Monday, November 23, 2009

Develop~Chapter 1

Develop ~

God’s Honor in our Lives

You know what I love about being a dad? My son adores me, wants to be just like me, and rightly fears my displeasure. He rejoices in being my son and me being his dad and it impacts his life in what he thinks about, loves, and how he behaves. He has taken this as far as setting up his own little office complete with a binder, commentaries, and my business cards.

We as Christians have been adopted as sons of our Father in Heaven, and sometimes I question whether we really want to think about what he says is true, really love what he loves, and really behave in a manner consistent with his character. I wonder if we really adore him, want to be like him, and fear his displeasure. I see lots of people claiming to be Christians, yet few who live any differently than they did as unbelievers. Even those of us who live differently than we did as unbelievers hold to a standard of holiness based more on the progress of those around us than the model of our Father in heaven. Deep down we think things like:

  • “I seem to be doing as well or better than these people, so I must be okay.”
  • “I don’t watch a lot of garbage other people do, so a few movies or TV shows that glory in what is clearly sin are okay for me to enjoy.”
  • “I am not committing adultery or looking at porn, so a little hint of sexual immorality isn’t too much to get worked up about.”
  • “I don’t have a dirty mouth so laughing at some crude humor is not so bad.”
  • “I am not rich and buying stuff all the time, so some discontent and lack of thankfulness for what I have now is reasonable.”
  • “Sure, I overeat at times but I am not overweight, so let’s not get extreme about this whole gluttony thing.”
  • “I am kind to most people so bitterness toward this one person is within the bounds.”
  • “I read the Bible and pray more than most people I know so not regularly meditating on the Word and sometimes ceasing in prayer is not such a big deal.”

We are never really humbled and challenged to pursue true holiness because we are not looking at, and considering, and loving our Father who is holy, holy, holy! Sovereign Grace believes we should develop in love for God’s honor in our lives by understanding the privilege we have as adopted sons and by trusting, imitating, and fearing our Father. With this understanding, the Apostle Peter has given three commands we must obey if we are going to develop in love for God’s honor in our lives!

Trusting our Father’s Grace

The first command Peter gave was to hope fully in our Father’s grace. In 1 Peter 1:13, the apostle said, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” When you are reading verse 13, you may think you are reading three commands. It appears as if “preparing your minds for action” and “being sober-minded” are both commands. Technically they are participles that are subordinate to the main command “set your hope fully.” What Peter was saying is that you are to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” by “preparing your minds for action” and “being sober-minded.”

Peter’s first command in light of the gospel he presented in the first twelve verses of his letter is not an ethical command. In other words, it is not a command to serve the poor, or to avoid lying and gossip, or to abstain from sexual immorality, or to transform the culture, or to establish just government, or to forgive others. No, it is a command to set your hope fully on the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ! Pastor and author John Piper said the following about this, “In other words God's command…is not first what you can perform for him with your strength; his command…is first that you hope in what he can perform for you with his strength.”

Christianity is the story of God seeking and saving those who are lost. It is the story of God’s sovereign and loving initiative in pursuing us who forsook him and in his giving his Son sacrificially for us; the story of God sending his Spirit to breathe life into us so we are born again and trust in him alone; the story of God hearing the constant prayers of his Son to keep us enduring in faith; the story of God giving us a written Word through which we can know him; the story of God establishing a church to gather us together to encourage one another in our growth in holiness; the story of God giving us pastors and teachers to equip us to help one another grow in holiness; the story of God promising to send his Son again to finally and fully perfect us in holiness! Christianity is the story of God’s work for us. Therefore, Christianity is not first something we do---it is first something we hope in!

Christianity is, above all, good news we receive and not good advice we follow. By way of example, look at what Peter said God did for us in the first part of 1 Peter 1:

  • God elected you. v. 1-2
  • God gave you new birth to a living hope. v. 3
  • God is keeping an inheritance for you. v. 4
  • God is giving you endurance through faith for salvation. v. 5
  • God gave a prophecy of the coming Christ. v. 10-12
  • God sent the Holy Spirit to preach the good news through his evangelists. v. 12

The good news is so good that Peter told us even angels long to look into it! They have been gazing on God’s holiness, majesty, glory, and beauty since the beginning of creation and yet, the Gospel is so glorious, it is such a marvelous display of the love, grace, and mercy of God, that even they long to look into it. This glorious good news leads Peter to give us the command to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Grace is coming and we are to set our hope fully on it.

