You Can't Scare Me!
Whether he was just stating the obvious or subverting the faithful, the statement by our president caught believers off guard. He said, “Whatever we once were, we’re no longer a Christian nation, at least not just . . .”
Now many would agree. We have strayed far from where this country began. A country founded upon the freedom of religion has become a country that seeks freedom from religion and incrementally, at least, believers are being intimidated.
Network coverage of abortion and homosexuality "are never done from the religious viewpoint," said Brent Bozell, of the Media Research Center. Instead, "religious figures are regularly portrayed as reactionary roadblocks while their positive influences are rarely covered." Except at Christmastime, when the networks traditionally broadcast "heartwarming" segments in their broadcasts, the news shows usually portray religious groups and their leaders "as cold, intolerant and oppressive," Bozell said
A Christian employee of Hewlet Packard was fired for posting Bible verses condemning homosexual behavior on his desk in response to posters displayed during a company campaign to promote a diverse work force
Tourists visiting Washington D.C. in 1997 were ordered by the police to stop praying in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol
In 1997, a high school student in Florida was suspended for handing out religious literature before and after - but not during - school hours.
A New Jersey public school banned the Charles Dickens play, "A Christmas Carol" because of its spiritual overtones and message of redemption.
And what is happening here pales in comparison to what goes on in the rest of the world. The militant Islamic Government of Sudan, for example, is waging a self-described religious war against Christian, non-Muslim, and moderate Muslim persons by using torture, starvation, enslavement, and murder. In Pakistan, the government has declared those that who “insult” Mohammed will be put to death. In Communist Laos more than 250 pastors and Christian workers have been arrested; more than 60 churches and Christian institutions have been shut down; and the government has forced many thousands of believers to sign documents to "renounce" their faith and belief in Christianity.
I must say that the surprising thing for us today should not be that we are beginning to be squeezed by our culture. The surprising thing for any believer should not be the presence of persecution, but its absence. For the last 300 years this country, founded in large measure by the devout has provided for the devout, but that is changing and that change isn’t the exception in our history, but the rule. It started with Jesus and it has been going ever since.
It was certainly true for the recipients of Peter’s first letter. These folks were “Roman rejects.” Because they dared to deny the Emperor the worship he thought he deserved and because they refused to stop sharing Jesus with their friends, they lost everything. When Claudius expelled the believers that meant that all their property, all their inheritance, everything they had was lost. They may have lived in Rome all their lives but in an instant, all that changed. Now they were scattered to far-off cities in far-off places. No wonder Peter begins in v 1, Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the pilgrims. That’s exactly what they were. They were pilgrims in a couple of ways. First they were pilgrims literally. They were in strange cities where they did not belong and where they held no citizenship. And then they were pilgrims spiritually. Peter calls them pilgrims in this world, too. They didn’t belong. They didn’t fit.
For that reason, they suffered and, in some cases, were persecuted. Now imagine how they would have felt. They’re in a strange land with a strange culture. It would be very easy to be intimidated. They were already kicked out of Rome for their evangelistic zeal. I’m sure it would have been very easy to sideline their witness and seek only to preserve their peace.
Can you relate? Have you been there spiritually? Have you been intimidated? When was the last time you shared your faith? Before you did it, did you question yourself or feel like you were about to do something that was not going to be appreciated. I tell you there are a lot of things you can say about the church today, but one of the greatest words I would use to describe God’s people is this one. Many believers are intimidated.
Why? What are they intimidated about? Well, things have really changed in the last fifty years or so. For one thing, Christianity has lost its exclusivity. While we have always been a diverse culture when it comes to religion, for the most part, Christians ruled the roost of public opinion. Talk about God and the large majority knew you meant Jehovah and would have parroted back to you, whether they believed it or not, the gospel. And, again, whether they accepted it personally or not, they would have given you the Christian viewpoint on the way to get to heaven. We had a corner on the truth market. But we have lost that. The entrance of more culture groups, the rise of Islam, the interest in the occult and paganism, and the unblushing adherence to abject atheism has cost us our exclusivity and many believers, unable or unwilling to compete in the market place of ideas, escaped to the Christian ghetto. They are intimidated.
