From Hope to Holiness – Group Study Questions

Share a few stories about times when you were really focussed on achieving a very important goal. What was it like to be so focussed? How did it impact on your life and relationships?

Read 1 Peter 1:13-16

Looking at the passage above, what does Peter want his readers to focus on?

If they follow Peter’s call, what impact might this have on their lives?

Thinking about our culture, what might the average people in our neighbourhood expect a ‘holy person’ to look like?

What does a holy life look like according to Peter?

What does this mean in concrete practical terms for a) individuals?    b) local churches?

What would your church community need to do differently for such holiness to come to greater expression?

For Peter’s readers, living a holy life would have come with many challenges and risks. Looking at the context of these verses, what would have given them strength and resolve to face these challenges courageously?

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.

When God Keeps us Guessing – Group Study Questions

Introduction

Peter wrote his letter in a time of great challenge and uncertainty. People were suffering for following Jesus. It was hard. Some had been exiled to strange lands, leaving family members and livelihood behind. Others had lost their lives. Our finely honed sense of justice would have us demanding answers. Peter affirms the uncertainty, and pushes in a different direction: like the prophets of old, we need to be patient. Sometimes, maybe often, our questions remain unanswered…

Read: 1 Peter 1:10-12

Discuss

  • Share with the group about something you’ve always wanted to understand, but at this stage you’ve been prevented from doing so. How does that lack of understanding make you feel?
  • The Holy Spirit revealed to the prophets that some of the things they wrote about would only be understood in future generations (after the Messiah had come).
    • How might knowing this have helped Peter’s readers?
    • How does it help us?
  • How does this passage impact on our understanding of how the Scriptures were written – our view of inspiration?
    • How does it confirm or challenge your views?
  • What implications to these words have for our unanswered questions?
    • How might you use this passage and others to comfort someone struggling with unanswered questions or tough life realities?
  • Share with the group how you have seen a humble faith and a trust in God’s sovereign care expressed in the life of another
  • What would your church or small group need to do to be a better context for people to express the questions they may have?

Sermon audio can be downloaded from iTunes as  Gateway Community Church podcast

Our True Identity [Series: Hope Eternal]

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Read: 1 Peter 1:1-2

If you’ve ever watched  Disney movie, you’ll know the story revolves around three basic questions:

  • Who am I?
  • What am I?
  • Where do I belong?

Lion King. Toy Story. Frozen. Terminator. All the same. OK, I’ll admit these questions aren’t as easy to pick up in Frozen… Even so, the Disney scriptwriters know something very important about us: they know our biggest question is one of identity.

Exiles

As Peter writes to these churches he starts with their identity.

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,” (1 Peter 1:1, NIV)

They are exiles. Foreigners. Many scholars believe these Christians started in Jerusalem, but had been forced out in waves of persecution. They are, in fact, refugees. They have been driven from Jerusalem to Asia Minor, or what we know as modern day Turkey.

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You probably know what exiles are. Some of you have done this yourselves: packed up belongings and headed to the other side of the known world in an effort to seek a better life. People from South Africa, India, Nertherlands, the Eastern States of Australia. Think about what it’s like for exiles:

  • When you’re an exile in a strange land you have no citizenship
  • You have reduced rights (no medical benefits, unable to vote, no social security)
  • You will have different values. A different language. Different dress style.

People like this stand out. You’ve seen the women in the burka at the shops? What do you think about that? Rightly or wrongly we make the assumption that they are foreigners. You’ve been on a plane with the Middle Eastern men, did that feel a little uncertain? I am confident that Middle Eastern people are as honourable and trustworthy as any Australian, but because of recent history we will have a few doubts. More a reflection on us than them, I think.

This is what Peter is saying about Christians. For the church, for Jesus’ people: We don’t fit in. This world is not your first home.

Now, we need to understand something before we go on: many will hear those words ‘this world is not my home’ and immediately think Peter’s contrast is between earth and heaven. Not correct. Sure, there is an eternal inheritance which Peter will talk about later in his letter, and we’ll get to that eventually. But the contrast here is not between heaven and earth, but between Christians ruled by Jesus, and the dominant culture around them. It is between the church as God’s new community, and the world as community ignorant of God and often opposed to him. That’s why Peter says ‘Don’t be surprised if people think you’re a bit weird. Don’t be surprised if people reject you.’ Christians, you are exiles. Church, you are foreigners. Displaced people.

