As I confessed to the church family a couple months ago at the end of a sermon, I think I’ve been a rather cheerful pastor in my preaching, keeping the tone quite positive most of the time. And while I don’t think that’s wrong in the big picture of things, I have to say that I’ve probably erred in not saying hard things as frequently as likely I should have.
So, now, as we head into a new six-week sermon series, I am not setting you up for a month and a half of brow beating. The tone will surely remain largely positive. Yet, even so, it is within the setting of a hard, bold, and in-your-face proclamation that lies at the heart of my determination to do this particular series of messages.
Before I come right out and state it, let me again be a nice guy and contextualize it in a broader context. Tri-State Fellowship is a great church; it always has been uniquely blessed since the day it was founded by the original visionaries 35 years ago. Few churches have sustained such year-after-year, peaceful blessings and operation as has this congregation, and that is due to the committed ministry hearts of the congregants who have been in and out of these walls. I know this through not just observation around me, but through years and years of pastoral conferences and ministerial gatherings where stories are shared and battle reports reviewed as to what is happening in one another’s congregations. Our problems here in Hagerstown are few; our blessings are many; we are unique.
However, even having said that, I must, in a pastoral/shepherding sort of way, report that both in the past and in the present I have seen and do continue to see too many who are not giving their most ardent personal commitment to deep discipleship. They are not affording it the rightful place that it deserves in their lives and in the lives of their families. It has therefore too frequently been a major component that contributes to an explanation as to why marriages struggle and fail, as to why children do not value truth and church and thereby fail to become a next generation of committed followers, and as to why there are countless and endless life struggles to successfully navigate the complexities of living in a fallen world. Most often, at the heart of this insufficiency, is a lack of commitment to individual discipleship and biblical growth, along with simply not prioritizing the church and its ministries in the schedules of life. It is simply evident that too many people “do God” and “do church” as secondary priorities, or only when there is nothing more interesting to do, or when the sports, recreation and vacation schedules have an occasional opening.
What I’m saying is that too many have had sad results in their personal lives and families because, sadly, they have not been serious enough about what is the most important stuff. And it is that word – serious – that underlies this series. So, I’m calling this preaching plan for these six weeks through mid-March “Seriously!?” Like, when you hear about something that it is bigger/more/beyond what you expected, you might say, “Really??” And then, when that expansive thing has some big demands upon you, you might say, “Seriously??”
So here is an overview of the big idea of this six-part series: When realizing how difficult, time-consuming and strenuous some new commitment will be, we might find ourselves asking the rhetorical question, “Seriously?!?” But any worthwhile lifetime value is going to require time, energy, commitment and resolve. Maintaining physical fitness, for example, does not happen without a serious level of devotion. And this principle is likewise true for spiritual fitness. We need a continual renewal of commitment to timeless and eternal goals. So, seriously, let’s talk about this; and let’s do it for ourselves and the generations of our families to come.
The Scriptures in multiple places give us what is essentially a list of goals that we may pursue that will cause our lives to be truly “serious” as we seek to apply them in a daily fashion. So let’s begin by talking about what one portion of the Scriptures defines as worthy goals for our Christian faith.
And we begin by talking about some things we need to know, because knowledge leads to action. You may have heard the phrase used that “orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy” … meaning, that what you know and believe will lead to what you do and put into practice.
As we turn to 1 Peter 1:3-16, I believe we can see three goals that we should know about, relative to our faith in Christ …
THE GOALS OF OUR FAITH …
1 … the knowledge of the salvation we possess in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-9)
1PE 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
We have four gifts in the knowledge of our salvation in this paragram, stated as coming to us from God’s great mercy …
- living proof of eternal life – in Christ – Peter answers the question: “What proof is there that there is any hope for life beyond this world?” The assurance comes from the living Savior Christ, whom he had seen – crucified and risen. This is not a sacrifice that can’t be found or is merely memorialized in some grave or shrine. This sacrifice is living, having come back to life from the grave, giving a “new birth” of life to those who believe.
- an inheritance that can’t be lost – everything about an inheritance in this world is subject to ruin or potential loss.
I have once in my life been an executor of an estate, and it was a grueling and trying experience. But think about estates/inheritances that are of this world. Everything about them is tenuous and subject to easy loss …
- Unforeseen medical / nursing home costs can eat up an inheritance.
- Houses / lands can be lost in one way or another, or even stolen.
- Investments may turn bad and even lose their entire value.
- Taxes and expenses can quickly swallow up resources.
But the inheritance that we have promised to us from the Heavenly Father through joint heirship with Jesus Christ cannot be lost or fade. And this is because it is in heaven and is not subject to the uncertainties of this world. It is even safer than a safe deposit box with only one key, because it is stated in the passage as being kept by God’s power.