And some are intimidated by the church’s loss of authority. When it comes to morality, a sea change of ethics question many long-held moral positions: Co-habitation is expected; abortion is demanded; homosexuality is celebrated; pornography is unavoidable; dishonesty is strategic. The only thing considered evil in our society today, is saying that anything is evil. The church used to provide the moral foundation for our society, but the society has rejected the church’s authority and many believers are accepting that rejection as normal. They are intimidated.
And the reason we’ve lost our exclusivity and the reason we’ve lost our authority often traces right back to this last lost we’ve experienced: We have lost our integrity. Recent scandals in the Catholic Church have led to an apology by even the Pope himself. Every denomination I am aware of has had to make similar apologies, especially recently. Back in the ‘90's tearful words from an evangelist named Jimmy Swaggert were followed by further revelations of perversion which led to more cynicism in the culture. The world once respected us even when they disagreed; now they doubt us even when we’re genuine. And the result for many is intimidation. They are intimidated.
Today, I want to draw a line in the sand. Today I call believers to stop cowering in the corner and stand up for truth. Wimpy wafflers have ruled the roost for too long! It’s time to be fearless in the face of threat and unapologetic about the gospel. You might say, “That’s easy for you to say because you’re a preacher. You live in your nice little church cocoon all week. Come to my job with me, or teach my class with me and you’ll wake up.” Well, I would simply answer, It’s not always easy, even for preachers. Just like you, Satan tempts me to shut up when I should speak out and sit down when I should stand up. So what can we learn from this outspoken apostle’s letter which can end our intimidation. Well if you want to stop cowering this morning, there are some truths you can grasp. First of all, you must understand the truth about
DIV 1 - YOUR IDENTITY
Four things bubble to the surface in this passage that address who we are and what that means. First you see the contrast of their identity. I’ve already described how these ragamuffin disciples looked to the world. They were the “green card” carriers, the migrant workers who came from somewhere else to occupy the lowest rung on the cultural totem pole. Yet, that moniker didn’t reflect Peter’s divinely inspired opinion of them. O no! He uses one word to describe them. He calls them “elect.” They were the elect of God.
Do you remember being a kid and playing sandlot football? Invariably we’d end up choosing sides. You know how it worked: Two “captains” would line all of us up, and then one would choose first. I remember that, often, I was close to, or actually the last person chosen. Then, there were those times I wasn’t even chosen at all. I didn’t measure up. I wasn’t good enough.
That’s the way the culture looked at the Christians in Peter’s day, but that’s not the way he nor God saw them. He calls them “elect.” They’re on the team! They’re chosen! They belong to God! That’s the contrast of their identity.
But you also see the comfort of their identity because Peter says that they are elect “according to the foreknowledge of God.” The word in Greek is proginooskoo, and it resembles our English word, “prognosis.” It literally speaks of “knowing ahead of time.” The idea really goes beyond simply saying that God knew in advance that we would make a free will choice to follow Him, and, on that basis, chose us. One commentator writes:
Regardless of whether one accepts the idea of individual election before creation, “the essential point is that Christians are in the church not merely by their own decision, but by the initiative of God who has called them” (Boring 1999: 55). Peter here instructs his readers that God’s divine initiative has operated in their lives even before they were aware of it. It is this purposeful plan of God, larger than an individual’s life, that forms the ultimate foundation for the hope and encouragement that Peter is about to offer.
My election is not based on my own merit or strength. No! God knew me before I could ever know Him and He chose me in Him before the creation of the world, and when things are falling apart around me, that is the only thing that will bring me comfort.
