“The Obedience of the Gospel” 1 Peter 1:22-2:3 May 22, 2011
SCRIPTURE INTRO: We’re studying 1 Peter this summer.
The theme of this letter is Christian suffering.
How as a Christian, you can live in such a way that the troubles, pains,
and sorrows that inevitably come, don’t crush you, but make you better.
A few times Peter uses the image of fire
Heat has different effects on different substances—
It destroys some, refines others. It hardens some and softens others.
Oftentimes when a person gets bitter or cynical he blames the trouble.
He says: I feel this way, I’m having these negative responses
because of what has happened to me or because of what that person did to me.
But the problem with that analysis is that there are some people who have gone
through the very same trouble, pain, or sorrow who come out better—
kinder, softer, gentler. The same heat, the same furnace, but different results.
Why? Because they are made of a different substance.
Peter says that people who are refined by fire are those who have been
born again by the Word of God, by the power of the Gospel.
Peter says this over and over in the letter—
your salvation is all of God, all grace, every part his work from first to last.
So does that mean that when it comes to life and suffering,
you don’t have anything you have to do?
You just sit back and let God work it out. Not at all.
God has chosen you and saved you for a purpose.
You have to fulfill that purpose, be the person God has saved you to be.
Only in doing that, will you truly come out of the furnace pure gold.
INTRO: I can’t believe that my firstborn is graduating from high school!
She has always been a very verbal child. Always ready to argue her case.
Once when she was about two years old, still sucking on a pacifier,
her grandmother Paulette was visiting. She gave Adrienne a present.
Allison said: Say thank you.
Silence. Just sucking on the pacifier.
Tell your grandmother thank you. Nothing.
Obey me and say thank you! No.
Finally (parents, you know the last resort), the threat.
If you don’t obey me and say thank you, you’re going to get a spanking.
To which Adrienne replied:
I can’t say thank you with this “pacie” in my mouth.
Why do we want our children to obey us?
Why do we work so hard when they are young to make them obey?
Even to enforce obedience with physical punishments?
When they get older, why do we reason with them,
and appeal to them and even plead with them to obey?
Why do we reason with them and even plead with them?
Why do we rejoice when they obey, and grieve when they don’t?
Because we want them to be happy. We want them to have a good life.
We want them to obey us by saying “thank you” so they become grateful people.
We live in a culture that glorifies disobedience.
You never hear a pop culture icons proclaiming the beauty of an obedient child.
Or proclaiming the security and fulfillment and well-adjusted personhood
that obedience bestows on a life.
Rebellion is an art form. It has its own music and clothing. A philosophy of life.
But we know better. A rebel life is not a happier life in the long run.
An obedient life is. And that’s what we want for our children.
Well, it shouldn’t surprise us that God the Father wants the same thing for us.
“Obedience” is an important word in this letter.
Peter has already used it twice before.
First in verse 2 of chapter one, where he says that this is why God chose you—
to obey Jesus Christ. He saved you to be happy, of course.
But he saved you first to make you a man or woman who would obey,
and to find your happiness and fulfillment in that obedience.
Peter also describes faithful Christians as “obedient children” of heavenly Father.
We read that last week in verse 14.
Later on in the letter he classifies unbelievers as those who “disobey the Word,”
and those who “do not obey the gospel of God.”
And then here it is in our passage this morning.
“You have purified yourselves by obeying the truth.”
Peter wants us to see the Christian life, from beginning to end,
as a matter of obedience to God and to his Word, to Christ and his Gospel.
He wants us to see the difference between Christians and non-Christians
in terms of this obedience or disobedience.
Now, let’s get our theology straight:
We are not made right with God by our own obedience. That’s impossible.
We are made right with God by the obedience of Christ, and our faith in him.
By trusting Christ we stand before God in Christ.
That means his perfect obedience is our record and status.
And we don’t obey God by nature.
We are enabled to obey because we’ve been born again. Peter says it here.
You’ve been born again through the living and enduring word of God.
A new heart, a new life has been planted in you by the Holy Spirit.
But having been chosen for obedience,
and made right with God by Christ’s perfect obedience,
and enabled to obey by being born again—God expects you to obey.
Why? Because he loves you and wants the best. Wants your character to develop.
And more specific to this letter—because an obedient Christian life
will enable you to go through troubles and trials and come out pure gold.
Why is it that even two Christians will respond so differently to suffering?
One is made more wise and kind, the other becomes more bitter and guilty—
barely different from an unbeliever? It’s often a matter of obedience.
Because obedience does things to you. It turns you into a certain kind of person.
Peter says: Obey the truth. Obey the gospel. Work it into your life.
He says in this passage there are three paths of obedience, three things strive for.
1. Purity 2. Charity 3. Maturity
Let’s look at each and see how they are of tremendous value
for processing suffering.
