What Does it Mean to Follow Jesus?

This article is adapted from a sermon I preached on 13 January 2019, entitled “Following the Leader.” Video and audio may be found here.

Peter has just made an important confession; that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One (Mk 8:27-33). How do you sum up what this office means?[1] It’s common to see Christ as the prophet, priest and king. Millard Erickson shifts the emphasis from office to function, and presents Jesus as the revealer, ruler and reconciler.[2]

Because Jesus does these things; because He reveals God’s message, will rule over all creation and reconciles any and everyone who comes to God through Him, how should you follow Jesus? That’s what this passage (Mk 8:34 – 9:1) is all about.

Then, after Jesus summoned the crowd, along with His disciples, He said to them, (Mk 8:34).

Jesus’ lessons on discipleship aren’t just for “super Christians.” Jesus invited apostles and the crowd to listen. If you’re a Christian, this message is for you!

If someone wishes to be following me, he must deny himself, then pick up his cross, then keep on following me (Mk 8:34).

If you’re a Christian, what does Jesus say a faithful life looks like? What do you have to do to be the kind of Christian Jesus can smile at?

Here it is:

  • Deny yourself
  • Pick up your cross
  • Keep on following Jesus; don’t turn back!

What do these mean!?

Deny yourself

This mean God is on the throne in your life; not you. It means you aren’t in charge of your life, God is. Your life isn’t your own (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19-20). If you’re a Christian, then Christ is your Lord (Rom 14:8-9); do you live like it? The issue is motivation and drive; what gives your life meaning and purpose – your status in union with Christ, or something else?

Christ died so that “those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised,” (2 Cor 5:15). Do you live your life in service to Jesus? The point is that your purpose in life isn’t to please yourself, or to pursue your own goals – it’s to please God!

Does that mean that, in order to be a faithful Christian, you have to sell everything you have and move to Antarctica and preach the Gospel to penguins? Or, does it mean you have to live on top of a mountain alone, with your wi-fi, so you can be close to God?

No! You don’t need to become a monk; you just need to view your life in the proper perspective. What give your life purpose and meaning? This is a question that goes to motivation, and only you and God know what motivates and energizes your life. If you’re a Christian, it ought to be God. If you’re a Christian, your overriding drive should be to please Him, and serve Him with your life – wherever He’s put you. You aren’t your own, He bought you with a price – do you live for yourself, or for the One who for your sake died and was raised?

Does this mean your job is pointless? No! It just means you need to have the proper perspective about your job. There’s honor in working hard to provide for your family, and God gave you the gifts to do the job you do – it’s not an accident you have the job you do, or that you’ll get the next job you’ll get! It just means your job isn’t your life; it doesn’t define you – your relationship with Jesus Christ defines you (1 Pet 2:9-10). That’s the inspired blueprint for how you ought to think of yourself, if you’re a Christian. You’re a priest for God, saved so you can show and tell the message of the Gospel to the people God has put you around.

Who is on the throne in your life?

You must pick up your cross

This was the cruelest, worst form of capitol punishment in the Roman world. People took hours to die. They were often left to die on their crosses along the roadsides, as a warning to others, where birds and dogs would eat and pick at them as they died! So, what did Jesus mean by this?

He meant you had to be ready to be considered the worst of the worst by the same people who would kill Him (Jn 15:18-19). Condemned prisoners were made to carry the cross-beam of their own crucifixion cross to the execution site (Mk 15:21); Jesus meant you had to be willing to figuratively pick up your cross and march to your own death, if need be (1 Pet 4:12-13).

The Roman Emperor Nero infamously blamed Christians for a massive fire in the city of Rome. Contemporary accounts tell us Nero crucified and burnt Christians alive in Rome. These are the same people Mark probably wrote his Gospel to.

Real faith means that, if necessary, you’re willing to suffer and die for your Savior, for the sake of the Gospel. That means Jesus and His Gospel ought to be the most important things; everything else (including your life) fades far into the background (Phil 3:8).

Who is on the throne in your life?

You must keep on following Jesus!

The Christian faith isn’t a once and done event; it’s not something that stops. A faith that isn’t living, active, and bearing fruit is a faith that’s either in serious trouble, or non-existent (read 1 John). You need to keep on denying yourself. You need to keep on carrying your cross

Why does Jesus say all this?

