Hope and Holiness - 1 Peter 1:13 - 2:3

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the morning service on 20th January 2002.

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Just how do you motivate people? That of course is a question many have to wrestle with, whether you are a shop manager or a classroom teacher, or a struggling parent. Well, when I was training to be a teacher, one course I studied was behavioural psychology where we looked at, amongst other things the works of a man called B.F.Skinner. He put forward a theory called operant behaviour, that is by using a systems of ‘rewards’ and ‘punishments’ what he called positive reinforcers and negative reinforces, you could get people to change the way they acted and often without them realising it. Now these ‘rewards’ weren’t necessarily things like prizes, they could be more subtle. Let me give an amusing example. A friend of mine who was quite a famous brain scientist had two daughters who were quite bright. And they heard about this, that by doing certain things you could get people to change their patterns of behaviour. So they thought they would try it out with one of their teachers. So what they did was simply this. When the teacher moved to the left side of the room as he was spouting forth, they perked up, smiled and looked interested. But when he moved over to the right side of the room ,they feigned boredom. By the end of the lesson they had him permanently hovering over on the left side of the classroom, and he wasn’t even aware of it. He had unconsciously picked up the positive signals and negative signals given off by the girls and, he was putty on their hands. You might want to try that out sometime when the Curate is preaching.

Now you may say, well that isn’t motivation, it is manipulation, and you would be right. We should treat human beings with some sort of dignity so that out of their own free choice do things for the right reasons. And that is exactly the way God treats us. So the first question we need to ask is how does God motivate Christians ? The answer: He does so by giving us the truth. The second question is: What does he motivate us for? The answer: So that we become holy as we read in 1 Peter 1:15- ‘Be holy for I am holy’ Have you ever wondered what holiness is? It is a word we use a lot in Christian circles, but very rarely do we sit down and think about what it means. In the Bible, one of the unique attributes of God which is that he is holy-it is what God is in his essence denoting his separateness, his purity, something of his glory and majesty. And yet the text says, we are to be holy for he is holy. Does that mean then we are to be God? No, rather it means that we are to be so bound up with God, to be so connected with all that brings honour and praise to him, so much in line with his character and purposes ,that we can be rightly said to be holy. So what can possibly even begin stir us to desire this? Well, Peter tells us certain facts which should cause us not to settle for anything less.

First, we have a glorious hope v 13-16. Peter begins with the word ‘therefore’, and as someone has said when you read the word ‘therefore’ in the Bible it is ‘there for’ a reason, it connects what is about to come with what has just gone before. And here Peter has just been unfolding the glorious salvation God has provided in Jesus Christ, particularly picking up something he said earlier in v 3, that through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead we now have a glorious hope. In other words he is saying, ‘You Christians have already received so much by God’s grace-forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy spirit and new birth, membership of God’s family’, but there is much more that this grace is going to bring you, as he says in v 13 when Jesus Christ is revealed, that is when we will receive resurrected bodies, pulsating with glory and immortality, being ushered into a new heaven and earth especially prepared for us-that is our future. So how are we to get ourselves ready for this fantastic future which is waiting for us? v 13 ‘ Prepare your minds for action, be self-controlled and set your hope on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.’ The older translations capture the original much better when they say ‘ gird up the loins of your mind for action’. You see, in Peter’s time, many people had long robes, and if they were about to do something strenuous, like running, they would tuck their robes under their belt, so they wouldn’t be impeded.- ‘girding up their loins’. So he is saying, ‘Get ready to think hard, be disciplined, self-controlled in your thought life’. What are we to think hard about? Well, what we are not to think hard about is what we often do think too much about and that is ,as Peter says in v 14, ‘evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance’- literally, ‘lusts which were yours in ignorance’-i.e. being driven by self-centred passions which are all to do with this world, whether it is careerism, sex, money, fame. By way of contrast we are to think long and hard about the future hope. As we think about heaven, as we contemplate meeting Christ face to face, that should create within us more and more of a thirst for heaven. Look at it this way. It is little Jonny’s birthday coming up in a weeks time. What does he do? He thinks about it, all those presents and friends, the sandwiches, the jelly, the cake, the games-he pictures it in his mind and as he does so, he can’t wait. He doesn't say to himself, ‘I will hope for my party’ in some vague way -his mind is girded for action-its ready for the real thing, and that affects his behaviour in the meantime, he gets on with inviting his friends, and going on and on to his mother about it! Do you see? Well, if we are going to be different from the rest of the world which simply lives for the now, we have to do some serious thinking about the future. But that is something Christians today are very bad at doing-hence most of the Christian books which are being churned out are mostly to do with this life alone- books on improving your self-image and the like. Not so with our Christian forbears. They thought very much about heaven, not least because life expectancy was so much shorter than it is today. Many of their children would have died in infancy. And so we have the great American preacher Jonathan Edwards writing a whole book on heaven where we find words like these: ‘Heaven-’ the glorified spirits will grow in holiness and happiness in eternity. Heaven-what beautiful and fragrant flowers will there be reflecting all the sweetness of the Son of God. Heaven- Christians love for one another will be such that it will thrill them that Jesus Christ loves other Christians and will fill them with joy to see him showing his love to them. Heaven-is the direct reverse of what it is on earth, for there by length of time things become more and more youthful, more vigorous, active, tender and beautiful.’ Its as if he has been there and back! But do you see what he is doing? He is straining to get a glimpse of this wonderful world which God is going to give as a gift to all those who trust his Son. Could I ask: do you long for heaven? We should you know, far more than we do.