“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth . . .”
That’s not the complete sentence. It’s just a clause. Peter is going somewhere else.
But it grabs our attention and we have to consider it.
You have purified yourselves by obeying the truth. What does that mean?
First, what is purity?
We know what pure air is, and pure water. Those are important to us.
We want to breathe air without pollution.
We want to drink and swim in water that is clear and free of contaminants.
There’s a brand of dairy products in the grocery store called Purity.
That’s easy to understand—we want milk that is fresh and good tasting.
To be pure is to be clean inside.
It’s to be right in your relations.
It’s to be good and feel good in a moral sense.
To be free of the contaminates of guilt and shame.
All people crave purity—even if they would never express it that way.
All people long to feel good about themselves
and to be satisfied with themselves morally speaking.
Impurity is experienced as guilt and shame.
Dissatisfaction with yourself. A sense of your failures being exposed.
The knowledge that you have messed important things up—marriage, children.
Knowing that you know and maybe other people know.
I’m convinced that it’s this desire for purity and sense of shame and guilt that
makes scandalous news stories so popular. Like the Arnold Schwarzenegger.
You read that story of his exposure, his shame and guilt, his impurity—
the deception, the foolishness—and it makes you feel better about yourself.
Why do most people get drunk and use drugs? Impurity.
They want to dull their own sense of dissatisfaction with themselves
and their lives and their guilt and shame.
Purity—that’s what we want.
Instead of guilt—innocence. Instead of shame—honor and acceptance.
And that’s exactly what is extended to us in the Gospel.
Jesus Christ became our impurity and our shame.
Crucifixion was not only a way of executing a man.
It was a way of exposing him to extreme shame.
Every scrap of his standing in society was stripped away.
Every scrap of his dignity and honor. He was flogged, forced to carry cross.
He was nailed up naked.
The pain caused uncontrollable bodily contortions and bodily excretions.
As people gawked and mocked, his humiliation was complete.
Maybe you’ve felt a little of that a few times in your life—exposure, shame—
when you’ve failed in some way in the presence of other people.
Nothing like what Jesus experienced for you—but you still remember it.
This is what Hebrews means when it says that Jesus endured the cross, despising
the shame. All so that you could be clean, and honored and accepted by God.
Because what really matters is not what other people think about you,
or what you think of you, but what God thinks about you.
And if you have God’s acceptance, you will one day be honored before all men.
Now, Peter says, this purity comes from obeying the truth.
Obedience means first, faith in Jesus Christ.
That’s the most basic act of obedience.
You are summoned, commanded to believe.
And then having believed, and having been forgiven,
you obey Christ with all your heart. Of course you still sin and disobey.
But when you sin you obediently repent and grieve over your sin.
(As our catechism puts it) with full purpose of and endeavor after new obedience.
This life of obedience to the truth, Peter says, purifies you.
It gives you a sense of being clean inside.
And right in your relations.
And free of the contaminates of guilt and shame.
The Christian self-image is absolutely unique.
Christians should be simultaneously the most humble and most confident person.
Listen to the Apostle Paul talking about himself.
He says on the one hand: I am the chief of sinners.
O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death.
And then Paul turns around and says about himself:
Imitate me. He actually says that to the Corinthians. I urge you, imitate me.
And looking at his life he says: I have fought the good fight, I have finished
the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me a crown of righteousness.
That’s a pure heart talking.
I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.
There is a crown awaiting me. How did he get to that point?
Peter says that it is obedience to the truth.
Not just in the New Testament, a most remarkable example of this in Old.
King David, reflecting on his life as an old man and he says:
“When one rules over men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God,
he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning,
like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth.”
What’s he describing? He’s talking about purity. These are pure things.
Then he says: “Is not my house right with God?”
That can’t be—What about Bathsheba, what about Uriah, and Absalom,
and Tamar and Joab and all of David’s many faults and failures.
Surely this is just talking about the righteousness of Christ.
But, no, David is reflecting on his own reign.
He’s like Paul saying: I have fought the good fight.
Obeying Christ, obeying the truth matters. Not sinless perfection.
But a life of faith, repentance and new obedience.
A heart that says: How can I obey Jesus. I want to obey Jesus.
It makes you pure.
Now, real quick, I’m not going to work this out, because I know you’ll see
the connection and work it out yourself. Does purity help you process suffering?
Of course it does. To be able to face a terrible trial and know that you are
pure inside, and honored and accepted by God—that’s huge.
For guilt to be taken away. For shame to be taken away. That’s huge.
You can face almost anything if you know you are good inside.
That’s what God wants for you. Obey me. Obey the truth. Obey my Gospel.
Please, he’s appealing to you as a child of his.
But that’s not the only thing obedience develops in your character . . .
