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.

How we fit in to God’s plan – Time for Justice #5

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Philippians 2:5-13

In the last few weeks we have covered quite some ground:

  • We’ve seen that injustice has its roots in the human heart, in people estranged from a loving God, in the sin of the human heart
  • We’ve seen that God cares deeply for the victims of injustice
  • We’ve seen that he hates injustice, and how he uses the strongest language to describe his feelings towards that injustice
  • And last week we have learned the surprising truth that his plan is to use his church to deal with the injustices of our world
  • On Good Friday and Easter Sunday we will see how the cross of Christ changes everything, and how the glorious reality of the resurrection impacts the church’s calling.
  • The week after we’ll be nailing it all home.

What we want to look at today is the question of how. How do we fit in with the plan of God? What is it we are to do? It’s a challenging question. And to get into this I want to tell you a story…

How do we fit in with the plan of God?

Once, when I was a little boy, maybe four years old, we visited my grandfather in a neighbouring town. Television had only been in Australia for 5-6 years. And because we lived so far away from the place of broadcast, anyone who wanted to receive the TV signal needed at least a 15 meter TV antenna. That meant no one could get TV on the sly. As soon as that huge antenna went up, your neighbourhood knew you had TV. My mother, who was especially good at noticing things, would sometimes see a new TV antenna and say “Ooh, they’ve got TV!”

So, we are at my grandfather’s house, and the next door neighbour had just had her TV installed. We knew this because my mother has seen the antenna. So after lunch, Mum asked whether me and my older sister wanted to go next door and look at the TV. We were pretty excited about that. So, guess what we did? We raced next door, sat on the front lawn and stared at the 15 TV antenna. It was great! For the first few minutes. And really, we had no idea that inside the house there was a box with a screen with pictures and sound! Imagine that: we thought the experience was all about looking at the antenna. We had no idea there was more to it. There we were: content to sit in the front yard staring at the TV antenna. Yet is there a sense in which, with regard to our faith, it sometimes feels we’re doing just that: staring at an antenna, but wondering whether there’s more to it.

Why do the glorious realities of the Gospel sometimes leave us feeling underwhelmed?

Maybe it’s an occupational hazard of being so incredibly blessed. We live in a beautiful country, in a wonderful city, we have so much: good health, reasonable income, leisure time, capacity to do whatever we choose. Might this work against us?

We know the truth. We have been given forgiveness in Christ. We have eternal life in his name. We have the fullness of grace. But too often it doesn’t feel like fullness. Why do those glorious realities sometimes leave us feeling underwhelmed?

If we look at Philippians 2, we know it’s not because of any lack in Jesus Christ or his work:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11, NIV)

Jesus is the greatest expression of God’s saving plan. His suffering and death, his glorious resurrection, the fact that he is seated at the right hand of God shows his glorious victory. His name is above every other name! And Paul says this wonderful God will bring the work of his son in his people to a flourishing finish:

“[Being] confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, NIV)

This God is working the life Jesus into us day by day:

“for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13, NIV)

This God who directed all history toward the coming of his Son, toward the cross, toward the open tomb, who had Pilate, and Herod, and the executioner all doing his will; this same sovereign God is now working in you to bring the fullness of Christ’s life to expression! And it’s no surprise Paul continues, ‘now, you Christians, you church, you keep working out what God is working in.’

When he says ‘keep working out your salvation’ he’s not talking about mere mental activity, like when you work out the square root of 144. And he’s not talking about the sort of working out you do at the gym.

When Paul says ‘work out your salvation’ he’s saying bring your salvation to full fruitfulness, bring it to full expression in everything, put it into effect entirely and thoroughly. He’s saying: Don’t stop until the fullness of Christ’s Kingdom flourishes in the totality of new community together and the entirety of your individual lives. And he even tells us what that will look like:

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” (Philippians 2:12, NIV)

There it is again: we know Jesus, we worship Jesus, we live for Jesus … but this fear and trembling, where is that? What is that? Gotta say: I read those words and I get this sense that I am looking at the TV antenna, and thinking there’s probably more to it. This fear and trembling – what is that?

