1 Peter 1:22-25: A Devotional Commentary

Lord, every time we get a glimpse of You, our hearts are moved with a deep and unshakable feeling that there is more to this Christian life than we have yet tasted. So, if we hear You today calling us up to the next plateau, give us the boldness and courage to climb with all our hearts. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring 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 off,
But the word of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word which was preached to you.

1 Peter 1:22-25

If you have ever had the privilege of entering the vestibule of a European cathedral during the afternoon vespers when the sound of the choir was echoing from inside, then you know what it is like to be stirred with emotions that words cannot possibly express. And once you have arrived at that entryway, nothing in the world could keep you from proceeding on into the expansive sanctuary to view the sublime beauty of that sacred place. In recent weeks I have felt like the first chapter of Peter’s epistle is like the vestibule of an ancient and glorious cathedral. His introductory verses were like a profound cantata praising the Triune God who bought our freedom at infinite cost. And his celebration of our extraordinary redemption beckons us to follow him in deeper, into the inner chancel of his inspired message.

Following his initial doxology of praise, Peter turned to the implications of our salvation — the “imperatives”, as we have called them. This chapter contains four of them: four somber commands that prescribe the lifestyle of those who have been rescued. The first three, which we have already studied, were “Be hopeful” (v. 13), “Be holy” (v. 15), and “Be fearful” (v. 17). We now reach his fourth and final command of the chapter. There is another way we could organize these instructions, however. Some Bible scholars consider the first three commands to essentially be three ways of saying the same thing: “Be holy”, while the rest of the book describes what that entails, in which case we now arrive at the first and most overarching command of that list. But in any case, whether it is the culmination of four ascending stairs of God-fearing holiness, or the first and foremost description of a holy lifestyle, there is no question that the command in these verses is preeminent in Peter’s heart and mind.

Like a sparkling gem at the center of a resplendent crown, the command sits right in the middle of verse 22: “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable…” The command, of course, is to love one another, but it is surrounded in front and behind by supporting statements that provide both the means and the motivation for the instruction — the how and the why, if you will.

In the first phrase, Peter paints a picture of the starting point — the ground rules for the rest of the verse. He looks into the recent past, and states his assumptions about his audience’s history. He says to this group of believers, “You have already done something that makes you eligible for the instruction I am about to deliver.” His words start out, “Since you have…”, or in another version “Now that you have…”, which indicates that his readers have already accomplished something. They have arrived at the entrance or entered the vestibule, so to speak. So, what is it they have accomplished? They have “purified their souls by obeying the truth.”

So what does that mean? Commentaries are rather evenly divided between two basic interpretations of this phrase: some believe Peter is referring to their initial salvation, while others think he is referring to their behavior subsequent to salvation (i.e., their “sanctification”). Both interpretations have strengths and weaknesses. Some argue that this cannot apply to salvation, because that would imply that our salvation is the result of “obedience” rather than faith, which clearly contradicts the rest of Scripture. In support of this position it is noted that “obedience” was used earlier in this very chapter to refer to moral conformity to the Father’s standards (v. 14). It is also noted that the word “purified” is usually used in Scripture in reference to the ritual purification that priests and worshippers regularly participated in at the Temple (cf. Jn 11:55, Ac 21:26).

From the other perspective however, to speak of “purifying your souls” seems to imply a much deeper and more seminal act than mere ritual cleansing. It sounds like what Peter preached about in Acts 15:9 when He proclaimed that “God purified their hearts by faith” which was a clear reference to salvation. This seems to be in concord with the next verse in which he specifically mentions their new birth. But if this is the case, then how can we understand this salvation to be the result of “obedience to the truth”? To answer that, we first refer back to verse 3, where Peter proclaims that salvation is a matter of (1) God’s foreknowledge, (2) the Holy Spirit’s sanctification, (3) obedience to Jesus, and (4) sprinkling by His blood. But what kind of obedience are we talking about? Well, there seems to be a clue later in our passage. At the end of verse 25 Peter mentions God’s word, and he clarifies that “this is the word that was ‘evangelized’ to you.” In other words: the gospel. So, if I’m putting this together correctly, then what Peter appears to be saying is that they obeyed the ones who first brought the words of Jesus to them; in other words, they obeyed Jesus’ call and came to Him in faith, and as a result, their souls were purified.

But, however you interpret this opening phrase, one thing is clear: there has been a noticeable change. Something has happened in the lives of Peter’s readers, and he acknowledges the transformation. And what does he provide as the primary evidence? He points to their love for each other. He calls it “a sincere love of the brethren.” The word for sincere is the greek word anupokritos, which could literally be translated “unhypocritical”. It means “undisguised and unfaked”. Peter sees a genuineness in the fondness they express for each other. The word for “love” in this phrase is a word that is even more familiar to us. It is philadelphia, which is often translated “brotherly love.” The apostle is commending these men and women for the evident change that has emerged in their lives and has produced in them a genuine love for each other.

I believe the same thing can be said for all true believers: one of the principal hallmarks of anyone who has been born again is the desire to connect with others in the same Family. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that if such a desire is not present, it should raise suspicion about that individual’s true spiritual nature. It is only natural (in a spiritual sense) to be drawn to fellowship with others who share the same Father as you. Peter says he sees their genuine camaraderie as an indication of their purified souls, and he is evidently pleased by it. And as a human father who loves to see my own children playing happily together, I can only imagine how much it delights the Lord God when he sees his children expressing philadelphia towards each other. I suppose it’s one of his happiest sights.

But, of course, that’s not Peter’s main point here. As you will recall, this was just the entryway.

My apologies in advance for this illustration, but I can’t help but think of the scene in the original Willy Wonka movie, when Gene Wilder, with Top Hat in hand, crouches down in front of the Door at the End of the Hall, and whispers to his privileged visitors, “My dear friends, you are about to enter the nerve center to the entire Wonka factory. Inside this room, all of my dreams become realities, and some of my realities become dreams…. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, … the chocolate room.” (Yeah, such a great movie. Gotta watch that one again…)

If you hadn’t noticed, that’s Peter there with the top hat. He standing here before all of us holders of the Golden Ticket, and he’s saying, “I’m glad you’re here. I’m delighted to see the signs of true Life in your souls. I can see that you have obeyed the truth, I can see that you love each other. But I’m here to tell you, you are only standing in the entry hall; I am inviting you to the next level.”

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. (v. 22, NIV; emphasis added)

Permit me to unpack a few observations about this daunting command. The first thing that Peter’s Greek readers would have noticed, is that he used a different word for “love” than the one in the first phrase. This command uses the word agape. I’m sure anyone who is reading this study has heard many sermons on the similarities and differences between phileo and agape. I would note that sometimes the distinction between these words is overstated, as if phileo is a lower, earthly type of love, and agape is a higher, heavenly type of love. That is an inaccurate understanding. God uses both of these words to describe His love for us, and both words are used in various commands for us to love Him and each other. (See this discussion, for example.)

Nevertheless, the words are clearly not synonymous. Peter himself demonstrates the distinction, both in his conversation with Jesus (Jn 21:15ff), and in his second epistle (2 Pt 1:7). In general (without going into too much detail), suffice it to say that, phileo usually refers to a feeling of deep affection for someone, whereas agape usually refers to a self-sacrificial dedication to a person, regardless of emotional affinity. Vine defines the latter as “the deep and constant love and interest of [someone] towards [potentially] unworthy recipients.” I think a mother’s love for her child probably comes closest, on an earthly level, to exemplify what such love looks like.

But it is not just the verb itself that would have captured the attention of Peter’s readers, but the adverb that modifies it. The NIV translates it “deeply”; other versions say “earnestly” or (my favorite) “fervently”. The word literally means “stretched or strained”. If you want a vivid picture of the real meaning of this word, draw your attention to Luke 22:44. There you will encounter the Lord Jesus as he laid in the garden of Gethsemane. Listen to Luke’s description: “And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.” The word used to describe Jesus’ prayers is the same root word that Peter uses. This is the image that should be seared in our minds when we hear Peter command us to “fervently love each other”. He is calling us to “stretch ourselves out in self-sacrificial love for each other.”

