From Hope to Holiness

1 Peter 1:13-16

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Last night the New Zealand All Blacks defeated the South Africa Springboks 20-18. Tonight, The Wallabies will meet the South African Pumas, and the winner will play New Zealand in the final on October 31. Most Australians will be praying that the referees will be on our side in these coming games as much as they were when we played Scotland…

The stakes are always high in the world cup. And opposing teams are going to ridiculous lengths to gain an advantage.

  • There are accusations the English have been spying on the Australian teams with high tech photographic equipment. One report notes “a man with a very long lens was chased away from the Australian training venue”
  • There are reports of drones being used to film opposing team training sessions
  • The All Blacks have covered the fences of their Lensbury base in plastic – presumably all black plastic – and that they have stationed security guards around the perimeter

Why would a team go to such lengths? Because their eye is on the prize. And when your eye is on the prize, that one outcome will determine all your actions.

Set your hope fully

We see this in what Peter is saying:

“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” (1 Peter 1:13, NIV)

He is saying, “Keep your eye on the prize! Look at what will happen in the end times!” Which is both odd and liberating.

Odd, because most people tend not to think of end times discussion as something that will bring anyone comfort. Most discussions around eschatology revolve around things that seem to vary on a scale from weird to cryptic: the rapture, the beast, the tribulation, the antiChrist. While many of these these things are mentioned in the Bible, teaching about them is often far from clear. Are they present things? Are they symbolic? Have they already happened? Should we be worried? Why can’t we understand it all? Seriously, a trawl through the end times section at your Christian bookshop will turn you off your burritos for good. Wasn’t it last week, or the week before, that some other Christian group claimed the world was going to end a few Wednesdays ago or something? Guys, if Jesus didn’t know how it was all going to play out, you can be sure it’s something we don’t need to know. He didn’t know. The people who claim to know don’t know. And you won’t know the timing either. So, yes, it may strike us as odd that Peter raises this as a reason for comfort.

It’s also liberating, because the comforting reality Peter writes about here is the proper focus of end time discussions:

“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” (1 Peter 1:13, NIV)

Not: set your mind on all the stuff you can’t understand. Not: set your mind on working out when it’s all going to happen. But: set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. Keep your eyes on the prize. Outcome determines action.

Remember: Peter is writing to people who are being persecuted. They are undergoing ridicule and rejection for following Jesus. And he’s saying: this may be happening now, but don’t give up! Set your minds on what will happen then! Keep your eye on the prize! Now, for a little while, you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. Now, it’s tough. Now, you’re under pressure. But then, when Jesus returns, it’s all going to be grace and celebration! Your saviour will welcome you with open arms!

You don’t have to fear punishment – that’s gone in the cross! You don’t have to think about God’s anger for sin – that’s fully and freely forgiven in Jesus! You don’t have to be hassled by your guilt and failing – there’s no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. You don’t even have to worry about death, because all that’s waiting for you is life, more life and better life than you’ve ever dreamed. Keep your eye on the prize. That outcome will determine your action.

In fact – and this is the point of this passage – Peter is saying: because you know what’s coming to you, it’s going to change the way you live. That’s clear from the first part of v.13:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:13, NIV84)

Interestingly, the old KJV used to read, “Wherefore, gird up the loins of your mind…” Think: parable  of the lost son. The father sees the son coming in the distance, tucks his outer cloak into his belt, and runs to meet him.That’s the point: we need to be ready to move. Ready for action. Be alert. Be sober. And let’s get going.

So, the flow of thought is this: You Christians are under pressure and doing it tough. You don’t want to live in denial, but don’t let circumstances dominate you. Think about the goal. Keep your eyes on the prize. A beautiful day of grace is coming your way. Let this outcome determine all your actions. So sleeves up, head down, and let’s get busy…

Be Holy

Which brings us to our second point:

“…But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”” (1 Peter 1:14–16, NIV)

When you have your eye on the prize, the outcome determines your action.

In this respect, we need to know what it means to be holy. Many think being holy means doing holy things: read your bible, say your prayers, go to church, take up a collection. As the old hymn says,

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Take time to holy, speak oft with thy Lord / Abide in him always, and feed on his word…

No doubt: the Christian disciplines of reading, prayer and public worship are part of ‘being holy’. The problem is there is confusion the rest of it. So, allow me to deliver some clarity: to be holy is to be like God. How are we to be like God? By reflecting his character.