Well, it’s not a fear of punishment. The Bible makes it clear: Jesus has dealt with that, and there is no more condemnation for those who are in him (see Rom 8:1).

Fear and trembling arises from a profound awareness that God is bigger, more powerful, gloriously greater, more disturbingly wonderful than anything we can imagine. Fear and trembling flows out of a deep sense of our own insignificance. An awareness of our profound dependence on the Lord and his mercy. Fear and trembling is living out the unnerving adventure of grace. It is intentional witness and new life which confronts the dark forces of our world. This fear and trembling cannot be manufactured. On the contrary, it comes when we are so unsettled from expressing Christ’s new life entirely and thoroughly that we can do no other but fear and tremble as we follow. Paul mentions fear and trembling as a normal experience, but is it our normal experience? Is it yours?

Now, there are plenty of Christians around who will say if you lack fear and trembling it’s because you haven’t been baptised with the Holy Spirit, or because you don’t speak in tongues, or because your not prospering, or because you don’t have enough faith, or some other reason. IN response, we need to remember how Paul reminds us the Holy Spirit is given to every follower of Jesus when they believe (Eph 1:13-14). But here’s the thing, every believer has the Spirit, but that Spirit can be quenched and his work stifled (see Eph 4:30).

By the same token, a life of trust from a person who follows Jesus, who obeys and honours him, when someone seek to do that with a full heart and in all things they will increasingly find the Spirit challenging them to a more determined and courageous Christianity. Obedience matters.

Paul is describing Christian life with edge. A living for Jesus which on a regular basis is passionate, courageous, stretched, and demanding.

Could it be that we do not often feel fear and trembling because we love our comfort, our privileges too much?

Could it be that this preoccupation with ourselves prevents us from entering into the fullness of life, from living our faith on the edge, and so there’s no fear, and little trembling?

Could it be that we’re looking at the antenna, and not living what Jesus calls ‘the deeper realities’?

IJM’s Gary Haugen sums it up well:

This is, I believe, a voice of divine restlessness. This is a voice of sacred discontent. This is the voice of a holy yearning for more … This is the moment in which we can see that all the work that God has been doing in our lives and in the life of the church is not an end in itself; rather, the work he has been doing in us is a powerful means to a grander purpose beyond ourselves. … This is the critical transition—when we who have been rescued by Christ come to understand that our rescue has not been simply for ourselves but for an even more exalted purpose. Indeed our own rescue is God’s plan for rescuing the world that he loves. 

[Just Courage]

We have not been rescued from sin and death so we can take it easy. God has worked his salvation into us so we can work it out, so we can put it into effect entirely and thoroughly. So that we can live new life with edge, with a sense of scary adventure, with fear and trembling. So we can serve God’s purpose (v.13). So we might will (that is, decide and choose) and act (that is, behave and do) the very things he has purposed in us.

The grander purpose the Lord has for us is that we enter into his heart for justice. Not a new program. Not a means to make people more busy. But a working out of what God has worked in, and a pursuit of the things which are close to the heart of God. The things Jesus calls ‘the weightier matters.’

So, here at Gateway we are embarking on a deepening of our strategic vision. The plans follow something of the material outlined in Jim Martin’s “The Just Church

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Encounter

We want to start a group, or a number of groups, that we might call ‘justice learning communities’. Everyone in these groups will be committed to working through key sections of God’s word which deal with justice, mercy and compassion. These  learning communities will prayerfully sit under the word. They will spend much time in prayer as they will work through some key books like

These groups will not be academic or merely intellectual. They will be prayerful, united, and desiring a deepening understanding of God’s call to be his people of justice. We will take some time to do this. Maybe 6-12 months. We will ask God to open our eyes, and to speak to us powerfully. We won’t want to assume we know the answers. We will be asking him daily to lead us to the right outcomes.

Explore

As we continue this learning, the time will come to start developing a justice task force, a ministry group who will

  • Ascertain the key needs around us in Cockburn. They will identify areas where people are vulnerable, they will work to unearth any injustice in our neighbourhood
  • Look also to wider contexts in Australia and beyond where the Gateway Church Family might be able to express the mercy and justice of the Kingdom of Jesus
  • See what resources we have: what are the gifts, skills, opportunities, passions and interests here in our church community?
  • They will then seek to match those resources to needs identified locally and beyond.

