1 Peter – A Holy People in a Hostile World
1 Peter 1:13-21- Sermon preached at Christ Church Dusseldorf, 17th September 2018
1 Peter 1:13-21 CCD
Leah Sharibu is from Dapchi in North West Nigeria. In February this year, she and 109 other school girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram fighters. Five were killed, but 104 were released after they agreed to become Muslims. Leah, in her father’s words, “has refused to deny Christ as her personal saviour”, and become a Muslim, and is still being held prisoner. She is 15. By now she has probably been raped many times. How many of you are in Fusion? How many of you have children in Fusion? She’s the same age as you, and your children. Never tell me that what we talk about here has nothing to do with young people.
What a serious way to start a sermon. But for many people in this world, being a Christian and living as a Christian is a serious business. It certainly is for Leah, and her family, and thousands of other Christians in Northern Nigeria. We on the other hand, and I point the finger at myself here, tend to play at being Christians- we don’t really take it seriously. That is probably why both the numbers and the leadership of the church are shifting from Europe to Africa. It wasn’t always like that: did you that in 19th century England, when someone was converted and became a Christian, it was known as “becoming serious”? Because from then on, that person took a very serious, deliberate, disciplined, intentional approach to how they lived their life.
But isn’t being a Christian supposed to be a joyful thing, not a serious thing? Well, the Christian life should be a joyful life. Last week, we thought about 1 Peter 1:6, which says “in this you greatly rejoice though for a little while you may have to suffer grief in various kinds of trials”, and verse 8 which says “you rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy”. So yes, there is great joy. But anything that is worthwhile doing- whether it is painting a picture, or getting married, or raising children, or climbing a mountain- involves both joy and seriousness. And unless you take it seriously, you can’t have the joy.
So this morning, I appeal to you to become serious. Serious about being a Christian, and serious about living as a Christian. To stop playing at being Christians, and become serious about it. Whether you’ve never been converted, and need to become a serious, or whether you are a Christian, but need to start taking it seriously. I say that because in this section of 1 Peter there are three realities that determine how a Christian behaves. They are Serious Hope, Serious Holiness, and Serious Fear. So become serious.
- Serious Hope – v13
Fix your hopes on Christ- v13b. The first thing that determines how Christians act and behave is hope, hope in Christ. In v13, Peter writes “set your hope fully on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed”. So, Christians are to pin all their hopes for the future on what God will give them when Christ returns. That means that we fix our hopes on the long-term future, not on the present or the short-term future. The things of this present world, like silver and gold, or pensions and insurance policies, or marriages and friendships, are perishable, v18. They all come to an end; they are not a stable basis for hope. But the gift of grace that God will give us when Christ returns can never perish or spoil or fade, it will last for ever.
And Peter says, fix your hopes fully on Christ, (it doesn’t always come across in translations, but that’s what he says). Not just partially, fully. Not just some of your hopes, but all of your hopes. You can enjoy some of good the things that God has put in this world, but don’t pin your hopes on them so that if can’t get them, or if you lose them, your life has no meaning, and you despair. Fix all your hope on Jesus Christ’s return in glory. And this is a command. Hope isn’t just something that sweeps over us like a wave. We have to deliberately decide to do this, to pin our hopes on Christ. But why should we do that?
Fix your hopes on Christ because of everything God has given you. Did you notice that v13 begins with the word “therefore”? There’s an old saying about the Bible: “when you see a therefore, ask what it’s there fore”. The Bible is just a string of isolated sayings; it contains arguments, and chains of reasoning, and we need to think about them and understand them. So here Peter is saying “Because of everything I’ve just said, in v3-12, you should fix your hopes on Christ”. So what we are thinking about now is the application of what we thought about last week. So let me remind you of what we saw. We saw that we have this glorious, rock solid hope- not just a feeling of hope, but something objective that we can hope for. It is a living hope, based on Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, of receiving an inheritance from God that we can’t lose. It is a joyful hope, a hope that gives us joy in the middle of the most terrible trials and sufferings. And it’s a revealed hope, not something that we worked out for ourselves, but a hope that God himself has told about in his word. Above all, this hope is something that God has already given us. Peter is not telling us to hope that one day, God might give us an inheritance if we do well enough. Peter is telling us that we have already been given this hope, this inheritance, and therefore we should pin our hopes on that. And pinning our hopes to anything else is liking trying to pin something to jelly. So how are we going to do this? Peter says:
Fix your hopes on Christ by doing some serious thinking- v13a. That phrase “preparing your minds for action”, is literally “having girded up the loins of your mind”, which is how the old King James Bible translates it. It’s a wonderful picture. In those days, men in that part of the world wore long, flowing robes, which are very comfortable in a hot climate, but get in the way if you have to do any manual work or move fast. So if you knew that you were going to dig in the fields, or that you would have to run somewhere, you would gird up your loins. You would gather you robes up, pull the bundle between your legs, and tuck it through your belt, to make something like a pair of shorts. Then you were ready to go. When I put this sermon on the church website, I will add a link to the instructions on how to do this- I’m sure it will come in useful one day (https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/how-to-gird-up-your-loins-an-illustrated-guide/ ). So that’s what Peter is saying to do with your mind: get it ready for action, ready to do some work. How do we do that? Simple: you think about everything he’s said in v3-12. You don’t just read it once, you read it over and over, and meditate on it, you get it fixed in your brain. This is what we are doing now, in this sermon: we are preparing our minds for action.
