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Sunday, July 7, 2019

1 Peter, Day 9: 1 Peter 2:4-10 - Who are You Made to be in Christ?

Who are You Made to be in Christ? 
1 Peter, Day 9


As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”

and

“A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

- 1 Peter 2:4-10, ESV

"Who do you think you are, anyway?" 

You might hear these words from someone if they think you're being a bit too opinionated or pushy with your point-of-view. But this is a good question for us think about. Who do we think we are? The standard Christian answer to this question is usually, "I'm a sinner." That may sound humble and biblical, but it's a very limited and distorted understanding of who we are in Christ, and it actually threatens to undermine our faith in the power of the Gospel. 

When we began looking at 1 Peter, we saw that we are "elect exiles," chosen by God and not at home in this world. Here in 1 Peter 2, Peter unpacks our identity in Christ more richly. He combines several different central images from the Old Testament to weave a powerful portrait of Christ and His people.

The image begins with the Temple, the centrally important place of worship for God's people for hundreds of years before Peter wrote this epistle. Jesus is the living stone rejected by men but chosen by God and precious. Quoting from Psalm 118, Peter says Christ is “The stone that the builders rejected, [which] has become the cornerstone,”    

So, even as Christ was rejected by the Jewish religious leaders (the builders) and was nailed to a cross by the Romans, He was - on that same cross - being made by God into the chief cornerstone of a new, living Temple. Jesus' death and resurrection, which won salvation for all of God's people, made Him the foundation stone of a new place where God is glorified - a living Temple we call "the church." 

As we come to Christ by faith, we are made into living stones - just like He is - that form the new, living Temple of God. We are joined to Christ and to one another as a new place for the display of God's glory. So, you are more than a sinner; you are a living stone in the new Temple of God.

Yet Peter says even more: Not only are we living stones, but we are also "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession." We are chosen by God, made heirs of God and priests, who together form a new holy nation, the people for God's own possession. 

What is God's purpose for us in this new identity? It is "that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light." 

If you believe in Jesus Christ, you are so much more than just a sinner. You have been called from the darkness of sin into the marvelous light of God's love and favor. You have been called to proclaim His excellencies, to worship Him as a priest, to glorify Him as a living Temple stone. That's a pretty amazing identity and a glorious purpose - so let's live it!  

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

1 Peter, Day 8: 1 Peter 2:1-3 - Do You Long for the Word of God?

Do You Long for the Word of God?
1 Peter, Day 8


So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
- 1 Peter 2:1-3, ESV

"Betcha can't eat just one!" Remember that slogan from Lay's potato chips? It's effective because it's true. It's really hard to eat just one good chip. If a chip is no good, and you get a bad taste from it, you're not really tempted to take another. You might be able to force yourself to, if you have to. But you don't really long to have another, do you?

Psalm 34:8 says, "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!" Peter picks up this verse here in 1 Peter 2, and he expands the thought in this way: If you have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, then you should long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word of God.

This is one of the key marks of being a born-again Christian. If you have been born again by the Holy Spirit, then you have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. If you are spiritually alive, you will long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word of God just as surely as a newborn infant longs for the pure nourishment of his mother's milk.

Sometimes newborn babies have trouble nursing, and they may need some coaching and encouraging. But for the most part, the instincts God has given them take over and lead them to nurse well.

New Christians may not always understand everything they read in the Bible. Not everything in the Bible is milk for newborns; some if it is meat for more mature believers. However, the appetite to know God through His word should be strong in every born again believer. If you have no real desire to know God better, to grow in your knowledge of Him through His word, you may have real cause to question whether or not you are truly born again. If the only time you open your Bible is when someone convinced you to do so, then have you really tasted and seen that the Lord is good? 

The pure milk of the Word is as necessary for young believers' growth as milk is for babies. It is the way we "grow up into salvation." Peter doesn't mean by this that we earn salvation by growing in our knowledge of the Bible. No, we are given life as a gift, but we grow up into the life we've been given by spending time in the Word. It is the Word which reveals more of Christ to us and helps us to grow in Him. Just as we were born again by the living and active word, so we grow in the Lord as we grow in His Word. 