Engage

The third stage will see us prayerfully and intentionally start to respond to the various needs identified in the first two stages. In reality, this will be the hardest work on the justice journey. But it is what we are called to do.

They may be much risk as we respond to the needs around us, and we bet go into it with our eyes wide open. We don’t only need to see clearly the work that needs to be done and the resources we have to do it. The most important thing is that our eyes are fixed firmly on the Christ who is exalted above all things. He is the One on whom we depend. He is the One who lives in and empowers his people. He is the One who is with us always, even to the very end of the age. This being so, he is also the one in who is with us in our times of fear and trembling, who enables us to live his new life with faith and edge and courage.

My prayer is that we will all be changed in this process of growth and discovery. My prayer is that this justice journey will change our church, and lead us more into the maturity the Lord calls us to. Will you share that prayer that with me? It’s true, it may be a hard and difficult work. But Jesus is on the throne! Jesus is the Risen King. And the last thing any of us would want to do is keep looking at the antenna when deeper life and greater realities await us.

Please indicate how you want to engage with the justice journey by taking the brief survey below:

God’s Plan to Address Injustice

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Read: Luke 10:25-37

It seems you don’t have to talk about Christianity for too long before someone says, ‘One of the issues I have with God is that there is so much evil in the world: Why isn’t he doing something about it?’

Does God have a plan to address injustice?

We’ve been looking at issues surrounding injustice for the last four weeks, and the question we’re dealing with today is that very question: Does God have a plan to address injustice?

On the road to Jericho

One day, a lawyer asked a question of Jesus: What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus asked him what the law taught, and the lawyer’s response is well known:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Luke 10:27, NIV)

‘Great answer’ says Jesus. Do that and you’ll be fine. But the lawyer knew that giving an answer and living an answer were two very different things.

Think about it: ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ Who can do that perfectly? So The law expert wanted the matter clarified: ‘and who is my neighbour?’

The parable of the Good Samaritan is Jesus’ answer to his question. And while we might not realise it, this parable is also the answer to our question: what is God doing about injustice?

But before we get into that, Let’s observe that there are two aspects answering the question of what God is doing about injustice. First, there is what we call the ‘not yet’ aspect: The ‘Judgement Day’ aspect.

He will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4, NIV)

Rev 21 & 22 tell us a day will come when every evil act, every abuse, every agent of oppression, every person who does injustice or turns a blind eye to it will answer to the living God. On Judgement Day God will forever end all injustice. But we are not there yet.

Second, there is a ‘Now’ aspect. The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us what the ‘now’ aspect is. We read,

…“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.” (Luke 10:30, NIV)

The victim was a Jew. A priest and a Levite, both brother Jews to the victim, to our surprise pass by on the other side. Then along comes a Samaritan. Jews hated Samaritans. Samaritans hated Jews. Typically, neither would have regarded the other as their neighbour.

Do you see what Jesus is doing? See where he’s pushing?

The lawyer wanted to justify himself. That is, he wanted Jesus to say ‘your neighbour is your brother’; or at worst: ‘your neighbour is your countryman’. But Jesus does not do that. Jesus says your neighbour is anyone, anyone who needs your mercy. Anyone in need.

In this parable, a great injustice has been committed. A man is beaten, robbed, and left for dead. His own countrymen ignore him. And the question that interests us right now is: What was God’s plan to address that injustice?

Well, of course, God’s plan was that the Levite address that injustice. And his plan was that the priest address that injustice. But they both rejected God’s call. And then along came this despised Samaritan. Like the others, he was the plan. Unlike the others, he obeyed, showed mercy, used his donkey, spent his money.

your neighbour is anyone, anyone who needs your mercy. Anyone in need

What is God’s plan to deal with injustice? His plan is to use us! When injustice is going on, and you know it, and you see it, you are the plan to deal with it.