And as if that’s not enough, he adds that we are to do so “from the heart.” The “heart” in Peter’s thought is a synonym for “the inner person” (3:4) and the seat of the Savior’s lordship (3:15). It is analogous to the unhypocritical genuineness with which he described our brotherly love, but it goes deeper. He is saying that this is an intense, earnest, fervent love that should be welling up from the very core of our souls and overflowing on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Perhaps you understand now what I meant when I said that Peter is charging us, challenging us, commanding us, to come up to the next level in our devotion to God and, in particular, to His children. Can anyone doubt that the words of his Savior were still ringing in Peter’s ears — the words he heard mere hours before the cross: “This is the new commandment I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (Jn 13:34)

If I could expand Peter’s charge in modern vernacular, I think it would sound something like this: “My dear friends, I see that you love each other: you are kind and considerate, you gather together every Sunday and sometimes more often than that. You take interest in each other and pray for each other and share jokes and Facebook accounts with each other. You have a genuine mutual love that the world sees and (for the most part) admires. And I commend you for it. But, as your pastor and mentor, I need to implore you: It is time to go deeper. It is time to stretch yourselves out — to strain yourselves far beyond what you ever thought possible before. It is time to lay yourselves out for your spiritual siblings in deep, genuine, Christ-like, self-sacrificial love — the kind of love that leaves scars.”

Friends, do you have any idea what it would look like if we really obeyed that command? It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? Earlier this week, as I was trying to think of an example of this type of commitment, I happened to read the words of a Navy SEAL who described the tight-knit community exhibited in his squadron. Listen to this elite warrior’s piercing words: “The last person a SEAL thinks of is himself. We value our brother next to us more than our self. We never have to cover our backs, because we know our SEAL brothers will. As a Navy SEAL, everything I do is for the sake of my brother next to me. We believe this to the very core of our being. We are trained not to think of ourselves as individuals, but as a unit. When we are on a mission, we are absolutely dedicated to ensure that every single brother gets back home. This is our number one agenda. We all have different jobs to do, but we are all there for each other. At any cost. Each one values the man next to him more than himself and is willing to die for a cause bigger than himself” (Source: Killing Kryptonite, p. 46).

So, right now, in whatever seat you are sitting as you read this, I want to ask you to lean back, and close your eyes, and just imagine what the Church of our Lord Jesus would look like if we learned to love each other like that. Imagine what your church would look like if there were one, or two, or three dozen people who had that kind of at-all-cost devotion to the spiritual welfare of those around them. Fervent. Heart-felt. Agape.

That, brothers and sisters, is what the Apostle Peter is calling us to. I don’t know about you, gang, but to me, that is deeply convicting. Because I will be the first to admit that my love is pretty far from that ideal. I have very few scars to prove my love for the brethren. Just the thought of this makes me take a deep breath and bow my head and whisper to the Lord, I really need to up my game.

But before we leave this passage, there is one last observation that I want to point out. Peter, you see, doesn’t just drop a command on us like this and walk away without providing a little motivation. If, after receiving this command, we are brash enough to ask “Why should we do this?” he doesn’t just respond, “Because I told you.” Instead, he gives us a reason, and a deeply profound one at that. Let’s read the rest of the passage again:

…Fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring 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 off,
But the word of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word which was preached to you.

I’ll have to admit, when I first studied this passage, I kept coming back to it again and again over several days, and for the life of me, I couldn’t understand how all these verses fit together. Peter seems to be bouncing from one thought to another without any connection between them. Frankly, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the Apostle might have had some age-induced dementia that side-tracked his train of thought. (It certainly happens to me a lot these days!)

But as I looked at it closer and prayerfully scrutinized it, I finally found that there is a theme that is intricately woven through this entire paragraph. If you haven’t noticed it yet, let me try to trace it out for you.

On the face of it, the motivation for the love command appears to be trivial: “Love each other fervently, because you have been born again.” Of course, we all know that once we’re born again, once we become a Christian, we are obligated to love each other. But, to be brutally honest, that “motivation” doesn’t exactly put any fire in my engine, if you know what I mean.

But, as it turns out, that’s not the real incentive that Peter is leaning upon. It is not the fact of our new birth that lights Peter’s fire. It’s the nature of that new birth. Look at those verses once more, and notice the adjectives and terms that keep coming up over and over again:

He mentions a seed that is “not perishable, but imperishable.” (These are among Peter’s favorite words. He has already used them several times in this chapter to describe the permanence and unending certainty of our inheritance and our faith.) He says this is the nature of the seed with which you were born. But he continues…

That seed is the “word of God”. That makes sense, but notice the adjectives he uses to describe that “word”. He doesn’t say the “true and holy word of God”, or “the sharp and powerful word of God”, (all of which are true). How does Peter describe it? He says the “living and enduring word of God.” Once again, he is emphasizing the eternal nature of the seed from which our lives have sprung.

Next, he underscores this comment about God’s enduring word with a quotation out of Isaiah. In this passage, Isaiah contrasts the eternally abiding word of the Lord with… what? With the temporary, fleeting mortality of flesh. Mankind is like grass, he says; all our achievements are like fast-dying flowers. We are all about to wither away and die. And that, indeed, would be our ultimate fate…

Unless…

Unless a new seed was planted in our soul. A magical seed. A miraculous seed. A seed that never dies. Peter is here proclaiming one of the most astounding realities of Christianity. A pronouncement that sounds so preposterous it borders on the mythological:

He says we… believers… have been born of immortal stock. THAT is Peter’s audacious claim. We are now eternal! We will never die! This blip of a moment on planet earth will certainly fade away like the wintery grass in my backyard. But our souls will endure forever! And THAT, Peter exclaims, makes all the difference in your relationship with other believers.

Do me a favor: the next time you gather at church or at a small group Bible study, look around the room. Look at each face. Intentionally study them. And then remind yourself that everything else in the room, everything else on this PLANET will be gone in a few hundred years. But the souls of the people that you see across the room, the true hearts of the people that you greet in the church foyer this Sunday will be standing with you, worshipping our Allmighty God, for ever and ever! We alone are the immortals! Together we are God’s children. Together we will delight in His presence. The rest of the props in this dandy little play will dissolve when the curtain falls, but the cast and the Director shall never be separated. (But, don’t let that frighten you: all the sins and selfishnesses that make some of those people so unbearable right now, will be obliterated as well!)

I don’t know about you, but that changes my perspective dramatically. This world is such a fleeting garden. For all of eternity I will be loving the Lord… and YOU… far more than I can even imagine right now. Every one of us will love each other JUST like the Lord loves us! Can you imagine the bliss of that kind of fellowship? And the revered Apostle Peter is saying, “Don’t wait for it! Enter into that type of communion now! Pour yourself out, stretch yourselves beyond the breaking point, earnestly strive to give of yourself to the point of perspiration and pain and blood for your eternal brothers and sisters. THIS is the Forever Family, and YOU have been invited in.”

Have you ever known anyone who loves like that? In my opinion, they are very rare. But I have had the privilege of experiencing a few tastes of that kind of love before.

I recall my best friend in college, Randy Lawrence. I could tell he loved me like this just from his prayers for me. When he prayed for me, he really entered into my world. He told me once that when he interceded for me, he didn’t just think of me as how I was, but he saw me as how he knew I would one day become. His love profoundly changed my life.

I think also of my good friends, Darrie and Debbie Turner. This sweet couple have been missionaries nearly all of their lives. I had the honor of serving with them in ministry for a few years. I got a front-row seat to watch how they spent themselves in their tireless commitment — not only to their own (large) family, but also to the college class in the church we attended. Darrie worked full-time in a print shop, went to school full-time at the Bible college (while Debbie home-schooled their children), and they still had time to open their home regularly for the church, and to mentor me in my early ministry years, and to pour their lives into people all around them. At the age when other people start thinking about retirement, the Turners decided to move to Uganda, to invest themselves in fervent love to yet another whole body of believers. They taught me what genuine agape looks like.

