Set Apart by God

44 For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. 45 For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:44-45 ESV

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV

In order to understand the concept of sanctification, we have to spend some time in the Old Testament. In Hebrew, the word qadash is most commonly translated as “sanctified.” But you can also find it translated as “consecrated,” “holy,” or “hallowed.” It carries a number of different meanings, including “to set apart or separate.”

God set apart or sanctified the seventh day, the Sabbath, as a special day to be marked by rest from work. He also set apart the priests and assigned them the responsibility of acting as His servants, caring for the tabernacle and offering sacrifices on behalf of the people. And God set apart the tabernacle itself by displaying the glory of His presence in the Holy of Holies.

Throughout the Old Testament, there are countless examples of qadash, the setting apart of something or someone by God for His use. God set apart Abram as His own, choosing him from among all the people on earth and making a covenant promise to make of him a great nation. 

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

And God kept that promise to Abram by blessing him with many descendants, who became the people of Israel. His decision to set apart Israel as His own possession was not based on some characteristic found in them, but was determined by His love for them. And God expressed His love by sanctifying them, setting them apart from every other nation on earth, and providing them with a one-of-a-kind relationship with Himself.

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 ESV

The nation of Israel enjoyed the unprecedented status of being God’s chosen people. But their relationship with God came with expectations from God. As the Leviticus passage reveals, their lifestyle was to reflect their sanctified status as God’s possession. He had set the apart as His own and their behavior was to reflect their status as His possession. And notice that God put certain restrictions on them that included their dietary habits. Thirty seven times in Leviticus 11, God uses the word tame’, to refer to those creatures which He deemed as “unclean” or “defiled,” and therefore, off limits to the Israelites. The list included camels, pigs, vultures, certain sea creatures, and insects. God refers to these creatures as being sheqets, which means “detestable” or “an abomination.” In a sense, God had sanctified these creatures as unholy. They were to be avoided at all costs. The people of Israel were to refrain from eating them. If they did so, they would become defiled and, therefore, unholy.

Even contact with them could make an Israelite impure. Which is why God warns the Israelites: “ You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them” (Leviticus 11:43 ESV). Instead, the people of God were to consecrate themselves or set themselves apart as holy to God. The word translated as “consecrate” is qadash, the same word translated later in the passage as “sanctify.” The people of Israel, having been set apart by God, were to set themselves apart through their actions, by faithfully obeying God’s commands.

Notice that their distinctive lifestyle was tied directly to their distinctive relationship with God.

For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:44 ESV

God tells them that, because He is set apart or holy, they were to be also. The Hebrew word translated as “holy” is qadowsh, and it is derived from the root word, qadash. The people of Israel were to live set-apart lives. God had called them to live distinctively different lives, set apart from the rest of the nations around them. They had been set apart by God and now there were to live as who they were. And that distinctiveness was to show up in everyday life.

God reminds the Israelites that He had redeemed them out of slavery in Egypt and had brought them to their own land. It was within that new land that their lives were to reflect their new status as His children.

“I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:45 ESV

By commanding the Israelites to “be boly,” God is not asking the them to become something. He is not suggesting that they have to set themselves apart or make themselves holy. No, He is demanding that they live in such a way that their lives adequately demonstrate their set-apart status. Why? Because they belong to Him and He is set apart and holy. There was no other god like Yahweh. And there was to be no other people like the Israelites.

And the apostle Peter picks up on this call to distinctiveness as he writes to believers living in the first century. Quoting from the Leviticus passage, Peter reminds New Testament followers of Christ that they too are to live set-apart lives.

First of all, he warns them not to go back to their old way of living.

Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. – 1 Peter 1:14 NLT

They were to be “obedient children,” living according to the commands of God. Not to win favor or to earn brownie with God, but as a means of reflecting their set-apartness. They had been chosen by God and their behavior needed to distinguish them as His children. Set apart people live set apart lives. Sanctified people live sanctified lives. Those who God has deemed holy should live lives that reflect their holiness. And Peter makes it clear that holy people strive to be holy in all their conduct. No compartmentalization. The Greek word Peter used is anastrophē and it refers to “manner of life” or “behavior.” There was to be no area of the believer’s life that was free from God’s expectation of holiness. God had set the entire individual apart, not just their soul, mind, or spirit. The apostle Paul told the believers in Rome:

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. – Romans 12:1 NLT

Christ-followers are to live set-apart lives, in every area of their lives. Like the Israelites in the Old Testament and the believers in the New Testament, modern-day Christians are to be holy because the God who chose us is holy. Our lives are to reflect our sanctified status as His children. We are to live like our heavenly Father, not perfectly or completely free from sin, but with an intention to show ourselves to be who He has made us to be: His children.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson



Do Not Be Silent.

1 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.

When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. Acts 18:1-11 ESV

pauls-second-missionary-journeyEventually, Silas and Timothy rejoined Paul in Athens. But when it was determined that it was time for them to move on again. Paul traveled on to Corinth while Timothy returned to Thessalonica and Silas seems to have gone somewhere else in the region of Macedonia (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2). According to verse five, they would later join Paul in Corinth.

Like Philippi, Corinth was a Roman colony and, at the time of Paul’s visit, the largest city in Greece. It was approximately 50 miles southwest of Athens and some 20 times larger in size. It was a busy, cosmopolitan city with a diverse population mix. Paul would discover a vibrant community of Jews there, some who had arrived in town due to a recent decree by the Emperor Claudius, commanding the expulsion of all Jews from the city of Rome. Luke tells us that Paul met one such couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who had been part of the Jewish contingent forced to flee from Rome. Paul would strike up a relationship with these two, even staying in their home and working alongside them in their tent-making business. It’s interesting to note that Luke does not describe this couple as having been Christ-followers when Paul met them. He simply says that Paul “found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla” (Acts 18:2 ESV). Luke’s description seems to infer that Aquila was a Jew, but that Priscilla was not. Based on her name, she could have been a Roman, and when her husband was forced to leave Rome, she had chosen to leave with him. And nowhere in this account does Luke discuss their conversion story. While we know nothing of how or when they came to faith in Christ, we know they eventually did, because Paul would later describe them as believers.

Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in the ministry of Christ Jesus. In fact, they once risked their lives for me. I am thankful to them, and so are all the Gentile churches. – Romans 16:3-4 NLT

Corinth had a long-standing reputation for its immorality and decadence. As far back as the fifth century BC, the Greek word, korinthiazesthai, had come into common usage, which literally meant “to Corinthianize” and was used to refer to someone being sexually immoral. Prostitutes, of which there were many, were commonly referred to as “Corinthian girls.” When referring to someone as having committed sexual immorality, the euphemism, “to act like a Corinthian” was often used. At the heart of the city stood the temple to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. This temple was renowned for its 1,000 temple prostitutes and for the sexual practices offered as part of its religious observances. So, it is easy to see why Paul, when later writing to the believers in Corinth, confessed the sense of fear and trepidation he felt when he first arrived in their city.

1 When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 NLT

But, despite any sense of fear he might have felt, Paul had come to Corinth for one reason and one reason only. He followed his normal protocol and “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4 ESV). No doubt, Aquila and Priscilla had provided Paul with introductions into the local Jewish community, and he took full advantage of the opportunity to share the gospel with his fellow Jews. To get some idea just how passionate Paul was about seeing his Jewish brothers and sisters come to faith in Christ, all we have to do is read from his letter to the believers in Rome.

1 With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it. My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them. – Romans 9:1-3 NLT

Paul would have been willing to give up his own salvation if it meant that other Jews would experience the joy of knowing Jesus as their Messiah and Savior. Paul was determined and driven to see that all people heard the good news regarding Jesus. Yes, his official assignment from Jesus had been to take the gospel to the Gentiles, and he was obedient to that call. But it did not stop him from caring deeply for his own people and striving diligently to see that they too heard the message of salvation made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When Paul and Silas eventually joined Paul in Corinth, they found him hard at work, “occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:5 ESV). But his well-intentioned efforts were met with resistance and ridicule. Luke states that the Jews “opposed and reviled him” (Acts 18:6 ESV). They demeaned the messenger as well as his message. And Luke reveals that Paul eventually realized that any further efforts to persuade them would be futile and a waste of his time, so, “he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’” (Acts 18:6 ESV). Paul seemed to be following the advice given by Jesus to His 12 disciples when He had sent them out on their first assignment without Him.

“If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave.” – Matthew 10:14 NLT

Paul’s actions were also in line with the counsel God had given to His prophet, Ezekiel, hundreds of years earlier, concerning the people of God.

“Son of man, give your people this message: ‘When I bring an army against a country, the people of that land choose one of their own to be a watchman. When the watchman sees the enemy coming, he sounds the alarm to warn the people. Then if those who hear the alarm refuse to take action, it is their own fault if they die. They heard the alarm but ignored it, so the responsibility is theirs. If they had listened to the warning, they could have saved their lives. – Ezekiel 33:2-5 NLT

And when Paul left the synagogue that day, he didn’t have to go far. Luke says that he literally went next door, to the home of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. Evidently, Titius Justus was a Roman and a God-fearer. It could have been that he had been a Jewish proselyte who had been in the synagogue the day Paul decided to walk out, and invited him into his own home. They were joined by another man, Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue. And Luke records that Crispus placed his faith in Jesus and became a believer that day, along with those in his household. While Paul had been forced to turn his back on the Jews, God was far from done in the city of Corinth. Luke makes it quite clear that “many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8 ESV). Paul kept up his ministry of sharing the good news and the Holy Spirit did His work of regenerating the hearts of those who heard, so that they might receive the gift of God’s grace made available through His Son’s sacrificial death on the cross. 

And Luke provides us with some insight into Paul’s state of mind during this period of his ministry in Corinth. It seems obvious that Paul faced opposition, and that he felt more than a little fearful for his safety and well-being. God gave Paul a vision, in which He reassured His servant that everything was going to be all right.

9 “Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent! 10 For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to me.” – Acts 18:9-10 NLT

This does not appear to be an indication that there were already other believers in the city of which Paul was unaware. God seems to be assuring Paul that He had already chosen others to come to faith in Christ who had not yet had the opportunity. So, Paul was to keep speaking and sharing, that those whom God had chosen could hear and accept. Paul would refer to this choosing by God in his letter to the believers in Rome.

29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. – Romans 8:29-30 NLT

God wanted Paul to know that He had others set aside in Corinth for salvation. All Paul needed to do was be faithful to fulfill his commission. And Paul did just that, remaining in Corinth for another year and a half, proclaiming the gospel and allowing the Holy Spirit to bring to God all those whom the Father had called.


The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


A Chosen Instrument.

10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened. Acts 9:10-19 ESV

Why Saul? It’s virtually impossible to read the story of this man’s miraculous conversion and not wonder why God chose to use someone like him? After all, he was a card-carrying member of the Pharisees and a proud persecutor of the church, who took his job very seriously.

10 “I caused many believers there to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death. 11 Many times I had them punished in the synagogues to get them to curse Jesus. I was so violently opposed to them that I even chased them down in foreign cities. – Acts 23:10-11 NLT

And yet, here we have God referring to Saul as His “chosen instrument.” The Greek word, translated “chosen” is eklogē, and it means, “the act of picking out, choosing or electing” (“G1589 – eklogē – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It is a variation of a similar word (eklektos) used by Peter  in his first letter when referring to the believers to whom he was writing.

1 I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 1:1-2 NLT

God had chosen Saul. He had hand-picked him for salvation. And that fact, coupled with Saul’s far-from-stellar track record, should remind us that salvation is not based on our human effort or any sense of merit. And no one understood the reality of that fact better than Saul himself, who would later pen these words:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV

For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time–to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. – 2 Timothy 1:9 NLT

…he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. – Titus 3:5 NLT

Saul, later writing under his Greek name, Paul, would repeatedly declare that God’s gracious act of redeeming men and women was solely based on the finished work of Christ on the cross. No one earned God’s favor. No one deserved His mercy. And Saul would become the poster boy for God’s saving grace. If anything, he deserved God’s wrath. He merited God’s anger and retribution for persecuting the children of God and, as Jesus had pointed out to Saul, the Son of God Himself. And yet, God had plans for Saul. But His decision to save Saul must not be seen as some kind of knee-jerk reaction on God’s part, a last-minute hail-Mary pass heaved up in the hopes of staying in the game. God had not been caught off guard by Saul’s activities. He had not been surprised by Saul’s determination to persecute the followers of “the Way.” In fact, Saul himself would come to recognize that his calling by God had been anything but reactionary. His calling by God had been preordained and predetermined by God, long before Saul had been born.

