Holiness: Why It’s Worth It


Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-21

Why should I?

Why do I put up with this?

If you’ve ever heard them, it would have been at a time when things were tough and our fuse is short. They are words breathed and prayed when Christians react against God’s call. I’ve heard them when I’ve challenged a husband to stay faithful. I’ve heard them from a young woman bent on destructive choices. And Peter’s readers may have breathed them. They were under great pressure. Following Jesus was proving to be a costly decision.

These words may even have been on your lips: in the heat of challenge, in a moment of desperation, when it all seemed too much.

Why should I put up with this?

Think about the emptiness you’ve left behind

Peter mentions three powerful reasons which comprise a compelling rationale for a life of reverent fear. To keep living God’s way. To stay on the path of holiness. The first of Peter’s reasons is found in v.18

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors,” (1 Peter 1:18, NIV)

Peter’s challenge is to think about the futile life you’ve left behind. Eugene Peterson gets a little more into our faces, calling it the ‘dead-end, empty headed life you grew up in’.

That’s about an 8/10 on the arrogance scale, right? Why live God’s way? Because your old life was futile. Vain. Empty.

Is this true of you? Perhaps more than you realise. Maybe you’d say you were only trying to get ahead and be financially secure. But perhaps your trust was in your wealth. You had made security your idol, and you trusted yourself to deliver it. Money is a good good, but it makes a lousy god. And so it’s useless as a doorway to hope. What’s all your money going to do when you’re on your death bed? What will your cash do for your feelings of guilt, or failure?

Another scenario: Your life has revolved around your kids, setting them up, meeting their wants and needs. Maybe you’d say you were just loving your family, wanting the best for them, and doing what every good parent should. Then again, maybe your sense of purpose, worth and significance was invested in your family. Loving your family is good. Making your family god isn’t. Seeking your security and significance in your children places all sorts of expectations on them, and doing so will never really deliver the love and security you ultimately seek.

We could go on. We could talk about how people numb life’s frustration and pain with alcohol. Or shopping. Or hoarding. Or aggression. Or secret relationship. Or overeating. Or a constant yearning for affirmation.

That’s the deceit of the human heart, isn’t it? It takes what’s good, and makes it god. It lets us down every time. That’s sin for you: it promises the world and delivers nothing. It’s futility. Worthlessness. Uselessness.

So, Peter is saying, “sure, it may be tough. But what is best? A wholesome life of eternal purpose even though it may be tough, or an easier existence in the here and now that will never deliver what you seek?”

This was something Paul knew all about, too. He had dedicated a large portion of his life to seeking God’s approval and the approval of others through scrupulous religious devotion. His peers at the time agreed: this man has made it.

Then, Paul met Jesus. Or rather, Jesus met Paul. And Paul realised all he’d been trying to do, had in Christ, already been done. The perfection he was very unsuccessfully trying to maintain had already been met. He looked back, observed all his supposed achievement, and said “it’s all useless, empty, futile.” In fact, he went further: Paul used the Meatybites rule. You know, you put the meatybites in one end of the dog, and what comes out the other end? The word translated as ‘garbage’ is skubala (see Philippians 3:8). It can mean garbage, but that is a little sanitised. Dung, stinking refuse, or other forms of offensive waste are more in view.

He was making a very humbling confession: When I look at all my achievements, my obsession with religious devotion before Jesus, everything I had ever done, even though everyone else saw it as perfect and blameless, I now recognise it now as poop.

Now, when you’ve been striving for perfection all your life, but all it has achieved is poop, that is futility. And it’s a pleasure to be rescued from it.

By Jesus as Redeemer, God has rescued people from the futility of trying to fill their own lives with hope and meaning. He has delivered us from the terrible worthlessness of glaring imperfection. So we live in holy, reverent fear in honour of our great redeemer.

Think about where you’re headed

So, (1) think about the useless stuff you’ve left behind. And, (2) think about where you’re headed:

“Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.” (1 Peter 1:17, NIV)

The God who has become your Father in Christ is also your Judge. One day you will stand before him.

Think about that.


See, sometimes we think that Christians will not be judged. That the errors of our ways will remain undisclosed. That our secret and concealed sins will never be known. Well, they are known. They are known to God, Christian, and one day you will stand before him.

That’s serious, isn’t it?

Yes, God is our father. He is gracious and loving. He gave his one and only son for us. We’re redeemed. Forgiven. Cleansed and free. But the day will come when we all stand before him. Paul writes:

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV)

When we stand before the judgement seat, what excuses will wash there? Do you think it will work to blame others, or circumstances, then? What good will it be to delete the history then, on that day when all secrets will be laid bare?

Our father is also our judge, and an impartial one at that. Just because we are children of the father does not mean we are free to live however we like. Think of your earthly father. When you did that thing that made him so angry. Did you ever try the ‘hey, you can’t give me a beating because I’m your son!’ No, it’s actually because you are my son that I can utilise the ‘board of education.’