Because, if he keeps desiring to save his life, he’ll lose it. But, if a person would lose his life for my sake and the Gospel’s, he’ll save it (Mk 8:35).

If a person keeps trying to “save his life,” it means Jesus and the Gospel aren’t the most important things in his life. If that’s you, it means your own desires are more important. You’d rather save your life, then potentially lose it by following Jesus. It means everything about the “here and now” is more serious and more important than the great God and Savior, Jesus Christ

If that’s you, then you’re actually losing your life. You have no spiritual resurrection, the wrath of God abides on you (Jn 3:36), and one day your chance for salvation is gone. One psalmist asked, “what man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol,” (Ps 89:48)?

The answer is that God can, through Jesus, and you frittered it away because you valued the things of this world over the things of eternity; the temporary over the permanent, the fleeting over the transcendent.

Is this you? Do you desire to save your life? Solomon said everything in this world is transitory, momentary, fleeting, impermeant – there’s of lasting significance there to hold onto! Wisdom, great possessions, sex, money, living for pleasure, your work and career – all of them are fleeting and transitory. Whatever you’re hold onto instead of Jesus, whatever you’re not willing to let go of for Jesus, that thing will not be there for you in the end.

The only way you can save your soul is to be willing to lose it for Jesus and His Good News. If you’re a Christian, this means your rescue from sin your reconciliation with God, Jesus’ perfect, substitutionary life and death, His miraculous resurrection, your adoption into God’s family from the kingdom of darkness, your status as a brother or sister whom Jesus is not ashamed to call by name – all of these should be the most important things in the world to you. How can wisdom, sex, possessions, money, living for pleasure, or the idol of a career compare to these things?

Whose stamp do you bear and what’re you going to do about it?[3] Is your faith the driving, motivating factor in your life, the thing that gives you purpose and fuels you? Or, is it an add-on; something affixed to the tail-end of your life with dollar store scotch-tape?

Who is on the throne in your life?

For, how does it benefit a man to be gaining the whole world and be losing his life!? (Mk 8:36)

It doesn’t!

After all, what would a man give in exchange for his life (Mk 8:37)?

Everything! Anything! The moon! So, have you? Have you made the decision to deny yourself? Have you made the decision that Jesus and the Gospel are worth picking up your cross for? Have you made the decision to keep on following Jesus, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year?

These aren’t things you do to get salvation; they’re things a genuine Christian will want to do because of salvation; they’re the fruit of spiritual life. Apple tree produce apples. Orange tree produce oranges. Mexican restaurants produce nachos. A Christian likewise ought to do the things Jesus said

Now, Jesus backs up and lays it all out for us:

This is what I mean – if someone is embarrassed about me and my words in this adulterous and sinful age, then the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in the Father’s glory, [and] with the holy angels,” (Mk 8:38).

What does this mean? Here’s what it means:

  • If you won’t deny yourself for Jesus,
  • If you won’t take up your figurative cross and be prepared to suffer and die for His sake and the Gospel’s sake,
  • If you won’t keep on following Him, or at least have the honest desire to keep on following Him for the remainder of your life  

Then Jesus looks at you and says:

  • This guy is embarrassed about me!
  • This guy is ashamed of me!
  • This guy is embarrassed about my message, about what I said!
  • This guy is ashamed about my message and what I said!

It means Jesus looks at you and says:

  • This guy isn’t ashamed about his greed, but he is ashamed about me!
  • This guy isn’t ashamed about his loving his career more than anything in the world, but he is embarrassed about how nobody comes to the Father, but through me
  • This guy isn’t ashamed of the Gospel, as long as it stays a secret part of his life

If that’s you:

  • Jesus says, “I’ll be ashamed of you when I come back, full of power and glory, along with the holy angels, to set everything right”
  • He’ll look at you and say, “I never knew you!”
  • He’ll look at you and say, “I don’t know who you are!”
  • He’ll look at you and think, “This is sinful guy; a criminal!”
  • He’ll look at you and think, “This guy is unfaithful to the God who created him, just like so many other people – he’s a spiritual adulterer!”
  • He’ll look at you and say, “I’m embarrassed that you claim to belong to me!”
  • He’ll look at you and think, “I’m ashamed of this guy!”

