The Two Ways to Live

forkA few days ago, I shared some … unique allegorical insights from an early 2nd century Christian work, entitled The Epistle of Barnabas. Today, I wanted to share something positive and uplifting from that old letter. In the decades immediately following the death of the apostles, it was apparently common to frame the issue of salvation and allegiance to Christ as “the two ways to live.”

One very early Christian text, which may have been in circulation before the Apostle John even wrote the Book of Revelation, discusses these “two ways,” and remarks, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways,” (Didache 1.1). In The Epistle of Barnabas, the author went into great detail and contrasted the way of salvation and the way of continued rebellion and allegiance to Satan. It’s excellent stuff, and it’ll still preach today …

The way of light

Here is what the letter reads (Barnabas 19). The author describes what a faithful, believing life in submission and allegiance to Christ as Lord actually looks like:

Therefore, the way of light is this: if anyone desires to travel along the way to the appointed place, let him be diligent in his works. Therefore the knowledge which was given to us to walk in it is as follows.

You shall love the one who made you, fear the one who created you, and glorify the one who redeemed you from death. You shall be sincere in heart and rich in spirit. You shall not be joined with those who walk in the way of death. You shall hate everyone who is not pleasing to God. You shall hate all hypocrisy. You shall never forsake the commandments of the Lord.

You shall not exalt yourself, but shall be humble in all things. You shall not take glory upon yourself. You shall not plot an evil plan against your neighbor. You shall not permit arrogance in your soul.

You shall not commit sexual immorality, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not corrupt children. The word of God shall not go out from you with anyone impure. You shall not show favoritism. when correcting someone concerning sin. You shall be gentle. You shall be quiet. You shall tremble at the words which you have heard. You shall not bear a grudge against your brother.

Do not be double minded, whether it will happen or not. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain. You shall love your neighbor more than your own life. You shall not murder a child by abortion, and again, you shall not kill the just-born one. Do not withhold your hand from your son or from your daughter, but you shall teach them from youth the fear of God.

You shall not yearn after the things of your neighbor. You shall not be greedy, you shall not be joined by your soul with the haughty, but be associated with the humble and righteous. The activity that happens to you accept it as good, knowing that nothing takes place without God.

You will be neither double-minded nor glib of tongue. You will be subject to your master as a copy of God, in modesty and fear. Do not command your male slave or female slave in bitterness, who are hoping in the same God, lest they cease to fear the God over you both, because he does not come to call with partiality, but to whom the Spirit prepares.

You shall share in all things with your neighbor and you shall not say it is your own. For if you are sharers in the incorruptible, how much more in the corruptible? You shall not be quick to speak, for the mouth is a snare of death. To the degree that you are able, you shall be pure for the sake of your soul.

Do not reach out your hand first to receive, only to pull back from giving. You shall love as the apple of your eye everyone who speaks the word of the Lord to you. You shall remember the day of judgment night and day, and you shall seek out every day the presence of the saints, either by laboring in word and going out to encourage and striving to save a soul by the word, or with your hands doing work as a ransom for your sins.

You shall not hesitate to give nor grumble while giving, but you will come to know who is the good paymaster of the reward. You shall guard what you have received, neither adding to nor taking away from. You shall utterly detest the evil one. You shall judge justly.

You shall not cause division, but make peace by bringing together those who fight. You shall make confession for your sins. You shall not come to prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of light.

The way of darkness

But, what about the other path? The letter continues (Barnabas 20):

But the way of the Black One is crooked and filled with cursing, for it is the way of eternal death with punishment, in which are the things which destroy their soul: idolatry, arrogance, arrogance in an influential position, hypocrisy, acts of duplicity, adultery, murder, robbery, pride, transgression, deceit, malice, stubbornness, use of potions, magic, greediness, lack of fear of God; persecutors of the good, hating the truth, loving the lie, not knowing the reward of righteousness, not joining the good, not judging righteously, not being concerned about the widow and orphan, not caring in the fear of God but for what is evil, from whom gentleness and endurance are inseparably removed, loving what is worthless, pursuing reward, not having mercy on the poor, not toiling for the downtrodden, prone to slander, not knowing the one who made them, murderers of children, corrupters of the creatures of God, rejectors of the needy ones, oppressors of the afflicted, defenders of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, people steeped in sin.