And the contrast of our identity and the comfort that it brings is instituted by the comforter of our identity. This election takes place in the sanctification of the Spirit. We cannot achieve it, it is done by God Himself through the blessed Holy Spirit and notice the specific activity through which God’s Spirit achieves His work: It is in sanctification. I love that word. It doesn’t mean to become spiritually “high and mighty” so that you can look down your spiritual nose at the world. No, it means to be set apart. I am elect because the Holy Spirit looked down on a squirming peace of worm-flesh like me and lifted me up and set me apart through His mighty power. That’s why I am who I am!
And since I know the contrast and the comfort, and the comforter of my identity, I also know the certainty of that identity. Notice that last phrase of v 2. He says:
elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ:
What’s the significance of this phrase? Hang on, cause it gets good here! The first covenant God made with the Jews was based on the blood of animals and the law. Even though the law was good, the people were not. They had the law, but they couldn’t keep it. That’s why Jeremiah spoke of the New Covenant that God was going to make in Christ. This covenant would not be based on the blood of goats and lambs, but on the blood of the Spotless Lamb of God. And what the law could not do, the new covenant would do. One commentator wrote:
The old covenant was powerless to bring that innate desire to complete realization. But through Jesus “everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39 TNIV). The new covenant in view in 1 Pet. 1:2 is the one that has been established by the blood of Jesus Christ. What the law was powerless to do—transform the hearts of people so they can obey the word of the Lord—has now been made possible by the blood of Jesus Christ. Christ brings to realization that innate desire to obey God. It is for this new covenant that Peter’s readers have been chosen and called.
And here’s what they realized: If it was up to God and not up to them, there was no way they could fail. They might be the unelect of the world, but they were the elect of God. They might be rejected by their pagan culture, but that was okay. They were foreknown by God. They might be helpless in their own strength, but the Holy Spirit was active in their hearts setting them apart for God. They might not know what was going to happen tomorrow or what new persecution might be coming at them, but they were absolutely certain that the same God who gave His Son to them would along with Him feely give them all things. And even though they lived in an intimidating world they were unintimidated because of who they were in Christ.
And what was true for them can also be true for us. The answer to cowering Christianity is a good dose of identity. You see, if I am who I am in Christ; if I come to embrace that with every part of me, I do not fear the loss of exclusivity. Even though the world no longer accepts that Jesus is the one and only way to heaven, I don’t slink away from the debate in defeat. No! I stand my ground because I have complete confidence that the Holy Spirit will so work through me that the true gospel will still have impact. I don’t sugar-coat it; I don’t moderate it’s convictions; I don’t dance around the truth; and I certainly don’t change it. NO! I trust that the same God who came up with it can make it work even when my culture thumbs its nose and shakes its head. If I am who I am in Christ, I do not fear the loss of exclusivity.
And if I am who I am in Christ, I am not intimidated by a loss of authority. O yes, I am quite sure that the Moral Majority has lost its clout. The Christian Right has become the fodder of the late night comedian’s routine, but I am not intimidated. In fact, I may even be set free. Now instead of trusting in the whims of politics to bring me power, I trust in the free flow of the Holy Spirit. I don’t fight to get more votes against abortion, I fight to change hearts so that they don’t ever want to get one again. I don’t fear the loss of political authority because that never was the source of my power anyway. My identity in Christ says that my help comes from the Lord, not the constitution. And as much as I love this country, this country cannot save me. My only hope is in my identity in Christ.
Because I am who I am in Christ, I am not intimidated by a loss of exclusivity or authority and there’s one more thing I am not intimidated by. A loss of integrity. Now this one may be a bit tougher. After all, the failure of Christian leaders is epidemic. Surely, the much publicized falls of those who used to proclaim the gospel will give a believer pause. Surely intimidation is the only response.