15 But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him 16 to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles. – Galatians 1:15-16 NLT

Saul, prior to His Damascus-road encounter with the resurrected Christ, was just another man living his life apart from God, trapped in his own sinful state and deserving of condemnation by God for his rebellion against him. Sure, Saul was religious and even zealous to try and please God. He would even state that, prior to his coming to faith in Christ, “I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault” (Philippians 3:6 NLT). But he was lost. He was an enemy of God. And it wasn’t because he persecuted the church. It was because he was born in sin and shared in the condemnation announced by God against Adam. It is clear that Saul understood this reality just by reading what he wrote in his letter to the Romans.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

…everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. – Romans 5:14 NLT

For Adam’s sin led to condemnation…  – Romans 5:16 NLT

For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. – Romans 5:17 NLT

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone… – Romans 5:18 NLT

It wasn’t Saul’s persecution of the church that got him in trouble with God. He was already condemned because of his association with Adam. He had inherited not only Adam’s sin nature and predisposition toward sin, but Adam’s guilty status as a sinner against God. He was born with a death sentence leveled against him, before he had committed a single indiscretion against God. But God, in His grace, had chosen Saul for salvation. He had predetermined to make Saul His chosen instrument, and to transform him from a condemned sinner, whose sinful state showed up in a misguided attempt to earn favor with God through persecuting the church, to a fully justified and forgiven servant of God who would himself endure persecution on behalf of God.

And God told a reluctant Ananias, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16 NLT). Saul’s choice by God was not going to result in a trouble-free life. He would not discover himself enjoying a painless, sin-free existence, devoid of problems and characterized by unending joy and abounding blessings. No, he would serve and suffer. He would obey and undergo persecution. He would experience God’s blessing and, at the same time, know what it was like to experience ridicule and rejection. And Saul would never lose sight of his own unworthiness before God. He would never get over the fact that his salvation was undeserved and unmerited. He would later write:

For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church. – 1 Corinthians 15:8 NLT

But this man, chosen by God, was redeemed by God and re-purposed to live a life that brought glory to the cause of Christ and the Kingdom of God.

None of this makes sense to us. It seems an odd way for God to accomplish His divine will. Even Ananias was a bit surprised and confused by God’s determination to send him to meet with Saul. He even attempted to bring God up to speed on Saul’s most recent activities.

13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! 14 And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.” – Acts 9:13-14 NLT

But, ultimately, God convinced Ananias that He knew what He was doing and Ananias went, somewhat reluctantly, and did what God had commanded. And Luke records that when Ananias laid his hands on Saul, “Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized” (Acts 9:18 NLT). Saul was not only having his physical sight restored, he was having his spiritual eyes opened for the very first time. This extremely religious, well-educated young man was, for the first time in his life, able to truly see, to discern the ways of God and to accept the offer of salvation made possible through Jesus Christ. He was living out exactly what the apostle John wrote in the opening to his gospel.

The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:10-13 NLT


English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

What Sort of People Ought You To Be?

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:8-13 ESV

The false teachers Peter has been exposing were guilty of denying the promise of Jesus’ second coming. Because it hadn’t happened yet, they assumed it wasn’t going to happen at all. And they had been purposefully contradicting the teaching of Peter and the other apostles, trying to persuade the believers to whom Peter was writing that waiting for Christ to return was pointless. He wasn’t coming back. Which is what led Peter to point out that God’s seeming delays are not to be interpreted as proof that His lack of involvement in the lives of men. Just because God had allowed sin to run rampant on the earth during the days of Noah, didn’t mean He was approving of it or indifferent to it. Because He eventually brought judgment in the form of a devastating, world-wide flood. To deny that “the day of the Lord”, as Peter refers to it, even exists, is a risky proposition. Jesus return is going to be associated with judgment. The apostle John, in his Book of the Revelation, gives a powerful description of Jesus as He appears at His second coming.

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

He is coming again. And this time, He won’t be coming in the form of a helpless baby, born in obscurity in some backwater village in the land of Israel. No, He will be coming in might and power, and as a powerful, conquering King. He will come as the Judge of the world. And just because it hasn’t happened yet does not mean it is never going to happen. God has His timing and He has not divulged it to anyone, including His own Son. Jesus made this point clear when speaking to the disciples regarding His return for the church.

“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. – Matthew 24:36 NLT

Even after His resurrection, on one of the numerous occasions when He had appeared to His disciples, they asked Him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” (Acts 1:6 NLT). They were thinking that this must be the day. He had been murdered, but had come back to life. Surely, this was a significant sign that He was truly the Messiah and was going to set up His Kingdom on earth. But Jesus simply replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know” (Acts 1:7 NLT). They were worrying about things that were above their pay grade. So, Jesus told them to set their minds on what was going to happen next. He wanted them to know that they had work to do. Rather than worry about when He was coming back, they needed to prepare themselves for what was about to take place. So He told them, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NLT).

God has a plan and He is working that plan to perfection. There are things that must happen and they must take place in the order God has established for them. Jesus was soon to leave and the Holy Spirit was to come in His place. And it was the coming of the Spirit that empowered the apostles to become the men who radically changed the world through their spreading of the gospel “to the ends of the earth”.

The coming of the Holy Spirit inaugurated the beginning of the church age. We are living in the last days, as Peter and the apostles referred to them. How long will they last? We have no idea. Peter and his compatriots lived as though Christ could return at any moment. So should we. But the longer time goes on and we don’t see Him coming back, it becomes easy to doubt whether He is ever going to do so. And there will always be those who will try to convince us that His return is neither eminent or relevant. They will present this life as the only life. They will try to sell ideas like “Your Best Life Now” when Jesus talked about the abundant life to come, life everlasting.