Consider the contrast. A life lived for yourself, for your own ends, for your own transitory dreams, all so it can go into the trashcan at the end of your life? Or, a life lived in service to God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, using and channeling your gifts and abilities for His glory, having (perhaps) that same career, but with the right motivations, having (perhaps) the same money, but with the proper perspective, willing to suffer loss and perhaps die for the sake of the Gospel, and seeing Jesus return in power, glory and honor, and welcoming you with open arms and a great smile, by saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master,” (Mt 25:21).

Jesus will return one day, with power and glory, accompanied by the holy angels – and what value will “whatever else” be for you, then?

Then Jesus said to them, “I’m telling you the solemn truth, that there are some people standing here who will not taste death until they see God’s kingdom coming in power,” (Mk 9:1).

As a way to encourage His disciples to take the longer view, to have the proper perspective, to see Him as he really is and (thus) to count everything as loss compared to Him, Jesus will lift the curtain a bit and show them a taste of His glory, power and honor … in the next passage (Mk 9:2-8)!

If Christian churches expected people to follow Jesus with the same passion and fervor He told us to have, then churches would be smaller, and the people left would be more zealous for Christ and the Gospel. If you’re a Christian, you need to follow Jesus with the same all-consuming passion He said you must have!

Who is on the throne in your life?

Choose to follow Jesus. Choose to put Him on the throne in your life. Choose to keep on following Him, just like He said


Notes

[1] I addressed this issue in a sermon from Mark 8:27-33, preached on 30 December 2018, entitled “Jesus is the Christ, But What Does That Mean?” You can find the audio, video and sermon notes at https://bit.ly/2R0IZt0

[2] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 780ff. 

[3] See Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, 5:1-5. 

A Word from David

jerusalem

How does God expect His people to live? This is an old question, but the answer isn’t any less relevant. King David asked the same thing, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away:

Psalm 15:1 O LORD, who shall sojourn in thy tent?
Who shall dwell on thy holy hill?

His opening line is rhetorical. David knows the answer. But, the question itself is worth mulling over for a moment or two. Who can live in God’s tent? Who has a place in His house? Who has, as it were, a seat at His family dinner table? As Israelites and the Gentile proselytes came to Jerusalem three times per year, and began the climb up the “holy hill” to God’s city, who among them had an eternal home with the Lord?

David is not asking for the identity of all the people who belong to God; he wants to know what kind of people belong to God. What do God’s people act like? What motivates their heart and infuses their soul? To quote the great philosopher Jerry McGuire, what “completes” them?

At this point, the reader has to make a decision – is David explaining how a man becomes a child of God, or is he describing how a child of God will want to live? That is, is his answer prescriptive (e.g. do this, and become a child of God) or descriptive (e.g. a child of God will want to do this)?

The Scripture teaches us David is being descriptive. Man cannot earn his way to salvation, or else Christ wouldn’t have had to come in the first place (Galatians 2:21).

Psalm 15:2 He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right,
and speaks truth from his heart;

David locates the desire for righteous and holy behavior in the heart. Outward conformity is meaningless and cheap. We all know people who are frauds. They speak and act one way, but we know it’s an act – because we’ve seen the mask slip.

No; a man who belongs to God will want to walk blamelessly, and he’ll honestly try to do it. He won’t do it to earn salvation or buy favor from God; he’ll do it because he loves the Lord and wants to do what He says (Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:28-30). This last bit is critical – an ungodly man can be morally upright. There are plenty of decent, “moral people” who have good manners. David isn’t talking about this.

To borrow a legal phrase, God doesn’t recognize behavior that is the fruit of a poisonous tree. A child of God will love God, and this love produces a real desire for loving obedience. A child of Satan (i.e. somebody who is not a Christian; see Ephesians 2:1-4) has no love for God, and therefore his actions don’t flow from that love. The motivations are different, therefore the moral weights of each action are different, too.

Consider this:

  • A co-worker named Cynthia knows you like Lee Child’s novels featuring Jack Reacher, so she snags an old paperback from a used bookstore and gives it to you for a birthday present.
  • Your wife gives you the same birthday present later that day, when you return home

You received presents from both women; identical presents. Which one carries more weight? The one from your wife, of course. Why? Because the relationship is clearly different. You’re in a covenant relationship with your wife; whereas Cynthia is the nice 65-yr old grandmother from work.