It is people like this (and a number of others) who have been my role models over the years. But sadly (and here I think you’ll have to agree with me), there are far too few of their tribe. And I say this as I look straight in the mirror because — I need to be totally honest with you: I’m not there yet either. I will admit it right now, and perhaps some of you can echo these words with me: I have been in the entry hall far too long in this regard. It’s time I enter in the Sanctuary. It’s time to raise my love to the next level. It’s time, my friends, for some serious, heart-felt agape.

So I urge you to join with me in this quest. Decide now to set aside some time this week to earnestly and prayerfully ask the Lord: what would it look like if I were to become an earnest lover of His children? What would fervent agape sound like in my conversations and my prayer life? In what ways would it transform my home, my Bible study, and my free time, if I were to embrace this command with all my heart? And then the most important question of all: Lord, how can I get to the next level?

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1 Peter 1:20-22: A Devotional Commentary

Lord, in our busy lives we tend to get so distracted by the concerns of TODAY, that we totally forget the exceptional gifts of YESTERDAY and the astounding promises of TOMORROW. Enable us today to fix our eyes on the One who fixed His heart on us.
Amen.

~~~~

For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but was manifested in these 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.

1 Peter 1:20-22

Last week we were challenged to “conduct our lives in fear” because of who God is and what He has done. Who He is: the Universal, unbiased Judge of all people. What He did: purchased us out of our enslavery to worthlessness at infinite cost to Himself. But even though we studied these things at length, we never finished reading this remarkable sentence — a fact that is hidden in most English translations, in which verse 19 wraps up with a nice little period, and verse 20 kicks off with a brand new capital letter. But that punctuation masks the flow of Peter’s original language and breaks up his climactic conclusion.

What you can’t see in the English is that the final word of v. 19 is “Christ”, and the first word in v. 20 is a verb describing him; in fact, it is the first of four verbs outlining the extraordinary arc of his redemptive work across all time and space. So our goal for today is to unpack these four verbs and let them remind us of our amazing Savior and God.

1.  He was FOREKNOWN

The first verb in this portrait is: “He was foreknown” (before the foundation of the world). Other translations say “ordained” or “chosen”, but “foreknown” is the most literal. It comes from the Greek word meaning “known beforehand”. But of course, that doesn’t mean that God merely “predicted” Christ’s coming. It’s not as if the Father looked way off into the future and said, “Well, what do you know? I see Jesus going up on a cross!” No, God knew the end of the story from the beginning the way an author knows what’s going to happen in chapter 15 even when you are just getting started on page 1. He knows because He decided. It’s what we call a “foregone conclusion”. The plan was all laid out from the beginning. The cross was not the backup strategy.

And when exactly did He know this plan? Peter spells it out: “Before the foundation of the world.” So just pause there and consider the ramifications of that statement. Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning, God created.” He made a decision at that moment to create the Universe. Nothing forced him to do this. There was no unmet need inside Him that compelled Him to create us. It’s not as if He was lonely or anything. He was never “alone”. For all eternity the three persons of the Trinity existed in perfect joy and fellowship. They needed literally and absolutely nothing.

But God chose to write Genesis 1:1. And when He did, He knew what it meant. At the very moment He spoke the cosmos into existence, He did it knowing that He was signing His own son’s death sentence. He foreknew it. When He opened his paint can and began splattering the stars across the galaxy, He knew exactly what He was in for — what His only SON was in for. He knew which rocks would form the Via Delarosa. He knew which forest would one day provide the wood for a Roman cross. His finger traced the ribbon of iron ore in the bedrock from which He knew the nails of Calvary would one day be forged.

He knew.

And He went through with it anyways.

2. He was REVEALED

Peter now brings us to the next stroke in this majestic portrait. “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was revealed in these last times.

Now, I unpack the verb in this clause, I need to point out a grammatical detail that doesn’t come across in the English very clearly. There’s two tiny little words that Peter salts this sentence with; they are called “particles” by the grammarians. In the greek they are “men” and “de”, one before the first phrase and the other before the second. These two particles are often found gluing two halves of a Greek sentence together, and there really isn’t a close English equivalent for the pair. Sometimes they highlight the contrast between two phrases (as in, “on the one hand x, but on the other hand y). But other times they connect the sentence more tightly than a regular conjunction (“both x and y). In this particular case — if I understand Peter correctly — I think they could best be translated as “Not only… but also…”

“Not only was he foreknown before the foundation of the world but was also revealed (made manifest) in these last times.”

The point Peter seems to be driving home is this: Not only did God very intentionally plan the entire redemption strategy before the beginning of time… but He also followed through. He didn’t back down when the curtain call came. He turned the spotlight on His Son and “manifested” Him when the time came to enact the death scene. And in these first two phrases, Peter emphasizes the history-spanning scope of this spectacular drama: stretching from before the “foundation of the world” all the way to these “last times” (that is, to this final age which was inaugurated at the incarnation of Christ). From the beginning to the end of time, the Messianic story occupies center stage.

Peter concludes this verse with a tiny phrase that is so  inconspicuous that we are liable to glance right past it without much thought. But when we pause to really study it, the full force of it is so overwhelming that it borders on the unbelievable.

For your sake.

In the Greek, it’s just two short  words: ”for you.” and from the structure of the sentence, it is evident that Peter means to apply this descriptive phrase to the entire verse. Now just think about the implications of that for a moment: we are accustomed to believing that whatever God does, he does for his own Glory. And rightly so, for “all things were created by Him and for Him,” as Paul reminds us (Col. 1:16). But Peter is asserting another truth here — one so astounding that it should literally take your breath away: the entirety of God’s sweeping Redemptive plan, from the Trinitarian deliberations in Heaven before the beginning of time, to the ascent of Jesus up Calvary’s hill, was, and is, all FOR YOU.

The God of all the cosmos looked down onto our sorry little lives, and He said, “Have I got something for you!” He thought it, He bought it, and He brought it about — for us. The most expensive gift in the history of the universe was addressed with our names. Have you ever heard him whisper these words to you? “I did it all for you.” This week as I pondered that, I honestly couldn’t help but protest: “No, Lord! It’s not about me! It’s not about us! We’re not the heroes in this story! It’s all about you!” And I heard his gentle response whispered through the words of this verse, “Yes. But My love, My gift, My desire is for you!  I did it all FOR YOU. Embrace it!”

Ah, but there’s the rub, no? This extraordinary gift cannot be enjoyed until it is received. And it cannot be received by those incapable of receiving it. Peter highlights this fact as he moves into the next verse. The last two words of verse 20 were “for you”. The first two words of verse 21 are “Through Him.” Peter explains that the very ability to receive this gift — the ability to “believe in God” — came through Jesus. He is saying that Jesus is not only the target and focus of our faith, but the source of it as well. Peter apparently had the same thought in mind in one of his very first sermons when he proclaimed, “It is in Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him that has given this healing” (Acts 3:16; emphasis added). Praise God! Not only does He extend an outlandish gift to us, He also provides the strength in our hands to be able to reach out and accept it!

3. He was RESURRECTED

But Peter is not done with his extraordinary portrait of the Savior. Two final verbs round out the picture. The next verb is found in the phrase, “God raised him from the dead.” For those of us who have been raised on the Easter Story since we were children, the impact of this comment may perhaps be lost on us. But just imagine what the resurrection must have meant to Peter himself. After watching his best friend get brutally tortured and executed… after suffering through days of bewildering darkness and grief… and after racing madly to the place of burial, only to find an empty hole in the ground… Peter finally saw something with his own eyes that would utterly and permanently transform his life: he saw his Lord and Savior alive. He never forgot this encounter until the day he died, and he preached it wherever he went: “God raised him from the dead.” Oh, may that cosmos-cracking reality grip our hearts every time we hear it!

4. He was GLORIFIED

And now we come to the final verbs of this profound proclamation: “and [God] glorified him” or “gave him glory.” This word “glory” is another of Peter’s favorites. He has already mentioned that the prophets of old predicted the sufferings of Christ and “the glories that would follow” (v. 11). And in a couple chapters he will remind us that “in everything God will be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” (4:11). In fact, Peter concludes his second and final epistle with a similar doxology, in which he praises “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to Whom be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Pet. 3:18) Keep in mind that Peter could be considered Jesus’ closest friend on earth — his dearest companion even amongst the disciples. I think it is fair to say that Peter likely knew Jesus better than any man alive. And if there is any question about what Peter really thought about this carpenter from Nazareth, passages like this resolve all doubt: He clearly considered Jesus as not just a normal man, not just a great Jew, or a mighty teacher and honored prophet. He considered Him the One who deserves all the glory due to God alone. And He boldly proclaims in this verse that it was God the Father Himself who bestowed that glory upon Him. This was either the greatest blasphemy a devout Jew could utter, or it was a proclamation of the deity of his Savior. What an amazing testimony!