God’s plan has not changed

God’s plan is to deal with injustice by using his people. His plan has never been any different. The oft quoted Exodus manifesto reveals how when God’s people obeyed him and kept his covenant

“…then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation …” (Exodus 19:5–6, NIV)

Jeremiah 22 and Isaiah 1, show the Lord expects his people to address injustice around them. It was his plan for his people then. The question is does the New Testament teach it is his plan for his church, for you, for me, for his church to do it now? Does Jesus clearly teach this?

Let’s cover some of that data:

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:16–18, NIV)

It’s clear: Christians know God’s love, and this places them under an obligation to help a brother or sister in need. In doing this we clearly follow Jesus’ example.

“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8, NIV)

It’s clear: Because you are a Christian, you have an obligation to assist family and relatives in need.

“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”” (Acts 20:35, NIV)

As Paul farewells the Ephesian elders, he does not just tell them about their responsibilities to guard the flock from false teachers. He clearly says they have an obligation to help the weak.

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10, NIV)

Here we see how the circle of responsibility widens: it’s not just fellow Christians in need that the church has to care for, nor to their responsibilities extend only to their family. God’s people are called to do good and to address the needs of all people.

Can you see the emphasis? You are God’s plan to address need inside the church. You are God’s plan to address need outside the church.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,” (Matthew 25:35, NIV)

Christ’s people don’t just render assistance to the ones they know and love, but even to those who are strangers. As one scholar observes:  to ‘those who were enemies politically and religiously.’

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13–16, NIV)

You are the salt of what? Your Family? You are the salt of your friends? You are the salt of the people you know and love? You are the salt of people who are like you? No. None of that. You, church, are the salt of the earth. It’s hard to think of a context wider than that. You are God’s plan on the earth.

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:11–12, NIV)

Peter writes to this church, people who are salt and light, and he says “be this kind of people, do good, live good lives, even amongst pagans. In the context of 1 Peter, God’s people were called to live good lives toward those who were persecuting them. That is an astounding command.

So: What is God’s plan to address injustice? You and me. Us. Church, together. We are the plan. We see from the above that this teaching is consistently reflected and embedded in the witness of the New Testament. And when it comes the the emphases in Jesus’ ministry, I can do no better that quote Timothy Keller. In Generous Justice he writes:

While clearly Jesus was preaching the good news to all, he showed throughout his ministry the particular interest in the poor and the downtrodden that God has always had.

Jesus, in his incarnation, “moved in” with the poor. He lived with, ate with, and associated with the socially ostracized (Matt 9:13). He raised the son of the poor widow (Luke 7:11–16) and showed the greatest respect to the immoral woman who was a social outcast (Luke 7:36ff). Indeed, Jesus spoke with women in public, something that a man with any standing in society would not have done, but Jesus resisted the sexism of his day (John 4:27). 51 Jesus also refused to go along with the racism of his culture, making a hated Samaritan the hero of one of his most famous parables (Luke 10:26ff) and touching off a riot when he claimed that God loved Gentiles like the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian as much as Jews (Luke 4:25–27). Jesus showed special concern for children, despite his apostles’ belief that they were not worth Jesus’s time (Luke 18:15). Lepers also figured greatly in Jesus’s ministry. They were not only sick and dying, but were the outcasts of society. Jesus not only met their need for physical healing, but reached out his hand and touched them, giving them their first human contact in years (Mark 1:41; Luke 5:13). He called his disciples to give to the poor in the strongest and most startling ways, while praising the poor for their own generosity (Mark 12:42–43). His own mother prophesied that he would “fill the poor” but turn the rich away empty (Luke 1:53). Yet Jesus also showed true justice by opening his arms to several classes of people who were not just poor. He ate with and spoke to tax collectors, the wealthiest people in society, yet the most hated, since they acquired their gains through collaborating with the Roman forces of occupation. The first witnesses to Jesus’s birth were shepherds, a despised group considered unreliable, yet God revealed the birth of his son first to them. The first witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection were women, another class of people so marginalized that their testimony was not admissible evidence in court. Yet Jesus revealed himself to them first. The examples are too many too enumerate.

