What are the experiences, positive or negative, that you say have shaped you the most? I once had a pastor give an exercise where we wrote our forming moments on sticky notes and then placed them next to results from a Meyers-Briggs test, a spiritual gifts test, and a StrengthsFinder test.
This is perhaps so obvious and yet easily overlooked–God uses our daily experiences to shape us. The loss of a job, the birth of a child, a marriage, a tragedy, a crisis of faith, a powerful worship service, a time of devotions, a conversation with a friend, etc. All of these and more can be used by God to change us.
It is our job to begin viewing life through different lenses. What if God wants to use something but we’ve not opened our eyes to the possibility?
Let’s take an example from Scripture, from the life of Peter. What were the pivotal circumstances in his life?
- Being born a Jewish boy into a home where he was raised to love God, to know the Torah, to take part in Jewish rituals and feasts, etc.
- Becoming a fisherman, presumably like his father, as sons learned the family business.
- Being called to follow after Jesus (Matt. 4).
- The healing of his mother-in-law
- Calling Jesus the Son of God and then being rebuked by Jesus (Matt. 16)
- Witnessing the transfiguration with James and John
- Denying Jesus 3x
- Being forgiven by Jesus (John 21)
- Preaching his first sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2)
- Dreaming on a rooftop and meeting Cornelius (Acts 10)
Peter’s pivotal circumstances before meeting Jesus paved the way for him to follow Jesus; His pivotal circumstances as a disciple prepared him for leading the early church.
Peter’s first letter gives us another clue as to one of the most pivotal circumstances we experience: suffering.
- 1 Peter 1:6-7: 6In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
- 1 Peter 3:17-18: It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
- 1 Peter 4:1-2: Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because those who have suffered in their bodies are done with sin. 2As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.
- 1 Peter 5:8-10: 8Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your fellow believers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.10And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
Our suffering results in genuine, steadfast faith in God. While Peter spoke of suffering specifically for being a Christian, our present sufferings can be used in the same way. When we are faced with pressure at work, the loss of loved ones, broken relationships, financial difficulty, etc., God can provide the strength we need to face the suffering and come out of it having passed the testing of our faith.
How does God change us if we do not have an idea of the end goal of the Christian life? It’s one thing to experience conversion and to have the assurance that God is your God and you will one day live with Him in eternity. But it’s quite another to feel like you’ve got a grip on where He’s directing you in this life, right here and right now.
Scripture speaks of the goal with a Greek word telos. Here are a few passages where it occurs, though not
- Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
- 1 Corinthians 13:9-13: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
- Ephesians 4:11-13: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
- Philippians 3:12: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
- Colossians 1:28: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.”
- James 1:2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
- 1 Peter 1:7-9: “These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
- 1 John 2:5-6: “But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”
From these passages of Scripture, we can list several things that could be part of the goal of the Christian life. It refers to being “mature” as a result of persevering through suffering, being “mature” as the result of hearing Christ taught, being perfect as God is perfect, the opposite of something that is partial, completeness, and refers to salvation as the end result of faith.
N.T. Wright looks at the Bible and says that the goal of the Christian life is this:
- The goal is the new heaven and new earth, with human beings raised from the dead to be the renewed world’s rulers and priests.
- This goal is achieved through the kingdom-establishing work of Jesus and the Spirit, which we grasp by faith, participate in by baptism, and live out in love.
- Christian living in the present consists of anticipating this ultimate reality through the Spirit-led, habit-forming, truly human practice of faith, hope and love, sustaining Christians in their calling to worship God and reflect his glory into the world (After You Believe, p. 67).
It is interesting that the NT authors never use telos to describe the picture of the goal from Revelation. And yet the concept of a new humanity capable of living in the new heavens and new earth makes sense. If we agree with Wright, then the assumption is that our maturity here and now is something we’ll need there and then. We are practicing what it looks like to be the new world’s priests and rulers.
This vision of the goal of life encompasses what on one hand many Christians look forward to–eternal life with God–as well as what many other Christians strive for today–the coming of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
How would you define the goal of the Christian life? What do you think God wants you to be/become?
In our continuing conversation about what Christian spiritual formation is, we come to the phrase “of being conformed.” Christian spiritual formation is the lifelong process of being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ for the sake of the world.
Notice that this is phrased in a passive tense–being conformed. This means we are not the ones who do the work to ourselves, but God does the work to and in us. Again, this does not mean we have no role, but God is the primary player.
It also means that who we are now is not who are to become. God called Adam and Eve “very good,” but not perfect. Even they had character formation necessary.