In a similar way, God weighs the believer’s actions differently than the unbeliever’ actions. In fact, in God’s case, the unbeliever’s actions have no moral value whatsoever, because they’re not being done out of loving obedience.

Psalm 15:3 who does not slander with his tongue,
and does no evil to his friend,
nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;

It’s fascinating how David’s descriptive proofs for a child of God focus so much on action. There is much to be commended about a focus on internal motivation as a check against rote legalism. After all, we don’t want to be hypocrites, going through the external motions while our hearts are harder than stone.

But, David (and God!) don’t let us off so easy. The other side of the ditch is just as treacherous. It’s so easy to excuse external conformity with pious appeals to “the heart,” isn’t it? A man claims to be a Christian, but has lived like a reprobate for years. “Oh,” he says, “I love God! I want to serve Him, honest!” At some point, every Christian needs to be honest with himself – where is the fruit?

David expects there to be fruit. Period. A godly man doesn’t slander, doesn’t betray his friend and doesn’t slander and reproach his neighbor. In other words, he seeks to be holy, because God is holy (Leviticus 19:2; 1 Peter 1:14-15).

Psalm 15:4 in whose eyes a reprobate is despised,
but who honors those who fear the LORD;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;

This bit is particularly interesting. A godly man will despise a reprobate (i.e. a vile person, a flagrant sinner). This is somebody who is nominally part of the Old Covenant community, but lives in complete rebellion against God. David says Israelites should despise this person; have contempt for him. In contrast, a godly woman will honor those who reverently fear the Lord.

What’s the purpose? It’s likely about shame. There is something to be said for peer pressure. But, doesn’t this concept go completely against our modern church culture? We prefer to love people to death, even when they deserve contempt, rebuke, or censure. In short, we’re wimps.

To be sure, David isn’t saying we should hate everybody who sins; we’re not on witch hunts for non-conformists. But, if you have somebody who (1) is a professing believer, (2) who is a reprobate; a vile and habitual rebel, and (3) he refuses to try to conform to God’s word, (4) then you need to take action – once all lesser means have failed. The man is hardened in his perversity and his rebellion is deliberate and calculated.

Part of this action is for the rest of the covenant community to have open contempt for the offender, and shower honor on those who honestly love the Lord.

Psalm 15:5 who does not put out his money at interest,
and does not take a bribe against the innocent.

He who does these things shall never be moved.

Isn’t is fascinating how sin so often revolves around money? In my experience in law enforcement and regulatory investigations, people do wrong for three reasons – money, sex and power. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian; these three temptations are universal. Godly people will fight against these urges; thus we have David’s warnings against shady business practices. To be sure, sometimes we’ll lose against these urges. But, the general trajectory of our personal lives should be trending towards more Christlikeness, not less.

This is a short little psalm; five whole verses. Yet, it sums up an entire theology of the Christian life. Who will dwell with the Lord, and dwell in His tent? The one who proves his love for God by concrete action. What kind of action? All kinds; but this psalm gives us a good start.

This isn’t an ethic that an unbeliever can have, because only a believer’s actions flow from his love for the Lord. This was one of Jesus’ points in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s David’s point here, too.

They’re Watching . . .

Dear friends:

I’m begging you – because you’re foreigners and temporary residents here, keep far away from the worldly lusts which are doing battle against the soul.

Always keep your whole way of life pure among the unbelieving nations, so that as they speak evil about you as though you’re criminals, because of your good deeds (which they’re watching) they might give honor to God on that day when He returns to judge the world.

Submit yourselves to every human authority for the Lord’s sake, whether to [the] emperor as one who governs, or to [the] officials who are being sent by him to punish evildoers and praise those who do right.

Because this is God’s will, that by doing right you’d silence the ignorant slander of foolish men — like freed slaves, and not like those who’re wearing this freedom like a cloak of wickedness, but like God’s slaves.

Respect all men. Love the family of believers. Always have fearful reverence for God. Always respect the Emperor.

  • 1 Peter 2:11-17 (my translation)

Why Should We Be Holy? (1 Peter 1:17-21)

Click the picture to listen to this sermon
Click the picture to listen to this sermon

Peter told us last week that we ought to be Holy, because God is holy. Today he tells us why it’s so important – why He cares about it so much. Last week, we saw that Peter said: 

“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy,” (1 Peter 1:13-16).

