Friday, August 28, 2015

Obedient Children

In verse 13 of the first chapter of First Peter, the apostle begins to apply the glorious doctrinal truths of salvation to the practical lives of his readers. This application requires preparation, seen in the metaphor of men tucking the hem of their robe skirts into their belts, allowing their legs to move freely. This figure is applied to our minds. We are to have a mindset of sober or serious and clear thinking that leads to sound judgment. Something with respect to the salvation we claim to possess must shape and control our thoughts and resultant actions.
With this caution, Peter commands us to fix our hope completely on this salvific grace that we do not yet fully possess. It will be conferred on us as the reward of obedience when Jesus returns. What we now possess is hope or better, living hope (v. 3) in what is promised. But what is promised? Peter calls it an inheritance reserved for us (v. 4). It is an expectation ministered to us by the prophets, announcing the good news to us through the Spirit (vv. 10–12). What is promised is unqualified acceptance with God with full forgiveness of all sin and everlasting life (Jer. 33:8–11; Rom. 3:23–26).
We possess this hope, not by wishful thinking; we experience it with confidence. It is a reality now though not fully realized (vv. 8, 9). The evidence of true faith is seen in our rejoicing in the unseen even while we may suffer (v. 6). God’s purpose in this suffering is to test our faith, not prove it false, but to purify it and, thus, demonstrate its genuineness (v. 7).
Peter addresses our responsibility (v. 13). First, we must not see responsibility as an effort to earn grace by doing something. Our obedience is not to provoke a response from God. Rather, we obey in order to demonstrate grace already at work in us (Phil. 2:13). Neither is our responsibility automatic. We are to learn obedience by trusting God as we struggle to keep His commandments and exhortations (Heb. 5:8). That is our goal, and we will not deviate from the course or compromise in our pursuit of it.
To encourage obedience, Peter cites one issue that we must overcome and two behavioral modifications to help us to govern obedience (vv. 14–17). First, our new position, as “obedient children” requires that we overcome and abandon worldly “conformity” due to former patterns of desiring. These deeply ingrained desires produce habits of sinning established through long practice. We fail to take them into accountable and deal with them because they come so naturally. Second, in order to establish new patterns of right conduct, we need to establish habits of holiness in the fear of God (vv. 15–17). Holiness refers to how we are to present ourselves to God in His service (Rom. 12:1, 2; 1 Pet. 2:9, 10). The fear of God is the conscious awareness that God really does see us and will impartially judge our works according to His established standards, not ours (Isa. 40:10).

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Glorious Grace

I recently read an article by a pastor who shared some of the strange things people have told him over the years. Some were barbs, criticizing him of often very silly things. One that amused me greatly was the charge that he was “trying to preach caffeineism.” I identified with that. Caffeineism, I guess, is sovereign grace with an extra kick. But, then, I am in good company. Peter is also guilty of preaching Caffeineism, long before John Caffeine gave it his name.
Peter addressed his first letter to the “elect exiles” (1:1, 2). Election is choosing. God chose certain people to salvation according to His foreknowledge, a term relating to their relationship to His elective love. He set His love on them while they were still His enemies (Rom. 5:8).
Election involves means, “the sanctification of the Spirit.” The elect are set apart to God’s ordered purpose. Predestination (Eph. 1:5) is twofold. (1) Predestination is “for obedience to Jesus Christ.” (2) Predestination is “for sprinkling with [Christ’s] blood.” Sprinkling is a covenantal commitment referenced in Exodus 24:3–8 where God confirmed and sealed the covenant with sacrificial blood. Jesus sealed the New Covenant with His blood (Mark 14:24; Heb. 9:13, 14). In this, the promised obedience of His people is secured and the full benefits of His suffering are guaranteed (Eph. 1:13, 14).
Verses 3–9 expand on why we must praise God for elective love—mercy. He lists ten things to praise the God of grace that caused us to be born again to a living hope in an inheritance that cannot be destroyed, defiled, or wasted. This hope rests on the power of God that shields us through faith as we hold on to His promises while we wait for Christ’s return.
In light of our great salvation, we must also “prepare our minds for action” (vv. 10-22) in order to live out the purpose for which God saved us. Four things support this preparation. First, we need to appreciate the glory of God’s salvation. It was a mystery so great that OT prophets carefully searched it out (vv. 10-12). In fact, angels longed to investigate it; it was that glorious.
Second, we must “prepare our minds” in order to serve this holy God who saved us (vv. 13-16). The holiness that God requires here refers to how His servants present themselves in their service to Him (Rom. 12:1, 2). God expects no less of us than He did of the sons of Aaron who served Him in His temple, bearing the inscription, “Holy to the Lord” (Ex. 38:36).
Third, preparing our minds relates to our duty to conduct our lives in the fear of God (v. 17). Our sojourn here is very brief and our God is a just judge. Therefore, we are to fear God and not man, particularly those who would persecute us.
Last, preparing our minds means that we reckon the cost as seen in the example of the Son of God, who gave Himself for us (vv. 18-21). That sacrifice is to shape our own pure-hearted love as we love one another in Christ, holding to the example of our Savior (v. 22).