Conforming may as well be a four-letter word today. It sounds rigid and constricting to our western ears. In all of our efforts to be God’s people, we even want to control what kind of a person we are becoming in Christ, as if that were possible. Christ calls us to lay down our expectations of who we’re becoming. It’s not about being true to my heart, as if authenticity were all that mattered. Authenticity is better than living out a facade. Authenticity is certainly a good step, but it stops short. If we are to participate with God in our spiritual formation, we must move from seeking authenticity alone to seeking authenticity with surrender of control.
Let’s look at some Scripture.
- 1 Peter 1:14-16: 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.”
- Romans 8:28-30: 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.
- 2 Corinthians 3:18: And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
- Romans 12:1-2: Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
- Colossians 3:9-10: 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.
I preached this sermon about the importance of a holy lifestyle last Sunday. I credit Dr. Steve Lennox from IWU for the metaphor with the pipes. The situation at our home in Marion with pipes was true. Now I know why God allowed that nasty stench to invade our house! It was for this sermon.
Text: 1 Peter 1:13-25
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. 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 man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers 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 forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 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.
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.
If you knew you were only going to live for another year, what would you do? Some answers to that question could be:
· I would hug my wife and children for every moment.
· I would travel around the world.
· I would write out my will.
· I would write my autobiography to keep memories of me alive.
· I would spend money like there’s no tomorrow.
· I would do things I’ve always wanted to do, like skydive and bungee jump.
· I would make amends with my family and friends.
The Bible gives us an answer to this question that is radical to our thinking. Most people want to either tie up loose ends here or have as much fun here as possible before they die. Peter says the most important thing is to prepare for the life to come by how you live your life here.
Last Sunday we talked about God’s holiness and we even mentioned a few things about us being holy. What we said was that holiness is not the same thing as morality; it’s not your opinion on the issues that we taut so highly. It’s a heart-attitude that desires the heart of God.
He seems to suggest holiness matters because there is coming a day when Jesus will be revealed. Part of holiness is an understanding that the way I live today matters tomorrow. Not only do my actions affect those around me, they affect me when Christ returns.
When I think of Peter and Christ’s return, I think of John 21. John 21 tells the story of Jesus talking with Peter, the man who days before had deserted him. In a situation where one would expect Jesus to slam Peter, to get mad, Jesus asks him, “Peter, do you love me?” Peter, of all people, knew that when Jesus returned He wouldn’t be out for blood from those who followed Him. He would, however, ask the tough questions.
Do you love me?
Peter says, “Yes, you know that I do.” And Jesus replies, “Take care of my sheep.” When Christ returns, He’ll ask the tough questions. And He’ll expect us to answer not only by saying, “I love you, Lord,” but also by saying, “I took care of your sheep. I loved your sheep.”
Peter says the second reason holiness matters is because God is holy. Verses 15-16 say, “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.’” In this he is quoting Leviticus 11:44 or Leviticus 19:2. They’re both the same.
One commentator gives a good background for this statement made by God. He says, “There arose in Israel (this being at the time of Moses) an understanding of Yahweh quite unusual in the ancient world. Unlike the people around them, the people of the Lord came to view their God as alone, God. For their contemporaries it was a simple matter to add another god to an already well-populated pantheon, and no one was upset—not even the other gods. But this would never do in Israel, since Yahweh would allow no rivals. Any pretenders would only be impostors anyway, since only Yahweh was God. The term “holiness” is used to refer to this characteristic. God is unique, in a category by himself; He is the Holy One.”
God is the only God. All others are impostors. He has separated Himself from all other man-made gods as the only one. This is part of God’s holiness.
There is no mistake that right after God says, “Be holy because I am holy,” in Leviticus 11 that he goes on to talk about purification from meat, from sex and birth, from disease, from mildew, etc. God is not just setting up a bunch of rules. He’s saying, “As I am separate from all these other gods, so you are to be separate from all of their people.”
Now Peter brings it into the context of Jesus Christ being revealed, of His imminent return. He says you need to be holy in all you do. The Greek word for “do” means “behavior” or “lifestyle.” Your lifestyle should be holy. ALL you do should be holy.
Let’s stop there for a moment. All you do should be holy. That’s tough to swallow. Most of us hear that and think, “Yeah right. Maybe you pastor.”
Today I have two cups of water with me. I’m going to show them to you, and you tell me which cup of water you would drink. (One cup had clean water in it; the other had water with a mixture of ketchup, mustard and salad dressing that made the water turn puke orange. You can guess which cup they chose).
Why did you choose the cup you did? Why not drink out of the other one? It only has just a little bit of goop in it. I’m sure it would taste just as good. It is tempting for us to justify our sin by saying, “There’s only one area of my life I’m holding on to.” When we do that, we look like the gross water. God wants our whole lifestyle to be holy.
