The distinctive mark of John Wesley’s theology has always been his theology of holiness. Wesley spoke of “Christian perfection.” By this he did not mean sinlessness or that we would be made perfect in this life. The adjective “Christian” modifies the meaning of “perfection.” Let’s first define what holiness is not:
- Holiness is not absolute perfection. The Christian is still tempted, still able to sin. It is not as if we are exalted to a state of absolute judgment or knowledge or performance.
- Holiness is not superiority. He or she is not a super Christian, as if holiness is only for the select few pastors and missionaries.
- Holiness is not immunity from life’s problems. We will never reach a point where we are exempt from suffering or from Satan’s tempting.
- Holiness is not a static (non-moving) experience. Wesley taught that a person could be made holy in an instant, like conversion, but this instant is never separated from one’s entire walk with God. It is part of the process, not the end goal of the process.
Steve Harper, commenting on Wesley’s theology, says holiness is singleness of intention. This is in contrast to what Dallas Willard mentioned about duplicity of the heart. We are no longer duplicitous and deceitful but only will and desire what God wills and desires. This emphasizes that being is just as important as doing. Our primary intention is to love God with all our heart and to love others.
Harper is helpful in an illustration as to how this can be called perfect love while still leaving room for sin:
“When each of my children were small, they had the bright idea to bring Mommy some flowers. Never mind that they plucked the flowers from the bed Mommy had worked hard to cultivate. Never mind that they may have even taken flowers from the neighbor’s bed! Their one desire was to please Mommy and to show their love for her” (The Way to Heaven, p. 84).
He then goes on to say how his wife did not reject their gift but gladly accepted it and put the flowers in a vase. We cannot hope to match God in actions but we can hope to match Him in intentions. Our controlling desire can be God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. Perfect love, however, starts with the heart and motives and our actions begin to line up with them.
Second, holiness is power over sin. Wesley did not believe there was ever a time when a person had to sin. God’s grace is always greater than the lure of temptation. And if you think about it, this is really matching one’s singleness of intent to action. When given the choice of sinning or loving, we can choose to love each time. This doesn’t come automatically–note how we’re talking about holiness toward the end of the ordo salutis–but with God’s grace and our practice.
Third, holiness is radical dependence on Christ. This is the idea in John 15, where Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from him we can do nothing. I find this facet of holiness the most intriguing and most emphasized in contemporary holiness circles today. We use phrases like “fully devoted disciples” or “wholly surrendered to Christ.” The surrender, both instantaneous and ongoing, becomes the focal point, but we soon lose sight of God giving us power over sin. We get tired of ongoing surrender, wondering if our hearts and hands will ever synchronize. If holiness is radical dependence on Christ, then the act of surrender ought not be the focal point, but the One we surrender to ought.
Fourth, holiness is equipment for ministry. We are set apart for service to God. Holiness is always a social experience: it always fleshes itself out in love for others expressed in service with other Christians. There is a reason why Harper listed this last, and why I agree with the order. Namely, it is dangerous to skip straight to empowerment for ministry because that tends to be an easy disguise for any number of intentions that are unholy. We serve out of who we are; we serve out of the Spirit’s power; and we are eager to serve because in service we can display Christ’s love.
Text: Exodus 20:1-2; 3:6-14; 19:3-6
Bottom Line: For God, rules come after the relationship, and rules are necessary to govern the relationship.
Sermon Function: To call people to full surrender, desiring to be made holy.
This summer we’re preaching through a series called The Ten, all about—you guessed it—the Ten Commandments. Somewhere in my childhood, my parents introduced me to this classic movie with Charlton Heston as Moses. Since that time, every time I think about the Ten Commandments, there’s a part of me that replays that scene in my mind.
The Ten Commandments also bring up images of rules. These are like God’s big rules, we might think, if we don’t take time to prod deeper into them. Most of us look at rules—unless we’re the firstborn obedient, observant types—with a bit of backlash. We tense up. Rarely do we enjoy rules.
Your boss comes out to speak to the company and says, “We’ve got a new set of policies today.” Rarely does anyone applaud that. Yay! More policies. It’s like a Michael Scott meeting from The Office.
