case that your particular affliction is due to something you’ve done wrong. But, on the other hand, it might very well be. God might be using a particular providence to bring you to your senses. He may very well be disciplining you for the way you are living.
I wish I could tell some stories and give you some examples of this, but I must move on. Just know for now that your doctrine, just as much as your piety, demands that you live with reverent fear.
And know that your salvation demands it as well.
III. We must fear God because our salvation demands it
Peter tells you that you should conduct yourself with fear. And he says in verse 18 you should do so because you know something. You know that you’ve been saved. And in particular, you know how you were saved.
You were saved by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That’s what he is getting at when he talks about being ransomed by the precious blood of the lamb. To be ransomed means that you were purchased by means of a payment. This was a word often associated with the slave trade. You would have a slave who would be purchased and then become the property of another.
Here it is saying that a price was paid for you. And that price was not measured with gold or silver. This is where the imagery of the lamb comes in. It is referring back to the Old Testament’s practice of sacrificing lambs, shedding their blood to signify the death that was due to you for sin.
In essence Peter says, how can you not give God his due homage when he has shed the blood of his own son on your behalf?
But not only do you know how you were saved, but you know what you were saved from!
Peter says you were ransomed from “the futile ways you inherited from your forefathers.” In other words, before you came to Christ your life was characterized by emptiness. You lived your life and you lived it how you pleased, but it was all meaningless. It wasn’t until you came to Christ that you felt like you had purpose and meaning in your life.
Now Peter says, how can you return to that former way of life? Why would you want to return to the vanity and futility of that life? You’ve been rescued from all that pointless living and given so much more.
And on top of all that, think about who you were saved by.
I do not have time to go into all that is said in verses 20-21. As I’ve said before, Peter knows how to pack a lot in a couple of sentences. But in these two verses he gives a complete summary of Christ’s person and work. He was “foreknown before the foundation of the world.” In other words, he is the eternal Son of God who has always existed and does not have a beginning like we do. But he is also the one who was “manifested in the last times”, that’s talking about his incarnation—that humiliating act where he put on moral flesh.
Then, of course, he was raised from the dead. In this act He proved himself to be the Son of God and went to take his seat on high. And in doing so he gave you hope for eternal life, that where he is, you will one day be. All this is said of Christ to remind you of how much he loved you.
A mother once asked her child, “How much do you love me?” The little child was at first puzzled on how he should answer such a question. As he thought, he gazed out his window to the cloudless night. Then he said, “I love you all the way to the stars and back again.”
Do you think the mother was charmed? Of course she would have been. Which one of you wouldn’t be? But this is nothing compared to the love of Jesus. God’s love for you reached from the stars of heaven down to this earth, and then back again.
When you think about Christ, the one by whom you were saved, how could you not be moved to love him in return with reverent fear? I say that you salvation demands it. It would be so inconsistent if you didn’t.
I forget the team, but I remember hearing how there was a professional basketball team that was required to put on professional dress when they traveled to an away game. Before they boarded the plane they had to have a suit and tie. They were even required to carry briefcases. There wasn’t anything in the briefcases, maybe some magazines to read on the plane, but nothing significant.
Why did the coach require that? It was all about consistency.
He knew that the way they played on the basketball court would be determined by everything that led up to the game. He wanted them to have precision as they played and demonstrate the fact that they were professional athletes. So he required them to wear the proper attire and act with the same degree of professionalism before hand.
We are called to do the same. The way our lives play out in the world ought to be consistent with every other part of our lives. If we dress ourselves in the garb of piety, then we ought to reflect that piety in the way we live. If we carry a certain doctrine, our live must demonstrate the fact that we do. And our lives should be harmonize with the great salvation we enjoy.
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.
1 Peter 1:13
If you are privy to the news, you’ll know that godlessness of the country is not only growing, but it is becoming much more aggressive.
For instance, Apple has recently axed what is known as the Manhattan Declaration iphone app from its itunes store. The MD is a document that some Christians put together as a sort of statement of faith. Petitioners though, complained that the Manhattan Declaration, espouses hateful and divisive speech despite its rating of no objectionable material.
The “objectionable” material reads as follows:
“We will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriage or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family."
You may have also heard how the money transfer company PayPal, has launched an investigation of several Christian organizations. Again it was because their views on homosexuality and traditional marriage were considered hateful to the secular mindset.
Stories have also arisen concerning Google and how the major search engine promotes certain left leaning websites over Christian and conservative websites.
These of course, are only the minor issues that are starting to arise. They help us to realize though that the major players in society today are not friendly to those of us who hold to the Christian worldview. Moreover, we see that there is a concerted effort to suppress Christians and Christianity. And their efforts are intensifying. You might say that their goal is not just to abolish the face of Christ from not just the public square, but to strike him from the face of the earth altogether.
If you have your ears tuned to the right places you will most certainly understand what it means to be pilgrims who live in the midst of pagans. You’ll understand that we live in a culture that is growing more and more adverse to our faith and way of life. That’s why the book of first Peter is so applicable to us today. We are finding ourselves in very much the same context as those early Christians did. We are seeing that our situation is starting to mimic theirs.