And just think, “God wouldn’t ask us to be holy in all we do if He wasn’t going to empower us to be holy.” God doesn’t make outrageous demands. God doesn’t delight in seeing us despair and fail over His standard of holy living. If He calls us to do it, He will empower us to do it.
Take riding a bike for example. How many of you taught your children how to ride a bike? What did you do? Did you say, “Hey Junior, go have fun. I’ll be here with the camera when you finally get it right”? No. You were out there holding onto the handlebars, helping your son/daughter steer. You picked them up when they fell and bandaged their knees. God doesn’t tell us to ride the bike without showing us how. It’s not like He’s asking us to learn advanced calculus when all we’ve had is basic addition and subtraction. Holiness is a real, possible lifestyle that God will help each one of us live if we let Him.
That word for lifestyle is repeated two more times in this passage. Once more in verse 17, and another time in verse 18. Peter says we need to be holy because Christ is coming back and because God is holy. He now tells us that holiness is a lifestyle, and explains more of what that lifestyle should look like in verses 17-21.
First, we should live here as strangers. Verse 17 literally reads, “Live in fear/respect of the temporal nature of your time.” Know that your time here is short. Jesus is going to be revealed. So don’t assume that you can wait until you’re in retirement to be holy. Holiness is not a part-of-my-life-style, it’s a lifestyle.
Second, this lifestyle is completely different from how we used to live. I’m going to read verses 18-19 because they are so important to understanding this. They say, “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 forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
Think of verses 18 and 19 as a timeline. Let’s draw it out. Take your bulletin and on the back where it says, “sermon notes,” draw a horizontal line. Below the line, write your name. In the middle of the line, above it, draw a dot and label it “redeemed.” On the left side of the dot, above the line, write the words, “empty way of life.” And on the right side of the dot, above the line, write the words, “holy way of life.”
Here’s what Peter is saying. He’s saying that everyone has lived an empty life. Another word used to translate this Greek word is “futile.” Our lives are futile before Christ redeems us. And to redeem us, He had to give something. But it wasn’t something perishable like gold or silver. It was with his own life and blood, something even more precious than gold and silver. Just as Israel had to kill perfect lambs to atone for their sins, Christ was a perfect person who became sin for us. He gave Himself to pay our ransom.
And after this point in time, we are able and called to live a holy life. No more futility and emptiness, but holiness.
Peter describes this lifestyle even further in verse 22: Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.
When Jamie and I lived in Marion, IN we had our own home. And as those of you who own homes know, when something breaks, you have to fix it. Our basement was full of pipes. Pipes running along the ceiling, pipes along the walls, pipes everywhere. And all these pipes connected to the main pipe which ran underneath our house. This main pipe was accessible by a small hole in the cement floor. In a normal house, this would be no big deal. But this hole created such a stench in our basement. Whenever we would run the washer or flush the toilet, a small puddle would come up out of the hole. Those of you who know anything about plumbing have guessed what comes next: The main pipe was blocked. It had not been cleaned out for six years, the entire time the family before us had lived there. Needless to say, once we had the plumber come, everything was all right.
Verses 22 and 23 are like our pipes. You and I are each a pipe. And we need to be cleaned out, to be purified. If not, the water cannot run smoothly through. If we have not been purified, then our love does not flow freely. Our love gets mixed up with pride, selfishness, and those other evil desires of verse 14.
But what if we have a clean pipe but no water? I’ve got a pipe with me today. Looks nice doesn’t it? I’ll bet my pipe is the cleanest pipe in the whole building. So clean you could eat off it. But that doesn’t mean much unless my pipe has water flowing through it. My purity and desire for holiness means nothing if I don’t love other people. I may look nice, but really I become just as proud as I was before I was clean.
You have to have both. Clean pipes and water flowing.
But this isn’t just any water. This is good, clean (brand of water I have) water. Peter says they love each other with a brotherly love. They love those who are like them; their brothers. That’s pretty easy to do. These are people they’ve spent time with, prayed with, discipled in the Lord. Now Peter says it’s time to up the ante. Love one another deeply, from the heart. No longer is this a friendship-based love. This is a love that works through differences of opinion in how the church should look; that loves in spite of a slip of the tongue; that loves the drunk man coming to church for the first time, or the woman who has repeatedly stood outside the church doors screaming during a service because she hates Christians.
Love from the heart. That’s a lifestyle of holiness.
Loving from the heart. Being pure, with clean pipes and water flowing through them. Being redeemed and living opposite of the empty life before. Being holy because God is holy and because Jesus is returning.
As you leave today, there are small pipes for each of you marked with 1 Peter 1:22. Use them as a reminder of the call to live a holy life. And look at them when you think it’s impossible. Remember, God doesn’t ask us to do anything without empowering us to do it.