How do we follow this command to hope fully in grace? Peter gave 2 subordinate commands that help us obey our Father is his command to trust in his grace alone. First, we are told to prepare our minds for action. This literally means to “gird up the loins of your mind.” In the first century men would wear robes that they would need to pull up between their legs and tuck into their belts if they were going to run. They did not have undergarments and running shorts as we do. So, they would need to “gird up their loins” in order to protect themselves and prevent exposure when they ran. Peter was saying that the running of this Christian race requires us to gird up the loins of our mind.

What exactly does it look like to gird up the loins of our minds? In the context of instruction on spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:14, Paul said, "Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth." In other words, in order for us to hope fully in the grace of God we must continually be girded up with the truth. We must continually meditate on God’s word and specifically the promise of God’s Gospel.

Second, Peter said to be “sober-minded.” To be sober-minded means to not be drunk. He was not talking about becoming drunk with alcohol (although I am sure that would be included). He was talking about not being intoxicated with the idols of this world. He was talking about not allowing our minds to become dumbed-down and overcome by the ignorance and lies of this world. When we allow our minds to constantly be infiltrated by the value system of this world we will become intoxicated and our hope will not be fully on God’s grace.

Are you often intoxicated by entertainment, or sexual lust, or material goods, or financial success, or accolades from others, or the hope you will get married, or that your children will be well-behaved? I believe we are a people who are guilty of setting our hope partially on God’s grace and partially on what the world offers. In fact, when someone calls for a complete abandonment of intoxication with the world’s idols some Christians think they are being extreme. Let us be clear, Peter was not calling for a kind of moderation where you hope in God’s grace sometimes and other times your hope is in other areas. He called for radical and extreme obedience to the Father when he said, “set your hope fully.” We will not see real dynamic growth in holiness and the fleeing of sinful desires until we hope fully in God’s grace.

What did the apostle Paul say was his goal in this race of the Christian life? Why was Paul able to so effectively flee sinful desires and grow in holy characteristics like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Paul was able to because when he was running the Christian race his eye was on the prize. His eye was on the crown of righteousness that was going to be his on that day when the Lord appeared. Paul knew that to run the race well he had to have his hope fully in God’s grace and he had to flee everything that distracted him. This is why he says in 1 Cor. 6:12, “All things are permissible for me, not all things are beneficial, although all things are permissible for me, I will not be enslaved by any.”

Whatever enslaved Paul or whatever was a distraction for him, even if those things were morally good for some people to participate in, he would forsake them. His friends might be able to read blogs on the internet, be on facebook, watch television, listen to music, read books and magazines, go shopping for clothes or items to decorate with, build up a savings account and retirement, eat ice cream, drink alcohol responsibly, pursue higher education, date for the purpose of marriage, play and watch sports, or even pastor a church, but, if those good things became ultimate things and enslaved him, if those permissible things became distractions from his ability to worship regularly, read his Bible, pray, and do everything necessary to take in the Word of God so that his hope is fully on the grace of God, then for Paul those things were sin and he would forsake them so he could run the Christian race without hindrance. Paul would even forsake them if he thought they were causing his brother in Christ to be tripped up in the race.

Imitate our Father’s Holiness

The second command Peter gave was to imitate our Father. In 1 Peter 1:14, Peter started by reminding us we are God’s children by using the phrase, “As obedient children.” He is our Father. As His children we are not to be conformed to the passions of our former ignorance, but we are to imitate our Father. Peter went on to say, “as he who called you is holy, so also be holy in all your conduct.” We are to be holy in all our thinking, attitudes, and behavior just as our Father is holy. This is what Paul says in Ephesians 5:1, when he tells us to “be imitators of God, as beloved children.” We are to separate ourselves from sin in thought, affection, and behavior. We are to be morally pure as our Father is. He is our standard. We aren’t supposed to be mostly holy but completely holy!

If our call to holiness is like a battle, then we are to be soldiers who are diligent to never get shot. Yet, we tend to approach holiness like some kind of half-witted soldiers who say, “I only want to get shot occasionally! Striving after never getting shot is just to high a standard! Not getting shot at all takes a lot of discipline! If I am going to do that, I have to always obey orders and I can’t wander off into enemy territory even though those guys can be a lot of fun!” We know this seems ridiculous but this is how we often fight the spiritual battle we are in. We want to be holy but we also want to hold on to the sin of the world we love.