So it is very clear indeed: Jesus’ teaching and ministry shows the absolute depth of His commitment to address the injustices of his day and reflect the compassion of his Father.

The How and the Why

In fact, Christians have no way of understanding God’s plan to address injustice, or their own part in it, outside of Jesus.

We need to remember this. Too often the church and Christians have been guilted into compassion. But guilt is such a lousy motivator. It may lead people to conform, but it never changes the heart. All guilt gives is more brokenness.

we take responsibility for God’s plan because in God’s plan, Jesus has taken responsibility for us

So, what is our motivation to join this plan of God? To be his means to address our world’s injustice? Well, we take responsibility for God’s plan because in God’s plan, Jesus has taken responsibility for us.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6–8, NIV)

The Gospel ends every argument about whether people will accept compassion in the right frame of mind, whether they deserve it, or whether they will abuse the grace extended to them.

Because

  • I was not in the right frame of mind for the love of God in Jesus.
  • I did not accept him as I should have.
  • I regularly abuse the privilege of grace.
  • Only in Jesus do I become the righteousness of God.
  • Only through Jesus does my status move from rebel to regenerate.
  • The Gospel gives me the only motivation I need to engage with God’s plan.

But Jesus is not only our motivation. Jesus is our means, our capacity, our ability to respond. He lives in us through his Spirit, the deposit guaranteeing what is to come. Christ in us! Do we need more? It’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me! This incredible reality means we have Jesus’ resources at our disposal as we engage with God’s plan!

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13, NIV)

Jesus is my motivation. Jesus is my means. And Jesus is my message. As we are God’s plan to address injustice, let us remember that we cannot divorce what we do from who we are in Jesus Christ. Faith and actions go together. Gospel work with Gospel words. It’s not enough to aim for mere changed circumstances. What we’re presenting is that God changes people through the grace of God in Jesus Christ. The greatest agent of change in the world is the human heart ruled by Jesus Christ.

The greatest agent of change in the world is the human heart ruled by Jesus Christ.

Now that doesn’t mean that before we help anyone we have to share the gospel, or get them signing off on ‘two ways to live’, or something like that. But as Jesus himself did, the works become a context to speak his words.

When the message comes without actions, it will lack traction. When actions come without the message, people will not understand the gracious God who is reaching out to them through his son.

God has a plan to address injustice. God has made it clear: through Jesus we are the plan, and God does not have another plan. So, how do we do this? What will we at Gateway Community Church actually do to engage with God’s plan? Do we have a plan? That is what I will get specific about next week.

For now, for this week, pray this

“Lord, open my eyes to how I can be part of your plan.

Open my eyes to how we at GCC can engage with your plan.

Open our eyes and our heart to

the people we need to see,

to the situations we need to address,

to the dark places,

the broken lives,

where the light of your Gospel needs to shine,

and where the love, grace and forgiveness of your Son will bring healing.”

God Hates Injustice: Group Study Questions

Read Isaiah 1:10-20

  1. Discuss some of the things we typically say we hate. How many of those things are on the same level as injustice? What conclusions can you draw about this?
  2. Looking through this passage, what sort of actions and behaviour from God’s people lead to this strongly worded complaint to his people?
  3. Any worship anyone brings is only ever acceptable through the grace of God in Jesus. Can such grace overcome the situation outlined in Isaiah 1? If so, what explains Yahweh’s strong words to his people? Why doesn’t he just forgive and be done with it?
  4. “It is impossible to have orthodoxy without orthopraxis: impossible to have right doctrine in isolation from compassionate and just practice.” – Discuss
  5. Share a few stories of people who have seemed to get the balance right between great theology and compassionate practise
  6. Share your thoughts on the significance of Isaiah 53:4-6 and 1 John 3:1 for your pursuit of justice in your local context

 

These questions are relevant to “Time for Justice: God Hates Injustice” from Gateway Community Church, March 08, 2015

 

 

 

 

The Origins of Injustice – Group Study Questions

Magic Bus 008

In which contexts would people of your culture typically come into contact with injustice?