We know this tension, don’t we?

For almost 2000 years the church was seen as part of the solution to our world’s woes. Now we are seen, by some at least, as part of the problem. We are exiles.

This is actually a challenge for us. Why? Because we listen to our culture and we are desperate to fit in. To be affirmed. To be noticed. We need to ask what this desire is doing to our faith and our following of Jesus. Are we seeking an identity that ultimately will dilute our relationship with Jesus? Is the identity we seek harmonious with the Kingdom of God, or it undermine who we are as the people of God? Will it strengthen God’s church, or will it weaken it?

Or think of what we have witnessed today as Clint and Tash have brought little Isla to receive the mark of the covenant in Christian baptism. Could there be a more important question for them today than to know their true identity in Christ?

Elect

Who am I? Who are we? Exiles, yes, but Peter notes a more profound reality that shapes our identity:

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…” (1 Peter 1:1–2, NIV)

Who are we? As people who love Jesus we are God’s elect. What does Peter mean? At one level, Peter uses that word to show the unity these NT Christians have with the OT people of God. He says ‘remember how God’s people were exiled to Babylon? You’re like them. Remember how God’s people were scattered under the Greek Empire after Malachi? You’re like them. The point he’s making is this: It’s not that there is an Old Testament people of God, and then the church as a different people of God. It’s the one covenant people of God all the way through, even through to today. So Peter is saying this to comfort them, and us.

You are the people of the King. Even though you are exiles and foreigners, you carry his rule into your world. You are exiles, not because earth is contrasted with heaven, but because Christ’s Kingdom is in contrast to your culture, your world. The rule of Lord Jesus is opposed to, and will overcome, the rule of Caesar. Jesus is Ruler of all rulers, King of kings, Lord of lords.

But there’s another level of meaning here. Peter calls them elect, and chosen by the foreknowledge of God (see vv.12).

What does this mean? Well, it does not mean that God kind of looked into the future and somehow saw who would honour him, and  then chooses them. That can’t be true: that would make God dependent on human response, and what sort of God would that be? I suggest not a particularly powerful one.

So: What does it mean that we are elect and chosen by the foreknowledge of God? Listen carefully: Even before the creation of the world, God had chosen whom he was going to redeem. He knew their names and everything about them. And even before the creation of the world, God had chosen who was going to to redeem them. He knew His name. And everything about Him.

Even before the creation of the world, God had chosen whom he was going to redeem and who was going to to redeem them

Think about that. You are not here today as a person of faith merely by reason of your own decision. You are here as a believer because before the creation of the world this gracious God chose you, knew you, and by his sovereign initiative, chose you as his own. Think of little Isla. What does she know? What can she do? She knows very little, and while she can make noises, fill her nappy, and eat, she can do little else. But God says to her – little baby that she is – Isla, I love you. I am your God. I will be with you. I want you to love me, serve me, believe in me. God speaks his promise into her life before she either understand or respond. God’s election is like his promise: it is not dependent on anything in us or anything we do. Election is simply an astounding display of sovereign grace and love!

Paul writes the same thing to the Ephesian Church:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:3–6, NIV)

Or think of what we read in Romans 8

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28–30, NIV)

In fact, God’s choice of his people is like his choice of His Son’s saving role:

“[The Lamb of God/Jesus] was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” (1 Peter 1:20, NIV)

The thing to note about Peter’s words, and those of Paul, is that every time we read about election or foreknowledge, it is written to comfort God’s people. It is never mentioned as a matter of bare theology. It is always connected with the dependability, the faithfulness, the absolute trustworthiness of God’s plan of salvation.

We are in the hands of this loving God who has guaranteed, by the precious blood of his own son, that he will bring his saving purpose to completion in us! Even before the creation of the world, God had chosen whom he was going to redeem. He knew their names and everything about them. And he has chosen who was going to to redeem them. He knew His name. And everything about Him.

Let’s read on:

“who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood…” (1 Peter 1:2, NIV)

God has not only chosen you, he has drawn you to himself and made you holy through the work of His Spirit. His whole purpose is to change you, so you will obey, that your life will honour God and show the true nature of life in Jesus. We need to see this clearly: God’s purpose in choosing his people, and drawing them to himself through his Spirit, is so they will be holy and obedient. Frequently, people seem to miss this. They think they can just accept Jesus’ forgiveness and not worry about his call to change. They miss the point of God’s intention entirely.