So, taste and see that the Lord is good, and then grow up in Him through time each day in His word!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

1 Peter, Day 7: 1 Peter 1:22-25 - How Are We Born Again?

How Are We Born Again?
1 Peter, Day 7


Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for

“All flesh is like grass
    and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
    and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
- 1 Peter 1:22-25, ESV

"How did you do that?" I find myself saying that a lot lately. I have a former student of mine who is an incredibly gifted and trained artist. He shares his latest artwork on Facebook, and I comment, "Wow! How did you do that?" Then, a young man in our church is learning how to do card tricks, and he's gotten really good at some of them. So, he hears from me regularly, "How did you do that?"

But, do you know what's much, much more impressive than photo-realistic paintings or mind-blowing card tricks? A dead sinner being brought to eternal spiritual life. This is THE great miracle, the greatest and most important thing that can ever be accomplished in anyone's life, and yet God does this miraculous work every day, thousands of times, all around the world. How?

1 Peter 1 gives us a key part of the answer, when Peter says, "you have been born again . . . through the living and abiding word of God." To clarify, so we know what word he means, he says it is "the word of the Lord" and then says, "this word is the good news that was preached to you." The preaching of the Gospel, the good news found in the Word of God, is the living and abiding word by which dead sinners are made alive.

This is in keeping with what Paul says about the Gospel in Romans 1:16, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." And then later, in Romans 10:17, Paul writes, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." So, we see that the preaching of the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, and that faith comes from hearing the word of Christ.   

How does God make people born again? By the preaching of the Gospel! And yet, not everyone who hears the Gospel is born again, so what else makes the difference? Well, in John 3, Jesus tells us that we must be born of the Spirit:

"That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” - John 3:6-8, ESV

It is not the word alone nor the Spirit alone which causes people to be born again, but the word and the Spirit, working together, the Spirit giving life through the word. In fact, the work of the Holy Spirit is what makes the word of God "living and abiding." Apart from the work of the Spirit, the Bible remains a closed book and the word of God a dead letter. Yet as the Spirit breathes life into the word, and breathes life into us through the word, we who hear the word are born again. Praise God for this work that He alone can do and chooses to do in us!

Friday, June 28, 2019

1 Peter, Day 6: 1 Peter 1:13-23 - How Can We Struggle Fruitfully?

How Can We Struggle Fruitfully? 

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.
 - 1 Peter 1:13-23, ESV

Last time, we talked about the importance of a long-term perspective in investing. While a long-term perspective is important, it's not enough by itself to secure a successful investment strategy. If you had bought Kodak stock in the 1990's and committed to holding it long-term, your investment would not be worth anything today, because Kodak- along with Toys R Us and other great American companies- could not adjust to changing realities in the world and went out of business. 

In our spiritual lives, if we want to be fruitful, what do we need besides a long-term perspective? Knowing that the grace of perfection we long for will be ours when Jesus brings it to us at His glorious coming is certainly vital. The long-term perspective protects us from worldliness and false perfectionism, but we need more for an effective strategy for fruitfulness in our struggle. Thankfully, Peter tells us much of what we need:

1. Preparing mentally with the truth. Peter speaks of preparing our minds for action, of being sober-minded, and then later of not being conformed to our former ignorance. These are all terms which speak of a need to be mentally equipped for battle with a solid understanding of the truth. Believers need to be in the word, studying and understanding what God has revealed about Himself and His ways in His word. Sound doctrine and right thinking are key to fruitful Christian living.

2. Pursing the right passions. Knowing the truth should lead us to loving God and having a passion for holiness, more than a passion for the imprisoning pleasures of this world. In so many ways, our passions shape our lives even more deeply than our thoughts, for they drive what we love and what we value. We must love holiness and fear the Lord, deeply and passionately.

3. Knowing who we are and whose we are. Central to having right thoughts and right passions is constantly remembering who we are and whose we are. We are the redeemed children of God, bought by the precious blood of Jesus and belonging to Him forever. 

4. Remembering and rejoicing in how wonderful Jesus is. He is the precious Lamb of God without spot or blemish. He is our wonderful Savior and great Redeemer. We need to focus on Him.    

