We have been laying a foundation for our hope. Peter, writing to suffering believers scattered in what is modern day Turkey, proclaims immediately in his introduction of who and whose, believers are. We had one point from last week that:
I. Our identity is who God says we are.
This is basic Christian doctrine, but one that is rarely applied. For me this has been so liberating! I no longer have to be enslaved to what people think of me or defined by what my job is or how much money I make. We said two things God says we are:
a) Planted Pilgrims
This we get from the phrase “exiles of the dispersion” or “aliens, scattered.” In one sense I am strategically planted where I am. I am not scattered seed in the wind out of control, but placed by God to bloom. In another sense, I am a pilgrim, not here forever. I need not settle down in this world and love this world or the things of this world. Also, my suffering is temporary as well. I am made for the next so I must invest in the things that will last.
b) Chosen and loved children
We get this from “elect…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” In this, we learn that before the foundations of the world, before time began, God foreknew us, which means, He “foreloved” us and chose us to be His child. I don’t fully understand this, but I delight and revel in it because that is what Scripture commands me to do.
So since our identity is who God says we are, jot this next thing down:
II. Our new lives flow from our identity.
In 1 Pet. 1:2, we see the results of God choosing us. Really the result is a brand new life! Let’s look at how the new life came about. Notice that all three persons of the Godhead, the Trinity, are involved (though the typical order is different here). We know it started in the mind of God setting His love upon us as children in election. Then we were:
a) Set apart by the Holy Spirit
If the basis of God choosing us is God’s foreknowledge, the means by which He carries out this choosing or election, is through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. The word “sanctify” means “to set apart.” It means to take what is common and make it special. In fact, that is what “saint” means. You are set apart for God. A saint is not a statue from AD 1544 or a Christian who has world-renowned dedication (like Mother Theresa) or someone who has accomplished an extraordinary achievement. All Christians are saints when you were saved! To bring to experiential realization of your salvation, the Spirit set you apart in a very unique, passionate and loving way.
In other words, as we were dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1), God’s Spirit awakened us, made us alive or regenerated us (Tit. 3:5) to respond to God and His goodness through the preaching of the Word (Rom. 10:17). The Spirit convicts us of sin and need for a Savior and we are taken away from following the ways of the world and enabled to follow the path of holiness. Usually the word “sanctify” is used to describe how we progressively grow in the likeness to Jesus, but here it is referring to what happens at conversion. This is why the order is different (Father, Spirit and Son instead of Father, Son and Spirit).
So in other words, the initial sanctification you have in Christ. This is one of three phases of sanctification. You also have a present sanctification where Jesus is making you look more and more like Himself and eventually you will have a future sanctification that happens when you die or if Jesus returns. This last part is also called glorification, where you will have a new glorified body that never decays or dies or has dandruff.
But we are not set apart to look pretty. Notice the next phrase:
b) For the purpose of obedience to the gospel
So Peter goes on to say that we were chosen by God the Father in eternity past and the Spirit of God made this operative in our lives when He set us apart and now he says all of that was so that they may obey the gospel call and live in submission to it. This is how you know you have been chosen and set apart. You have an ongoing desire to do the will of God. It starts with the first decision in obedience to say yes to Jesus Christ. This is what Peter means here (see 1 Pet. 1:22). The focus is not on living a life of obedience which is definitely implied, but Peter is talking about the initial surrender of obedience to the gospel call.
Commentator Karen Jobes says, “Peter reminds his readers that the God who took the initiative in their lives has drawn them into an intimate, loving, and redemptive relationship with him, but also one in which God claims supreme authority over their lives. Such a reminder is apt at times when Christians are troubled by the circumstances in which they find themselves, confused about how to live, and tempted to doubt God’s goodness or faithfulness.”
These truths are important especially to those who are suffering. They were scattered around, but God says they are strategically planted. They said they were rejected, but God said you are selected. They were wondering if God somehow forgot them in the midst of their suffering, but God says, no you are the object of my affection and remember how He showed them this was true when they got saved. They said they feel purposeless, but God says, “no you are set apart.” He wants them to remember how they recognized his lordship above all the first time. As a result, obey Jesus now with your life, even if you have to die. Death is better than disobedience and the cost of obedience will be nothing compared to the cost of disobeying the Lord. A Vietnamese pastor Tran Mai, imprisoned for his faith said, “We have learned that suffering is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Disobedience to God is the worst thing."
