Follow by Email

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! 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

1 Peter, Day 2: 1 Peter 1:1-5 - What are the Elect Chosen For?


What are the Elect Chosen For?

1 Peter, Day 2


Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,  according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
- 1 Peter 1:1-5, ESV

Somehow, the NFL has managed to turn its player draft into a national entertainment spectacle. Cities now compete to host the draft like they're hosting the Super Bowl. It's kind of crazy, but it raises a good question for us as we're considering Peter's opening to his brilliant first epistle: Why do NFL teams draft players? We can look at this on two levels - what they like about a player and what they hope a player can do for their team. They may like a player's speed or size of toughness or football IQ, but they are also hoping a player can do something specific for their team: protect the quarterback, stop the run, catch long passes, stop the other teams from completing long passes, etc.

What does this have to do with 1 Peter? Well, last time, we saw that Peter tells us we are elect exiles. In other words, we are chosen by God, even as we live in a world that's not our home. We also saw why God chooses us: Because He loved us before He made us. That's foreknowledge. But what was God's purpose in choosing us? What are we chosen for?

Peter unpacks the purpose for our election in verses 2-5. The short answer is found toward the end of verse 5: "for salvation." But what exactly is salvation? What does it involve? Here. Peter names seven vital things included in our salvation:

1. The Sanctification of the Spirit: The Holy Spirit has set us apart from being ordinary people, mere flesh and blood, sinful and under condemnation, and has made us holy, made us His special people.

2. Obedience to Jesus Christ: By God's grace, our hearts are changed and we are now willing and able to obey Jesus Christ as our Lord.

3. Sprinkling with His Blood: We are forgiven by the cleansing of Jesus' blood, shed for us. We are washed clean, given a clean conscience and pure record in the eyes of God. 

4. Grace and Peace: These are really two things, but they very commonly occur together in Scripture and they go together. God gives us His undeserved favor and kindness, including peace with Him, with one another in the body of Christ, and within ourselves.

5. Born Again to a Living Hope: God's great mercy has caused us to be made spiritually alive, to be born again, or born from above. To be spiritually alive is to have a strong, living hope, for to be made spiritually alive by God's mercy is to never die again!

6. An Imperishable Inheritance: Not only will we live forever, but we will also inherit that which cannot perish, in God's eternal kingdom. Our inheritance in Christ and His kingdom is kept for us by the power of God where no one can ever disturb it.

7. Guarded through Faith: Not only is our inheritance guarded by God, but so are we. We are kept through faith - that is, as we keep trusting in Christ, we are kept in our salvation. God gives and keeps our faith, so we are secure in His hands.   

What a salvation! All of this salvation is received by faith now and is to be revealed openly on the Last Day, the great Day of the Lord, when Jesus returns. Until that time, we keep believing, hoping, waiting, and obeying!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

1 Peter, Day 1: 1 Peter 1:1-2 - Who Are We in This World?

Who Are We in This World? 

1 Peter, Day 1



Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
- 1 Peter 1:1-2, ESV

U.S. Senator Tim Scott from South Carolina is the only black Republican serving in the U.S. Senate. In his first five years in the Senate, he was stopped and questioned at least three times, his identity as a senator challenged. He was essentially asked, "Who do you think you are?" Racial profiling is ugly, but it's still an ongoing reality some people face. 

For Christians living in this world, we can often be on the receiving end of scorn and contempt. The world often looks at Christians and essentially asks, "Who do you think you are?" The world may label us as hypocrites, because we are religious and yet sinners. The world may call us intolerant haters, because we cannot approve of the things the world approves. 

What should matter to believers is not what the world says we are but what God says we are in this world. In the opening verse of 1 Peter, God calls us "elect exiles of the Dispersion." What's interesting about this title is that it's very Jewish, but it's being assigned to a mostly non-Jewish group of Christian believers. As Peter will make very clear later in his letter, this is very intentional, as believers in Jesus are the heirs of all the covenant promises and identity the Jewish people of God had under the old covenant. 

But what is this identity? "Elect" means chosen by God. If we believe in Jesus Christ, it is because God has chosen us to be His own. "Exiles" means people living in a land that is not their home. This world is just the site of our pilgrimage; our true home is with the Lord. "Of the Dispersion" means we are scattered as a people among the peoples of the earth. Rather than having a particular nation-state on earth that is ours, we are a scattered people, spread among the peoples of the world.    

How did we become this special people, the "elect exiles of the Dispersion"?  It was "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." Foreknowledge is not fore-sight, as in God looking ahead and seeing what is going to happen. It refers instead to God loving us in advance, before we were even born. It's a powerful word that tells when we were elect (before the creation of the world) and why were were elect (because God loved us). 

That's a pretty wonderful identity: Loved by God before the world began and chosen by Him in love, yet for a time living in a world that's not our home and scattered among people who are not really our people. Learning to see ourselves as we really are in the eyes of God is key to living faithfully in this crazy, fallen world. Let's not let the world define us, but let's walk in the truth of who God has made us by His grace! 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

James, Day 26: James 5:19-20 - How Should We Handle Wayward Believers?

How Should We Handle Wayward Believers?
James, Day 26


My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. - James 5:19-20, ESV

If you live long enough as a believer, you will certainly see a number of professing Christians wander away from the truth. Within the past several years, we have seen Pastor Rob Bell deny the doctrine of hell and then wander completely away from real Christianity, the late Rachel Held Evans deny core doctrines of the Christian faith, and several Christian musicians who have denied their faith and embraced the world over Christ. Beyond these celebrity Christian apostates, we probably all know people personally who have either wandered away from Christianity entirely or have denied core doctrines of the faith.

So, what should we do?

It would be easy to say it's none of our responsibility, none of our concern. It's easy to embrace the American ideology of "live and let live" and "to each his own," but that's clearly not a biblical approach.

Instead, James 5:19-20 makes it clear that we have an obligation to do what we can to restore a wandering brother or sister to the truth. How? Well, we need to pray and seek wisdom for how to best engage them. What is needed is face-to-face, life-on-life persuasion, truly speaking the truth in love.

What is required is love with caution, compassion with conviction. Very often, people either make the mistake of being too harsh and pushing the other person away or of being too soft and potentially being pulled into the lies of the person you're trying to reach in love. You need to listen and seek to understand, but so that you can counter with the truth of Scripture and the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

Sadly, too often, even the best efforts are unfruitful in restoring a wandering loved one. When this happens, we need to keep praying and looking for opportunities to speak the truth, but understand that it's not always possible to restore someone who is wandering away. We can only do what is within our power to do; we must leave the rest to the Lord. But very often, God will use the words we speak and the prayers we pray to reach the wandering ones we love in His own time. So, keep praying and keep speaking the truth in love.