Peter pointed out an aspect concerning God that we must never fail to remember. God is not bound by space and time. He is eternal. So, time as we know it, means nothing to Him. Which is why Peter states: “A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day” (2 Peter 3:8 NLT). What appears to us as a lengthy delay, is nothing more than the blink of an eye to God. This lengthy timeline on which we track the decades and centuries of mankind’s existence and see no sign of His Son’s return, is meaningless to God. He sees tomorrow just as we see today. Past, present and future are all one and the same to Him. In Psalm 90:4, Moses penned a prayer to God in which he too acknowledged God’s timelessness.

For you, a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours.

And Moses goes on in that same Psalm and expresses His desire that God would end what appears to be His delay.

13 O Lord, come back to us!
    How long will you delay?
    Take pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love,
    so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.
15 Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery!
    Replace the evil years with good.
16 Let us, your servants, see you work again;
    let our children see your glory.
17 And may the Lord our God show us his approval
    and make our efforts successful.
    Yes, make our efforts successful! – Psalm 90:13-17 NLT

But Peter would tell Moses to stop worrying about when God is going to come back and start concentrating on how God would have him live in the meantime. God has left His people here for a reason. He has a divine purpose behind the seeming delay of His Son’s the return. And here it is.

The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. – 2 Peter 3:9 NLT

What appears to us as a delay is really a sign of God’s mercy. He is providing time for all those who are going to come to faith to do so. He is not going to send His Son back until all those who have been chosen by Him for salvation are gathered in. There seems to be two returns of the Lord mentioned in these verses. The first concerns Jesus’ return for the church, which is referred to as the Rapture. This event will bring an end to the church age and usher in the period of the Tribulation. In his letter to the Romans, Paul states, “Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ” (Romans 11:25 NLT). Notice that it says, “the full number”. There is evidently a quota or number of those who are going to come to faith and only God knows what that number is. In other words, there is a fixed number of individuals who will come to faith in Christ. And when that number is reached, Jesus will return for His bride, the church. Paul describes this day in his first letter to the Thessalonians.

16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 NLT

But there is a second coming of Christ. Peter refers to it in verse 10.

But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.

This coming will take place at the end of the seven-year long period of the Tribulation. This return will be associated with judgment. But it will also involve Jesus gathering His chosen ones, the people of Israel, who have come to faith in Him during the days of the tribulation. He spoke of this day to His disciples.

30 And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven. – Matthew 24:30-31 NLT

Then will come to final judgment of the world. “On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames” (2 Peter 3:12 NLT). But Peter tells his readers to not worry about all that. Instead, he encourages them, “But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13 NLT). We don’t know when Jesus is coming back. We have no idea when the Rapture will be. We have no clue when His second coming will take place. And we don’t need to worry about either. We just need to trust God and rest in His promises. And in the meantime, keep our minds focused on what sort of people we ought to be.


English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

All You Need.

1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.2 Peter 1:1-4 ESV

In verse one of chapter three, Peter refers to a previous letter he had written: “This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved.” It is assumed that this second letter was written to the very same group he addressed in 1 Peter. This was a mixed congregation of both Gentiles and Jews who were spread throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. And Peter states his reason for having written both letters: “I have tried to stimulate your wholesome thinking and refresh your memory. I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Savior commanded through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:1-2 NLT). We’ll unpack that passage when we come to it, but suffice it to say, that Peter was trying to foster a deeper understanding of who Jesus was and how He had fulfilled all that the prophets had written concerning Him. He really was the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah and the Savior of the world. And, once again, Peter refers to himself as one of His apostles. He had personally called and commissioned by the resurrected Christ, and given the task of taking the good news concerning Jesus to the Gentiles. 

Peter addresses his letter to “those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours” (2 Peter 1:1 ESV). Paul is setting himself up as the standard of faith, but simply stating that faith is the common bond we all share. His faith, as an apostle, is no better or greater than that of anyone else. His audience shared a common faith, the same as himself and all the other apostles. And Peter makes it clear that this faith was made possible “by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1 ESV). The apostle Paul provides us with insight into what Peter is saying.

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. – Philippians 3:9 NLT

For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. – Romans 10:3-4 ESV

Peter wants his readers to know that their faith is in the righteousness of Christ, not their own poor attempt at living righteous lives. They must continue to believe that their right standing with God is not based on their own human effort, but on what Christ accomplished for them on the cross.

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption… – 1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV

Our faith is in the righteousness of Christ. And Peter, Paul, the rest of the apostles, the recipients of Peter’s letter, and every other individual who has placed their faith in Christ has no reason to think they earned their right standing with God. Paul went on to write, “so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:31 ESV). And it is our growing understanding of the incredible gift we have received that will result in increased grace and peace. And that was Peter’s prayer.

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. – 2 Peter 1:2 ESV

That grace and peace grows as our comprehension of God and the gift of His Son, increases in our lives. Rather than worrying and wondering about all that we must do for God, we are to be focused on what He has done for us through Christ. Our salvation was by faith, so is our sanctification – our growth in Christ-likeness. We don’t become more like Christ through human effort, but by faith in the transforming power of God made possible by His indwelling Holy Spirit. And Peter speaks of this power.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. – 2 Peter 1:3 ESV

Let that sink in. God has done it all. In his first letter, Peter pointed out that God had chosen them. Their salvation had been His doing, not theirs. God had sent His Son to die for them and God is the one who had chosen them to receive eternal life through His Son. And now, Peter reminds them that all that they will need for living godly lives on this planet comes from God. It comes “through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). Godly living is directly tied to our knowledge of Christ. Paul writes, “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ” (Colossians 2:9-10 NLT). In Christ, we have all we need for living godly lives. We don’t have to manufacture anything. We don’t have to muster up the strength to follow Christ’s example. All that we need comes from and through Christ, which is why Paul could say, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NLT). Paul fully believed that reality. He lived by it. And he would not allow himself to fall back into the trap of trying to live out the Christian life through human effort.

20 My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. – Galatians 2:20-21 NLT

And Peter says virtually the same thing, reminding his readers that God has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). But what are those “precious and very great promises”? What has God communicated through His prophets and apostles that we can count on and place our hope in when it comes to experiencing an ever-increasing divine nature? One of those promises can be found in Peter’s earlier letter:

3 …because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. – 1 Peter 1:3-4 NLT

We have the promise of an eternal inheritance. It is based on the righteousness of Christ, not our own feeble attempts at living godly lives on our own. Not only that, God has promised to protect us by His power until that inheritance is fully realized.