~~~~

And so we finally come to the concluding stroke of this glorious painting. But before we look at it, I want you to ponder once more the four verbs that we have been studying, and I want to ask you this simple question: Who was the subject of each of these verbs? I asked this in a Bible study, and the first answer offered was “Jesus”. Seems obvious, right? We’ve been talking about Jesus since the beginning of this study. But in fact, that is not technically accurate. Grammatically speaking, the “subject” of the verb is the one who performs or accomplishes the action. In that sense, Jesus could be called the “object” of the verbs, but who was the “subject”? Look at them again:

He (Jesus) was foreknown before the foundation of the world.

He was revealed in these last times.

(God) raised Him from the dead…

…and gave Him glory.

So who did the foreknowing, the revealing, the raising, the glorifying? The answer, of course, is God the Father. And why is this such a significant point? Because in our last study we were told that God judges all men indiscriminately, based on their works. And Peter made it very clear that this ought to frighten us. And it absolutely should, because if I am relying on my works, even to the smallest degree, to get right with God, I have nothing to look forward to but fearful judgement. But praise God — Peter did not leave us in that hole. Instead he explains that this same God, this same holy Father, forged all time and space, bent earth and Heaven, and dedicated His own precious Son to free us and redeem us and make us holy. And so, as Peter so boldly proclaims in this final phrase, when you come to faith in Christ, your faith and hope are not in your works, they are not in your religion or philosophy, they do not rest in your great intellect or your moral discipline. No, they rest entirely in what GOD DID. “And so your faith and hope are in God” (v. 22).

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

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1 Peter 1:17-19: A Devotional Commentary

    “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your sojourn; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” (1 Peter 1:17-19)

So, it was Halloween this week and I have a confession: I didn’t get scared. Really. All the ghosts and zombies — didn’t affect me a bit. No fear this year.

Which is good because, as it happens, I’m not really big on fear. I don’t enjoy horror movies or telling “scary” stories around the campfire. Frankly, I’d be fine with removing fear from my life altogether.

But that presents a bit of a problem when it comes to the passage of Scripture we are about to look at: It’s a little scary.

For the last few studies, we have been looking at the “commands” of Peter. We have moved into the portion of his epistle filled with imperatives. And one thing I’ve noticed is that each one has gotten progressively more challenging to our Western sensitivities. The first one wasn’t bad: “Set your hope fully on the grace that is coming your way” (v. 13; loose translation). That one is pretty easy; we all like grace. The second one got significantly steeper: “Be holy in all of your behavior… because I (God) am holy” (vv 15-16). Oooh. That’s a bit tougher, but… ok, yeah I’m up for holiness.

But now we encounter a command that, on the face of it, is truly jarring. So much so that some translators have a tendency to soften it somewhat.

If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your sojourn. (v. 17)

“Live in FEAR.” What are the implications of this command? What does it really mean to “fear” God? And, for that matter, why would He want us to? Now, if you are studying this verse in a different translation, it might sound quite different than the one I just quoted. The NET version translates the word fear as “reverence”. Some translators encompass both ideas and go with “reverent fear”. Of course, it is true that the word for fear (“phobos” in the Greek) can be used both for respectful reverence and trembling terror. So what exactly did Peter have in mind? To answer that question, we must first carefully evaluate the context in order to determine the most likely interpretation.

The first thing we notice, is that this is one of those words that Peter seems rather fond of; he uses it often. As we examine the other places he employs this term, we begin to get a feel for the “semantic range” of the word:

2:17 – Honor all people, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the king.

2:18 – Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are perverse.

3:2 – Wives, [your husbands should] observe your chaste and respectful behavior.

3:6 – You become her children when you do what is good without fear.

3:14 – If you suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. But do not be terrified of them or be shaken.

3:15 – Always being ready to make a defense…for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.

As you can see, Peter really demonstrates the flexibility of this word. He uses it to describe the attitude of a wife towards her husband, a slave towards his (sometimes cruel) master, and a victim of persecution towards his fearsome oppressors. But unfortunately, while this survey is instructive, it doesn’t necessarily get us closer to determining the meaning of our verse at hand. So where do we turn next?

Clearly the “fear of God” is a concept that is pervasive throughout Scripture. It is mentioned in some form at least 300 times in the Bible. The Old Testament saints who stood at the foot of the smoking, quaking, thunderous mountain of Sinai were well aware of how terrifying the presence of God can be (cf. Heb 12:18-21). I am concerned that in our modern society we as Christians have trivialized our relationship with the Lord. We neglect to concern ourselves with his fearsome majesty. The passage of Scripture which reprimands me the most in this regard is at the end of the book of Isaiah (and, I would suggest, is best grasped if you hear it in the voice of James Earl Jones):

Thus says the Lord:
“Heaven is my throne,
   and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
   and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made,
   and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
   he who is humble and contrite in spirit
   and who trembles at my word.
Isaiah 66:1-2

Sadly, many modern-day Christians have forged the notion that the fear of God is mainly an Old Testament concept. They somehow believe that, in the New Testament, the love of God finally wins out, and we no longer have anything to fear. It doesn’t take much study to reveal that this is clearly not the case. Look, for example, at the aftermath of the Lord’s deadly judgement against Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5: “And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” Even Peter himself got a taste of the natural response to the holy presence of God when, after the miraculous catch of fish, he fell on his face and cried, “Get away from me, Lord! I’m a sinner!” (Lk 5:8), and again later when the Transfiguration of Christ (the unveiling of His true identity) reduced Peter to a trembling, babbler (Lk 9:33). The writer to the Hebrews sums it up soberingly: “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hb 10:30-31; emph. added).

So when we come to Peter’s command in this passage to live out our lives in fear, we must not be too quick to dismiss his words with a wave of our hands, relieved that the term he chose could just as easily be interpreted as “respectful reverence”. Friends, I am deeply concerned that many of us have become far too casual in our relationship to the Almighty God of the Universe. We must not forget that, in the immediately preceding context, Peter based his admonition to fear on the realization that our God is a “judge” — and an “impartial” one at that: He will judge every man on the exact same criteria (v. 17). We trivialize this fearsome warning at our own peril.

This of course does not diminish the fact that God’s love and mercy has been celebrated vividly in the entire first half of this very chapter. He is our loving Father, and we are His adoring children, and Peter is the first to embrace that delightful reality. But when it comes to our relationship to God, we must never forget that love and fear are inextricably intertwined.