“Be holy because I am holy – just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do”

Not just reading your Bible, or your prayer time, but in all you do. The scene was set in vv.3-5

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3–5, NIV)

to be holy is to be like God … reflecting his character

Long before Peter wrote, the Lord had revealed his character to his people, calling them to live such a distinct life as a nation as they entered the land of promise (see Leviticus 19:1-2). For Peter’s New Testament people, as for ancient Israel, the rationale for a holy life was the same: the Lord in his grace had provided a glorious deliverance. Petes point is that this new birth and living hope “necessarily implies a decisively altered way of life” [Karen Jobes, 1 Peter]

A holy life is not so much a religious life as a changed life, a different life, a distinctive life. A life set apart from others by how your character reflects God’s character, Jesus’ character. It certainly involves prayer, Bible reading, and worship meetings. It certainly involves moral behaviour: honesty, integrity, keeping marriage as the place for sexual fulfilment, keeping your language beautiful, instead of polluting it with profanity – all that is included.

A holy life is not so much a religious life as a changed life, a different life, a distinctive life…

But holiness goes deeper than external behaviour. It penetrates to the heart: to the deeper values of life, how we strive to live; the kind of world we are working for. Holiness is about love, mercy, humility and justice. Isn’t that what the Lord requires of us (see Micah 6:8, Matthew 5-7)?

When the Lord spoke to the people in Isaiah’s day, they made the mistake of thinking all he wanted was religious behaviour like fasting and worship. The Lord’s response was sobering, especially when you change the word ‘fast’ to ‘worship’…

“…You cannot [worship] as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of [worship] I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call [worship], a day acceptable to the Lord? “Is not this the kind of [worshipping] I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.” (Isaiah 58:4–8, NIV)

It is interesting some months ago I preached a series called ‘A Time for Justice’. In that series we were reminded how God calls us to a holiness which is beyond mere morality and religious actions. A holiness of love, mercy and justice. A few people found that confronting. One or two said they couldn’t relate to it. Friends, being holy, living a distinctly different life, is to reflect the character of our holy God. And if we struggle to relate to love, mercy and justice we’re going to struggle to relate to God himself.

Here,  Peter is saying: You do relate to God. More: your life is now defined by his Son’s life. And because your life is now defined by his Son’s life, you’re looking forward to the fullness of his grace transforming you and your world completely. So, because you are headed for an eternity of love, mercy and justice why not start living it now?! Stand up and stand out! Roll up your sleeves! Heads down! Let this holiness be seen in everything you do, everything you seek, everything you are and every will be. 

It’s true: Holy lives, Christian lives, stand out.

That’s challenge for us, isn’t it? Christians are more and more in the spotlight, facing more and more opposition, having to manage rejection. And the temptation is for us to pull back or go soft, right? But Peter is saying “be holy, be distinctly Christian, live out God’s character, be noticed.”

Here’s the question: Is this true of you? Your workmates, your neighbours, your acquaintances – Do they see your different life and behaviour, and know that you’re a follower of Jesus? If those around you cannot see that, what needs to change?

Can people see the holiness of God’s character in our church

Can people see the holiness of God’s character in our church? Are we worshipping by loosening the chains of oppression? Do we even know where oppression exists in our community? Do we want to know? What needs to change so that we can know that?

See, it’s not just about people seeing your faith or convictions. As good as that is, it’s actually about people seeing your God. As Peter says in the next chapter, that even though God’s people are misunderstood and maligned. they should let their holiness stand up and stand out “…so people will see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12 – NIV)

That’s why we should not conform to the evil desires we had when we lived in ignorance. That is, the ‘before Jesus’ life. Peter’s readers remembered that time. Back then they were affirmed by all around. They had less trouble in their life. They weren’t maligned for their views. Life was easier. But they were ignorant of God. They weren’t his people. They lived without hope. They lived without mercy. They were headed to a Christless eternity.

But now, God has called them out of darkness, into his marvellous light. They stood up and they stand out. They stand out like a city on a hill. But they feel the pressure. Life is hard. They have a daily diet of ridicule, rejection, and misunderstanding.

Why do this? Because their eyes on the prize. Their vision is directed toward the goal. And holiness overflows as Christ pours his grace into them. Christ points them to a new day when the fullness of grace will be theirs as they live in a forever of love, mercy and justice.