The second thing which should motivate us towards holiness is the knowledge that we have an awesome Father -v 17 (read). I think we have to admit that the father doesn't get a good press in our society today. He is often portrayed as bumbling, distant, absent-even a bit of a duffer-like Homer Simpson. He is not the wise, guiding figure which would have been esteemed in the culture into which Peter was speaking. We lionise youth, these folk revered old-age. And they were probably all the better for it. The father was respected, reverenced even, and was seen as the final arbiter and judge in the family .But not only was he the traditional purveyor of moral values and behaviour , he was usually the one who handed on the family trade. In this sort of agrarian culture the son would from knee high work with his father, he would have watched, listened and copied his Dad. And so the father would ,like any good mentor, judge the work of his young apprentice son, encouraging him on to better and greater things.

Well, that is the picture we have here. Our family connections with God as our Father means that we are to adopt his values and priorities, share in his plans and purposes and he will judge us impartially. He has no family favourites, we are all his favourites, and so we should be set on cultivating the family characteristics-those of the elder Son Jesus. Loving what he loves, hating what he hates, doing what he would do. As well as promoting the family business-living the Gospel. And that means having a healthy fear of God.

Now this idea is becoming increasingly alien to many families today-children fearing parents. Don't misunderstand, this is not some craven pathological fear, but a healthy fear. When I was young I feared my Dad. Not because he was some monster, but because he loved me so much I knew he would discipline me if I did wrong. And also because I loved him so much that I feared disappointing him, letting down the family name if you like. Well, how much more should that be my attitude to my heavenly father, who really does know best? We need to be careful that we do not create such a sugary picture of God that our faith and Christian walk becomes weak and saccharine as a result. He is truly awesome. Do you believe that? Does your life reflect that? Do you really care what your Father thinks of you? Peter says we most certainly should.