Today, he continues . . .

 

17 And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear:

 

Peter basically says we should never take God’s mercy and salvation for granted. He writes,“if you call upon the Father” (e.g. if you’re saved and a believer) then pass your temporary stay here on this earth with fear!” Why does Peter say this? Peter tells us “because God judges every man according to His deeds, and doesn’t play favorites!”

Peter is telling us we should have a loving respect and fear for God. Not the fear a dog shows to a cruel master, but the kind of loving fear and respect a small child has for his father.[1] Fear and respect not based on threat of punishment, but based on not wanting to disappoint or upset our Heavenly Father. If we have this fear, and we ought to have it, we’ll never take His grace for granted. I don’t think anybody would be ok with taking a gift from a friend while stabbing him in the back at the same time. In the exact same manner, no Christian should ever think it’s acceptable to claim to be a Christian while at the same time deliberately living in sin and not caring – being unrepentant about it. That’s more than hypocritical – it’s sinful

You may wonder, what does Peter mean when he says that God doesn’t play favorites when He judges? After all, Jesus said that if we’ve been called by God, drawn by the Holy Spirit and saved, that nobody can pluck us out of His hand! 

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand,” (John 10:27-29).

Is Peter saying that if we don’t live like holy people, we’ll be damned? Scripture doesn’t lie or contradict itself, so it’s not saying that! But, Scripture does say that if God has to discipline so that we grow, He’ll do it:[2]

“Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness,” (Hebrews 12:4-10).

A whole lot was said here – let’s focus on just a few of them. First, we’re wayward children who have been saved from hell. Second, God is our Heavenly Father. Third, what kind of Father would He be if He didn’t discipline His children? No father should let his kids run around like wild animals – a good father teaches, rebukes and trains his kids!

So far so good, but what’s the point of God’s discipline? To be mean? To be petty? To get a few laughs? Not at all; we just saw the writer of Hebrews compare our earthly fathers with our Heavenly Father; “[f]or they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness,” (Hebrews 12:10). This means that God disciplines believers to help us grow and make us a holier people. The writer of Hebrews went on: 

“Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord,” (Hebrews 12:11-14).

God trains us by discipline. He tells us to pursue holiness – to strive after it, day in and day out. The writer of Hebrews’ point, and Peter’s point, is that if we don’t take our obligation for personal holiness seriously, then we’re making a big mistake. God will discipline us, like disobedient children. If we have this flippant, “who cares” attitude, then we’re in serious spiritual danger. Peter tells us that everybody who calls on the Father should pass their temporary time here on earth in loving, reverential fear – trying our best to please our God and Savior, not wanting to disappoint Him!

That leads us to another question or two (or three!):

  1. Why is it so bad to disappoint God?
  2. Doesn’t He know we’re sinful?
  3. Isn’t He willing and waiting to forgive us when we fall short?
  4. Is Peter trying to tell us that we have to be perfect? Who’s perfect, anyway!?

God doesn’t expect you to be sinless and perfect. God does expect you to get up every day and try your best to fight against sin and temptation because you love Him. He’s saved you, given you the gift of the Holy Spirit (your new Helper), and given you a goal-post to shoot for – to be like Christ! He will not accept the fact that we’re sinful people as an excuse for keeping unrepentant sin in your life. Keep struggling, and keep on struggling until we die or Christ returns to take believers home, whichever comes first.

 

18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;
19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:

 

Peter’s going to remind us of something very important to make his point. If you’re a believer, you’ve been redeemed by Christ – it was His sacrifice and death on the Cross that paid the price for your own sin. His blood was precious, because Christ is God, and that blood was shed for you. He entered into His own creation and lived a sinless life. An animal brought for sacrifice to atone for sins in the OT had be perfect. Christ was sinless and perfect, and was sacrificed like a lamb without blemish and without spot – for you. You weren’t redeemed by worthless things like silver or gold, but by Christ’s death.

What does this mean? What does this have to do with why we ought to try to be holy people? It’s simply this – Christ has set you free from sin, so why are you tolerating unrepentant sin in your life? 