Fathers impose boundaries. The Christian who has been born again of the Father must live in fact as a child of God. If those boundaries are ignored, resisted or rejected, there will be a day of reckoning.

So, think about your life. Consider your behaviour. It needs to be holy. And you know there are bits that aren’t. This has not escaped God’s attention. One day you will stand before him to give account for everything you have done.

Yes, in Christ, forgiven.

Yes, in Christ, guilt has been atoned.

Yes, in Christ, no condemnation – punishment has been taken.

Yes, in Christ, raised to life.

Yes, in Christ, new heart, new soul, new beginning.

But we will still all stand before the living Lord of all, the creator God, the Righteous Father, and he will ask us to give account for the things we have done.

So, why should you? Why follow? Why live a holy life? Just think about where we are all headed. We will all stand before the Judge to give account for everything we have done. So walk in godly, reverent fear.

Remember: God has given you all the guidance you need: v.12 You have heard the Gospel. You have the Word. It’s a lamp to your feet and a light to your path. v.2 You have the Spirit. He is sanctifying you, leading into holiness, drawing the glorious character of Jesus to gloriously beautiful expression in your life.

Think about what it cost

So, (1) Think about the emptiness you’ve left behind, (2) Remember: you’ll stand before the Judge. Two powerful reasons. But Peter’s final point is the clincher:

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18–19, NIV)

Why live a holy life? Think about what it cost God bring you into it. It wasn’t silver. It wasn’t gold. Which, incidentally, is how they used to redeem slaves in Peter’s day. The slave would be taken to the temple of one of the gods on that region. Money would be paid, theoretically to the god, but passed on to the slave owner. After that, the slave would be recognised as free because he had been redeemed by that deity. So Peter’s non-Jewish readers would have clearly understood the image.

His Jewish readers would also know the Old Testament redemption imagery:

“… it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 7:8, NIV)

As good as the exodus story is, it is dwarfed by the ultimate redemption of the Cross. The Passover was fulfilled in Christ’s crucifixion. The blood of the lamb meant the redemption of the people of God.

Why should I? Because you’ve been redeemed at great price.

“… you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18–19, NIV)

I wonder: Have you ever really thought that through? The depth of God’s love in Christ? His eternal desire to free you from sin and bring you to life?

Think: Would you lay down your life for a family member? What about someone down the street? Or a stranger? An indigenous person? A refugee?

Jesus did more. Considerably more. He poured out his precious blood for rebels, for sinners, for people who hated him, for these very people who crucified him.

So, He did this for me? Then the only question is: where do I sign up? How could I not live a life of reverent godly fear? Why would I not want your glorious, gracious new life character to overflow from mine?

Think of what it cost your Saviour, friends!

And the amazing footnote Peter makes is that God has planned your holiness, your obedience, your redemption, from before the creation of the world.

“He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:20–21, NIV)

The world was in wretched sin, rebellion and futility. Broken with a humanity that rejected him. Screwed up his image. Killed his prophets. Rejected his messengers. Crucified his own dear son. But the Father’s heart is to restore his world, to mend the broken and ravaged world human sin had brought.

Your God knew and planned the complete program of redemption even down to the detail of making you a part of it. Grafting you into the vine, reconciling you through his son, and drawing you into his family, making you an heir, putting his Spirit in you, and all of that with the one goal that his broken and twisted image in you would, through Jesus, be gloriously redeemed, restored and eventually recreated in all its beauty.

Why should you? Knowing this, how could you not? Because you mattered to God, living in godly fear should matter to you.

It matters that you live in the fullness of his holiness. It may mean you’ll the flack like a refugee in a foreign land, living his way, revealing his character, in the full beauty of godly reverent fear. But it’s worth it. Look at what you’ve left. Look at where you’re headed. And look at the cost to Jesus.

You cannot find a more compelling reason for us to be holy as our great God is holy.

The Greatest Injustice (Time for Justice #6)


Reading: Gal 3:13John 19:17-30

A sermon for Good Friday

There is a reason why many are happy to call today good, and that is because for many, these next few days are about a long weekend and chocolate eggs. As Christians, of course, we want the focus to be on the Cross and the Open Tomb. But these days that is a minority view.

One of the reasons people don’t want to consider the real meaning of Good Friday is because it is about an execution. There is quite some discussion about execution in Australia at present, with the fate of Chan and Sukumaran being played out before our eyes. And on that, while I want justice to be served, I find the prospect of an execution almost impossible to contemplate. Howe much more crucifixion. This barbaric sentence was employed to install terror in people and to depict the curse of the executed.

The Old Testament says

“… anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 21:23, NIV)

The Curse of the Cross

“Good Friday.” Odd language because this day is really about a curse. That very word is used three times in Gal 3:13

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”” (Galatians 3:13, NIV)

But the curse does not only come through crucifixion. We are under a curse because we do not keep God’s law perfectly.

“Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God…”” (Galatians 3:10–11, NIV)

That’s the power of the curse of sin in fallen humanity. We cannot find acceptance with God, we cannot access his life and love on the basis of what we do, or don’t do, or how we live, or anything else.

this day is really about a curse

No one knew that truth more than Paul. He was fed the power of obedience in his mother’s milk. He had lived his whole life, to a point, believing God would justify him because of his exemplary life. But here he is saying no one is justified through obedience to the law. And if he with his blameless life lived under the law’s curse, what hope is there for us?

Well, this short verse tells us despite the curse there is hope. But it’s not a hope which arises from ourselves. There is hope because Good Friday says the curse was dealt with another way:

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”” (Galatians 3:13, NIV)

It does not say “Jesus took the curse for us” – that would be bad enough. It says “he became the curse for us”. Jesus became punishment for us. He took our place. Jesus took into himself God’s wrath – which was reserved for us. He satisfied God’s wrath once for all. On the cross, Jesus became sin for us so powerfully that he absorbed it totally and dealt with it conclusively.

The prophet Isaiah says

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4–5, NIV)

And in another place Paul says

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us…” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)

He did not only die a cursed death. He became your sin, died your death, and bore your curse.

There will be some who push back at this. It’s natural. We are confronted here, not just with our fallen nature, but with the reality that we’re powerless to restore it. And with the reality that we needed an innocent, sinless, magnificent, true God, true man, Jesus, to become the curse for us. This is the disturbing reality: We are totally dependent on this Jesus for life.

He became your sin, died your death, and bore your curse

Confronted because: who wants to admit their dependence on anyone? No one likes to do that because it runs against our pride. We resist because, deep down, we think we can still get things sorted ourselves.

What foolishness.

But if you think about it there is one context when we will gladly accept our own powerlessness: and that is when we’re facing certain death. Imagine you were on that Germanwings plane, and you see the captain trying to break into the cockpit. You know if he doesn’t get in, you’re dead. No one is going to say to the captain, “sit down, you’re making us all feel bad.” You will never say that, because if he doesn’t get in there you’re on your way into side of the mountain

Imagine a different scenario: that the pilot did get into the cockpit, overpowered the Copilot, and saved the day. Do you think the papers would be full of people offended that this one guy had saved them? Of course not! They’d be cheering him on! There’d be ticker tape processions! He’d get a medal for bravery! Every passenger would sing his praises! No one would ever forget what he had done! He would be proclaimed as the victorious captain! The saviour of the ship!

When Jesus went to the cross and became your curse, He saved us from a greater enemy than a suicidal pilot. He has saved you from a worse fate than ploughing into the French Alps. When he became our curse on that terrible cross, he saved us from a Christless eternity, and he saved us for life that never ends! Paul uses a special word to describe this rescue.

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…”” (Galatians 3:13, NIV)

Paul is using slave market imagery, where slaves were lined up and sold to the highest bidder. He’s implying that someone has come along and purchased our freedom. His point is that we have been bought by the blood of Jesus! And we have been bought completely! And we have been bought for freedom! For transformed life! There has been a change of ownership: you belong to Jesus! You are no longer at the mercy of the fall, your sin, your guilt or the curse. Christ has set you free!!

The (In)justice of the Cross

But there’s something else we should see about this redemption. We understand from the above the core of the atonement is that Jesus was punished in the place of the guilty.

Isaiah the prophet:

“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7–9, NIV)

And Peter, speaking to the very people who crucified him, says

“…you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23, NIV)

We have spoken much about injustice these last weeks. Here’s the question: Could there be a greater injustice that the totally innocent and righteous son of God being put to death by sinners and rebels, for sinners and rebels??

The interesting thing is the verse from Acts 20 also says:

“This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23, NIV)

Jesus’ death was no accident. No unfortunate chain of events. He was not in the wrong place at the wrong time. God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge meant the cross was the right place at the right time. God planned all along that your curse would be conquered. He planned all along that your sin would be taken away. He deliberately steered the course of world events to that very place on Calvary, so his Son would die in your place and end forever the power of the curse to rule your life. God used this injustice to satisfy the claims of his justice which demanded your sin be punished and your curse conquered.

We learn two things here. One is how in prodigious grace God ensured his own justice was satisfied by his own dear son, who willingly gave himself to the injustice of the Cross. The other is how the God we worship can conquer the greatest injustice through his Son. Calvary tells us that nothing is ever out of control. Nothing.

We may wonder what we can do to address injustice. The doers of evil might threaten and terrify God’s people, as they did with chilling brutality this last week in Garissa, Kenya. But our sovereign God can transform any injustice and use it for the good of his people.

The Cross is evidence that in the hand of the Redeemer, moments of apparent defeat become moments of grace and victory – Paul David Tripp

So: Good Friday? Absolutely. The greatest injustice has become the most wonderful redemption. Our curse is gone. Our guilt is atoned.

Today, the one who became your curse is calling you to trust him. To turn to him. This Jesus intends to rule your life, and he is calling you to bow the knee.

He has removed every barrier between you and the Father.

All that remains is for you to live in the grace and freedom Jesus has won for you.