Then he says “being sober-minded”. If you are drunk, your mind is fuzzy, you can’t think straight, you can’t focus on anything. And very often, a drunk can’t take anything seriously. So a sober mind is a clear mind, a mind that takes things seriously. Being sober-minded means, for a start not drinking so much alcohol that we can’t think clearly. But it also means that we avoid clouding our mind with fuzzy thinking and mindless entertainment. It might mean getting rid of our smartphone, and not letting our children have them, if we are always flicking from site to site, and never thinking clearly.
Fixing our hopes on Christ requires hard, serious thinking. This is where living and behaving as a Christian begins: in the mind. You don’t have to be clever, just ready to think. So it is I think a mistake when Christians expect everything in churches to be “seeker sensitive”, or services to be “all age”; so that everything is light and easy, and nothing is serious or hard to understand. When we meet, we should expect to do some serious thinking, so that our thoughts are clear, our minds are ready, and we can fix our hopes on Christ. Our behaviour is to be determined by serious hope, and by…
- Serious Holiness – v14-16
What is holiness? To be holy is to be untouched and untouchable. In the Bible, to be “holy” is to be set apart and separate from other things. God is holy because he is set apart and unlike anything else. He is untouched by any stain of evil or spot of corruption. He is completely pure and clean and good. He always acts with complete integrity, in a way that is consistent with his holy character, and never deviates from that course. So when you think of holiness, think of white light, or a pure white sheet with no stains on it. And because God is untouched by evil, he is also untouchable. In the Old Testament, no one can come too close to God without being destroyed, because a holy God hates evil and corruption. So standing in God’s presence is like standing before a blazing fire. “Holiness” is what God is: his love is a holy love, his power is a holy power, his anger is a holy anger, and so on. Now look at v15.
Be holy in all that you do- v15 So the command is, bring your behaviour into line with God’s holy character. That means that Christians, God’s people, should be untouched by sin. Now in one sense, Christians are already like that. 1 Peter 1:2, says that the Spirit has “sanctified” us, or “holyfied” us, made us holy. So we are already holy, and washed clean of the stains of sin. What God wants us to do is to express that in the way we live and behave, by taking the holiness of God as our pattern. We are never going to be perfect in our behaviour, but we should be trying to rid our lives of the spots and stains of sin, so that our conduct is untouched by it, and we should be untouchable. We should react violently against temptation, and anything that threatens to stain us. That doesn’t mean that we should destroy people, only God has the right to do that. But we should hate sin as God hates, and make every effort to destroy it in ourselves. That’s part of behaving in a holy way.
And notice that Peter says that we should be holy “in all you do” or “in all things”. Maybe we think of holiness as something that belongs only to the religious part of our life, to what we do when we come to church. Maybe we think of a holy person as someone who has left the world and joined a religious order, or as someone who is a bit otherworldly and not really in touch with reality. But Peter says here that we have to be holy not just in church, but in the office, and the living room, and the kitchen, and the bedroom. We have to be holy in the way we behave towards our wife, our husband, our children, our boss, the person sitting next to us on the tram, the person driving the car in front. And notice that this is a command. I used to think that was holiness was something that would happen to me, which I should just pray for and wait to happen. I was very wrong. Peter commands us to be holy, and tune our behaviour so that it is in harmony with who God is. And that’s a serious business.
Be holy and don’t be yourself- v14 How many times have we been told “be yourself” or “follow your heart”? That usually means something like “do what you want to do and be who you want to be- follow your desires”. Yet that’s exactly what the Bible says not to do here. The readers had once been pagans, who didn’t know the truth about God, and who had lived a life centred on satisfying their desires. And although they were now Christians, and knew the truth, those desires were still there in them, and Peter knew that they might be pulled back to their old way of life, just like the Israelites sometimes longed to go back to Egypt. So he says to them and to us, don’t let your desires shape and form the way you behave. Instead obey God, even when you don’t really feel like it. Living as Christian, being holy, doesn’t start in the emotions. It begins with the mind, with clear thinking, and then with the will, with the determination to be holy even if that means saying “no” to our desires. Holiness is not measured by mystical experiences, or by how moved we feel in worship. It’s measured about our obedience to God’s law. And one of the central commands of that law is “be holy, for I am holy”.