My dog seems to understand this concept. My dog loves me. When I come home in the evenings, he welcomes me with a body-wagging enthusiasm that borders on worship. He truly delights to be in my presence, and his love is as genuine as it is heartwarming. But make no mistake: My dog fears me. He knows that I have the power to crush him. Though I don’t recall ever swatting him in discipline, he knows that I could; he knows that I am far bigger and stronger than he is, and he jumps at my command. Such fear doesn’t diminish his love; it energizes it. In fact, in some remarkable way, his fear of me draws him closer to me, not farther away.

~~~~

I have reason to believe that Peter is thinking something along the same lines. In fact, I think he says as much in the second half of his sentence. (Don’t let the verse break between verses 17 and 18 hide the fact that this is one unbroken sentence. There is a critical connection between both clauses). A fair translation of his words might be “Live your lives in fear, because you know.…” And then, in the second half, Peter presents the ultimate reason and motivation for the fear that he prescribed in the first half.

…Because you know that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. (v. 18)

“You were … redeemed.”

There is a story I heard long ago — anecdotal, I’m sure, but deeply stirring nonetheless. It is the story of an auction that took place in an old western town. The men of the town were gathered around a small makeshift stage in the center of town, and slaves were being brought forward, one by one, in chains or ropes, to be perused and purchased by the unruly crowd. The final slave to be offered was a young woman. The recalcitrant audience came alive at this point — hooting and whistling, shouting out all the things they would do with her if they could purchase her. The bidding escalated swiftly: 25, 50, 75 gold pieces were offered. But at that moment, a voice rang out that nobody had heard before. A stranger from out of town called out from the back of the throng.

“I’ll take her,” he said, plainly.

The gavel-wielding auctioneer squinted his eyes at the stranger. “Is that so?” he asked, suspiciously. “Do you have any money to back your wish?”

The stranger reached into his coat and pulled out a bag. “I’ve got 400 gold coins in this bag. I reckon that’ll be enough.”

The raucous jeers grew louder now, but the crowd parted and let him approach the platform. The slave woman scowled at him as he drew near. Her hands were tied behind her back, and a rope-leash was used to guide her.

The man took her from the platform and led her across the street to a small windowed office. She fought and resisted, growling with resentment the entire way. “You’re disgusting!” she sneered. “I hate you! You’re filth, do you know that?” He ignored her, fastened her rope to a hitching post, and disappeared into the office. A few moments later he returned and began to untie her ropes. “Get away from me!” she yelled, and then she spit in his face. The man paused for a moment, calmly reached up and wiped his cheek, and then proceeded to untie her. When he was done, he took a piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to her.

“What’s this?” she murmured.

“That’s your emancipation papers ma’am,” he said.

“My what? What are you talking about?”

“It means you’re free to go, ma’am. It’s all right there in the document. You’ve been redeemed.” And with that, the man turned and began to walk away. The woman crouched down, clutching  the paper with both hands and began to cry.

“Wait!” she called a moment later, her voice cracked with tears. The man stopped and turned around. She ran up to him and fell at his knees.

“I don’t know why you did this,” she cried. “But I have never known a man like you before. Please don’t leave me! Take me with you. I will serve you wherever you go!”

That, my friends, is literally what Greek the word for “redeemed” means: purchased out of slavery. And I think that is such a compelling picture of what our Savior did for us: lovingly, sacrificially paying the price so that we could finally be free.

But there is something particular about this passage in Peter that radically changes the analogy, and makes this old Western story pale by comparison. Did you see it? Look again: Peter reminds us that our Lord did not redeem us with the paltry ransom price of gold and silver. He paid with something far more precious.

As I was contemplating this price over the last few days, it occurred to me that Peter was one of those few privileged souls who was permitted to witness redemption on both sides of the Cross. I imagine there were many times as a child when he would travel with his family to Jerusalem for the annual festivals. There he would have had a front row seat to watch as lambs were ushered to their sacrificial death. What a sight it must have been! I can’t help but believe that thoughtful Jews must have often questioned why these animals had to die on their behalf. I can imagine young Simon noticing how beautiful these little lambs were: not a mark on them, not a flaw in their wool, not the slightest wound or scar — the very picture of innocence! Slitting their throats must have seemed so heartless and cruel. Why can’t we just kill the ones that are wounded or worthless?

But then there was the day when Peter stood at the foot of the Cross — perhaps not that exact day, but sometime soon thereafter — and it all suddenly dawned on him: This is the Lamb. God’s Lamb. All those other lambs had to be spotless and perfect because HE is. They all pointed to Him, to the truly Innocent One. And from that day onward, Peter never lost sight of how exceptionally precious the blood was that puddled on Calvary’s dry soil.

My friends, when we ponder that moment deeply we finally realize what should terrify us more than anything: the thought of dismissing the price of our redemption. I can tell you with all honesty that I am not afraid of punishment. I am not afraid of God’s judgement. But I am terribly afraid of living in such a way as to demonstrate that I don’t consider the blood of my savior precious. That’s why I live in fear: not just that I fear God, but I fear myself — because I know the sin I am capable of. And I don’t want anything to do with it.

This comes out even more poignantly when you notice another detail that Peter points out. Look back at verse 18 and ask yourself: what exactly did Christ redeem us from? It doesn’t say He redeemed us from sin, or Hell, or judgement (although, of course, all those things are true as well and proclaimed in other Scriptures). It says He redeemed us from “the empty/meaningless/broken way of life handed down from our fathers.” Remember what we studied last time: about our broken “wanters” — the broken, defective desires that we were formerly enslaved to. That’s what Jesus’ blood freed us from: those worthless, meaningless, joyless lives. And so, every time I succumb to the temptation to return to those old desires, I am essentially saying that my Lord’s blood doesn’t mean much to me. When I choose those worthless ways over holiness, I am trampling on the Savior’s blood and calling it valueless.

Nothing scares me more than the thought of living my life so flippantly, so casually, so mindlessly, that I lose sight of the infinite price that my Lord Jesus paid to buy me off of that auction block. And that, if I understand him correctly, is exactly what Peter meant when he challenged us to “live our lives in fear, because we know what our redemption cost.”

~~~~

The fear of God may not be a popular topic in today’s Christian culture, but it is an essential aspect of the believer’s life. I challenge you to cultivate not just a polite respect or casual reverence for the Lord, but a deep and abiding awe and a trembling worship before the Almighty Creator of the constellations. Not only because he is the holy judge of all men, but also because he is the Blessed purchaser of our redemption.

There is an amazing verse in the Old Testament  that combines these two thoughts together in a profound and mysterious way.

If you, O Lord, kept record of sins,
  O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
   that you may be feared. (Ps 130:3-4)

The Judge of our souls could in a moment crush us. If He held our sins against us, we would truly be without hope. But what brings true fear to our hearts is His extraordinary forgiveness. Lord, let me never forget either side of that equation.

And before I leave this topic, I can’t help but quote one of my most favorite dialogs in all of English literature. It is the famous exchange between the children who visited Narnia when they were first told of Aslan, the great King of the land. The picture these words paint bring me to tears every time I read them to my children, because I know of Whom they really speak.

“Is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr Beaver sternly. Certainly not. I tell you he is King of the wood and the son of the great emperor-beyond- the-sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake” said Mrs Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe… But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Lord, You alone are King. May we never cease to praise You for being fearful… and good.

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1 Peter 1:14-16: A Devotional Commentary

Lord, I suppose there are few things that are more dangerous in terms of Christian ministry than to deign to teach or preach about Holiness. I may be able to speak about it and expound upon it from the Word, but I am just as vulnerable as any of my fellow students to violating it; perhaps more so. Father, I pray for all of us: open our eyes as we study Your Holy Word, and give us the weapons we need to wage war upon the enemy’s onslaughts against the holiness of our hearts. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

Therefore,… 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.”

Read that passage again, but stop and ponder the first word. “Therefore.” We are entering into a section of this book which is filled with commands from God — instructions on being holy and so forth. This marks a change from where we have been. Those of you who have been studying with us up till now will recall that the last twelve verses constituted one long, extraordinary sentence celebrating the extravagant and inexplicable grace and mercy of God multiplied to His honored children. It is precisely at that point that Peter says “Therefore.”