Friday, August 14, 2015

Living Hope

We are living in a very unsettling time. We have witnessed the rise of terrorism on a global scale that seems to be escalating with no end in sight and no solution confronting it. At home, we are seeing the country deeply divided over issues ranging from racial and moral ideologies to political philosophies. Can anything bring us together? Is there any leadership with real answers?
With much hand-wringing and head-shaking, we wonder if there is any hope at all, although, of course, we have been promised hope and change. Still, we don’t see much to make us hopeful. Should we just believe in hope? But what does that mean? Just wishing things would get better is a fool’s errand. We need something solid on which to hang our hope.
The apostle Peter wrote to suffering churches in Asia Minor near the end of the first century to encourage them with hope that they already possessed. This hope was the gift of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Moved with mercy, He caused them “to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). This is more than hope; it is living hope because it is the work of the living God. Peter likes to use that term, living—living hope, living stones, and living Word. It is this term that makes all the difference, for it defines hope in the framework of, not just possibility, but reality. That reality is assured because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
The resurrection of Christ is an irrefutable fact of history. More than five hundred eyewitnesses saw the risen Lord after his crucifixion, which solidly supports the claim (I Cor. 15:3-8). Skeptics could have interviewed witnesses still living when Paul made his assertion.
To the persecuted saints in Peter’s audience, the resurrection of Jesus Christ formed the solid foundation of their hope. Those who were martyred would not die in vain, for like Jesus, they too would be raised again to “an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven” for them (1 Pet. 1:5). This inheritance was guarded by nothing less than the power of God through their faith until its unveiling in the last time (v. 6). Note, however, that the hope outlined here does not immediately fix things for these people living in difficult straits. Nevertheless, it comforts, guides, and fills them with inexpressible joy as they wait for Jesus to return (vv. 6-9).
The bottom line is the realization that nothing is out of God’s control and that all that happens, good and evil, is directed by His certain hand to fulfill His purposes in the earth. God is a just God, and all injustice will be settled before the Judge (1 Pet. 2:23). This life is a brief staging area for eternity, and everyone is either part of the company of those sheltered in Christ’s salvation (1 Pet. 3:18) or those who “will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Pet. 4:5). In which company are you?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Josiah’s Revival

Scripture records a reprieve in Yahweh’s determination to judge Judah after years of persistent and heinous devotion to idols. This reprieve occurred during the reign of Josiah (640-609 b.c., recorded in 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chron. 34). He was only 8 years old when he began to reign, but he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. In his eighth year of rule, Josiah began to seek God. This seeking manifested itself in an active reformation in Judah, purging the land of its idolatry.
We need to look deeper into this account. First, we must ask how Josiah came to seek the Lord. His fathers were evil, leaving him no godly example. Yet Josiah sought the Lord in the final years of Judah’s spiritual decline. Judgment was already pronounced on the nation. Babylonia would soon defeat Judah, indeed, just four years after Josiah’s death. So, what caused Josiah to seek the true God? Paul, quoting Psalm 14:2, argues that no natural man will seek after God (Rom. 3:10, 11). He loves only his unrighteousness. It is only when God’s Spirit sovereignly opens a sinner’s heart that he seeks Him. Again, Paul affirms this in Romans 10:20 (quoting Isa. 65:1), “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”
God was working in Josiah to accomplish His own purpose in that dark hour of Israel’s history. That is what drives the narrative. It spotlights God’s glory, not Josiah’s goodness. We are prone to read Scripture from a human standpoint, looking for personal encouragement. Of course, we do find such encouragement, but we also need to understand that what is revealed there is not ultimately about us. It is all about God and how He will get glory to Himself through His incredible acts and power.
In the eighteenth year of his reign, Josiah set about to repair the house of the Lord. In the process of clearing debris from years of accumulated neglect because of forsaking the Lord in the worship of other gods, the high priest, Hilkiah, discovered a copy of the Pentateuch, which he delivered to the king through his secretary, Shaphan (2 Kings 22:8). This discovery humbled the king in repentance because saw that God’s wrath was already kindled upon Judah because of her disobedience. What should he do next?
To this point, the reform was apparently driven by remembered tradition. The discovery of the book of the law set the revival on the proper foundation. Nevertheless, the king still sought the counsel of a prophetess who affirmed that judgment was indeed coming but that there would be a short reprieve because of Josiah’s humbling as he heard the Scriptures read.
Surely God had a special purpose in this stay. It is very probable that the Lord did so to prepare His servants to be His witnesses in Babylon. Daniel was born two years before the book was discovered and its truth revealed. Josiah’s revival furthered God’s kingdom plans. May this understanding encourage our own hearts in our dark hour of spiritual decline.