God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. – 1 Peter 1:5 NLT

God has promised to give us the “divine nature” of His Son. But it is a gift to be received, not to be earned. The only way we can become more like Christ is because we have “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire”. In other words, we have been freed from captivity to sin. We are free not to sin, for the first time in our lives, because of what Christ has done for us. We can live godly lives. We are capable of living like Christ. “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT). The point that Peter is trying to make is that our dependency upon God increases over time. He didn’t send His Son to die for us, so that we might then try to live for Him according to our own human effort. His power has been and always will be the key to our spiritual transformation. The apostle Paul points out the non-negotiable nature of this Christ-dependent life:

10 And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. 11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

12 Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. 13 For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. – Romans 8:10-13 NLT

The Spirit of God lives in you. The same incredible power that raised Jesus back to life is available to us each and every day of our lives. But we must live according to that power, not the feeble, sin-marred power of our flesh. Peter wants his readers to look for God for everything they need. It has already been given to them in the form of the Holy Spirit. And it is theirs because of the righteousness imputed to them by Christ that led to their full acceptance by God. The Christian life is not about sinful man attempting to live up to some moral standard on his own in an ill-fated attempt to achieve divine status. It is the work of God. He called us. He saved us. And He is the one who will transform us. All by His divine power. As Paul put it, “I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Good Figs, By the Grace of God.

After Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken into exile from Jerusalem Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, together with the officials of Judah, the craftsmen, and the metal workers, and had brought them to Babylon, the Lord showed me this vision: behold, two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the Lord. One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten. And the Lord said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” I said, “Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten.”

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

“But thus says the Lord: Like the bad figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat Zedekiah the king of Judah, his officials, the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who dwell in the land of Egypt. I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a reproach, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them. And I will send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them, until they shall be utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their fathers.” – Jeremiah 24 ESV

This chapter fast-forwards to events surrounding Nebuchadnessar’s capture of Jerusalem. In 595 B.C., after a lengthy siege, King Jehoachin surrendered the city and the Babylonians marched in unopposed. The book of 2 Kings chronicles the details of that day.

At that time the generals of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon marched to Jerusalem and besieged the city. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to the city while his generals were besieging it. King Jehoiachin of Judah, along with his mother, his servants, his officials, and his eunuchs surrendered to the king of Babylon. The king of Babylon, in the eighth year of his reign, took Jehoiachin prisoner. Nebuchadnezzar took from there all the riches in the treasuries of the Lord’s temple and of the royal palace. He removed all the gold items which King Solomon of Israel had made for the Lord’s temple, just as the Lord had warned. He deported all the residents of Jerusalem, including all the officials and all the soldiers (10,000 people in all). This included all the craftsmen and those who worked with metal. No one was left except for the poorest among the people of the land. He deported Jehoiachin from Jerusalem to Babylon, along with the king’s mother and wives, his eunuchs, and the high-ranking officials of the land. The king of Babylon deported to Babylon all the soldiers (there were 7,000), as well as 1,000 craftsmen and metal workers. This included all the best warriors. The king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in Jehoiachin’s place. He renamed him Zedekiah. – 2 Kings 24:10-17 NLT

The best of the best were taken captive. They were transported to Babylon and forced into the service of the king. Some would end up serving in his government, much like Daniel did when he was taken captive (Daniel 1:1-6). The same was true of Nehemiah, who would end up serving as the cup-bearer to the king (Nehemiah 1:11). Others would use their skills and craftsmanship in the many construction projects of King Nebuchadnezzar. In taking all these individuals captive, King Nebuchadnezzar left Jerusalem and Judah virtually void of leadership. But it’s interesting to note that there is no mention of the priests and false prophets being transported to Babylon. It seems that they were left behind and their presence would continue to have a negative influence on the people of Judah.

Nebuchadnezzar replaced King Jehoachin with his uncle, Mattaniah, and renamed him Zedekiah. He would become a puppet-king or vassal, serving at the whim of King Nebuchadnezzar. And this was God’s will for him. In fact, just a few chapters later in the book of Jeremiah, God has His prophet deliver the following message to Zedekiah:

“Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes. Then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave.

“But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the Lord, until I have consumed it by his hand. So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your fortune-tellers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon.’ For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I will drive you out, and you will perish. But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, to work it and dwell there, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 27:8-11 NLT

Zedekiah would find himself receiving very bad advice from the false prophets, fortune-tellers and sorcerers who served him. Obviously, he had not taken the fall of Jerusalem seriously and cleaned up his spiritual act. In spite of all that had happened, he continued to live in rebellion against God, and his rebellious spirit would lead him to stand against Nebuchadnezzar.

But God predicted that all this would happen. That was His message to Jeremiah. Utilizing the imagery of good figs and bad figs, God declares the fate of the people of Judah. Those that ended up in captivity would be spared and one day returned to the land of Judah. Those who remained in Judah would be discarded like rotten fruit. Jeremiah’s vision of the two baskets of figs revealed them in the court of the temple. They most likely represented the first-fruits offerings that people would bring to the temple. These were to be the first gleanings of the annual harvest and were dedicated to God. But it would appear that one basket, filled with bad fruit, was a sign of someone bringing less than the best. They were giving God the dregs, the rotten fruit, rather than the best.

While all of Judah was guilty of unfaithfulness to God, He would choose to show His mercy on a remnant of the people. They all deserved His wrath and judgment, but in His divine sovereignty, He would elect to spare and bless some. Even when God eventually allowed the people held in captivity to return to the land of Judah, He did not bring them all back. The book of Ezra, which describes the return of the people under King Cyrus, records that only 42,360 Jews were part of that initial group to make their way back to Judah. Most would remain in Babylon. God would spare a remnant. He would begin anew with just a relative handful. And even these would not be deserving of His grace and mercy. They had done nothing to earn His favor while living in exile in Babylon. They were not better than the rest. But God, in His sovereign will, chose who He would return to the land. This sounds so unfair to us. It comes across as arbitrary and inequitable on the part of God. But Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reminds us that God is free to show mercy on whomever He chooses. None deserve it. In fact, all deserve His wrath and judgment, because all have sinned. But He mercifully bestows His grace on some.