It is so important that you never forget this principle: The commands of God always come AFTER a “therefore”. God never comes to us and says “Be good!” He always comes to us and says “I AM good… and good to YOU. Therefore… be good!” We could never attain the second, except for the gracious gift of the first. Please hold this close to your heart. Our behavior — our conduct in this life — is never to win His favor. Our lives are simply meant to be one long Thank-You note for His love.

So what should that thank-you note look like? This passage has a couple specific instructions in that regard. And, as I said before, they take the form of commands. In fact, we essentially have two imperatives in these verses. One is a “Thou shalt not”, and the other is a “Thou shalt.” He starts with the negative one in verse 14 and moves on to the positive one in verses 15 and 16.

~~~~

Verse 14: “As obedient children…” Note that he does not say, “As obedient slaves” or “As obedient prisoners.” This isn’t a forced labor camp he is inviting us to. He chooses the word “children” to remind us of the incredible relationship that He Himself initiated when He “begot” us into His family (v.3) and bequeathed to us a family “inheritance” (v.4). He is saying, now that we are children, with a new Father, we should be like kids who “just want to be like dad”.

And from that warm and enticing starting point, he turns to the heart of the matter. He says, “Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.” Other translations have “do not comply with the former lusts, as in your ignorance.” The word translated “passion” or “lust” is the word epithumias. It literally means “desire”. It is used in Scripture in regard to both wholesome desires and evil desires. Peter uses this word frequently, but he usually modifies it with adjectives like “evil”, or “fleshly”, or “human”. Here in our passage, he simply describes them as your “former” desires — the ones you had when you lived in ignorance.

It is critical to understand that when God begins to work on your spiritual life, he starts by dealing with your “wants”. He is saying that when you lived in ignorance, your “wanter” was broken. That part of you that desired things, that part of your mind that wanted this or that — that part was defective. When God builds a Christian, He starts by fixing your wanter. There was  a group of men who were studying this passage with me, and I asked them. What do you think was principally wrong with our former desires — our “wants”? They thought for a moment and responded that they were usually selfish (or perhaps always selfish), and that they were “unholy”. Now, certainly those statements are all true. But examine this verse closer: how does Peter characterize these desires? He tells us that they are characterized by “ignorance”. Our wanters were defective because they were ignorant — they simply didn’t get it. And all too often we still don’t. When we struggle with sin, we are struggling with broken desire.

John Eldredge, in one of his recent podcasts, spoke about the meaning and character of sin, and he described it as not primarily an issue of behavior. He explains that sin is all about “where you look for life apart from God.” The fundamental problem with our ignorant wanters, is that we think that we can find joy, or life, or fulfillment elsewhere than God. That’s the true nature of idolatry. And I think that is what Peter is talking about. He is saying that before we were Christians, we were ignorant: we simply didn’t know God, we didn’t know where true life is found, we didn’t know what our hearts truly desired or how they could be truly fulfilled. We were ignorant. We didn’t know or understand true value.

John Piper calls this “the fallacy of the nickel”. Have you ever held your hand out to a young child and showed them a dime and a nickel and asked them, “Which one do you want?” That child, not knowing true value, invariably looks at those two coins and says, “Oooh! I want the big one!” That big shiny nickel — that’s got to be the best one. Well that’s us too, guys. We don’t know what’s truly valuable. Our wanters are broken. We crave the nickel, and God says, “You just don’t understand.”

But, unfortunately, that’s not the only problem with our desires. It’s not just that they are broken and ignorant, but the desires are corruptive. They can actually deform us. Look at Peter’s instruction again; he says, “Do not be conformed to the former lusts of your ignorance.” That’s a very poignant word that he chooses here, and it’s only used one other time in Scripture. The word “conformed” literally means “to be shaped or formed into a pattern or mold.” When we got to this word during our Bible study at work, I pulled out a small tub of children’s play-doh. In it I had a model of a little brain which I had made beforehand. (I’m kind of a play-doh master, if you want to know the truth.) So, I held up the brain and I said, “Gentlemen, this is your ‘wanter’.” And then I pulled out a medicine bottle and removed the cap. I explained that this cap represents all your desires, the things you want — all of the sedatives or stimulants, the things that have a tendency to intoxicate your soul. The biggest problem with our wants besides being ignorant, according to Peter, is that they can actually re-form our brain. (And here I took the bottle cap and pressed it firmly into the brain, squishing it down until the brain took on the exact shape of the cap.) “This,” I explained, “is what it means to be conformed to a mold.” The picture here is of a constant force, bearing down on us, trying to shape us, trying to deform us. And Peter says, it is our job to earnestly and unceasingly resist.

I mentioned that there is only one other place in Scripture where this word is used. You probably know which verse I am referring to. It is Romans 12:1, and Paul uses it there with the same thought in mind when he says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be renewed by the transforming of our minds.” Do not be shaped by the relentless forces that are bearing down on us. Resist them. Push back. Fight for your life. This is a wrestling match and our opponent wants to pin us to the mat. Actually, worse: he wants to permanently re-shape our brains. He wants to conform them and mold them. See, that’s your problem: you’ve got a moldy brain.

~~~~

Now we move to the positive side of the command. The “Thou shalt.”

Verses 15-16, “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behavior, because it is written, ‘You shall be holy because I am holy’.

Now, before I get to the Big Word in this passage, I want to focus in on a little word that you probably didn’t even notice. It’s the word “behavior”. It is sometimes translated “conduct” or “way of life”. This is a very important word to Peter. In fact, it is one of his favorites. He uses it all the time. He actually uses it more in his two letters than all of the other writers of the New Testament combined. If you color and scribble in your Bible the way I love to do, and you underline all the places where this word is used, you’re going to see it all over this page and the next. You see, Peter is a man of action. He was just a simple fisherman, after all. He doesn’t really care much about all your lofty theology. He’s not interested in your spiritual-sounding words and your good intentions. For Peter, it’s all about what you do. Holiness — true godliness — is manifested in what you DO when you go to work in the morning, and what you DO when you get home at night. It is about what you DO when you are alone in your car or alone in your living room. Yes, the spiritual life starts with reshaping our “wants”, but it’s not complete until it reshapes our actions.

And our actions, Peters says in bold capital letters, should, above all, be HOLY. So what does “Holy” mean? You have probably heard it said that the word Holy means “set apart.” And that is true, but that deserves some unpacking. Holiness is a concept that is threaded all through the Old Testament. Indeed, the verse Peter is quoting here is mentioned word for word in at least three places in Leviticus alone. (Lev 11:44, 19:2, and 20:7). The term holiness was applied to all sorts of things back in the olden days. The people were to be “holy”, the instruments in the temple were “holy”, even the priest’s garments had to be “holy.” In all of these cases, this “holiness” idea — this “set-apartness” — had two aspects: first, they were to be different, and then they were to be dedicated to God. Another way of saying this is that all of these people and things and temple artifacts were to be separate from everything else, and surrendered to God’s purposes.

In other words, they were supposed to be weird.

Recently in church, I walked up to one of my friends whom I really respect but hadn’t seen in a while, and I said, “Dude, you’re weird! And I’m serious. And I mean that as a compliment.” And then I walked away. (Yeah, you’re glad you’re not one of my friends, right?) The next week he tracked me down after church and said, “Kevin, what did you mean by that comment last week?” So I explained, “You are not like everyone else. You’re different. You’re not afraid to pray for somebody in the hallway. You’re not afraid to share the gospel with strangers on the street. You don’t care what people think about you. That makes you weird, dude. And I love that about you. I want to be more like you.”

Holiness is weird, friends. Deal with it. It separates us from the rest of the world and makes us different. But it is a difference for a purpose. We are to be different so that we can be put to use by God. We are set apart for God.

But there is another facet of holiness, as it is used in the Old Testament, that I want you to key in on. We’ve been looking at holiness as it applies to people and things. But, of course, this is just a “derivative” holiness, so to speak. The true meaning of holiness — its source and fullest expression — is the character of God Himself. So what do we mean when we say that God is “holy”?