Well, it is, unless . . . unless you really know who you are in Christ. You see, if I am who I am in Christ, if I am really living in His presence and under His power, I do not fear my own failure. That’s right, If I am who I am in Christ, I am not living in the intimidating possibility of becoming a moral casualty. “Well,” you might say, “that sounds a little arrogant, Rusty. Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” Well, I have to tell you, you have to understand how I make that statement. I am not making that statement thinking that somehow I can make it happen. I am not saying that I am unintimidated because I think I can stand in my strength. I am saying this because I am simply walking by faith. I am believing God, not the naysayers I hear around me. I believe the God who said, “He who began a good work in you will perform it till the day of Jesus Christ.” Listen, Christian, the tv evangelists may fall, but you don’t’ have to. The preachers around you might fall, but you don’t have to. Your family deacon might fall, but you don’t have to. You do not have to be intimidated because you are His child and if you will trust Him He will keep you! And all of it flows out of who you are in Christ. It comes from your identity.
Many of you, especially those of you who have taken Evangelism Explosion, remember a story that D. James Kennedy used to tell. It went something like this.
When Alexander the Great was the commander of Greece, he conquered the known world of his day. Alexander was a fierce warrior and a driven competitor. It is said that when he had conquered all the empires he could find to fight against, he sat and wept because there were no more worlds to conquer.
Now, as a fierce warrior and a driven general, he had zero tolerance for cowardice. Men who displayed fear on the battlefield would often be put to death. Alexander knew that the intensity of war demanded that kind of discipline so he was not bashful about handing it out. One day, a young soldier was brought to the great general and accused of treason and cowardice. Of course the young man was very afraid and uncertain of his fate. He was brought before General Alexander trembling in fear. What would the general do? Would he die?
When he entered the room where the General was he looked at Alexander’s face. It was hard and fierce. He knew what was coming. He was going to die. But when the general saw this young lad standing before him, trembling, his heart was touched. The young man watched as the fierceness left his face and his eyes softened. His heart began to leap inside. Maybe he would live after all!
Then Alexander spoke in the kind voice of a Father and said, “Young man, what is your name?” Thinking the danger was past the young man replied, “Alexander, sir.” A look of shock crossed the general’s face and he said, “Young man, what is your name?” Suddenly afraid again, the young man stammered, “Al-Alexander, sir.” All of a sudden the general’s face turned red and with seething anger he asked again. “What is your name?” Mortified, the young man stammered, “Al-alexander, sir.”
“Well,” the general replied, “Change your character, or change your name!”
Hey, Christian, You are the elect of God! Live like it! Hey Christian, you were chosen according to your Father’s foreknowledge, believe it and act on it! Hey believers, you received the Holy Spirit when you believed and God wrote His law on your heart, don’t be intimidated. You don’t have to be because of your identity, but you can also unintimidated when you understand
DIVISION 2: YOUR DESTINY.
Peter describes their destiny in vv 3-5. There he says
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time
Peter’s words reveal 3 destinations to which we are headed. He says first that our destiny is resurrection. He says that Christ’s abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The word begotten speaks of the first resurrection when you and I are regenerated through the Holy Spirit and brought back to spiritual life. At that moment when we place our trust in Christ, we are, as Ephesians 2:1 says made alive. And that life is eternal, because even though we will die physically, one day, we have a living hope that, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, we too shall live. Our destiny is resurrection.
And when we are raised, we will not be raised empty handed. He says that we will be raised to an inheritance. Hearing that would have really meant something to the people Peter was writing. They may have been wealthy in Rome. They may have been the recipient of family fortunes and great wealth, but when they were kicked out, they lost everything. Peter, in essence, tells them. “That’s okay. What you lost was only temporary; what you are receiving will be eternal. He describes their inheritance in four words. He calls it incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading. It will never be lost through disintegration or ceasure; The Emperor can’t take it and the government couldn’t tax it away. Your destiny is resurrection and your destiny is an inheritance.