This son was our ancestor Isaac. When he married Rebekah, she gave birth to twins. But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.”

Are we saying, then, that God was unfair? Of course not! For God said to Moses,

“I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.”

So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it. – Romans 9:10-16 NLT

God’s mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it. It is a gift. And the Scriptures remind us that salvation is a gift provided by God, not doled out based on merit or good works on our part.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time–to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. – 2 Timothy 1:8 NLT

But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.” – Titus 3:4-5 NLT

God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:28-29 NLT

The good figs in Jeremiah’s vision were good only because God deemed them to be. They were no better than the bad figs. But God had chosen to show His mercy on them. It is interesting to note that those who were taken captive into Babylon probably saw themselves as getting the short end of the stick. They most likely saw their fate as being the worst. Those who remained in Judah most likely saw themselves as blessed. They were spared captivity. But they would end up suffering in ways they could never have imagined. God told them:

“I will make them an object of horror and a symbol of evil to every nation on earth. They will be disgraced and mocked, taunted and cursed, wherever I scatter them. And I will send war, famine, and disease until they have vanished from the land of Israel, which I gave to them and their ancestors.” – Jeremiah 24:9-10 NLT

Good figs. Bad figs. The truth is, we are all bad figs, rotten to the core and deserving to be discarded by God. But, in His mercy, He chooses to redeem some and restore them to usefulness and true fruitfulness. All according to His incomparable mercy and grace.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Vessels of Clay.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’

“But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’” Jeremiah 18:1-12 ESV

God determined to provide Jeremiah with a visual lesson to help the prophet understand what was happening to the people of Judah. So, He sent Jeremiah on a field trip to a local pottery maker. There Jeremiah witnessed the potter crafting a pot out of clay, but something went wrong and the pot didn’t turn out quite like the potter had intended. The pot was not yet finished and had not been hardened in the sun, so, the potter simply began again. He took the still pliable clay, molding and shaping it into His original design. As Jeremiah watched this all unfold before his eyes, God spoke to him and gave him a message.

“O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. – Jeremiah 18:6 NLT

The clay was subject to the plans of the potter. He had every right to do with it as he wished. He had a vision in mind for the clay. But it would require careful shaping and molding, according to the potter’s skilled hands, for the clay to be transformed into the final end product the potter had in mind. And the same was true for Judah. They had been chosen by God, but were still like unbaked clay in His hands. They were a work in process, with flaws and blemishes that the potter (God) was faithfully and patiently working out.

But unlike lifeless clay, the people of Judah had opinions. They felt they had a say in the matter. They weren’t content letting God have the only input into what they became. And the prophet Isaiah had a few choice words for them.

How foolish can you be?
    He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay!
Should the created thing say of the one who made it,
    “He didn’t make me”?
Does a jar ever say,
    “The potter who made me is stupid”? – Isaiah 29:16 NLT

The real issue at hand here is the failure of human beings to recognize and respect God’s position as the Creator-God. We tend to see ourselves as somehow more worthy and deserving of special treatment at the hands of God. We believe we should have a say in how our lives turn out. We should get to choose what we become and how we spend our days. But Isaiah would argue the case.

“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator.
    Does a clay pot argue with its maker?
Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying,
    ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’
Does the pot exclaim,
    ‘How clumsy can you be?’ – Isaiah 45:9 NLT

And the apostle Paul would pick up on Isaiah’s thoughts generations later.

Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? – Romans 9:20-21 NLT

The sovereignty of God is the primary issue here. He alone is God. He has the right to do with His creation as He sees fit. And Isaiah recognized God’s sovereign prerogative to determine the fate of Judah, especially in light of their open rebellion against Him.

Therefore, you have turned away from us
    and turned us over to our sins.

And yet, O Lord, you are our Father.
    We are the clay, and you are the potter.
    We all are formed by your hand. – Isaiah 64:7-8 NLT

God reminded Jeremiah that there was an option for the people of Judah. It was called repentance. Unlike lifeless clay, they had been responsible for their flaws because of their sins. And God was going to “remake” them in order to eventually rid them of their glaring imperfections. But there was another way, an easier way.

“If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned.” – Jeremiah 18:7-8 NLT

Repentance. A change of mind that revealed itself through a change in behavior. That was the message of Jeremiah and all the other prophets. Return to God and renounce your evil ways.  And God will spare you. But the people of Judah had treated that message with disdain. So, God reminds Jeremiah:

“…if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would.” – Jeremiah 18:9-10 NLT

Israel had been that nation. They had been chosen by God and told that they would be His possession. He would make them a great and powerful nation. And He had held up His end of the bargain. He had made them great. He had blessed them beyond measure. And they had responded to His grace and love with disobedience and unfaithfulness. So, He had determined to start over. But God gave them yet another change to repent. He told Jeremiah to give the people the following message:

“This is what the Lord says: I am planning disaster for you instead of good. So turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right.’” – Jeremiah 18:11 NLT

Rather than waste their time criticizing God for His craftsmanship, they could repent. they could confess their sins and return to Him in contrition. But God knew their hearts and was not surprised by their response to His compassionate call to repentance.

“Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to, stubbornly following our own evil desires.” – Jeremiah 18:12 NLT

They rejected God’s call to repentance. They turned up their noses at His accusations of sin and wrongdoing. And in doing so they revealed that they had no understanding of God’s sovereignty over them. He was the Creator-God. He had made them. He had chosen them. And He could do with them as He saw fit. They were not the masters of their own fate. They were not in control of their own destinies. They could argue with or even ignore God, that did not change the outcome or make Him go away. His will was going to be accomplished, whether they liked it or not. They were like clay in His hands. He had a plan for them. He had a purpose in store for them. He had chosen them for a reason. And He would do what was necessary to accomplish His will for them – as it seemed good to the potter to do.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Petersoz

Chosen, Called and Commissioned.