So, let me ask: What is God saying to you in all this? Your life: is it holy? Are we living this holiness together?

In the power of Christ and his inheritance, looking forward to the abundance of grace to be poured into us, are we revealing God’s character in our communal life? What needs to go? What needs to be seen more? Is there behaviour which is tangling us up? Listen: God is speaking: You have to get rid of that. It’s blocking my character.

You may wonder whether you can do it, or why. The answer is: in Christ you have a glorious inheritance! You already know how its all going to end: Christ will pour his grace into your life. You are going to live his love, mercy and justice for all eternity. Even today he’s given His spirit to bring this life out of you now, to comfort you now, to encourage you now. Christ is with you, always. He’s your strength, your endurance, your ability to go on. To stand up. To stand out.

So today our eyes are on the prize, and that glorious inheritance will determine our every action. And we shall be holy, and God is holy.

That great outcome determines our individual and communal action

And our greatest joy is to have God’s holiness, his character, overflowing from our own.

Repentance (Foundations #5) – How God brings change in his world – Group Questions

Opening:

What do you think the people of your local culture understand by the word “repent’?

What do you think the people of your local church community understand by the word “repent’?

What conclusion do you draw from any differences there might be?

Read: Colossians 3:1-17

If you were to choose one verse from this passage to illustrate repentance, which one would it be, and why?

James I Packer defines repentance as “changing one’s mind so that one’s views, values, goals, and ways are changed and one’s whole life is lived differently”. How does this definition challenge the popular notion of repentance in your church community?

Discuss together: who are the best models of healthy repentance you have observed? What is it about their example that impresses you?

How would you help and encourage someone who was struggling with God’s call to change?

What sort of personal daily disciplines would help us develop healthy expressions of repentance? Discuss together which of these behaviour you would like to try in the coming week.

Repentance (Foundations #5) – How God brings change to his world

Read: Colossians 3:1-17

Turn around

Up to this point we have been observing somewhat objective realities: things that are true irrespective of our response or acceptance, namely:

1. God has created the universe

2. Humanity rebelled against his loving rule

3. God promised redemption

4. God brought redemption through the death and rising of Jesus Christ.

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Today, things change. Today the theoretical rubber meets the road of our daily lives, because we are talking about repentance.

First, some fine print:

God is the Lord and Master of our lives irrespective of our response. You might be sitting here totally unmoved by Jesus. You might be quite indifferent to God and his plans for the world. You may regard yourself as an unbeliever, an infidel, an atheist. Sorry to burst the bubble, but none of that changes the reality that God is still King, and that you are still accountable to him.

God is still Lord and he will bring his purposes to fulfilment despite your unbelief or indifference. He is a sovereign God, and is not waiting on you or me before he can do anything.

Second, you may be wondering why have I chosen to talk about repentance, and not faith.

Answer:

a) We tend to see ‘having faith’ as a cognitive function, an intellectual thing. Which of course, it is. We accept facts about Jesus, we agree to church teachings, we believe the Gospel. All well and good, except that

b) Faith cannot be separated from a total life response. It is not possible to have faith in Jesus without that commitment coming to expression in your life and behaviour. Faith must go hand in hand with a repentant life. So, throughout this sermon, when I use the word ‘repent’ you need to understand that as an all-of-life response flowing from faith, not as something separated from it.

Repentance, in biblical terms, always flows out of faith. Faith, in biblical terms, always leads to a repentant life.

Faith in Christ must be expressed in works. Without action, faith is dead. By the same token, repentance cannot be equated with mere activity. Such activity, without faith, is either mere activism or dead religion. Repentance, in biblical terms, always flows out of faith. Faith, in biblical terms, always leads to a repentant life.

Repentance: How God’s plan impacts his world

We’ve noted that God is sovereign. He is not dependent on human response. In his great wisdom, however, this sovereign God generally does his work through people. Which is why I want to stress the role of repentance in God’s Big Picture.

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You may not realise it: but you hunger for repentance more than you know. You’re hungering for a changed world. You’re longing for peace. Praying for reconciliation. You desire growth, and faith, and strength. We long for repentance because God’s change comes to his world as he brings change in people.

There was once a man called Saul. He hated Jesus. He was persecuting Christians as much as ISIS extremists in Mosul today. But a few years later he had become the most eloquent and powerful proponent of Christianity in the Roman world.