Injustice is when someone uses their power to take from others the good things God wants them to have: their life, liberty, dignity and the fruits of their love and labour (International Justice Mission) – Discuss

Dave mentioned in his sermon that up until the last 10 years or so, he was not aware of much emphasis on the issue of injustice from evangelical Christian preachers. Is that a common experience? What factors might account for it?

Read Ezekiel 22:1-16. What strikes you about the way injustice is spoken about in this passage?

Read Lev 19:35-37, and Lev 11:45. Discuss the ultimate motive for God’s people to embody his law (see also Ex 19:4-6)

Since injustice has its roots in the fall, the ultimate cure is Christ ruling his people and his world – Discuss.

What are the implications of the above for the many good – but ultimately secular – efforts against injustice?

Time for Justice – The Origins of Injustice

Magic Bus 008

Leviticus 19:13-15
Ezekiel 22:1-16

The six weeks leading up to Easter Sunday have typically been known as the season of Lent.
Traditionally, it’s a time when people to go without certain things, traditionally meat. Fish was permitted on Friday.

More recently, people choose to do other things: drinking only water, give up Facebook, not eating bread, giving up something else they like. Whatever it might be, the point is your fast from those things, and the hunger that ensues, draws you to focus on your hunger for Christ, and the life he brings through his death and resurrection.

OK. But if that’s the case, why is the focus for our six weeks of Lent focussing on injustice? What has that got to do with hunger for Christ?

Two things. One: Jesus’ people are people who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:6). Two: there are 27 million slaves in our world today. And you can bet they are hungering for the justice of the Kingdom of Christ.

For us and for them, hungering for justice during Lent makes all the sense in the world.

Why this, and now?

The statistics of injustice are confronting and overwhelming. I said before there are an estimated 27m slaves in our world today. That’s more slaves than were extracted from Africa over the entire 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade.

If someone comes to your home and attempts to burgle your property, you dial 000 and the police come. The moment you see the police cars, you’ll be relieved. In so many parts of the developing world, however, police do not give rise to feelings of safety, but fear. In those places the police may be your worst enemy, one of the biggest threats to the safety of you and your children.

In our world today, mainly in developing countries, there are 4 billion people who live outside the protection of the law. In Peru, 47% of women have been victims or rape or sexual assault. There are a plethora of horrifying statistics like that. Truth is, injustice is an everyday reality for billions of people in our world.

What is injustice? Injustice is when someone uses their power to take from others the good things God wants them to have: their life, liberty, dignity and the fruits of their love and labour

For the last 7-8 years I have been reading more and more about this issue. It’s been wonderfully encouraging to see the good work of Compassion, World Vision, A21, Common Grace, and International Justice Mission of course. But interestingly, for the last 7-8 years I have been asking myself why, for all the years before, I had been oblivious to the pervasive reality of injustice? My guess is it’s not too different for you.

If we are people who hunger and thirst for righteousness, why have we not much engaged with the dark reality of injustice?

One reason might be that over the last two centuries there have been movements in various churches to engage with these issues, but not always from the point of view of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus. Sometimes, these efforts have been more about political change and structural reform. Sometimes these efforts have confused working for such change with doing the Gospel. In other cases social activism has been confused with the Gospel. The result may be something like a ‘social Gospel’ or liberation theology.

The church has sometimes reacted to this by retreating from the call to justice, and instead left it all to government and NGOs. IN such times the church has tended to just concentrate on spiritual realities. So in many cases evangelical and reformed churches forgot about injustice altogether.

And thinking about it, I never heard a single sermon about injustice in the first 25 years of my life. And for the first 20 years of my ministry, I hardly ever touched the subject. I say that to my own shame.

A scriptural concern

There are good reasons why such neglect is unacceptable.

One: People are suffering, laws are not upheld, violent people are not being brought to justice, and people like us are in a position to do something about it…

Two: the biggest reason why it’s time for justice is because God calls us into this work. You can say a lot of things about injustice. God only has one word for it: Injustice is sin.