5. Loving one another. We are not called to live the Christian life alone, and a solo Christian life is always a frustratingly fruitless Christian life. As we strive to obey the Lord, we must love one another and be firmly committed to living life together as brothers and sisters fighting side-by-side in the struggle for fruitfulness. When God made us His own, born again by His living word, He made us part of His family. We can't honor Him without loving each other. 

These five keys - our thinking, our passions, our identity, our worship, and our community as a spiritual family - are the five essential pillars to fruitful Christian living. God has equipped us with the truth of His word and the indwelling of His Holy Spirit so we can pursue Him in these five key ways, pursuing fruitfulness for His glory together as His people. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

1 Peter, Day 5: 1 Peter 1:13-19 - What Are the Benefits of a Long-Term Perspective?

What Are the Benefits of a Long-Term Perspective?

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
- 1 Peter 1:13-19, ESV

If you listen to decent investment advisers, they will always tell you to keep a long-term perspective through the short-term ups-and-downs of the market. Whenever the stock market drops, it's easy to panic and think you've lost everything. 

On September 29, 2008, the Dow Jones fell by more than 777 points in a single day. But that's just part of the story: From October of 2007 to March of 2009, the stock market lost half of its value, with the Dow Jones falling from over 14,000 to around 6,500. People panicked. Yet today, the Dow Jones sits above 26,500, far above the level it was at before the Great Crash that began the Great Recession. Keeping a long-term perspective kept wise investors from selling off and losing.  

Of course, a long-term perspective in stock-market investing may be wise, but it's no certain guarantee of success. For Christians, we have an even better and absolutely certain long-term perspective. Jesus has guaranteed our future resurrection by His own bodily resurrection. He has promised that He is preparing a place for us in His Father's house in the New Heavens and the New Earth, and, unlike politicians and financial forecasters, He never breaks His promise.  

Peter urges us believers to "set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." To set your hope fully on one thing is to refuse to set it at all on anything else. In this case, Peter says that our hope should rest fully and exclusively on the grace that Jesus Himself will bring to us when He is revealed fully at His glorious return. 

Peter's charge is an antidote to two poisonous pills that have harmed many believers: worldliness and perfectionism. If we set our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ, that means we cannot set our hope on the passing pleasures and meaningless materialism of this present age. Worldliness is a false promise, and it cannot satisfy anyone, much less a child of God. 

But Peter's words also warn us against forms of Christian perfectionism, the idea that someone we can attain sinless perfection or complete sanctification in this life. One Christian group expresses this idea this way: "We believe that entire sanctification is that act of God, subsequent to regeneration, by which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and brought into a state of entire devotement to God, and the holy obedience of love made perfect." Besides the fact that "devotement" isn't even a real word, this concept is not a biblical concept. It is a false hope and one that leads Christians who embrace this false doctrine either to despair because they know they haven't received such grace from God or to arrogance because they think they have received it.  

Peter paints a different picture for believers: a life of struggle against sin and the passions of the flesh, a life of striving after holiness by the grace of God. In this lifelong fight, a long-term perspective is of immense value, because we know we will receive the grace of perfection when Jesus returns, and not before then. So we struggle and we live in holy fear, hating the deeds of the flesh, and looking forward in confident hope to that day when we will finally receive the grace we long for. 

When you set your hope fully on Christ, you are never disappointed, as long as you understand what He has given you now - forgiveness, adoption, security - and what He has promised to give you when He comes again - the glorious grace of sinless perfection. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

1 Peter, Day 4: 1 Peter 1:10-12 - How Are We Better Off than Angels or Prophets?

How Are We Better Off than Angels or Prophets?
1 Peter, Day 4 


Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
- 1 Peter 1:10-12, ESV

Do you sometimes get jealous of other people? Honestly, don't we all sometimes? For a pastor who knows the truth and teaches the truth, I can sometimes be very petty and materialistic. I can covet my neighbor's Corvette or Durango SRT in a heartbeat. I can also find myself wishing I were more talented, a better singer or a better artist. And then, I have times when I see other people's kids behaving perfectly or being really respectful and polite, and I can be jealous of that, too.