How did that happen?

God brought him to his knees, and opened his eyes to Jesus. Saul believed and repented. He came under Jesus’ rule. His life changed. He started sharing the good news of life and grace in Jesus’ name. Saul repented.

What is repentance?

Repentance means changing one’s mind so that one’s views, values, goals, and ways are changed and one’s whole life is lived differently – James I Packer, Concise Theology

Here’s the critical thing: the sovereign God brought his change to the NT world through Paul and other followers of Jesus as they led repentant lives. As God worked his change in and through repentant people, families, communities, cities, empires were transformed.

So, How does God change the world?

Through one repentant person at a time.

Coming Under Jesus’ Rule

The thing about repentance is that we don’t understand it very well. We’re not helped by the crazy street preachers who connect repentance with the end of the world. We’re not helped by the evangelistic emphasis which too readily equates repentance with mere initial commitment to Jesus: “Did you hear about Bob? He repented the other night and became a Christian!”

When we look at the whole sweep of Bible teaching on repentance, we see a couple of things:

One: Repentance is certainly connected with a person’s initial commitment, with a decision to trust Jesus in faith. Like the people listening to Peter on the day of Pentecost.

Peter responded:

“Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”” (Acts 2:38–39, NIV)

Three thousand people repented and were added to the church on that day. So repentance is certainly connected with that initial faith.

Two: repentance is also more than an initial act. You may have noticed that in Packer’s definition:

“…one’s whole life is lived differently”

It’s like a change of citizenship: there’s an initial decision and action, but the changed citizenship continues after the initial transition has been made. Over time the person adapts, changes, and takes on a new way of life. They stop speaking the old language, and start speaking the language of the new country. They stop eating food of the old country, and start eating the food of the new environment. They stop wearing the clothes appropriate to their old address, and start wearing clothes appropriate to the new setting.

How does God change the world? One repentant person at a time.

In Eph 4 Paul describes this new way of life as a continued putting off the clothes of rebellion, and wearing instead the wardrobe of new life:

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds;” (Ephesians 4:22–23, NIV)

In Colossians the image becomes more intense. Some behaviour doesn’t just need to be put off, it needs to be killed off:

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5, NIV)

In Paul’s letter to Titus, ‘repentance’ is a life focussed on bringing God’s good life to expression:

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.” (Titus 3:3–8, NIV)

Finally, the reformation’s Heidelberg Catechism clearly shows repentance as a life long process:

88 Q. What is involved in genuine repentance or conversion?

A. Two things: the dying-away of the old self, and the rising-to-life of the new.

89 Q. What is the dying-away of the old self?

A. To be genuinely sorry for sin and more and more to hate and run away from it.

90 Q. A. What is the rising-to-life of the new self?

A. Wholehearted joy in God through Christ and a love and delight to live according to the will of God
 by doing every kind of good work.

It is a consistent life change. It is an insistent life change.

It is you, coming under Jesus’ rule, staying under Jesus’ rule, and living under Jesus’ rule.

This is why we tend to resist repentance. We’re happy for there to be changes everywhere else, in other people’s lives, but we resist change in our own. We dislike any reminder that our lives need to change. True?

Interestingly, the predominant OT word for repent is שׁוּב – ‘turn back’. Quite appropriate, isn’t it? As a follower of Jesus, as a repentant Christian, I am called to turn back from doing things my own way. To turn back from arrogantly making up my own mind. To turn back from seeing myself as the judge of what is right and reasonable. I am called instead to come under Jesus’ rule totally and completely.

This is why repentance is so dominant in the big picture of what God is doing: As people believe and repent, God is starting to restore what human rebellion threw away.

As I repent, I am coming back under the rule of the loving King who created my world, who brought me to life, who promised my redemption, and who made it happen in Jesus. By living in repentance, I bow my knee to this Jesus. I submit myself to his Lordship. I offer up my life to his Kingdom. I turn back, and walk with him.

Here’s the thing: when Jesus calls you to repentance, he calls you to a total change of heart, mind and behaviour.

So many people today are waiting for God to do big stuff in their life. They have heard people say ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life’… So they wait for something wonderful, or miraculous, or overwhelming.

It may happen.

Want to know God’s plan for your life?

It is for you to come under Jesus’ rule, to love the one who gave his life for you, for you to start living for him. Truth is: most of the time the biggest thing that God changes in your life is your attitude and your behaviour.