In Jeremiah 22 we read the prophet’s words to a King who was building his kingdom on the broken backs of the poor:

““Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labour. He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’ So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. “Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD. “But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion.”” (Jeremiah 22:13–17, NIV)

In Leviticus 19, we move from rulers to those who exercise judgement:

““ ‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly. “ ‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people. “ ‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbour’s life. I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:15–16, NIV)

A few verses on, and it’s clear that every person who knows the Lord is called to honesty, integrity and justice

““ ‘Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt. “ ‘Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the LORD.’ ”” (Leviticus 19:35–37, NIV) {Ephah – dry, 10-20 litres, Hin – liquid 4.4 litres]

God’s people were to show, in the fullness of their lives, what it meant to live as the people of the Lord.

“‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”” (Exodus 19:4–6, NIV)

Their obedience to God’s law was an every day, all of life thanksgiving for their deliverance from Egypt. But more: God’s commands, his call to be holy as he is holy, are not merely a reason for his people to give thanks. They are an expression, a revelation, of his character

“I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:45, NIV)

We may know that when it comes to holiness, Scripture always sees as being fully devoted to God’s service and consequently living a distinctly different life. As western Christians we need to relearn this. We seem strangely adept at making unbiblical distinctions to make discipleship less sacrificial.

Think about it: We will often make a distinction between a holy life – a righteous life – and pursuing justice. True? We see righteousness as our state before God, and justice as something that needs to be brought about in various life contexts. We see unrighteousness as a spiritual condition, and injustice as something that needs to be addressed politically or socially.

My point is that Scripture never makes those distinctions. When God calls us to righteousness, he’s not just calling us to merely an inner spiritual state. He is calling us to changed lives. Righteousness equals ‘Right-ness’ of life. A life which shows through changed attitudes, gracious actions, just values as well as a heart overcome by the mercy of God.

God calls his people away from injustice, to end injustice, because injustice is sin. Injustice is sin because it breaks the entire law. People who do injustice, people who ignore injustice, do not love God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength. People do injustice, who ignore injustice, can not love their neighbour as themselves, because they allowing lies, theft, sexual violence, and deceit to take God’s good gifts of life and provision.

This is why in Ezekiel 22 injustice is bracketed with idolatry (v.3-4), desecration of the Sabbath (v.8); adultery (v.9), gross immorality (v.11-12), and why injustice will be punished with judgement and exile (v.15,17-22).

There really is no other way to describe it: Injustice is an affront, an offence to the character of God. Injustice is sin.

Reflecting God’s character

Since injustice is sin, it has its roots in the fall and the alienation of people from God in sin. And if injustice has its roots in the fall, then the ultimate cure for injustice is the cross of Jesus: Jesus ruling the hearts of his people. Surely, as people who have come to know the love, mercy and grace of God in Jesus our greatest privilege should be to reflect his character and show his grace.

Look at the way Peter frames the call to holiness to a persecuted church:

“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 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.” Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 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 1:14–19, NIV)

The Cross, redemption in Christ, drives us to be holy as he is holy. The cross drives us to reflect God’s holy character. It’s time for justice. I am the Lord.

This is why, as our churches adopted our denominational vision in 2006, it included initiatives to ‘penetrate structures of society with the gospel.’ So, being a people of justice is not about introducing another program or ministry. This is about doing the very things God calls us to do. This is about reflecting God’s call to justice, our hunger and thirst for righteousness, right into the very DNA of how we equip, how we reach, how we grow. Right into our discipling, our community building, our mission to our city.

Living justly is one of the ways we flee from sin. Living justly is how we thank for God for everything he has given us in his son. Our God is the God of justice. When his people follow him, they must be people of justice.

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1–2, NIV)

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19, NIV)

So, there is good news today: people who hunger and thirst for righteousness can be loved, cleansed, forgiven, restored in the grace of Jesus. His work in them now, through his Spirit, is to transform them more and more so they reflect the character of the God who has rescued them:

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:5–10, NIV)

It is time for justice, friends. So, in these next weeks, let’s do this journey together. Let’s commit to prayer these next weeks:

• Open our eyes to your word

• Open our minds to the implications of the Cross and the resurrection for those who are bowed down through injustice

• Open our hearts to your mission, through you son, and give us the power of your Holy Spirit to rise to this call