I can remember a time when we were kids—and we all have these stories—where my brother and I were at home alone. I was in 6th grade and Dan was in 4th grade. Mom and dad were both at work, and dad had told us to practice our batting. We were both playing baseball that summer. By the way, my dad told this story around the dinner table last Sunday as the Cromers were sitting with us. J We weren’t using balls, so what could go wrong? Right? Dan started practicing first. He was doing really well at first, but then SMASH! He had brought the bat back and cracked our 64-gallon fish tank in the living room. Dad hadn’t specified that we needed to be outside. We ran around grabbing towels, trying to save fish and calling the neighbors for help. It was a mess!
Needless to say, dad made a rule of no batting practice inside from that day on.
We’ve all had experiences with rules that are less than positive. That may be because, in our minds, the average rule was put in place for the wrong reasons.
Why do we have rules today? Most of us could think of at least one of these five reasons.
- Because somebody did something wrong. We create rules after one situation where somebody did something they shouldn’t. And all it takes is one person. One person spills red pop on the carpet. Now, nobody can have red pop on the carpet.
- For protection. We wear seatbelts for safety. We have speeding laws for protection of ourselves and other drivers. We have safety precautions in factories so no one loses a finger.
- To reinforce the bottom line. We have rules to make sure that, in our companies, productivity and earning are at their best. We set time limits on people’s breaks, days off, amount of product that needs to be exported in a certain time period. We put pressure on teachers to get kids to have high test scores from their kids so our schools can receive funding.
- To keep people in power who have power. Those who have the power make the rules. Sometimes they make rules to ensure that others don’t usurp their power. For example, making rules about who can run for public office, Hitler’s marginalization of the Jews, segregation…all of these kinds of things were about keeping a certain person or kind of people in power.
- Agendas. We hear this talk regularly in politics today. He has a conservative or liberal agenda. When it comes to issues like immigration, homosexuality, and the minimum wage, we may feel like those in power make rules because of their agenda, not because they care for the common good.
We could go on and on. When you look at this list, it looks scary. Ugly. Corrupt. Wrong. Imposing. It seems like rules are always put in place for less-than-righteous reasons. Is there every any time when rules are good? Was this God’s intention with the Ten Commandments? The good news is that the Ten Commandments—the entire OT Law, in fact—was not put in place for any of these reasons. We’ll get to the “why” later on.
But you and I, if we’re honest with ourselves, have a range of reactions to the rules in our lives that goes from acceptance and obedience to critique and disgust. Somewhere on the continuum, we’ve learned patterns and ways of reacting to the rules in place before us. Whether that tends to be an attitude of obedience or disobedience, I believe that how we’ve come to think about rules bleeds over into our reading of the Bible and our understanding of God’s rules. So as we come to the Ten Commandments today, I want you to be analytical, but not of the meaning of the commandments, but of the state of your heart toward them. Has your tendency to reject human authority, to ignore what others around you say you should do, colored your attitude toward God? If you miss everything else I say, that’s fine. Be sure to give room for God to speak to you this morning.
(We read Exodus 20:1-17).
I want us to focus on the first two verses—yes, you heard me correctly, we’re not going to touch on any of the actual commandments this morning.
Verse 1 says, “And God spoke all these words.” I love this. God speaks these words. The Ten Commandments aren’t even called commandments in Scripture. It brings back imagery from creation. God spoke the world into being, and now God speaks His words to His people. But this is not God speaking in order to somehow form Israel as a people for Himself for the first time. God is not creating the nation of Israel by speaking the Ten Commandments. God is not even entering into relationship with them for the first time here.
God had a very unique relationship with one man first. Abraham. Then with Abraham’s family, the patriarchs—Isaac, Jacob, his twelve sons, and especially Joseph. And from the end of Genesis to the beginning of Exodus, a period of roughly four hundred years passes. During this time, Joseph and his brothers grow into a nation and became enslaved in Egypt. Then God once again spoke, this time to one man. To Moses.
“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
Notice here that God does not say, “I am the LORD your God.” Instead, he identifies himself by way of his relationship with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Verses 7-10 continue:
The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
Notice how here he calls the Israelites his people already. In God’s mind, they are His people even before He acts. They are His people because of His covenant with Abraham.