“What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s,” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

If you’ve been set free from sin, and given the gift of the Holy Spirit (and if you’re saved, you have!) . . .

  1. Then why do we tolerate sin in our lives?
  2. Why don’t we dedicate time and effort to actually changing the way we live our lives to be more Christ-like?
  3. Why are we so lazy?

Peter says you were redeemed “from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers . . .” We were rescued and bought by Christ’s blood from the road to hell we were on. He’s talking to Gentiles who never knew God or the Hebrew Scriptures, and he’s telling them, “you were redeemed from the worthless actions and attitudes you learned from your parents!” If we’ve been redeemed and set free from something, then we ought to act like that’s true.

  • Do you realize that you’ve been set free from the sin that weighs you down?
  • Do you realize that you can have victory over it?

God calls us to be holy people, He’s set us free from sin and death by Christ’s sacrifice, and given us a Helper in the Holy Spirit. We can overcome sin. It takes daily discipline and effort. It takes a real conviction, real repentance, real daily instruction in righteousness and real determination. But, we’ve been redeemed by Christ Himself, and we can do it. I challenge you to make a list of things you need to change in your life. I want you to realize that Christ died to set you free from those sins.  I want you to realize that, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, you can have victory over those sins.

 

20 Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,
21 Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.

 

Christ’s sacrifice in your place, for your sins, as your substitute was foreordained (planned and determined) before the world even began, and He came, died and was resurrected in these days for your sakes! He didn’t just die to accomplish something when you die, so you be reconciled to God and spend eternity with Him. No, Christ died to redeem you from the “vain conversation” you were in bondage to.[3] “Vain conversation” is “worthless conduct;” the empty and useless things you used to live for and do before you were called by the Holy Spirit for salvation. Christ died to redeem you from that unholy way of life.

Shame on all of us who don’t seize on that freedom He provided us, and continue to live unholy lives, knowing our responsibility to be holy, but not caring to even try. If you’re struggling to be holy, to have victory over a specific sin in your life – then praise God and keep on fighting today, tomorrow and forever. You were set free from this sin, and you can have victory over it by God’s grace!

———————————————————–

Footnotes:

[1] “The attitude advocated is not the craven, cringing dread of a slave before an offended master, but the reverential awe of a son toward a beloved and esteemed father, the awe that shrinks from whatever would displease and grieve him,” (D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 Peter, revised ed. [Chicago, IL: Moody, 1992; reprint, Winona Lake, IN: BMH, 2008], 100).

[2] This seems to be the sense of “who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work.” It is in the present tense, which indicates that God judges believers in the here and now in some fashion. Discipline (e.g. Heb 12:12:4-14) seems to be Peter’s point. For example, Jay Adams writes, “[i]t does speak of the final judgment of God among His people, but it also refers to the on-going judgment of God by which He trains and governs the members of His family (the verb is in the present tense). And, at times when He deems it necessary (because of the disgrace it brings on His name), that Fatherly judgment can be quite severe,” (Trust and Obey: A Practical Commentary on First Peter [Greenville, SC: A Press, 1988], 41-42).

Although the thrust of the passage could be referring to the judgment of believer’s works in the last days (e.g. 1 Cor 3:11-15), that really doesn’t seem to be what Peter is driving at. Wayne Grudem observes, “. . . the phrase is better understood to refer primarily or even exclusively to present judgment and discipline in this life,” (1 Peter, vol. 17, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988], 86). “Peter’s primary reference is to God’s present dealings with His saints in the development of holiness in their lives,” (Hiebert, 1 Peter, 99).

[3]The design of Christ in shedding his most precious blood was to redeem us, not only from eternal misery hereafter, but from a vain conversation in this world. That conversation is vain which is empty, frivolous, trifling, and unserviceable to the honour of God, the credit of religion, the conviction of unbelievers, and the comfort and satisfaction of a man’s own conscience,” (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible [Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994], 2424). Emphasis mine.

Be Holy! (1 Peter 1:13-16)

INTRODUCTION AND CONTEXT:

 

If you’re a believer, Peter just spent a lot of time reminding you of several things believers ought to be thankful for. If you’re a Christian, you have a lot to be happy about. So smile! You ought to smile. I’ll re-state it all for you in case you forgot:

  1. God has given you a home!
  2. God chose to save you – individually and personally!
  3. Your salvation is eternal and secure because it’s based on God’s grace, not your own merit
  4. Because you have the New Testament and understand the finished work of Christ, you can know more about God than David, Moses or any Old Testament saint ever could!
  5. All this means you can keep struggling while you wait for Christ to return for you!