Well, we could turn to our earlier definition and say that He is “different”. That is certainly true: He is separated from everything else in heaven and on earth. He is absolutely unique and set apart. But when we get to the second part of our definition we run into a little problem. We say He is “dedicated to…” what? There is nothing higher than Him to be dedicated to. He is the pinnacle, the highest, the absolutely perfect. What is His separateness… for?

And of course, the answer must be: Himself. He is dedicated to all that is good, and all that is good is HIM. And so He is rightly and appropriately committed to the glory and triumphant display of all that He is. In fact, that is what the true definition of holiness is. Piper defines it as “the absolute perfection and value of God.” He is the supremely valuable One. He is the crowning personification of perfection. He is HOLY.

And now, do you see it? We have come full circle: We started by saying that our broken wanters did not see true value. And now we have come to the conclusion that GOD HIMSELF is the very One who DEFINES true value. He IS the highest value in life and history and the universe. And so as we look to Him, and gaze upon Him, and bury our faces in the folds of His garments, it is then that we begin to want — to truly want in the very core of our souls — to be LIKE Him. When we finally see Him, all our crummy nickels become dead weight in our pockets — worse than worthless. Our wanters are finally transformed and we begin to crave His beautiful holiness, and yearn to reflect it in our hearts.

That, dear believers, is the true story of what God is doing in our hearts. He is not forcing us with whips and threats to conform to some unattainable standard of morality. He is reaching down with the tender touch of a loving father, and gently lifting our chins so that we can look into His glorious face, and He is saying, “You are mine!” And with those words and that revelation, we look with awe into the very eyes of the one who is thrice-Holy, and we cry out: “I want to be just like you, daddy! I want to be just like YOU!”

And so the great and ironic mystery that confounds the angels and prophets and saints is that this One — this One who is eternally and manifestly Set Apart from all else in the universe — this holy God actually invites us into His separateness. He bridges the infinite divide and draws us into unity with His majesty. Into familial likeness. Into His very holiness.

And if that doesn’t fix your wanter, my friends, I am afraid nothing will.

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A View From the Edge of Heaven

starry-night

“Raphael, there you go again! Always standing at the brink!”

“Ah, Yuriel, I can never get over the view from here! You can see all of creation from this spot.”

“All of creation? Not hardly! All you can see from there is that little playground the Creator made. What’s it called again?”

“The ‘Universe’.”

“Yes, that’s it.”

“Ahh, but it’s so magnificent, isn’t it? And it does seem to be one of His favorites, after all.”

“Hmm. Well, I suppose it has been a while since I’ve taken a look that way. So. Show me what you are staring at so intently down there.”

“I’m looking at that little galaxy over there. Do you see it? I think something important is going on.”

“Raphael, there are literally billions of galaxies out there. You’re going to have to be more specific.”

“Heh-heh. I guess you’re right. Well, it’s hard to describe, actually. It’s that milky white one over th– Wait! Look! The captain has just dispatched one of our squadrons — they are exiting out through our gates over there on the right. Just keep your eyes on them. They’ll show you the way. Dispatches have been going out all morning and all of them are travelling to the same spot. If you watch them for a moment, unless I miss my guess, you will see them head straight to the galaxy I’ve been studying.”

“Wow, Raphael. That’s not just a squadron. That looks like an entire battalion! I think you are right — something important definitely seems to be stirring. They’re off now. My, it’s difficult to keep my eyes on them. They certainly are fast, aren’t they? Oh, I see now. They are headed over — wait! They are travelling to that galaxy?”

“Yes. Troops have been headed there all morning. Do you know the place?”

“Know the place? I’ve been there! That’s the place we call the ‘stain’. Selaphiel and I were posted there on an assignment ages ago. There is a tiny little dustball in that particular galaxy — it’s called ‘Dirt’ or ‘Earth’ or something like that. A horrid speck of a place. It’s crawling with little germs they call ‘people’. Such a nasty rabble. Worst post I’ve ever had, to tell you the truth. I was thankful when it was done. I’ll tell you, Raphael, that little stain is the filthiest place in all of creation. They must be sending a cleanup crew down there to finally wipe that planet clean. And none too soon, I’ll tell you. I’m surprised they’ve waited this long.”

“Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, Yuriel, but I’m afraid that is not what’s going on.”

“It’s not? How do you know?”

“Like I said, I’ve been keeping my eye on this place for some time now.”

“Have you, now? Whatever for?”

“Well, it’s been said (and I have this on very good authority), that His Royal Highness has — (come over here, so I can whisper this) — His Majesty has grown particularly fond of that little ‘speck’, as you call it.”

“What?! Why that’s prepostorous! That gritball is the most despicable and vile spot imaginable! The King wouldn’t be caught dead there (if you will pardon such an unspeakable expression).”

“Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous. But it’s true. Gabriel himself was sent there not too long ago.”

“The Captain of the Guard? Down to the speck? What business could he possibly have down there?”

“I understand he was sent there with an urgent communiqué for one of the inhabitants of that place.”

“A message for the stain-people? What did it say?”

“Oh it was all top secret, of course. Strictest levels of security. But I am fairly certain the message originated from the highest levels.”

“Is that so? What makes you so sure?”

“Well, ever since I first noticed the heightened activity down there, I was eager to find out more. (I long to look into these things, you know.) So anyway, a short time ago  I began scouring the communication logs (don’t let on about this, now, will you?); I was studying the old archives, reading every message I could find that was ever sent down there.”

“You had clearance for this?”

“Well, here’s the thing: there has been a whole chain of communication that was sent down there without any security locks. Some of the messages were lightly encrypted, of course, but with a bit of cross-referencing it wasn’t difficult to work out the gist of the content.”

“And what did you uncover? Warnings of coming judgement, I’ve no doubt.”

“Indeed, many of the messages were of that sort. But not all. Here — take a look for yourself. I’ve got a copy of one of them right here.”

“Let me see that. Hmm. ‘For unto us a Child is born; Unto us a Son is given. And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end’.”

“Astounding, isn’t it?”

“Raphael, that’s, … well, I’m speechless. I can hardly believe it. These titles — why they seem to be speaking of the Royal Highness Himself. Are you certain this is a genuine message?”

“It’s straight from the Top. It was clearly designated as a Word from the Lord.”

“But how can that be? ‘A child’, it says ; a ‘Prince of Peace’, an un-ending kingdom. Who could it be speaking about?”

“I wish I knew. If only we had more informa– Wait a moment! Look: There’s more commotion going on at the gate.”

“Another dispatch.”

“Yes, and it is the largest one yet. Do you recognize anyone among them?”

“Well, let me see. They don’t have any weapons, so it is not the infantry. I think it might be — Oh my!

“What? What is it, Yuriel?”

“It’s the Royal Color Guard!”

“What? Why, they are only dispatched when the Majesty Himself is accompanying them.”

“Yes — the personal regiment of His Majesty’s Only Begotten Son. But I don’t see Him among them.”

“Well, I’m not surprised about that. No one has seen him anywhere — ever since Gabriel took that top secret message that I told you about.”

“This mystery grows deeper every moment.”

“Look, Yuriel! There’s more troops deploying now — at the rear of the guard.”

“No, Raphael, those are not troops.”

“They’re not? Who then?”

“It is the Royal Vocal Ensemble.”

“A choir? What on earth are they needed for?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. I wish I could get a closer look.”

“Here, I can help with that. Let me zoom in. There. That’s better. Look, you can see it now: the deployments all seem to be congregating in that one valley down there.”

“Hmm, yes. I can see a small building… and animals. (Ahh! The animals! The only unstained creatures on the planet, dear things!)”

“There are people, as well. I can see two of them…Wait… no. Do you see what I see? There’s a third one with them — he is much smaller than the others. Do you see him, Yuriel? … Yuriel, what — what are you doing?”