Moses then asks God what His name is. Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” (Exodus 3:13) He first refers to him as “the God of your fathers”. This is how people would think of God. They would have known the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They would have known about their heritage, that they were not Egyptians, that they came from another land.
Moses is not ignorant of who He is talking to. Neither would the people be ignorant of who God is. It is not as if he hasn’t figured out that the God of the patriarchs is Yahweh. It was not unusual for ancient gods to have several names, and as we read our Old Testaments, we hear of God being called many different things. “Moses’ question concerns which identity of the deity is pertinent to the mission on which he is being sent” (Walton, ANE Thought, p. 92). It is not that Abraham did not know Him as Yahweh, only that God had not acted in concert with the meaning of this Name for Abraham. God would wait to act as Yahweh until He needed to “create” or “cause to exist” this people, Israel, and He could only do that by rescuing them from slavery.
Yahweh has been translated “I am who I am” in Exodus 3:14. The NIV and other translations used an all-caps “LORD” to show the Hebrew word “Yahweh.” It may come from a verb meaning “to be” or “to exist,” but on behalf of His people, it would mean “to create” to “to cause to be.” I know this is technical, but we’re trying our best to think like the ancient Israelites would have thought about God. In their minds, the name Yahweh only meant something if Yahweh acted like the meaning of His name. Thus, Yahweh acted as Yahweh by causing Israel to exist as a people in relationship to Himself. Yahweh acted as Yahweh by giving Israel a function as well—to be a holy nation.
So when we reach Exodus 20, and the text says God spoke the words, “I am Yahweh your God,” we say that God’s relationship with His people did not change. They had always been His people, even before the rescue from slavery. But that event, where God gave freely of Himself, changed how they knew God. They now knew Him as Yahweh, the one who would cause them to be His covenant people through His rescue.
Exodus 20:2 says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” The Hebrew “your” is singular, which means that God is the God of the one nation of Israel. It also means He is the God of every individual person. When God delivered Israel from slavery, that was when He became the personal God of every Israelite and the God of the nation. To say it another way, God did what it took to start a relationship with this particular people. And because He rescued them, he could be known as their God.
But we have to look at this from Israel’s perspective. Are they thinking, “Great. Thanks for saving us from that misery. But now we’ve got new rules we have to follow? C’mon, God. Give us a break”? No. They are just figuring out what it means for Yahweh to be their God and for them to be His people. They have no clue. The change from slavery to freedom was so drastic that it was going to take some getting used to.
People today talk about how there are two types of change: continuous and discontinuous.
Continuous change develops out of what has happened before and can be anticipated, and therefore can be planned for and managed. One good example of this is the maturation of our kids. As they move from one stage of life to the next, we can look back on our own experiences of growing up and the experiences of those around us to deal with this change. While every child is different, their development will happen on a similar path as those who have lived and died already. Continuous change.
Discontinuous change is quite the opposite. It is disruptive and unanticipated. It creates situations that challenge our assumptions. The skills we have learned aren’t helpful to deal with it. One example of this is the death of a loved one or the loss of a job. You may even see it coming, but the skills you have cannot be your resource for dealing with it. If your spouse has died, you know this.
In discontinuous change,
- Working harder with your habitual skills won’t address the new challenges you face.
- An unpredictable environment means new skills are needed.
- There is no going back to normal (Roxburgh & Romanuk, Missional Leader).
Does that sound at all like what Israel experienced? You better believe it. The Hebrew of the phrase “who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery,” uses a verb that has the sense of a completed action in the past. God has finished the job. As they stand at the base of Mount Sinai, hearing these words, they have assurance that they are never going back to slavery again. This moment, when they stand at the base of Mount Sinai and hear the words of Yahweh for the first time, is monumental. They have been assured of their freedom and their identity as God’s people, and now they are about to discover how to live in relationship with Him.
For God, rules come after the relationship, and rules are necessary to govern the relationship.
In the ancient Near East, other nations had law codes similar to Israel’s. There were not any other “10 Commandments,” but other nations had their law codes. And we know that they had intentions behind creating these. The intentions, however, had nothing to do with a covenant relationship like Yahweh had with Israel. Here’s a simple chart that helps to set Israel apart from its neighbors.