But thirdly we have a precious Saviour -vv 18-21 (read). You know, there is no greater motivation for anything than gratitude-whether it be the kindness of a friend, the self-sacrifice of a spouse, the generosity of a parent. When you have been treated so kindly don’t you just want to show your thanks to that person in a way they will appreciate? Well, one sex mad intellectual whose life was going nowhere fast wrote these words: He said a Christian is ‘ a hallelujah from head to toe’ he went on to say as he poured out his heart to God, ‘Let me not tire of thanking you for your mercy in rescuing me from all my wicked ways.’ That was Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest Christian thinkers of all time. Do you see he understood perfectly what Peter is saying here? The life that had been handed down to him by his forbears was empty-vacuous-as it is for many is our society today. And God showed his love to him not by depositing gold bullion's in his bank, feeding his lusts further, but by redeeming him from that hell bound lifestyle by sending his Son to be smashed to pieces on a cross for him. To die a violent death like a sacrificial lamb in the Jewish temple-for sin demands death, and in his infinite kindness God substituted his own Son for us, exhausting his wrath upon him whom he loved from all eternity, so that we could live for all eternity. That is what these verses about Jesus being a pure lamb are all about. As he was raised from the dead and we put our trust in him, that too will be our destiny- v21. Now do you see why we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, and what effect that should have on the way we should live? What are we doing when we come to the table and take the broken bread and the poured wine? We are remembering with gratitude that violent death over and over again. The savage cost to God in offering up his own Son so that our sins could be forgiven and we could begin a new life and a new lifestyle. Now just supposing we come and take these symbols of divine love. And we say ‘I remember, I remember’ and then we go home and we belittle the wife, or watch the suspect video, or have roast preacher for lunch. What have we done? We have profaned Christ’s name just as surely as if we had spat on his face at the cross. The bread and the cup should remind us of the shear ugliness of our sin and what it has cost God to get rid of it? It should move us afresh ,even with tears if only we were not so familiar with it, to say ‘My God, you have done this for me, what can I possibly do for you?’ And the answer is always the same- my child, pursue holiness. The life of my Son was given so that you might take on the lifestyle of my Son in which my name is hallowed, my kingdom comes and my will is done just as faithfully and as swiftly on earth as in heaven.

A glorious Hope, an awesome Father, a precious Saviour, but finally we also have a powerful Word- vv 22ff. What is the difference between manipulation and motivation? Manipulation is always something external-something done to us, whereas motivation is always something internal, something arising from within us. God motivates us by his Truth, the truth of the Gospel, which is really all that we have been looking at, the truth about our hope, our Father, our Saviour. But this is not something which is merely intellectual assent, this truth is obeyed, says Peter in v22 , not just believed, and so we are purified, that is made ritually clean, and this shows itself in action, by practical love for fellow Christians, which also comes from within. We have new natures because we have experienced a new birth-v23 ,how? Well, by the same Word of the Gospel which lasts for ever, and so produces people who will last for ever. Normally human beings grow old and die and that is the end ,as this quote from Isaiah testifies in v 24 (read), but God’s Word does not suffer that same fate v25, its glory remains, its power is never diminished, and neither will those who believe in this Word. Sure, they grow old and die like everyone else, but the difference ,as we have seen, is that Christians will share in an inheritance which will last into all eternity. The same Word of God which created the heavens and the earth, which saves sinners from hell, is the same Word which will bring us into his glory. So what are we to do? Well, get ready for the kind of life which is coming our way by starting to practice it now. Negatively, 2:1 that means getting rid of those disgusting traits like malice, deceiving, hypocrisy, envy, slander, and longing for more of that same Word which saved us in the first place, just like a baby who if it is to grow up healthy and strong, will be desperate for milk and will not be able to get enough. And as far as Peter is concerned, tasting God’s word, and tasting God himself are pretty well interchangeable -2:2 ‘crave pure spiritual milk, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.’ In other words, the motivation to feed more and more on God’s Word is that through it we have discovered that God tastes wonderful. In the message of the Gospel we have discovered that he is a glorious God, a kind God, a faithful God, a God who says what he means and means what he says. This is the sort of God you can count on.

Now could it be that the reason why so many Christians today seem to be suffering from what can only be called spiritual anaemia, resulting in a lethargy towards holiness so that even attending church once a Sunday is proving just too much, is because of the neglect of the spiritual food God provides? If a baby goes off its milk or isn’t growing we know something is wrong don’t we? It may be that the milk is contaminated- so Peter talks about pure spiritual milk-that is why it is vital to receive good biblical teaching , not skimmed . It may be that something is constitutionally wrong and we might need to check whether there is some unconfessed sin in our lives which is causing the blockage or whether we are in fact born again at all. But in either case it is still a matter of coming back and submitting to this unique Word from God which alone has the power to save us and to sanctify us.

So here it is again: God says, ‘Be holy for I am holy’.

 


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