“Get… get on your knees, Raphael. Do you not see what is happening? Do you not hear the holy choir singing even now, calling all of Heaven to give Him glory? Do you not recognize His Royal Higness?”

“Do you mean — our Creator? That’s Him? But how could… why would He…?”

“Hush, Rafael! I cannot answer your questions. All I know is … our Great High King is there. And He… He is a child. Bow, Rafael. Bow lower than you have ever bowed before. And give Him glory…. Glory in the Highest!”

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Lessons from the Transmission

pushing-car2I’m no car genius, but I know when something’s wrong. My first thought was that my ’97 4-Runner had just lost its transmission, on a cold and snowy day miles from home. Thankfully, something else entirely was going on. Something I’m still chuckling about.

So I was out doing errands around town. The parking lot I was in was quite icy (and, as it happens, my car was a little more cluttered than normal, due to the paperwork from all my errands). Anyways, I climb into my car, put it into gear, and begin to pull forward – slowly at first out of caution for the ice. Once I got it rolling, I proceeded to give the engine more gas, but I was surprised that the car didn’t accelerate. I gave it even more gas, and still the car just crept along slowly. I figured the ice must be more slippery than I had realized, so I put it into four-wheel drive. That didn’t help at all, and now my car was slowing to a stop. I was starting to fear the worst. “This is either really slick ice,” I thought to myself, “or else I’m going to have a whopper of a transmission bill.” I said a quick prayer, and thought about my options. It occurred to me that maybe if I put it into a lower gear, I might somehow get more traction, so I reached to the automatic gear shifter, intending to switch from drive to low gear. It was then that I realized my mistake.

As it turns out, the clutter in my car had hidden the fact that the gear shifter had been in neutral the whole time! The only reason the car had pulled forward at all was the fact that the parking lot just happened to be sloped gently in the direction I had wanted to go. As soon as I pulled the shifter from neutral to drive, my car’s behavior returned to normal. I laughed out loud and thanked the Lord for answering my prayer so quickly.

Well, after the embarassment wore off, a new realization dawned on me: I can have all the power of a 183 horsepower engine, but if my drive-shaft isn’t engaged with the power source: I ain’t movin’ unless I’m just drifting.

Reflecting on this, I couldn’t help but ask myself: how much of my life is lived in neutral? I’m trying to make headway, I’m gunning the engine and pounding the steering wheel and not getting anywhere. I’m stressed out with obligations and responsibilities and fears of inadequacy, and I just can’t seem to get out of the driveway. I complain to the Lord and say, “God, what’s wrong? Why aren’t you helping me? I’m trying so hard and I’m getting nowhere! Where are You?”

And the Lord chuckles to Himself and says, “I’m here, child. I’m all here. I’m ready to help. My power is unlimited and it is completely available to you. The question is, Where are you?”

This humbling little parking lot episode was just a reminder that I need to be engaged with the Power Source. My drive-train needs to be tightly coupled with the One who is my life. But if I let my soul get so cluttered with “stuff from all my errands” I will be blind to the fact that I’ve lost that connection. I think perhaps it was that kind of blindness that Paul was concerned about when he said to his friends in Ephesus,

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, in order that you may KNOW…  the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe — that extraordinary power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.” (Eph 1:18-20)

So, if you find yourself spinning and sweating and stressed out this busy Christmas season, I encourage you to take some time to inspect the transmission of your soul and revitalize your connection with the Savior. And, in the words of that great philosopher, Captain Jean-Luc Picard,

“Engage!”

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The Bible Tells Me So?

stanley

I was recently alerted to a blog post about Andy Stanley, a well-known pastor and one whom I have a great deal of respect for. The blog implied that Pastor Stanley is turning to liberalism, and suggested that he has begun to cast doubts on the reliability of the Bible.  The blog pointed in particular to a sermon entitled “The Bible Told Me So” (available here). I decided to reserve judgement about the matter until I had listened to the sermon for myself. What follows is my response.

After a short introduction, Stanley launches into a message (which he cautions his audience to listen to very carefully so as not to misconstrue his words), and he begins with an admittedly provocative statement (“our problems began with the Jesus Loves Me song”). What follows were some words that will surely raise your eyebrows if you are a conservative Christian as I am. I hesitate to summarize his message for fear of mis-quoting him (and I invite you to listen for yourself), but essentially what I understood him to say is essentially this: A lot of Christians have left the faith (“de-converted”) not because somebody proved to them that God wasn’t real, but because somebody unsettled them with “evidence” that some of the verses in the Bible have mistakes. And because these Christians had been taught to “rely on the Bible because it is inspired”, the possiblity of a mistake in the Bible undermined its authority in their life, and therefore undermined their belief in God. The introduction of a doubt in Inerrancy became, for these Christians, as consequential as a crack in the foundation of mighty dam — everything crumbled.

Now I will admit that I found some of Andy’s words slightly unsettling. A few of his points seemed to be intentionally provocative, and perhaps overly so. A casual listener might led astray (which, of coure, was why he warned his audience from the outset NOT to listen casually). Perhaps an argument could be made that he should have been a little more careful in what he was saying. But the assertion in the critic’s blog post was that Stanley was using age-old arguments right out of the liberal’s playbook. Is that accurate?

I don’t think so.

The careful listener will notice that Stanley spends the second half of his sermon powerfully arguing for the reliability and historicity of the Bible (and favorably recommending a book by an extremely conservative apologist). He also asserts that the scribal copyists of the original manuscripts were “username-and-password careful”, and that the modern editors of Scripture keep no secrets about the uncertainty of certain fragments of the manuscripts.

And then Stanley lays down one of the central principles of his argument. He asserts that the early Christian scribes treasured the manuscripts that they were copying NOT because they believed them to be “inspired”, but because they believed them to be TRUE.

If I understand him correctly, the point that Stanley is making is this: our evangelistic apologetics must not rest on the presumed inspiration of the Bible (“the Bible says it and that settles it”). That is backwards and it won’t be effective. How do I know the Bible is inspired? Because it claims to be? (That’s circular logic, and unpersuasive.) No. Our faith must rest on historical fact FIRST, and then go on to reliability in the Bible.

Now, that might be a troubling statement for some, but let me try to unpack it, because it expresses what I believe too.

I believe the Bible because (and I’m speaking for myself now, not for Stanley, but I think this reflects his message too) … I believe the Bible because I am convinced (for a whole host of reasons) that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical EVENT. It is that EVENT that validates the person of Jesus. And by extension it validates his WORDS. And because his words indicated that he had confidence in the Scriptures, it validates those as well. And therefore, in my evangelism and in my own personal faith, I don’t start with the assumption of inspiration and thereby reach the conclusion that the Bible is true. My faith begins with an empty tomb and a historical death-to-life event, and that event by implication, leads me to the conviction that the Bible is reliable and trustworthy. And because this book that I now consider trustworthy CLAIMS to also be infallible, I am led to the conviction that indeed it is. And now, like a child who slowly transfers faith in his parents to faith in his parents God, I have now transfered my faith from a belief in an Event to a conviction of an inerrant Bible.

What Andy is saying (in his characteristically powerful and compelling way) is this: if we try to reason the other way around, we will lose our children, because once they leave our home and their belief in the accuracy of the Bible is shaken by non-christian professors, their faith in God will be shaken as well. And if we insist on telling non-believers that Jesus loves them because the Bible tells me so, they will walk away un-persuaded, because that is not how the Apostles and original evangelists persuaded people.

Is Andy Stanley going liberal? I can’t tell you. I don’t know him personally. If you have any question about that, I urge you to listen to this sermon yourself. But I can tell you this: when I listen to this sermon, I hear a man who is rock-solid in his belief in Scripture is true and reliable. But more importantly, I hear a message that brings me to tears, because it reminds me that the Bible is precious not because it is “inspired” (though I believe it to be), but because it tells me about Jesus. And because Jesus said, “I love you.” And because what Jesus said is TRUE.

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