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

To Titus, my true child in a common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. – Titus 1:1-4 ESV

As the title of this letter reflects, Paul was writing to Titus, another one of his young disciples in the faith. This letter, like the ones Paul wrote to Timothy, are intended to encourage and instruct Titus as he ministers on behalf of the gospel. As we will shortly see, Paul had left Titus in Crete with the task of ministering to the faithful there. He had given Titus clear instructions to “put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5 ESV). Now, Paul was writing to this young man with further words of encouragement and instruction. But before Paul addresses Titus, he sets up his letter with a salutation or greeting. This was a common feature of most letters during that day. Unlike our letters, where we sign our name at the end, ancient letters began with a formal introduction of the one from whom the letter was being sent. All of Paul’s letters begin this way, with some featuring longer salutations than others. This is a particularly long one and is far more than simply a greeting or introduction. In it, Paul provides a summation of what he is going to be dealing with in the main content of his letter.

Paul begins with a dual description of himself as the servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. Both of these designations are intended to support Paul’s authority and divine commission. The Greek word he used for servant is doulos and referred to a bond-servant or slave. Paul, a former Pharisee, was well-versed in the Hebrew Scriptures and would have been very familiar with the use of this term in association with some of the great men of God of the past. Moses, David and Elijah were each referred to as servants or slaves of God. This was a designation of honor, not infamy. Each of these men had been chosen by God for His service. In essence, they belonged to Him. They were His servant and each of them saw this role as a privilege, not a burden. And Paul was claiming to have that same kind of relationship with God. He had been hand-picked by God and commissioned to accomplish the will of God on this earth. He served God, not man. He answered to God, not man. His was a divine calling, complete with authority and power given to Him by God Himself.

Secondly, Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ. The Greek word is apostolos and it refers to a delegate, messenger or one sent forth with orders (“G652 – apostolos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Paul was not only a servant of God, he had been delegated by Jesus Christ as His representative and had been given a very specific task to perform. We have the exact words of that commission recorded for us in the book of Acts. They are part of Paul’s testimony regarding his salvation experience on the road to Damascus.

“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” – Acts 26:15-18 ESV

And Paul further clarifies for Titus the purpose behind his role as a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.

I have been sent to proclaim faith to those God has chosen and to teach them to know the truth that shows them how to live godly lives. – Titus 1:1 ESV

In his role as servant and apostle, Paul had been sent to proclaim the message of salvation by faith in Christ so that all those whom God had chosen could hear it. And when those so chosen by God had placed their faith in Christ, Paul was obligated by God and His Son to teach them the truth, so that they might live godly lives. In other words, Paul had a dual responsibility: To play a role in the salvation of the lost, but also in the sanctification of the saved.

And one of the things Paul firmly believed and expressed to his young friend, Titus, was the doctrine of God’s election. He uses the term, “God’s elect” in order to refer to those who come to faith. The Greek word is eklektos and it means “picked out or chosen” (“G1588 – eklektos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). In The New Living Translation, verse one reads: “I have been sent to proclaim faith to those God has chosen.” In Paul’s understanding of the gospel, God was the acting agent behind salvation. He did not leave anything up to chance. Just as God had chosen Paul for salvation, so He has pre-ordained all those who will come to faith in Christ. Paul played no role in his salvation. He was not seeking Christ. In fact, he was busy persecuting and eliminating all those who claimed to be followers of Christ. And yet, God had chosen him for salvation. And Paul believed that was true for everyone who came to faith in Christ, past, present or future.

The doctrine of divine election firmly establishes the believer’s eternal security. God has not left the believer’s assurance of salvation captive to changing feelings or faltering faith. Rather, the faithfulness of God demonstrated in his divine election secures the believer’s salvation in the will and purposes of God himself. – Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin Jr., 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, p. 265

For Paul, salvation, godliness and eternal life were all the work of God. None were possible without Him. And all of them were pre-ordained and promised by God “before the ages began” (Titus 1:2 ESV). And the message regarding salvation, godliness and eternal life was given at just the right time, through men like Paul, so that the elect might come to faith through the preaching of the good news.

Suffice it to say, Paul saw himself as a man with divine authority and a providential responsibility to spread the gospel so that others might come to faith in Christ and to ensure that those very same individuals grew in godliness. And he saw Titus as a sharing in that very same responsibility and calling. This young man, whom Paul saw as his child in the faith, was also carrying the heavy burden of ministering the gospel to the people of Crete, carrying on what Paul and others had begun. And in the rest of his letter to Titus, Paul will provide him with much-needed guidance and encouragement for the task that lay before him.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Chosen by God.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. – Ephesians 1:1-4 ESV

It is thought that Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was written between A.D. 60-62 while he was under house arrest in Rome. The book of Acts records that Paul had been to Ephesus and had spent at least three years there ministering and spreading the gospel throughout Asia Minor. It was while Paul was in Ephesus, that his presence caused a great deal of concern among the silversmiths who made their living by fashioning idols for the worship of Artemis, their god. It seems that Paul’s success in sharing the gospel had caused a dip in sales and had put a dent in the income of the local silversmiths. Demetrius, a silversmith, decided to do something about Paul and his message. He gathered all the tradesmen together and made an inflammatory speech designed to turn them all against Paul.

Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship” – Acts 19:25-27 ESV

Demetrius’ words whipped the crowd into a frenzy and almost resulted in a riot. But the authorities were able to calm the crowd and Paul managed to leave the town safely. But he never lost his love for the people of Ephesus or his concern for the local congregation there. So while under house arrest in Rome, he composed this letter as a means of encouraging them to continue in their love for God and one another. He seemed most concerned about the unity of the church. Like most of the newly formed congregations during that day, there was a unique blend of converted Jews and Gentiles, slaves and freemen, wealthy and poor, and educated and uneducated. This strange amalgam of individuals from all walks of life put a tremendous strain on the unity of the church. Paul was writing to call them to live in unity and to display holiness through their individual, as well as their corporate lives.

Paul describes himself as an apostle, a “sent one.” He had been sent by Jesus Himself to share the good news of salvation to the Gentiles. What he had done in Ephesus had been based on his commission from Jesus and according to the will of God. He was simply the messenger.