This leads us to have a sense of great joy and peace as to what we possess and what is our certain future. HOWEVER … there is in our current earthly situation a “BUT” … though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials… which leads to a third mercy in the knowledge of our salvation …
- preservation through trials …
- This is a normal experience of this world. It will not always go swimmingly well, but we are ultimately shielded from fully destructive forces. And …
- Suffering is a good gift with positive benefit to our faith, as our relationship with God is deepened by it all. Think back to who some of your best friends are from the past – those whom you really know on a soul level – and more than likely it is someone with whom you walked through a difficult time together (war buddy, teammate, friend in sickness, co-worker in difficult times). The trial brought you close; and so it should with God, as we struggle through the difficulties of this life.
- the beginnings of the final reward of salvation – notice the present, active tense “are receiving” … how? Mainly through the perspective of being an eternally-related member of the Kingdom of God, in a world largely oriented to the Kingdom of Darkness. The world out there is CRAZY, but that’s not your life, your world, your family, your kingdom. You are related to better stuff than that, and you grow to see and understand this truth more and more as time goes by and you see the grand hand of God in the details of your life.
And here is a second goal of our faith …
2 … the knowledge of God’s grand plan, as learned through the Scriptures (1 Peter 1:10-12)
It is a great truth to know that, though sometimes the world seems entirely out of control and that evil prevails, the real truth is that God has a plan that He is working out over the centuries and millennia …
1PE 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
Think about the prophets of the Old Testament. They knew a lot about God’s master plan and wrote about what had been revealed to them. It was amazing stuff, including hundreds of prophecies that came true, particularly about Christ. Yet, they only knew parts of God’s plan; and they knew that there was a lot more that they did not know. For example …
… don’t you suppose Isaiah was curious about why he wrote about a Messiah who would rule and reign, yet also be smitten and afflicted?
… don’t you suppose Daniel wondered what he was writing about when he spoke of the prince to come who would be cut off?
… don’t you suppose Ezekiel was curious about the nations coming together with kings from the north and the south… and about the Temple being rebuilt…
… and Micah, who wrote of a ruler to come out of the lowliest of towns … of Bethlehem?
Even for these members of God’s varsity “A” team – the Old Testament prophets – they merely had bits and pieces but not the whole picture. It was as if they had 300 pieces of a 1,000-piece puzzle, and no box cover! The pieces were REALLY interesting. But exactly how did they go together … and when … and what did it look like … and how did the “kingly” sorts of pieces fit in with the “suffering” fragments?
These guys died without understanding it all, but understanding that someday, other people – whom they essentially served – would come along who would understand it all. And that was good enough for them.
We are those people they served; we hold the completed record here in our hands today; we have the beginning of the story, and an account of its end. And we know its purpose; we know who the Messiah is and what he accomplished. And we have help (God within us) as to how to live until that day we are reunited with our Creator.
And it was not just the A-teamers of God who were fascinated by this, the text says that this progressively-revealed, master plan of God dazzles the angels. Hey, I don’t know what angels know completely. I would guess that they know a lot at this point. But it is interesting to see how they are often pictured as curious creatures. So, if the prophets and angels are curious, should you not be also? Indeed, yes… while also thrilled to possess all that you do know through understanding the Word of God.
And then here is a third goal of our faith as seen in Peter’s writing …
3 … the knowledge of a way of life that features obedience and holiness (1 Peter 1:13-16)
1PE 1:13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
Peter essentially says three things here: Set the way you think / Set the way you behave / Set the overarching attitude you will have.
About the mind – “prepare your minds” … in Greek this is the old KJV “gird up the loins” literal translation. It pictures the wrapping of a rope around flowing ancient garments – to tighten them against the body for active movement. The picture is to do this with your mind.
About the way you behave – “be self-controlled” … literally means to be sober and under control, to be determinative. Don’t live like a drunk fool!
About the overarching attitude – “set your hope fully” … this would be a Greek way of saying to put all your eggs into one basket, the mental bin of all that you know, possess, and will receive about Jesus Christ.
So how do you get ready in these ways? As it essentially says in verses 14-16, you unplug from the old way of life with its mere desires, and you plug into the new eternal truth of being like God in character.
Don’t be stupid!! Be smart. Seek to be like God in character.
It would be like growing up for years in a totally crazy family where everything was out of control, and even when things seemed to go rightly for a while, they would always reverse, and everything would fall apart again. You only ever knew a dysfunctional way of life, for there was no way to live life apart from that. But then, out of the blue, you get adopted by a new family that has made available every resource for success in life. All you have to do is live it out in the way that others before you in this family have done and found fulfillment. So, it would be stupid to be in this new family, but act like you were still living with the crazies!
Having these goals and fleshing them out is the way to go. But it takes a conscious commitment to enact them in your life and as the pattern for the values system of your family. So I’m calling to all of you: Don’t just exist as someone who is not as bad as much of the world – as someone who is better merely because you possess eternal fire insurance. But, make it your goal to really move forward, to make the time count, to truly connect to the stuff that is real and is eternal. Seriously?? Seriously!! We’re going to talk some more.