And Peter’s words help us just as much as they helped those to whom he first wrote. For in this passage Peter gives us instruction on what it takes to live in a culture that that is opposed to our way of life. He tells us that if we are going to live in an adverse culture we must possess the right frame of mind. Mentally, he says, we must stay alert to the evils around us and focused on the graces before us.
I. We must stay alert to the evils around us
Peter uses two phrases to communicate how our minds must stay alert. The first thing it says is that we must “prepare [our] minds for action.” A literal translation would read something like “gird up the loins of your mind.” The idea of girding up your loins comes from Middle Eastern warfare. Back then they wore long flowing garments. And when they had to run or do battle, they would pull these garments up and tuck them into their belts. This would allow them to run better or give them better agility as they went into combat. They wouldn’t have anything hindering their movement or getting in their way as they engaged in battle.
What Peter is saying is that we need to do mentally. We need to be alert. We need to be on the lookout for any foreign doctrines that might advance against our minds. We need to be prepared to take them on and ready to take the enemy by storm.
The same sort of idea is being communicated in the phrase “be sober minded.” Peter is telling you to be serious about your situation in life. He’s saying you recognize the dangers that may lurk about you.
If you would like to extend the metaphor of “sobriety,” think about it this way: Peter is telling you that there are intoxicating teachings out there. And these teachings have the power to impair your faith or damage your ability to say alert. If you are drunk, the alcohol in your system prevents your mind from functioning as quickly as it should. So your reaction time is not what it ought to be. As a result, you can succumb to all sorts of problems.
Young people, the best way I can describe this is by making this comparison. Let’s say that you are at a baseball game. And you’re hanging out with your friends, and you’re having a jolly time with them. So much so that you pretty much forget about what’s going on out on the baseball field. The game is the furthest thing from your mind. Then, all of a sudden, someone yells “Look out!” As soon as you hear that, there is a strong sensation that runs through you. Almost instantaneously you’re body tenses up. Your mind kicks into high gear and all your senses immediately turn into a radar to find whatever it is you’re supposed to be watching out for. And within a split second you’re jumping out of the way of a speeding foul ball. It all happens so fast—you react so quickly—that you don’t really know how you got out of the way.
That alertness—that kind of mental agility is the kind of thing Peter is talking about. You have to be on the lookout for any kind of evil that might be coming your way. If you are not on the lookout, then you might be hit with a doctrine that can damage your walk with Christ.
A while back I taught a couple of classes on “how to watch a movie like a Christian.” Basically it was a worldview class. The whole thrust of the class was that there is a distinctly Christian way to watch a movie. What I meant was that, as a Christian, you can’t just click on the television and turn off your brain. When you walk into a theater, or when you fire up the DVD player, your mind has to be engaged with what you are watching. Those films will be sending you messages. They will be communicating a particular worldview—and typically it’s not a friendly one. So you have to be active the whole time, examining what is being said and discerning what is it is saying about right and what is wrong, about God, about the world and life in that world.
Unfortunately, a lot of the time that doesn’t happen. Usually, when the lights go down, the brain shuts off. A friend of mine once expressed this idea really well. He said, “When I flip on Rambo, I’m not there to interact with it. I just want to see things blow up.”
That kind of mental lethargy is what Peter is advising against. When we let down our guard, then we are susceptible to the invasions of our culture. And we can be led astray by the anti-Christian worldviews that are so prevalent around us. At the very least, if we are not careful, we can easily dilute the Christian faith with tenets of feminism, or pluralism, or pragmatism or secularism that are being advocated all around us.
As a matter of fact, I spoke with a fellow home educator just this week about this sort of thing. She confided in me that many, if not most, of the Christians she knows have absorbed the darwinian worldview when it comes to their beliefs concerning creation. At best they have a theistic evolutionary view—one that says that God directed the evolutionary process over thousands and millions of years.
And she is right. Too many today have succumbed to our culture’s intensive indoctrination on this point. Society’s leaders have been working very hard to push this. They know that if they can knock this peg out of our belief system, everything else will come crumbling down on its own. That’s why it’s in our textbooks, in our museums, on our televisions, and in our newspapers. It’s a full court press when it comes to the question of beginnings. They are trying to slip it in anywhere they can, just hoping that by their constant pecking you’ll give up this silly notion of a six day creation.
That’s why you need this kind of mental vigilance that Peter addresses here. You need to be alert, watching out for these attacks. If we are going to be Christians, we need to remember that there are under constant attack. The wider society has plotted an invasion on our faith. And that means we need to gird up the loins of our minds and be on a mental red alert at all times.
And while we mind our culture and all its evils, we should not forget to mind our future and all its glories.
You know, every soldier who is embedded in a fox hole on the front lines of a war will be watching his enemy’s movements. He’s going to be staying alert to what’s going on out there. But he’s also going to be keeping an eye on the sky. He knows that headquarters is going to be sending an air raid to take out his enemies and end the war.