You, taking off the garments of unbelief. You, putting on the clothes of faith, of change, of new creation. You, embracing a totally different life direction.

Let me ask: do you see yourself as a Christian?

Can you say that your life is heading in a new life direction? The direction of Jesus’ Kingdom? A different life direction compared with before you were a Christian? Is your behaviour actually different?

Consider for a moment: Could it be that one of the biggest barriers to God making a difference in your world is your unwillingness to change your attitudes and your behaviour?

Could it be that one of the biggest barriers to God making a difference in our local community could be the unwillingness of Christians like us and churches like ours to change our attitudes and behaviour?

By the same token, could it be that God working through you – you living a repentant life – that this could become a powerful statement of his transformational power in the world today?

Why should I?

God is calling you to come under the rule of Jesus and live this repentant life.

And you might say, ‘well, why should I?’

The answer is in the Cross of Jesus. That’s what he did for you. That’s how much he loved you. He forgives all your sins. He heals all your diseases. He lifts you from the pit of your own rebellion and crowns you with love and compassion. All this by his sheer grace. And today he commands you to believe and repent and by his transformational sovereign power, start living a completely different life in Christ.

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV)

God calls you into this life, into this repentant life, because he wants you to have life in its fullness. He wants a better you. The you where the new heavens and the new earth are starting to come to expression. The you of new creation! (see 2 Corinthians 5:17)

Don’t you think your family would agree? They would love you to be a better you! Don’t you think your workmates, your friends, your children, want you to be a better you? They’d love you to put off the destructive stuff of human rebellion, and to put on the new life of Jesus!

You’re not alone in this

The really great news is that you’re not alone in this. It’s not as if God says ‘well, my Son has come to rescue you from your rebellion, now believe, repent, and get your life together, then come and see me when you’re done.”

Happily, the Bible presents another reality: Jesus sends his Spirit, who lives in us, empowering us to make the changes God call us into.

It’s the Spirit who motivates and enables us to take off the old ways, and put on the new.

It’s the spirit to enables us to put to death the destructive rebellion that had us bound.

It’s the Spirit who points us to Jesus, seated at the right hand of the father, and who focuses our mind on the things above, on heaven things, and enables us live that new reality instead the old.

Once again, the Heidelberg Catechism:

A. 49 By the Spirit’s power we seek not earthly things but the things above, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand.

See God never calls you to do something which he will not enable you to do. He calls you to live this new life of repentance. He gives you his Son, who through his death and rising again breaks the reign of sin in your life. He gives his Spirit to live in you, to lead, guide, direct and change, so Christ’s new life might indeed come to full expression in yours, so you might be

“…made new in the attitude of your minds; and … put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:23–24, NIV)

Are you wanting God and his transformation to be seen in this world?

Oh yes, Lord, please!

Then you need to become a repentant follower of Jesus. You need to turn back to God. Become part of Jesus Kingdom.
Become part of the people who claim his life, death and resurrection as the centre and foundation of their own.

In Christ’s power, live this new repentant life. Change your attitudes. Change your behaviour.
And may Jesus receive all the glory.

This sermon was originally preached on August 3, 2014 by Dave Groenenboom at Gateway Community Church, Cockburn Central, Western Australia

Redemption (Foundations #4) – Group Questions

Read 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

Discuss

What makes the church in the western world so resistant to the message of weakness and sacrifice so clearly displayed in Jesus’ ministry?

What reasons would we have to say that the manner of Jesus’ sacrificial ministry should be reflected in the church’s ministry and mission today? What challenges does this present to your church or your Christian community?

The redemption God has worked through Jesus impacts on three key areas of existence: People and their relationship with God; People and their relationship with others; People and their relationship with their environment/creation. How does this challenge how you see your world? What specific changes does it demand in your life?

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV) – in your opinion, which Christians or Christian movements have been the best expressions of this truth?

2 Cor 5:21 says your sin, guilt and rebellion have been laid on Jesus, and his righteousness has become yours. What does this mean to you personally?

Christians have been very influential in the development of western culture. Which areas would most benefit from Christian leadership and challenge in your part of the world?

What particular attitudes or behaviours is God calling you to change as a result of these truths?

Spend some time praying for one another, or praying for your Christian friends, asking that God’s new creation in Jesus might come to beautiful expression in their lives.