And most of all, your destiny is victory! In v 5 he says this, speaking of us, that we are “kept.” He says that the inheritance is “reserved” in heaven for you (watch) who are kept by the power of God. Literally, that word is “guarded,” and it pictures a night watchman, constantly working to make sure that no one gets near our inheritance. You might say it like this, God is staying up nights making sure that your inheritance is safe in Him and that we are safe in Him. We are guarded by the power of God. One commentator writes:
Peter’s choice of verbs here suggests that though the heirs may be in peril, nothing less than the power of God himself watches over them. Paradoxically, it is their faith in Christ that has put them in jeopardy with respect to their society, but it is that very faith in Christ that identifies them as legitimate heirs, whom God powerfully protects.
I take such comfort in that! You see, I have been a Christian since I was 11 years old, but I have had such spiritual failures in my life till I have realized one thing. I AM WEAK! I want to stand up for Jesus, but I find it hard. I want to live a holy life, but it can be extremely difficult. But I have also discovered that I don’t have to do it alone. I have discovered the awesome keeping power of God. I know that when the trumpet sounds and the dead rise, I will be among those who will come up out of that grave, not because I am strong, but because even though I am weak, He is strong! My destiny is victory!
And since I know my destiny, I do not fear a loss of exclusivity. I realize that even if the world laughs at Jesus as the one way to heaven. Even if MSNBC dismisses the church and discounts my Jesus, there will come a day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord and my friend, when they confess that, they won’t be saying He’s ONE of the Lords, they’ll be saying He’s the ONLY Lord. They’ll become believers in exclusivity!
And since I know my destiny, I do not fear a loss of authority. I may not have political power here, but one day I’m going to rule and reign with the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. One day the congressman that denies Him and the Senator that attacks Him, and the professor that laughs at Him and the preacher that compromises Him will bow to Him. They’ll become believers in His authority.
And since I know my destiny, I do not fear a loss of integrity because I know that even though others may fall. Even though others may be deceived, I have His promise that if I will keep trusting Him I’ll be able to stand. I am kept by the power of God. He stays up nights guarding me!
And here’s the point: I can live an unintimidated life when I really understand where I’m headed. Look! All this political attack; all this purposeful misexplanation of who Jesus is; all this desire to minimize believers does not have to intimidate me when I truly realize that my destiny is resurrection; my destiny is inheritance and my destiny is victory. Remembering my destiny keeps me strong and unintimidated.
It was my freshman year in college. It was Christmas 1977. I was at FWBBC in Nashville Tn, and my family lived near Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. With the speed limit at 55, that meant it took about 18 hours to drive home. And there was one more problem: I didn’t have a car.
That meant I had to hitch a ride. I found a car full of girls going to Melbourne and had arranged for my dad to meet me there to take me the 2-3 hours home. We started out headed south. Did I forget to mention that we were in a red . . . pinto? Now if you remember the Ford Pinto, you’re really dating yourself because that was pretty much a bucket of bolts on rubber. That was certainly true on this trip because a couple of hours out of Nashville, we stopped to use the rest room at a rest stop and when we got back in the car, it wouldn’t crank. Well, that was bad. I remember my heart just sank when I realized we might be stranded. What made it worse was that I was the only guy traveling with three girls . . . which meant that when the car wouldn’t turn over, all eyes looked at me as if to say, “What do we do now? You’re the man!” No, I wasn’t. I was an 18 year-old wanna be who had no idea of what to do.
I prayed for direction, then went into the rest stop. There happened to be an attendant on duty. (What were the chances of that? Well about 100% when God’s answering prayer!) I told him my problem. He came out, took off the distributor cap, put me in his car, and took me to the next exit where I purchased another distributor, we put it on and the old pinto roared to life. That cost us some time, but at least we were back on the road!