But, now that Peter has reminded us of all the things God has done for us, it’s time to look at our obligations in light of all this. What does it mean to be holy, because God is holy? What does Peter mean? Let’s take a look!

TEXT:

 

13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;

 

Because all these things are true – we’re commanded to live our lives and act a certain way. Peter writes, “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind . . .” That means to get ready, to steel yourselves, to prepare yourselves. It means to get your mind ready for action. Have you ever known something terrible is coming, and you had to psych yourself up and prepare for it?

I was in the U.S. Navy Security Forces for 10 years. I started as a military policeman and did standard patrol work, and ended my time in the service as a Criminal Investigator. When I was on patrol, I had to carry what is usually called “pepper spray.” In order to carry this, you had to be sprayed by it first and demonstrate you can still function while your face felt like it was melting! I wasn’t looking forward to being pepper sprayed – nobody was! I had to mentally prepare myself for this awful event, and I was very glad when it was over!

In Peter’s day, when a man “girded up” his robe, everybody knew that meant he was getting ready for some kind of physical activity. If I’m wearing a suit and a tie, and I take oof my suit jacket and loosen my tie, you immediately know that I’m about to do something physical and I don’t want my suitcoat and tie to get in the way. Peter is saying that we have to get our minds ready for battle in the Christian life – we have to gird up our minds.

Peter says we ought to be pretty serious about our Christian life, how we live our lives, what we think, what we watch, what we do. This isn’t a picture of somebody casually drifting through life in a lackadaisical, uncommitted way – this is serious! He says we have to “be sober.”

To be sober means to be serious. It also means to not be drunk, but Peter doesn’t mean that here. We’re commanded to be serious about our walk with God. That means we take His word seriously and let Him rule our lives. That doesn’t mean we become a bunch of stiffs who look down our noses every time somebody laughs or smiles, and who seem to hate life! It just means we’re serious about our faith, and we allow it to shape our entire outlook. We don’t get lazy[1]

“And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful,” (Mark 4:18-19).

There’s a reason why the Holy Spirit moved the authors of the sacred Scripture to warn Christians so much about persevering, about struggling forward, looking to Jesus Christ the author and finisher of our faith – because God doesn’t want us to get distracted and lose focus! Let’s be serious and sober about the Christian life, and not let the cares of this world distract us

“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God,” (Colossians 3:1-3).

Does Christ take a backseat in our lives to our own ambitions, dreams and hobbies? If it wasn’t a possibility that we needed to watch out for, then Paul wouldn’t have warned us about it!

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever,” (1 John 2:15-17).

These are harsh words! We’re strangers and pilgrims in this world, and while we enjoy the blessings, family and stuff God has given us – we ought to be looking for that heavenly country that we’re actual citizens of, where Christ has prepared a place for us!

Peter goes on, and writes that Cristians are to “hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” There it is again – the idea of perseverance. Because of everything Christ has done for us (vv.1-12), we can keep on keepin’ on in the here and now. Peter has told us that we ought to get ready for battle and be serious about our Christian life, but what does that actually mean!?

 

14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance:

 

It means to not act like we used to before we were saved. Peter tells us to be like “obedient children.” God is our Heavenly Father. We are the children who are under training and discipline. When we’re in glory and our life is over, that training is over, we’re free from sin, temptation and everything evil or wrong. Until then, we’re in training, and we need to be obedient children of God. A real Christian life is characterized by action and determination, and by the power of the Holy Spirit we can resists sin and temptation and not be the way we used to be today, tomorrow or the day after.

If Peter had wanted to give an exhaustive list of what “un-Christian behavior” is, then he’d still be writing today. Instead, he repeats a very simple and profound truth from Leviticus . . .

 

15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;
16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.

 

Holiness is the complete opposite of evil:

“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy,” (Leviticus 19:1-2).

God commands us that we do our very best to purge evil and sin out of every aspect of our lives:

“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God,” (2 Corinthians 7:1).