If we hope to be holy as our Father is holy Peter said in v. 14 that we must not be “conformed” to our “former ignorance.” The apostle Paul said the same thing this way in Romans 12:2, “Do not to be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Our minds are to rejoice in the truth. Our ignorance is a “former ignorance.” We have been enlightened. We know the truth.

However, we can be tempted to return to that former ignorance and let our minds return to that stupidity. This happens through what we take in to our minds. When we are constantly taking in error and sin our minds will be impacted and we will be desensitized to it. We will begin to not even notice our sin in some areas. The Apostle Paul provided us with a standard for what we should take into our minds and meditate on. He gave us a standard for what we are watching, or reading, or listening to, or joking about, or discussing:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. ---Philippians 4:8

Peter also said in v. 14 that if we are to imitate our God and Father in holiness, then we must not “be conformed” to our “former passions.” Prior to being saved we were controlled by the passions of our former ignorance. Our affections, our desires, our love, our devotion, was given over to sin. According to Ephesians 2:3, we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” and we were “children of disobedience.” But now, we are obedient children who are led by the Spirit of God and no longer enslaved to sin.

If we are to grow in holiness, we need to meditate on His Word and pray for continued help in desiring godliness and not sin. If we think that we don’t need to take action to change what we habituate into our lives, what we meditate on and love, then we are seriously mistaken.

We must remember we are dead to sin and alive to God and we must not allow sin to reign in us by returning to our old slave master. The fact is that if we fail to nurture the new desires God has given us by constantly meditating on the Word, praying, confessing and repenting of sin, seeking the encouragement of other believers, regularly worshipping, and removing competing gods from our lives, we will begin to return to that old slave master of sin! We will start to fall back into our old lusts and passions. This is why the author of Hebrews tells us not to “forsake the gathering of ourselves together” because it is when we gather for worship that we can “stir one another up to love and good deeds.”

Finally, if we are to imitate our Father in holiness we are not to be conformed to our former behaviors. Peter tells us in v. 15 that we are to be “holy” in all our “conduct.” Our behavior used to be unholy when we were living according to the passions of our former ignorance. However, as children of the Father we are to put off behaviors that are sinful and put on behaviors that are godly. We are called to obey, which includes thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We are to obey the Father’s commandments just like Jesus, the True Son, did. Some people will say that this sounds legalistic. However, Peter did not say we should obey God’s commandments as some kind of torturous drudgery that is going to earn us God’s love. Peter said we should obey them as a delight because God already loves us. In fact, Jesus said in John 15:10-11, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

Fearing our Father’s Displeasure and Discipline.

The third command Peter gave is that we need to fear our Father’s displeasure and discipline. In v. 17, Peter said, “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear.” When Peter wrote about the Father judging us he was talking about the judgment of discipline for believers. He was addressing the fear of God that believers experience. It isn’t the terrifying fear of God’s wrath. It is the fear of grieving the Father who loved us so much. It is the fear of knowing our Father will discipline us to make us more holy and that discipline will be painful, but in the end it will be for our holiness.

Some pastors claim the concept of the fear of God is out for believers. If this is true then a whole host of passages make no sense. This passage is obviously addressed to believers as Peter began with, “if you call on him as Father” and went on in v. 18 and said, “knowing that you were ransomed.” These are not phrases used of unbelievers. The privilege of calling on God as Father is given to those who are adopted as sons through faith in Jesus Christ. Only those who believe in Jesus are ransomed. Further, the apostle Paul’s statement to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” in Phil. 2:12 make no sense if believers are not to fear God.

We should fear our holy Father. We should fear his judgment of our sin and the ensuing discipline. We should fear displeasing such a great and holy Father. We know this kind of fear in our own experience as parents. When we love our children and discipline them for disobedience they fear us. Their fear of us is not a “cowering in the corner of their closet” kind of fear. Their fear is the fear of displeasure from us and of the discipline that follows. If we sinners are able to discipline our children in love for their good, how much more is our holy Father able to discipline us in love for our good?

A Church Developing in Delight

Ultimately, our entire pursuit of holiness and all the will come in the following chapters is what we call Developing in delight. We desire Sovereign Grace to be a church developing in her delight in God. We believe this will occur as our people trust in the Father’s grace, strive to imitate the Father’s holiness, and fear the Father’s displeasure and discipline. He is a glorious and gracious Father, so we desire to be a body that honors him as he deserves.

Recommended Reading:

The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges

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