Every other nation around Israel viewed its laws as showing them who the ideal king was and how he might execute justice. The rules were made to help the nation to function correctly, with a just king ruling. And whether they viewed their rules as coming from their deity or not, in the end, it was the king who not only carried out justice but also who created the rules for justice.
In Israel, the law is not made by Moses or any other person, but spoken by God. God’s rules are not about justice—not about right and wrong, primarily—but about Him and what it means to live in relationship with Him. Are the concepts of morality and ethics within the Law? Yes. But they are not the center. God is the center. And the goal is not simply figuring out what God requires and then doing it; the goal is becoming a covenant-keeper who is sanctified, holy, as part of the holy nation.
In Exodus 19, the Israelites had just made camp at the foot of Mt. Sinai when God spoke to Moses. Exodus 19:3-6 says, “Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘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.”
God’s intent with His law, His rules, is to create for himself a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Some of us hear this and think, “Uh oh. We’re going down that road of trying to follow the rules in order to get better,” as if God’s intent to make us holy people happens when we obey the rules perfectly.
Rules matter, in one sense, but as we’ve discovered, they’re not the problem. Otherwise, God would be to blame, for He initiated not only a relationship—something we think is positive—but also gave rules to guide that relationship. You can’t have it both ways. The problem, then—and this I think is where our real angst is—is with a rules-based mentality. Not so much “what to do” but “why you do it.” People who assume that the reason… Our angst is with the motives we spoke of earlier. The larger framework within which rules appropriately fit is in context of a relationship with a holy God. The goal is not to obey all the rules, but to be holy as He is holy, understanding that part of living holy lives will mean obeying the rules (see N.T. Wright, After You Believe, pp. 43ff.)
This ought to speak to us today, especially we who tend to get so turned off by what we perceive to be restrictive rules all around us. God first and foremost desires people who want relationship with Him, and He has done everything necessary to make that possible. In the Old Testament, he rescued Israel from slavery. In the New Testament, he rescued his people from slavery to sin and death by sending His Son, Jesus.
If God wants relationship before rules, and rules only in the context of relationship, what does it mean for you and me?
- You can end up like Pharaoh or like a sanctified Christian. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart through a series of 10 plagues. I don’t think it is a coincidence that it took 10 plagues before he let Israel go and that God gave 10 commandments to His people. You can use the Ten Commandments, or any other set of rules you think God has for, as an excuse to harden your heart toward God, or you can obey them in the context of a deep, satisfying, life-giving relationship. You can allow the way you’ve reacted to somebody else’s rules jade you toward God, or you can choose to submit to all of God and all that He calls you to do.
- You can continue in frustration with God for having rules, or you can be grateful for His act of giving himself for you. It is gratitude that is a proper response toward the Ten Commandments. Obedience, yes, but grateful obedience. When we choose to keep the Sabbath and rest by not doing unnecessary work later today, we are doing so in gratitude for a relationship with Yahweh our God.
- You can choose holiness today. You can choose what Wesleyans call being made perfect in love. And don’t let the word “perfect” bog you down. What we mean is that all of our intentions and motives are driven by love. In other words, when we go and make rules and when we choose to obey them, we are doing so out of a heart compelled by God’s love for us. There is never a moment where you and I have to choose rebellion and disobedience toward God; we can always choose an obedience empowered by His Holy Spirit and driven by love. Wesleyans believe that just as God did a work of grace in you when he saved you, he wants to do a work of grace to make you holy. And he can do it today.
In a minute, we’re going to receive communion. You’ll come to the front. After you’ve taken communion, I want to make the altar available to anyone who wants to come kneel and pray. Here’s who I’m inviting.
First, if you say, “God, I’ve been hesitant to obey your rules. I’ve wanted the relationship but not the rules that come with it. There is an area of my life that I need to let you break down the walls of my heart in.” I want you to come and pray.
Second, if you say, “God, I hear the call to holiness. I hear the call to love you with all my heart and love my neighbor as myself. I believe you want me to live a holy life and that you can empower me to give everything I am completely to you in full surrender.” If that’s you, I want you to kneel and pray. God will meet you there and change your heart.
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.