This is good stuff. It’s still convicting today. Some things never change.

Notes

Both excerpts were quoted from The Apostolic Fathers in English, translated Rick Brannan (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012).

 

Love One Another (1 Peter 1:22-25)

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

I made the point last week that God didn’t just die to give us eternal life with Him. He also died to save us from the “vain conversation” (worthless way of life) we were in before we were called by the Holy Spirit.[1] He died to redeem you from your sins right now, not only in the next life. We were created in the image of God. That image was ruined and scarred by sin. Once we’re saved, we’re commanded to grow in our faith and grow into Christlikeness: 

“But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him,” (Colossians 3:8-10).

When we become children of God, that perfect, harmonious and sweet relationship with both (1) God and (2) other people that we were created to enjoy can slowly be re-fashioned and reformed.[2]

Peter has already talked about us fighting our way to holiness in our thoughts, attitudes and actions: 

“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).

We’ve looked at this already – Peter was referring to our conduct in general and how that impacts our relationship with God. He’s holy; He saved us; our obligation is to be holy, too! Today, Peter has another implication for us about our relationship to fellow believers in our local church – even this one. It’s that we’re commanded to actually love one another. Not to pretend or put on a fake face – but to actually love the other believers in your church – in this church.

 

22 Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:

 

We’re born dirty – our souls are polluted and filthy. Without the saving work of Christ in our lives, our souls are as rotten and putrid and unacceptable to God as Lazarus’ rotting, maggot-infested flesh in that tomb in Bethany. I know unbelievers don’t accept that, because the Bible says they don’t. I also know that many Christians don’t believe that about themselves. We’ve been told since we were children that we ought to think a whole lot of ourselves and have a good opinion of ourselves. “There is no fear of God before their eyes,” (Romans 3:18).

But, Peter is writing to believers. He writes that because your souls have been purified by the Spirit[3] (we’re called, our heart is changed, we repent and believe), you ought to do something very specific – you ought to love your fellow believers! Not just in a general sense where you can say, “I love all Christians!” I mean very specifically – you are commanded to love the people who fellowship with you in your own church![4] What does this love look like? 

Peter said, “see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.” Christ redeemed you and cleansed you so that you would love the brethren in this church fervently. This means this love isn’t fake. You don’t think to yourself, “I’ll smile at you and pray for you, but I really don’t like you at all!” No, real love for your fellow church members comes out of a pure heart.

Let’s go back to the image of God. If sin hadn’t ruined God’s perfect creation: 

  • We’d all worship God in spirit and truth
  • We’d all live in peace with one another – the first thing that happened after the Fall was a murder!

Now that you’re saved, you’re commanded to worship God in spirit and in truth, and you have the Holy Spirit to make that happen. Also, Peter commands you to love one another. We’re commanded to grow closer to Christ and be renewed in His image (Col 3:10). Our Christian life now is supposed to be a little preview of the glory to come, where (1) we actually do worship God in spirit and in truth, and (2) we actually do love fellow believers fervently, with a pure heart.

 

23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.

 

You’ve been born again, redeemed and made a new creation by the word of God – the Gospel. That means that believers ought to have real brotherly love among one another. There’s enough backbiting, backstabbing, gossip and slander going on out in the world; this should never be named among Christians. Peter is reminding us of what God did for us, so that we admit what our own responsibilities are – to love one another with a pure heart, fervently!

If you say you can’t love one another, you’re saying God is a liar – period.[5] Because you’ve been born again by the word of God – it’s possible! You may object: 

  • “Yeah, but God doesn’t know Mr. Smith! God didn’t see him coming!”
  • “He’s a really unlovable, mean guy! You know it’s been three weeks since he shook my hand!”
  • “He smells sometimes and his wife didn’t even come to the last ladies meeting!”