Knowing Jesus is not just about information, Jesus lives in us for our transformation. You cannot honour Jesus and keep pursuing sinful behaviour. The Spirit will work in you so you will obey Christ, and live his new life.

This is why you are an exile. Why do you quite belong, why the church stands out as a different community. It’s different because God’s people are to live holy lives and behave differently. This is one of the core meanings of holiness. It’s not about being in a special building, or using religious sounding words, or wearing some distinctive clothing. To be holy is to be set apart, to be distinct, reserved for the purposes of God, set aside to live the new life he has given us in Jesus his son.

God has chosen you in his sovereign love, the Spirit is working His sanctifying, difference making, holyfying power in your life.

Let’s go back to the verse:

“who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood…” (1 Peter 1:2, NIV)

When Peter says we have been sprinkled with the blood of the Saviour, he associates the Cross of Christ with the Old Testament Temple sacrifices. The priest used to sprinkle the people with the blood of animal sacrifice. As he did, he was saying something about the terrible depth of their sin, and the cost of atoning for it. He was saying sin was so bad, so grievous, that blood had to be shed for it. Something had to die. Someone had to pay.

The Gospel says this is what Jesus has done! When he died on the Cross, he was the great sacrifice. His death cleansed you from sin, and took your guilt. His suffering absorbed the wrath you deserve. That’s what Paul says as he writes to his Pastor colleague, Titus

“…our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, … gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:13–14, NIV)

In the same way Peter comforted these people with his words about election, he is now comforting them with the power of Christ’s blood, poured out on the Cross. He knows he is writing to struggling, suffering Christians. The world may have rejected them, but the Sovereign Lord has elected them. The Father chose them before creation to be his own. The Spirit has opened their heart and drawn them to God. The Son has sprinkled them with his blood. Their situation may be precarious and uncertain, but their eternity is rock solid in the sovereign, all powerful, all gracious work of the Triune God!

This is who you are, Christian! This is what you are, Church! This is where you belong! Living for the glorious Kingdom of God!

Emboldened

Imagine how those words would have encouraged these Christians, Churches scattered throughout Asia Minor! They felt rejected by the world: no big deal! They feel out of place: OK. But God was with them, and he’s preparing a new heaven and a new earth more wonderful than they could ever imagine! Disenfranchised? Yep. But it’s not their vote or influence that mattered. God has chosen them. His Spirit is changing them. Jesus has cleansed them and set them free! Hallelujah!

You’ve seen the picture of the Coptic Christian martyrs. Twenty-one men beheaded on a beach in northern Africa. Sickening. Disturbing. Abhorrent violence. But sometimes I wonder whether, as they felt the hand of their captors on their shoulder, they also felt the loving and gracious and all powerful hand of the living God, comforting them? Whether they heard the voice of God, “They may reject you, but I have elected you! Do not fear! I am with you!”

And God is saying to us: remember who you are. Remember your true identity. Remember what Christ has done for you! This will bring you grace and peace in abundance (see the end of v.2)! He is saying: remember who I am! Remember what I have done for you! Remember Jesus is your good Shepherd, no one can snatch you out of the Father’s hand!

Church, the pressure may be on, but this is not a time to shrink back. This is not a time to be ducking for cover. This is a time to rise up! As salt and light, let the Kingdom shine like a city on a hill! Be strong and courageous! Because how you act and behave will reflect God’s great plan for his world.

Rise up church, as we have seen the church rise up this week, Christians all around the country – irrelevant, bigoted oddballs to some – but they open their home. Why? Because they know what it’s like to be rejected. They know what it’s like to have your heart in another place. They know what it’s like to be loved and saved by God, so when there are people who need loving and saving, you’ll find the church right there.

The times may be tough. Tougher, no doubt, for these Christians than for us today in Australia. But they knew their identity. They knew God had chosen them. They knew Jesus had saved them. They knew the Spirit was with them. And it emboldened  them to stand as God’s new people, reflecting his new life to a broken and fallen world. May God in his grace enable us to see, and to be, his people in his world today.