We are to be holy because God is holy- v16 You see, what God really wants from us, his people, is what any father wants from his son: he wants us to be like him. This is a command from God’s law, from Leviticus 19:2, and it’s a reminder that life for New Testament believers will have the same structure as it did for Old Testament believers. We are in the same covenant as them, and God’s law remains our guide to how we are to live. That’s because God’s law isn’t an arbitrary list of instructions. It is an expression of who God is, an expression of his holiness.
And one of the most important things that God says to us in that law is “You shall be holy for I am holy- be holy like me”. In other words “be separate and set apart for I am separate and set apart- be like me”. That doesn’t mean that we have to join a monastery, or keep a lot of petty rules like “don’t drink” and “don’t smoke” or that we can’t mix with non-Christians. It does mean that in our day-to-day lives, we should be different, we should be separate and set apart from those around us by the way we behave. And that doesn’t apply just to an elite of Christians who have some special calling. It’s a calling to all Christians to men and women, to married and single, to adults, and young people, and children. To be holy because our God is holy. And that’s a serious business- and so it will involve serious fear.
- Serious Fear – v17-21
This is the third reality that determines how Christians live. We are told in v17: Be afraid.
And that is a command, to Christians. We are told that our behaviour should be marked by fear, fear of God. Now that sounds strange, doesn’t it? We don’t often talk about “fearing God” these days. But commands to fear God are all over the Bible. Peter isn’t talking about the sort of grovelling fear that says “God doesn’t really love me, and unless I come up to his standard of holiness, he will hate me and reject me”. He’s talking to people who have received mercy from God and have been given a glorious, guaranteed inheritance. But the merciful God who loves us more than we can possibly imagine, the God who treats us with grace and gentleness, is still a holy God, a God who hates sin, with a burning intensity that we can’t imagine. And so he is a God to be feared, not a God to be taken lightly. He is a God who could, if he wanted to, destroy us in an instant. We have to take God, and his holy presence, very seriously.
That fear should mark all of our behaviour as Christians, but one time that it should be particularly evident is, I think, when we meet together as Christians to worship this God. We gather in the presence of a holy God, and our gatherings should be marked by a holy fear. Often, we want people to have a positive experience of worship, to go away feeling uplifted, and so especially when there are children here we have “all-age” worship, we try to make everything bright and cheerful. The intentions are good; but it means that many children grow up without learning to fear God, and without ever experiencing the deep seriousness and deep joy of worshipping a holy God. Let me ask you, were you afraid when you came to church this morning? You should be, because you are here in the presence of a holy God. We should be overawed by his presence. But why and how should we fear God, not just in church, but in our every day lives? Peter gives us a couple of reasons here.
First, be afraid, because your Father doesn’t have favourites –v17a Peter says “You call on God as your Father”. And that’s right if you are a Christian. God isn’t distant and uncaring. He’s your Father, who loves you and cares for you, and you should pray to him as your Father. Just don’t mistake his love for a sort of favouritism. You see, someone might think, “I’m a Christian now, God is my Father, he loves me, and I know there are some things I shouldn’t do, but it doesn’t really matter. God’s my Dad, he’ll let me off”. Maybe you’ve thought like that yourself- that being a Christian meant that you could get away with things others couldn’t get away with. But as Peter says here, God is an impartial judge. He never lowers the bar for anyone- the standard of judgment is always his own holy character. He will not let anyone just get away with deliberately disobeying him. We should have a serious fear of him. That’s the first reason to be afraid- and there’s a second.
Be afraid, because your Father paid a great price for you –v18-20 When the people of Israel were redeemed, or ransomed, from slavery in Egypt, it was at a great price. The price of their freedom was the blood of the lambs who died in the place of the Israelite children at the first Passover. We have been redeemed from slavery to sin, from our old, empty worthless pagan life, at a much higher price. So intense was God’s burning hatred of our sin, the only price that could satisfy was the precious blood of his own, sinless, spotless Son. No higher price could have been paid. And if we think that we can go back to the “Egypt” of our old sinful life, we treat that as cheap. We are devaluing Jesus’ blood and treating his sacrifice with contempt. When we think of what Jesus went through on the cross for us, it should make us shudder with fear, when we think that that should have been us up there. This was not a trivial affair. In his great love, God had planned this billions of years before we were born, before he even created the universe, he had chosen us, and had planned to do this for our sake. Christians should behave with fear and awe- because we know what an awesome thing our salvation is. It should fill us with a deep and solemn seriousness.
So be afraid- and be confident –v21 Do you see how we’ve come full circle from v3? We have a solid, serious hope. Amazingly and wonderfully, this fear doesn’t lead it insecurity and worry. It shouldn’t make us think “Does God really love me? Will I really get my inheritance in the end?” We know that we will- because Jesus has paid the price of it, and because God raised him from the dead. If God is holy, then we can have complete confidence in him. We have a glorious hope. Not just the sort of hope that makes a bad day a bit better. But the sort of hope that has made Leah Sharibu a serious Christian
Three things should determine our behaviour as Christians: serious hope, serious holiness, serious fear. Brothers and sisters, become serious.