The idea of “cleansing ourselves” means we’re dirty and filthy, somehow:

“And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight,” (Colossians 1:22-23).

We were alienated from God and His enemies before we were saved because of what was in our minds, which expressed itself by our actions. We were saved from darkness, now we’re commanded to walk worthy of God – so that, as much as we’re able, we’re ready to meet Christ at a moment’s notice without regret or sorrow.

When my wife goes out shopping and leaves me alone to watch the children, I know that it’s my responsibility to make sure the house is clean when she comes back. I have to make sure the kids clean up the mess they’ve made before Mommy gets home. I can’t lose track of time, or else I’ll be in trouble when she comes home. Usually, I do a decent job at this. Sometimes, however, I completely lose track of time. I hear my wife’s key in the door upstairs, and my heart sinks. I know the house is a disaster. I know the kids are running wild. I know I’m going to be in trouble. Grimacing, I head upstairs to face the music! In an infinitely more important way, we should not be caught unprepared when our Savor comes back for us!

I want you to think about the Old Testament Priest and the Temple.

  1. Priests were sinful people
  2. God dwelt in the temple
  3. If priests just blundered on into the temple to offer a sacrifice to God, they would die
  4. They had to atone for their own sins before they brought any offering for another Israelite. Just read Leviticus 8-10 if you want to get a sense of the preparations priests had to go through to actually approach God

Now, let’s make the New Covenant contrast. There isn’t a literal temple anymore where God dwells on earth – He lives in our hearts because all believers have the Holy Spirit. That means our bodies are temples of God: 

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are,” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

When you think about the extremely detailed, meticulous preparation OT priests had to go through to even approach God in the temple . . . what should that mean for us, if our bodies are temples of God today? 

“What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s,” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

God commands us to be holy people. It’s up to each and every one of us to examine our own lives and consider whether our lives could be called “holy.” Because God:

  1. Saved us,
  2. Prepared a home for us in eternity
  3. Will never let us lose our salvation, and
  4. Has given us more info about Him than Moses, David or Abraham ever had

. . . then is it really so much to ask that we should honor Him and try our very best to live holy lives for Him, because He’s holy? We’re commanded, not asked, to be obedient children for our Heavenly Father – to be holy in everything we do. Let’s make a decision to obey that command today, tomorrow and every day.

———————————————————-

Footnotes:

[1] “He knows how easily Christians can lose their spiritual concentration through ‘mental intoxication’ with the things of this world (cf. Mark 4:19; Col. 3:2–3; 1 John 2:15–17). We today might well consider the dangers presented by such inherently ‘good’ things as career, possessions, recreation, reputation, friendships, scholarship, or authority,” (Wayne A. Grudem, 1 Peter, vol. 17, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988], 81).

“There is a way of living that becomes dull to the reality of God, that is anesthetized by the attractions of this world. When people are lulled into such drowsiness, they lose sight of Christ’s future revelation of himself and concentrate only on fulfilling their earthly desires,” (Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary [Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003], 79).

Their Hearts Were Hardened (Mark 6:45-52)

Here, we see the disciples’ complete failure to appreciate or acknowledge who Christ was after the clear and unmistakable miracle of feeding the 5000 (actually, more like 15,000 – 25,000!). There is a limit to how much they could have understood of Christ before His death, burial, resurrection and ascension, but still – why did these many miracles not make them understand?

Amidst the disciples’ confusion, Christ is faced with a large crowd which likewise misapprehends who He is, or more likely, simply doesn’t care. They only want a solution to a political problem, not the Kingdom He was preaching and offering. They wanted no part of this Gospel of repentance and belief (Mk 1:15). As they finished their meal, miraculously provided by Christ, their only thought was to seize Him by force and make Him their King (Jn 6:15). Here we see only one of three instances where Christ retreats alone to pray, disconsolate and beset with a very human need to speak to His Father.hardened-heart

This is a very powerful message of faith; it is about understanding who Christ really is. The disciples were not ready for ministry and had a long road ahead of them, for Scripture tells us they did not apprehend who Christ was “for their heart was hardened,” (Mk 6:52).

Do you have a true and full appreciation and understanding of Jesus Christ today?

I preached this message for teen Sunday School at my church this morning.

Sermon notes – Mark 6:45-52