Let me respond: 

  • God does know Mr. Smith
  • God did see Mr. Smith coming – Scripture says that God decided to save him, individually and specifically, before the foundation of the world (e.g. Eph 1:4-6)
  • Smith may not be the nicest guy in the world – have you prayed for him? Have you make an effort to be-friend him?
  • Smith might smell sometimes, just stand upwind from him!
  • Maybe his wife was worried and burdened with something, and wasn’t trying to snub you – maybe she needs prayer, too!

 

24 For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away:
25 But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.

 

God saved you from the worthless way of life you were imprisoned in – a way of life that might look and sound great for a time, but would rot away and die in the blink of an eye, like dying grass or a fading flower. God’s word endures forever, and it was this word that was preached to you when you repented and believed. He redeemed you to live for Him. Living for Him means holiness. Paul told the believers in Thessalonica that they should “walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory,” (2 Thessalonians 2:12). Part of that means we love fellow believers everywhere, but particularly in this local church, fervently out of a pure heart.

If there is a fellow-believer somebody in this church specifically, or in your life generally, who you despise or dislike . . .

  • Have you prayed for the love and kindness God commands you to have?
  • Have you prayed that God would soften your heart and wipe pettiness and sin away?
  • Have you prayed that He would do the same for that other person?
  • Are you even willing to do that? If not, why not? It’s a commandment from the Word of God?

It’s possible to love fellow believers – Peter says it’s our obligation. More than that, he says it should be the logical and inevitable result of our salvation. We should want to love fellow believers in our local church! Are we willing to submit to this?

——————————————————-

Footnotes:

[1]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.

[2] Millard Erickson writes: “God’s creation was made for definite purposes. The human was intended to know, love, and obey God, and live in harmony with other humans, as the story of Cain and Abel indicates . . . The image itself is that set of qualities that are required for these relationships and this function to take place. They are those qualities of God which, reflected in human beings, make worship, personal interaction, and work possible,” (Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998], 532-533).

This image can only be “realized” through the new birth which results in salvation through Jesus Christ. Only in Christ can we begin to realize the fulfillment of our horizontal relationships with others of faith, and our vertical relationship with God.

[3] The entire context of 1 Peter 1 supports this view. It seems that only Wayne Grudem argues that Peter refers to progressive sanctification, not positional sanctification. Grudem writes, “this ‘purification’ is something the readers have themselves done (‘having purified your souls’), but Christians are never in the New Testament said to be active agents in God’s initial cleansing of their souls at conversion. On the other hand, they are said to be active in the progressive work of sanctification,” (1 Peter, vol. 17, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988], 93). The sticking point for Grudem is that the Peter suggests that we have purified ourselves. This is an unduly pessimistic viewpoint; who would deny that men and women make free and voluntary decisions to repent and believe? The fact that people only believe because of the work of the Spirit is irrelevant. Not every reference to the Gospel is meant to be a treatise on the compatibilist view of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. The greatest, most succinct statement on this tension with regards to salvation is found in Article 6 of the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith:

“We believe that in order to be saved, we must be regenerated or born again; that regeneration consists in giving a holy disposition to the mind; and is effected in a manner above our comprehension or calculation, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in connection with divine truth, so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the Gospel; and that its proper evidence is found in the holy fruit which we bring forth to the glory of God,” (from William Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, revised ed. [Valley Forge, PA: Judson, 1969], 364-365). Emphasis mine.

Grudem’s arguments aren’t convincing; see Thomas Schreiner for a rebuttal (1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary [Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003], 92–93).

[4] In some sense, we could see this as another example of how impractical it is to talk of the (1) church in prospect, instead of (2) the local church.

[5] Jay Adams wrote, “Peter makes a play on this common word and says in effect, ‘Now what people have talked about can really take place,’  . . . Christian counselees who deny the possibility of loving another Christian can be faced with this passage. ‘Either it is possible,’ they may be told, ‘or you deny your own salvation. Christ cleansed us for this purpose,’” (Trust and Obey [Greenville, SC: A Press, 1988], 49-50).

  1. Edmond Hiebert concurred, “Peter well knew that such a life of mutual love should be rooted in a new nature. The new birth makes possible and demands such a life,” (1 Peter, revised ed. [Chicago, IL: Moody, 1992; reprint, Winona Lake, IN: BMH, 2008], 114).