He addressed his audience as saints. He wanted them to remember that they had been consecrated or set apart by God for His service. By placing their faith in Jesus as their Savior, they had become the possession of God. They belonged to Him and were to live their lives in submission to His will and according to His Spirit whom He had placed within them. Paul reminds them that God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3 ESV). Paul’s emphasis in this verse is extremely important to understand. He states that God has already blessed us. He refers to it in the past tense. God has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing, and the important thing to note is that those blessings find their source “in the heavenly places.” Paul is going to expand on that thought in the following verses, but it would appear that he is attempting to get his audience to understand that they have already been blessed beyond measure and the greatest aspect of their blessing from God is the salvation and justification they had received as a result of their faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul reminds them that God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV). Their salvation was not happenstance or blind luck. It was not even their decision. Paul tells them that God chose them, elected them for salvation, long before He even created the world. And Paul will expand on that thought in the verses to come. Salvation was God’s idea, not man’s. The idea that fallen man would choose to have a relationship with a holy God goes against all that we read in the Scriptures. Ever since the fall, mankind has been on a trajectory away from God, not toward Him. The farther man got from the garden, the more hazy his memory of God became. Men stopped seeking the one true God and began replacing Him with gods of their own making. Paul describes this downward trajectory quite well in his letter to the Romans: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:22-23 ESV). Paul goes on to quote from the Old Testament to drive home his point: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12 ESV).

Paul wants his readers to comprehend the incredible significance of the fact that God chose them. He made their salvation possible. He is the one who justified them through His Son’s death on the cross. And His choosing of them was not just so that they might escape death and eternal condemnation, but that they might live holy lives. Paul drives home the point that “he chose us in him … that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV). God has an unwavering expectation for every believer to live holy and blameless because He has equipped them to be able to do so. Our holiness and blamelessness doesn’t start when we get to heaven. It begins here and now as we live as followers of Christ in this fallen world. We are saints, set apart ones, who belong to God and who are empowered by the Spirit of God to live as lights in a very dark world. We have been chosen by God to reflect His glory and to share His message of grace to all those we meet. As Paul told the Philippian believers: “Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people” (Philippians 2:15 NLT).

A Word to the Weary.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. – 1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV

We all need encouragement at times. Especially when it comes to our walk of faith as believers. Living the Christian life can be difficult. There are pressures and expectations. There are constant temptations and trials. Our own sin natures wage war within us, attempting to lure us away from obedience to Christ and back in to the self-gratifying lifestyle He died to deliver us from. It is during those times that we need to be encouraged and reminded of our calling. When times are difficult, it helps to have someone come alongside us and boost our spiritual confidence by pointing us back to the reality of our relationship with Christ.

Some time in the middle of the first century, the apostle Peter wrote a letter to believers living in northern Asia Minor. These people were living in a Roman province that is now modern western Turkey. Peter refers to them as “elect exiles of the Dispersion.” They were believers who found themselves living as relative strangers because of their faith in Christ. The Greek term Peter used was παρεπίδημος (parepidēmos) and it was used of “one who comes from a foreign country into a city or land to reside there by the side of the natives” (“Blue Letter Bible – 1Pe 1: Peter’s First Epistle – 1 Peter 1, Blue Letter Bible: KJV – King James Version). Peter was using the word metaphorically, calling his readers “strangers” or “aliens” because their real home was in heaven. They were essentially passing through this land on their way to their real homeland. They had been dispersed, so to speak, among the Gentiles living in northern Asia Minor and, as a result, were suffering the effects of their status as believers living among unbelievers. It was not easy. Their lives were not always pleasant.

They were the “elect”, chosen by God for salvation and set apart by Him to live holy lives in the midst of an unholy world. Their salvation had been God’s doing. He had made it possible for them to be restored to a right relationship with Himself. It was His Son who had died in their place. It was His Son’s righteousness that had been imputed to them and  made it possible for them to stand before God as justified. Their situation was part of that election. God had saved them, but had also placed them in the context in which they found themselves. God was not surprised by their circumstances. He was not unaware of the difficulties they were facing as His children living in a sinful and, oftentimes, hostile world. Dr. Thomas L. Constable explains what Peter meant by the foreknowledge of God.

The foreknowledge (Gr. prognosin; cf. Acts 2:23) of God refers, of course, to what God knows beforehand. God’s foreknowledge has an element of determinism in it because whatever really happens that God knows beforehand exists or takes place because of His sovereign will. Therefore when Peter wrote that God chose according to His foreknowledge he did not mean that God chose the elect because He knew beforehand they would believe the gospel (the Arminian position). God chose them because He determined beforehand that they would believe the gospel (the Calvinist position).

God had predetermined their salvation and their circumstances. They were right where He wanted them to be. Their struggles and trials were not to be viewed as indicators that they were out of God’s will, but right in the middle of it. He was in control. He was sovereign. He had chosen them and He would care for them.

In a single sentence, Peter mentions sanctification, obedience and sprinkling with blood. It almost comes across as a throwaway line, but there is significant meaning behind what Peter is saying to his readers. The sanctification of which he speaks is that which is accomplished by the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. When we come to faith in Christ, we receive the indwelling Holy Spirit. His presence within us sets us apart from the rest of the world. He becomes our guarantee, our down-payment, so to speak, of all that is to come. It is His presence and power that enables us to live the life to which God has called us. It is the Holy Spirit that makes it possible for us to live obediently to Christ. No longer is our obedience dependent upon our own self-effort, but on the power of the Spirit of God who lives within us. And while we still struggle with sin in this life, we must never lose sight of the fact that we have been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ. His blood, shed on our behalf and as payment for our sins, cleanses us from all unrighteousness. He has purified us with His blood.

The blood of Christ has provided us forgiveness of sins and a right standing with God. The Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to live in that right standing, obeying the will of God even in the midst of the troubles and trials of life. And our willful obedience is the proof of God’s ongoing sanctification of our lives. He is at work within us. And He uses the circumstances surrounding our lives to mold us into the likeness of His Son. Just like those to whom Paul wrote this letter, we are “elect exiles” living as strangers and aliens in a foreign land. We are citizens of heaven. We are members of another Kingdom who find ourselves living temporarily in a land that is hostile to our King and opposed to His rule. The rest of Peter’s letter will be a loving reminder of who we are in Christ, how we have been called to live and what our faith will look like as we live out our lives in this world.