We got to Melbourne and met my dad. By that time it was well after midnight. We started for home, but as we were driving along I looked down. Our gas was getting low. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Well, duh! If your gas was low, why didn’t you just stop and fill up.” Well if you say that, you either didn’t live in the late ‘70's, or you’ve forgotten them. This was during the oil embargo and stations closed at night to conserve fuel. So here we are riding along, about 4 in the morning and we can’t find gas anywhere. We finally stopped pulling off of exits trying to find it, and just decided to hope we had enough to make it. And we did make it . . . until about a half a mile from the exit we were supposed to take to go home. But as we got there, the engine began to sputter and we pulled over. I got out, about 6 in the morning, and started walking to the nearest station, as the sun was coming up. I will tell you that was probably the roughest trip that I have ever taken.
But . . . I never got upset and I never lost my sense of joy. You say, “Come on, Rusty, you didn’t get mad?” No, not on that occasion. You know why? You see, I had been at FWBBC for a semester. I’d been eating Ravioli for supper; when I got home, my mom would fix me some fried chicken. I’d been sharing a little room with a less than cordial roomate; at home I’d have my own room that I didn’t have to share with anyone. I’d been struggling to go anywhere because I had no car; at home, I’d be able to go whereever, whenever I wanted. All along the way, even when things were going wrong, I never lost hope because all I could think about was my destination. And I was unintimidated by my trouble.
Listen, Christian, Nothing we ever face escapes the confines of God’s will. Did your computer crash? God knew. Is your bank account empty? God knows. Are you sick? God knows. Are you without a job? God knows. Are you without a job because of something you did? God knows even that. He is in control and when you come to Him, he has a way of putting life back together (Rom 8:28). You may have walked in afraid this morning, but you can walk out unintimidated.
What about you who don’t know Christ. I want to tell you, our world has a way of making you feel very comfortable apart from Christ. And if you’re UNINTIMIDATED today, something is wrong. You’re like a 2-year old playing with a rattle snake. You’re totally at ease, not even aware you’re in danger, but it won’t be long until the snake bites and you perish. Your real destiny, if you could see it would scare you senseless. But here’s what you need to know. Christ can change your destiny. You don’t have to face an eternity apart from Christ. You can be saved this morning!
John Orgberg writes that many years ago He was walking in Newport Beach, a beach in Southern California, with two friends. The two of them were on staff together at a church, and one was an elder at the same church. They walked past a bar where a fight had been going on inside. The fight had spilled out into the street, just like in an old western. Several guys were beating up on another guy, and he was bleeding from the forehead. They knew they had to do something, so they went over to break up the fight. He says, “I don't think we were very intimidating. [All we did was walk over and say,] "Hey, you guys, cut that out!" It didn't do much good.
Then all of a sudden the brawlers looked at John and his friend with fear in their eyes. The guys who had been beating up on the one guy stopped and started to slink away. John didn't know why until he turned and looked behind him. Out of the bar had come the biggest man he’d ever seen. The guy was something like six feet, seven inches, maybe 300 pounds, maybe 2 percent body fat. Just huge. John said he called him "Bubba" (not to his face, but afterwards, when we talked about him).
Bubba didn't say a word. He just stood there and flexed. You could tell he was hoping they would try and have a go at him. “All of a sudden,” John say, “my attitude was transformed,” and I said to those guys, "You better not let us catch you coming around here again!" He says he was a different person because, now, he had great, big Bubba. He was unintimidated and ready to stand up. He was released from anxiety and fear. He was filled with boldness and confidence. He was ready to help somebody that needed helping. He was ready to serve where serving was required. Why? Because, he says, “I had a great, big Bubba. I was convinced that I was not alone. I was safe. If I were convinced that Bubba were with me 24 hours a day, I would have a fundamentally different approach to my life. If I knew Bubba was behind me all day long, you wouldn't want to mess with me. But he's not. I can't count on Bubba.”
O but listen, You can count on God, and He’s a lot bigger than Bubba! You don’t have to live an intimidated life! Yes, this society may not get it, and they may even mock or persecute you but you do not have to be intimidated. No, instead You can understand your identity and you can believe your destiny.