Just like those soldiers, we need to stay alert to the evils around us. But we must also stay attuned to the grace ahead of us.
II. We must stay attuned to the grace ahead of us.
Our passage says, “Set your hope on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Christ Jesus.”
Part of what keeps us going in this life is simply recognizing that there is an end to our labors. Though we must be vigilant today, there will come a time when we can let our guard down. Christ will one day break forth from his current hiding place and bring everlasting peace to us. He will make it so that we will not have to be on guard at all times. He’s going to get rid of all the influences in this world that wish to disrupt our walk with Christ.
That’s why he says that you must set your hope fully on that. Or as another version puts it, “hope to the end for” that grace. He wants you to fix your attention on the end times and all that will transpire there.
The doctrine of Christ’s return and future glorification is to be our strong confidence. Our minds are to be attuned to these future graces because they ease some of the burden of our trails.
That’s exactly why it was written into the Heidelberg Catechism. During the Reformation Christians were faced with similar adversities. During the Reformation people were dying for their faith and facing imprisonment all the time. So when the framers constructed the HC, they helped to keep their people focused on this idea by including it in the section dealing with the return of Christ. In question 52 the HC asks, “What comfort is it to you that Christ will come to judge the living and the dead?” It answers by saying,
In all my sorrow and persecution I lift up my head and eagerly await as judge from heaven the very same person who before has submitted Himself to the judgment of God for my sake, and has removed all the curse from me. He will cast all His and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but He will take me and all His chosen ones to Himself into heavenly joy and glory.
That language is fantastic. I love how it says that we walk through this life with heads lifted up. As a Christian, we always have our eyes ever on the sky. Our heads are not to be cast down, pessimistically looking at our present circumstances. We keep our eyes fixed upon that great salvation that will one day be ours. We focus on the coming of Christ and all the blessings that will accompany it.
Think of why this is so important. Here in this life it’s possible that we will find ourselves missing out on so much—or perhaps having things kept from us. As Christian outcasts we are going to find ourselves ostracized more and more. We’ll find that we will not be permitted to have certain jobs or able to engage in certain activities because of our faith.
Here’s just one example of how. Over the last few years I’ve noticed an increase of sports activities occurring on Sunday. It wasn’t always so. It used to be that our culture embraced the Christian understanding of the Lord’s Day, where we refrain from our employments and organized recreations to devote our time to the Lord. However, that has slowly been erased. Now Sunday is devoted to the other major US religion: Sports.
So my wife recognize that there’s probably coming a time when we may have to give up sports. Or at least we’ll have to say to the coaches and parents, “I’m sorry. We cannot participate on Sundays. We believe that this day is supposed to be reserved for rest and for the worship of God.”
And, unless God does a miraculous work to change the way things are going, we will find ourselves facing similar situations beyond the soccer field. Throughout time Christians have had to say no to certain things. And during times of persecution, many have been kept from holding certain jobs and positions, not to mention having many of this world’s enjoyments stripped from them.
This is why we must set our hope on the grace that will be revealed at the revelation of Christ. We must walk through this life with heads lifted up. We must know that, though we miss out on certain things here and now, there will be more for us in the life to come. The grace that will be ours will far surpass what the world may keep from us now. One day we shall possess blessings abundance, and they will be ours for all eternity.
So my brethren, set you hope on the future grace that is to be yours.
You know, this is exactly what the Muslim men do. Of course, their idea of future blessings is so carnal and abhorrent. The future for them is an indulging of the flesh with wine and women. We recognize just in that alone that it is a false religion. But think about it: Their hope (though it is a false hope) affects them now. The hope of fleshly fulfillment causes them to act. It impels them to give up anything in this life, even their lives.
My friends, we should pity them for their wayward religion. But we should also emulate (if not exceed them) in their action. We serve the true and living God. And we have a guarantee that he shall come again. And when he does we shall have a greater storehouse of grace bestowed upon us!
And as a result, we should not fret when we are forced to give something up, even if it means the loss of our life.
A hundred and fifty years ago our nation began expanding as people started moving west. Thousands of stories have been written about those men and women who mounted up their carriages to make their fortunes in the new territories. My daughter has recently been reading some of those works that capture the mindset of those settlers. There’s every good reason why there are so many books on it though. These men and women risked their lives. They were in danger almost every minute. They had to be on constant lookout for Indians and wild beasts that could tear them apart. Yet, despite the dangers, they pressed forward. The thing that kept them going was the thought of possessing their own land and with it a new life.
Peter tells us here that we must have the same “settler mindset.” As we travel through this wilderness, we stay alert and keep constant watch for the evils that lurk about us. We must be vigilant and be ready to fight anything that would destroy us or have us turn back. And yet, all the while, we must keep our minds attuned to the new life and new land that will one day be ours.
Kindled Fire is dedicated
to the preaching and teaching ministry of
Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.