“Now that you have purified yourself by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.”
Love, charity. There’s a chain here.
Peter says you obey, you take the Gospel into your heart, you work it out in life—
and that pushes you into the love of your brother.
How do you know you’ve really taken the Gospel in and are obeying truth?
You love other Christians in your church without malice, deceit, hypocrisy,
envy, slander of every kind. That’s how you know.
Peter is saying that love is the real test of whether you are obeying the Gospel.
It’s very possible to believe all the right things, have your doctrine right.
and to be living a moral life for reasons other than the Gospel.
But Peter says, No. The real test that you are obeying the Gospel is that you will
love fellow Christians.
If you are a demanding person, a critical person, a cold person, a distant person.
Not approachable. Then very possible denying Gospel.
You’re not obeying the truth.
You don’t really understand deep down that you are a sinner saved by grace.
Now if you had a written test, you would get it right. You have theology down pat.
You would say: I know I’m saved by grace and not by works.
I know it’s all the mercy of God and the sacrifice of Jesus for me.
But you still really don’t get it.
Deep down you believe you are saved by your own performance.
Proof is that instead of responding to fellow Christians with charity—
You are either smug, demanding and critical.
Why can’t they be faithful like me? Look at the way they raise their children.
Or you are defensive, irritable and easily slighted.
I can’t believe she treated me that way.
In either case, you aren’t forgiving, open and warm. Approachable and gracious.
How do you know if you are obeying the Gospel?
Do you find yourself forgiving people who are critical of you?
Are you able to pull for the success of people who have wronged you.
Are you gracious and open to people in your manner, in your tone, comments?
Or are you sensitive to criticism and always feeling that people are slighting you?
There’s a negative and a positive side to the Gospel.
The negative is that you’re a sinner. More wicked than ever willing to admit.
If you really believe that you are a sinner, going to make you much kinder
and more tolerant of weaknesses of other people and criticisms of you.
The positive side of the gospel is that you are more loved and accepted
in Christ than you ever dared to hope. I’m sure you see the connection.
If God has extended that love and acceptance toward you, and you know it,
then you should try your hardest to extend it to others.
Now, how do you do it? How do you love in this way?
Peter gives two specific instructions. Wow, they are hard!
Have sincere love and love one another deeply.
Sincere love means that you are willing to tell the truth.
It means that when a brother or sister in Christ is doing things or saying things
that are wrong, you love that person enough to tell him or her so.
You sit down and say:
I love you and I want to challenge you about something.
I love you but I have to confront you about something.
Some pattern, some habit, some attitude that seems to be developing.
But I don’t want to hurt the person. No, you’re scared for yourself.
You don’t want to experience the fallout if they get upset with you.
Don’t ever use the excuse that you don’t want to hurt the person.
Love must be sincere. But it must be loving.
Can’t just say: I told them the truth. I let them have it. They couldn’t handle it.
Love means that you tell them as gently and winsomely as possible.
Often means that you don’t tell them everything you could say—
you just give them enough to swallow and understand—
and trust the Holy Spirit, and leave the door open for another conversation.
Let’s start right here. Who do you need to love sincerely in your church?
You are thinking about somebody right now. Something concerns you.
You’ve made the sorry excuse that you don’t want to hurt the person.
When it’s really yourself you are concerned about.
Obey the Gospel. Love that person enough to speak the truth in love.
Then, Peter says that you have to love deeply from the heart.
Deeply in the sense of earnestly, fervently, without giving up.
Love in such a way that you don’t give up on fellow Christians.
You don’t write them off.
He says right after this that you have been born again of imperishable seed.
Your love for them is going to be like your salvation, imperishable.
They are on your heart, on your mind, in your prayers.
When you have a chance to speak to them you do, with an open heart.
And you are going to believe, believe, believe that the Holy Spirit is at work.
Love hopes all things and believes all things.
Obeying the Gospel is impossible if you aren’t committed to a particular church,
and committed to loving you brothers and sisters in your church.
I’ve become more and more convinced as I read the New Testament,
that it is in the local church body where real sanctification takes place.
Of course there are times and legitimate reasons for changing churches.
May even be reasons to leave this church—I can’t think of any, but sure there are.
But having committed yourself to a church, and joined that church—
then you must love every quirky, irritating, unlovable soul deeply and sincerely.
Listen, you parents of seniors, especially you parents of senior girls.
When all of our girls were little, all in school together at St Paul’s,
there was many a time when Adrienne was upset with one or the other.
Girl stuff. Catty stuff. But it felt big to her.
Something said or done by one of those sweet girls standing up here a minute ago.
Can you believe that? Allison and I had the same message.
Love them. Pray for them. Your sisters in Christ. Don’t have an option.
I’m sure some of you said the same thing to your girls about Adrienne.