The "bitter root of jealousy" is so bitter partly because it blinds us to how truly blessed we are. We can miss our tremendous blessings when we're focused on what we wish we had that we see others enjoying.

Today's passage in 1 Peter gives us some great perspective: The prophets of God who wrote most of the Old Testament and then angels of God, who have such incredible power, would love to be as blessed as we are. Did you ever realize you were more blessed than angels and prophets?

The Old Testament prophets heard from God directly. They had supernatural dreams and visions and received oracles from God. Yet they knew that all of the redemptive promises in their prophecies were pointing ahead to one glorious figure, the Messiah, the Christ, God's Anointed One. And they longed to know when Christ was going to come and fulfill God's redemption for His people. They were told they were not going to see the Promised One.

Hebrews 11:39-40 puts it this way: "And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect." (ESV) "God provided something better for us." Or, as 1 Peter 1:12 puts it, "they were serving not themselves but you." Think about the privileges we enjoy: We know the Lord's Christ is Jesus of Nazareth, and we have received the blessings of all of the promises He came to fulfill. This is our salvation - the forgiveness of our sins, adoption as children of God, a new heart, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, a secure inheritance in heaven, an unshakable kingdom with King Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords.

This salvation we have received is so great that, not only did the Old Testament prophets long to see it, but the very angels of God long to look into it. The angels are the powerful warrior-messengers of God. They have power to defeat the most powerful armies in the world and were present and played key roles in every stage of God's redemption story. Yet they themselves don't receive the benefits of redemption. Angels are not forgiven; they are either fallen or unfallen. Angels are not adopted as children of God; they are only servants of God. The Gospel is good news for human beings, not for angels.

So, the next time you have a foolish bout of jealousy strike you, pull back and get some perspective: We have been so blessed that angels and prophets desire what we have received. Now, instead of being jealous, let's give thanks!   

Thursday, June 13, 2019

1 Peter, Day 3: 1 Peter 1:6-9 - What is Faith and How is it Tried?

What is Faith and How is it Tried?
1 Peter, Day 3


In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
- 1 Peter 1:6-9, ESV

If we have such great benefits in our salvation, such reason to rejoice and be glad, then why is life still so difficult? Last time, we saw that we are chosen for salvation, which includes sanctification by the Holy Spirit, obedience to Jesus Christ, cleansing from sin and guilt by the blood of Jesus, grace and peace, a living and undying hope, an imperishable inheritance, and protection through faith in Christ. Peter says, "in this you rejoice," and that certainly is a list of wonderful reasons to deeply rejoice. 

Still, life is really hard, isn't it? We don't always feel sanctified and cleansed, we don't always obey, we struggle with feeling really alive and hopeful, and we sometimes don't experience the grace and peace of the Gospel. Peter says it's happening because our priceless precious faith is being tested. So, what exactly is faith and how is it tested? 

Faith is not a subjective emotional experience; it is trust. Faith trusts God and His promises more than our eyes can see. Faith is what unites us to Christ and all His benefits. It is crucial, for it is how we law hold on the goodness of God offered to us in the Gospel. 

But lots of things can look like faith and not be faith. Easy belief is not faith. Quick assent in an emotional moment is not faith. Feeling close to God at a concert or on a retreat is not faith. Faith is trust, and trust is strengthened when it is exercised under duress. Like a precious metal purified by fire, faith only shows its real value as it is tested again and again. Such testing is not easy, and sometimes our faith wavers, as dross is burned away and we learn to cling to the Lord more closely. 

What helps us rejoice in the midst of the fire is looking up to Jesus and looking ahead to His coming again. When we look up from our circumstances, we realize He is enthroned in glory as the anchor of our souls and nothing can shake Him. When we look ahead, we realize He is indeed coming again, and every eye will see Him. On that day, our faith will be sight and it will be glorious beyond our wildest imaginations. 

So, when you find yourself in the fire, your faith being tested by affliction, remember the greatness of your salvation and what benefits you receive from Christ in the Gospel. Look to Jesus, who is seated at the Father's right hand, far above all power and authority. And look forward by faith to that day when we will see Him and rejoice in Him together!