Holiness: Why It’s Worth It

Hope-Eternal---MM

Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-21

Why should I?

Why do I put up with this?

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

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

Why should I put up with this?

Think about the emptiness you’ve left behind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think about where you’re headed

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

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

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

Think about that.

Carefully.

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

That’s serious, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, in Christ, forgiven.

Yes, in Christ, guilt has been atoned.

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

Yes, in Christ, raised to life.

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

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

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

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

Think about what it cost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think of what it cost your Saviour, friends!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.