Putting these thoughts together, we learn that as God’s chosen children and planted pilgrims, they are set apart for the purpose of obeying Jesus Christ, like they did when they heard the gospel. Now what does this mean for us? I remember Richard Allen Farmer, a musician and speaker, speaking at Wheaton College. One of his illustrations that stuck with me was that of peanuts when you go to a bar (for the record, your pastor is not encouraging anyone to go to a bar, this is purely for illustration).
Farmer called them “beer nuts.” He said (and I paraphrase), “Have you ever noticed beer nuts in bar? You may never have noticed them before, but know that they are strategically placed. The nuts were taken out of bag and put in a bowl for a purpose. They are set apart. So as soon as you sit down, you are confronted with them. They force you to make a decision. You can refuse them and sit there, but if you take one, you will be forced to suffer the consequences. You will soon be made thirsty, and then you will turn to the bartender and order a drink.”
You see, God has chosen you and set you apart, not for you to look pretty on the counter, but to force people to make a decision when they come in contact with you. Your goal is to quench thirst, but to create thirst for people for the Living Water! You are—not you have-- the salt of the earth, as Jesus says (Matt. 5:13).This is what Peter is saying here. Though you are suffering, remember who you are and the new life He has given you!
How many of us are looking pretty on a counter gathering dust? How many of us are living out our chosen-ness? Instead of waking up thinking what you have to do today, what if you thought, “How can I live out the fact that I am a chosen child of God, planted where I am for the purpose of being set apart to create thirst for people for the living Water!
I was thinking of so many opportunities I waste. A lot of us enjoy social networking. John Piper thinks God will use facebook on Judgment day to prove that our prayerlessness was not due to a lack of time. On the flip side, I realized something about the power of social networking. By simply updating my status on something meaningful (not just that you are going to bed or the bathroom), I have in my hands power to influence people for Jesus Christ. They may never come to church or even come to Christ, but for a few seconds, you have made them think about the Lord. You don’t have to be a pastor to do this! In fact, I want to take more advantage of it than I do. We are chosen children, planted pilgrims set apart! Let’s live that out!
One more thing Peter adds here about what our new life in the Lord looks like. As chosen children, not only are we set apart for the purpose of obedience, we are:
c) Cleansed to be part of a new community
Look at the next phrase, connecting for obedience to Jesus Christ: “and for sprinkling with his blood.” This is a confusing phrase, but probably best understood in light of Ex. 24:3-8. Moses sprinkled them with blood in inaugurating or facilitating the entrance of the people of Israel to the Old Covenant. Moses comes out and presented all that God required of them. They pledge their obedience to God. Moses act of sprinkling blood on them signifies God’s gracious acceptance of them into the Old Covenant.
Just as Israel pledged their obedience to God and were sprinkled with the blood of Old Covenant sacrifice as a way to enter into relationship with the Father, we who have pledged our obedience to God have been sprinkled and cleansed by the blood of Christ and have entered into the New Covenant. Commentator Thomas Schreiner notes, “The blood of the covenant signifies the forgiveness and cleansing the people needed to stand in right relation with God. We see, then, that entrance into the covenant has two dimensions: the obedient response to the gospel and the sprinkling of blood.”
When you obeyed the gospel call, the Lord Jesus forgave you of your sin by cleansing you with His blood and then adopted you into the family of God and made you a member of a new community called the church. God’s choosing of you was sealed by the New Covenant. When you think of New Covenant, think of forgiveness of sin, divine enablement to live in victory over sin and new allegiance to God in a new community of faith (Heb. 10:15-25).
But above all, your allegiance is to Lord Jesus now, the head of the church. Pastor Sam Storms adds, “Your life has meaning only in relationship to Christ. That’s how you are defined and shaped. How you think, feel, act and speak are all defined and governed by your relationship and your obedience in the pathway of Jesus. God chose you, the Spirit set you apart unto the Father so that the life, you live your affections, feelings, passions, actions values will reflect those of the Lord Jesus Himself. That’s who you are and whose you are.”