That’s the way we obey the truth—by loving one another, brothers and sisters,
in the church sincerely and deeply.
Now, how does this help you process suffering?
Once again, just going to skim. If you are loving others, you will be more aware
of God’s love for you in the midst of your suffering.
And you will find that your suffering makes your more attuned to the hurts
of other people. Mind will be taken off yourself. That’s huge.
“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
Obeying the Gospel means you grow up in your salvation. Move into maturity.
You don’t just become a Christian and stop. You grow. You mature.
And you have a role in that. It comes by obeying the Gospel.
There’s a passage in 1 John where John addresses three groups of Christians.
I write to you children. I write to you young men. I write to you fathers.
He repeats that. Children, young men, fathers.
Implying that there are stages to the Christian life.
Now, these are rigid stages. Not that you pass exactly from one to other.
But these stages do exist.
And as a Christian, there are Gospel skills and Gospel aptitudes to learn.
John Newton, the Anglican minister who wrote the song Amazing Grace,
also wrote a number of amazing letters to friends answering their
questions about the Christian life.
There are three letters he wrote that he titled:
Grace in the blade, Grace in the ear, Grace in the full corn.
You get the idea, three stages of the Christian life.
Little blade of corn, then the formation of the ear, and the full cob.
Children, young men, fathers.
The first stage is babyhood.
John says: I write to you dear children, because your sins have been forgiven.
First lesson is to know your sins are forgiven.
You never get out of spiritual babyhood until you learn it.
Some of you have been baby Christians for years because haven’t learned yet.
You may be saying: But that’s easy. Everybody knows sins are forgiven.
Jesus died on the cross for my sins. I know that already. But do you?
John Newton says that a baby Christian is one who still has the
remnants of a legalistic spirit. Still inside the sense that I work for salvation.
He says: The baby Christian tends to be very sensitive to criticism, finds
repentance difficult and galling, is still insecure in how he is being perceived by
others. Because they do not know they are loved, they do not know they are
accepted, and there is much works righteousness clinging to them.
What about you? Are you extremely sensitive to criticism?
Lots of ups and downs? Do your emotions rise and fall according to how
people like or approve of you or choose you or horn you?
Are you up and down with the success of business or finances?
You don’t know your sins are forgiven.
There are two systems of salvation—Christ salvation and self salvation.
Baby Christians intellectually know and believe in Christ salvation,
but functionally, emotionally, you live day to day life as if it were up to you.
You are insecure because you don’t know you are forgiven,
and that in the eyes of the only person who matters, you are accepted.
Grow up, Peters says.
The second stage is adolescence.
John says: “I write to you young men because you are strong, and the word of God
lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”
Spiritual adolescence is like physical adolescence.
When you are a child, your parents never let you cross street by self.
But when you get older, they expect you to. They quit holding your hand.
Here’s what that means spiritually. It means you move into a stage where God
calls you to face things without a sense of his presence.
You know what you have to do. You know what is true. But don’t fee lit.
Reason you don’t feel it is that God is saying—
It’s time to cross the street by yourself.
John Newton put it this way:
The first stage of the Christian life consists of high feelings and little knowledge of the truth. The second stage is lower feelings and a growing knowledge of the truth.
As the Apostle John put it, the world of God lives in you.
You don’t always feel God there, you have to go on in the bare trust of his word.
It’s not that you are trusting yourself. Trusting your feelings less, God more.
You don’t get out of the baby stage until learn difference between grace and works.
You don’t get out of the adolescence stage until you are able to learn
that everything God sends into your life is necessary, nothing he withholds
from you is needed. You stop blubbering and trust his word.
Young men. You are strong.
And then finally fathers. Fathers and mothers. The full corn in the ear.
“I write to you fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning.”
The final stage of maturity is that you know God.
You commune with God all the time. Always with him in prayer.
You heart full of thoughts about him.
When you are a baby, when you are an adolescence, your best times of prayer,
are when you are in crisis. Those are the times you really pour it on.
And often those are the greatest times of your early spiritual life.
How the Lord met you in the crisis and in the suffering.
Wouldn’t trade those times for anything.
But when you move to the final stage, you pray that way,
not just when the chips are down, but all the time.
Whether you are in the furnace or in times of peace—same intensity.
And, of course, there is in that person a remarkable stability.
The don’t get overly excited when great blessings come,
and they don’t sink very low when terrible trials come.
Why? Because they know him who is from the beginning.
Now, back to Peter. Crave nourishment. Crave the Word.
Grow up in your salvation. It’s a command. This is what you must do.
I’m sure you see that this is really the key being refined by suffering.
As you obey the Gospel, mature in your faith—
the trials of life change from that which throw you for a loop,
makes you question everything, to a growing trust in God,
and ultimately to a stability and confidence that is amazing.