What an encouragement to these scattered suffering believers! Christ has cleansed you and by the merits of His blood, you belong to His body. Don’t act like a lone ranger anymore. Don’t feel like you are an island. You belong. Let this truth shape you and mold you in your suffering. So hang on to the Lord, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross (Heb. 12:2). You belong to Him. And stay close to the body of Christ to which you belong to now as well, because when one member suffers, we all suffer (1 Cor. 12:26).
So our identity is based on who God says we are and our new lives flow from this identity. But it is so hard to get it into our head and heart! So the last thought is:
III. Our God helps us be all that He says we are.
He sends them a customary greeting of grace and peace. These two words are more than greetings, however. What Peter is saying here that may God give you in abundant measure the power and motivation to live out what God says we are (grace) and may the experience of grace result in peace, a sense of harmony and completeness in our relationship with God and with one another.
We would do well to pray grace and peace for each other. This will help us become doers of the word and not just hearers (James 1:22). God never asks us to do anything He does not at the same time give us power to do it. He helps us be everything He asks us to be. God, I want to live set apart lives in obedience to the gospel that saved me, the Jesus who cleansed me and put me in community, as your chosen child and planted pilgrim and I so desperately need your grace and the peace in my heart multiplied to confirm this!
We need to know our identity and if we do not find it in Jesus Christ, we will commit idolatry.
In an article for the Gospel Coalition, pastor and author Tim Keller offers this potent definition of sin: "Sin isn't only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God [from this message, we would say, finding your identity in anything other than God]. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry."
In his bestseller The Reason for God, Keller further develops this line of thought, showing the reader examples of the "particular kinds of brokenness and damage" caused by idolatry:
If you center your life and identity on your spouse or partner, you will be emotionally dependent, jealous, and controlling. The other person's problems will be overwhelming to you. If you center your life and identity on your family and children, you will try to live your life through your children until they resent you or have no self of their own. At worst, you may abuse them when they displease you. If you center your life and identity on your work and career, you will be a driven workaholic and a boring, shallow person. At worst you will lose family and friends and, if your career goes poorly, develop deep depression.
If you center your life and identity on money and possessions, you'll be eaten up by worry or jealousy about money. You'll be willing to do unethical things to maintain your lifestyle, which will eventually blow up your life. If you center your life and identity on pleasure, gratification, and comfort, you will find yourself getting addicted to something. You will become chained to the "escape strategies" by which you avoid the hardness of life. If you center your life and identity on relationships and approval, you will be constantly overly hurt by criticism and thus always losing friends. You will fear confronting others and therefore will be a useless friend.
If you center your life and identity on a "noble cause," you will divide the world into "good" and "bad" and demonize your opponents. Ironically, you will be controlled by your enemies. Without them, you have no purpose.
If you center your life and identity on religion and morality, you will, if you are living up to your moral standards, be proud, self-righteous, and cruel. If you don't live up to your moral standards, your guilt will be utterly devastating.”
Think for a moment where you find your identity. Write a prayer of confession for idolatry and asking God for grace to live out all that you are in Jesus Christ. Ask God to use you to create thirst even this week in the lives of people you meet, to drink of water that will never make them thirsty again.
Jobes, K. H. (69).
Miss Szymanski, “Inspiring Story: How Far will you go?” http://defendchristianfaith.blogspot.com/2009/09/inspiring-story-how-far-will-you-go.html accessed 21 January 2010.
Schreiner, T. R. (56).
Storms, Sam. “Remembering who and whose we are,” Sermon preached 4 January 2009 at Bridgeway Church http://bridgewaychurch.com/podcast/2009/01 accessed 6 January 2010.
Tim Keller, The Reason for God (Dutton, 2008), pp. 275-276, and Tim Keller,"Talking About Idolatry in a Postmodern Age," www.thegospelcoalition.org from www.preachingtoday.com accessed 7 January 2010.