A Constant Obsession

14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.Hebrews 12:14-17 ESV

The Scriptures clearly teach that followers of Christ have been sanctified by God. They enjoy a new status as His chosen ones, having been set apart by Him and deemed righteous in His eyes, due to the blood of Jesus Christ shed on their behalf. As a result of Christ’s sinless life and selfless sacrifice of that life, those who place their faith in Him as their Savior receive wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.

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

But there is far more to the doctrine of sanctification than the believer’s change in status. Yes, God sets each and every believer apart as His own, but He also fills them with His Holy Spirit. Through the divine presence of the Spirit of God, every believer is equipped with the power they need to live as who they are: A saint or holy one of God. And this power is essential because believers, though set apart by God, still find themselves living in a fallen world and dealing with the reality of their old sin natures. Coming to faith in Christ eliminates the penalty for sin, but it does not eradicate the potential to commit future sins. The truth of this statement is lived out in daily life and supported by the New Testament writers.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:8-10 ESV

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. – 1 John 2:1-2 ESV

It is the daily experience of every follower of Christ that sanctification does not provide an escape from the temptation to sin. Even Jesus Himself, the God-man and the unblemished sacrifice for the sins of man, was faced with the temptation to sin, as the author of Hebrews makes clear:

…he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. – Hebrews 4:15 NLT

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil.
– Matthew 4:1 NLT

And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. – Mark 1:13 ESV

But Jesus had no sin nature with which to contend. He was not born into sin like the rest of mankind. He came into the world as holy and remained so throughout the entirety of His life. But the same is not true of us. We are born in sin and were imputed the same sinful disposition that Adam and Eve possessed. And as A. W. Pink so aptly puts it, our relationship with Christ does not eliminate our potential for sin.

…scriptural sanctification is neither the eradication of sin, the purification of the carnal nature, nor even the partial putting to sleep of the “flesh”; still less does it secure an exemption from the attackes and harassments of Satan. – A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Sanctification

We must not think of sanctification as a freedom from the capacity to sin, but as a God-endowed power to resist the temptation to sin. Paul reminded the believers in Rome that they had been set free from their former slavery to sin.

Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living. – Romans 6:17-18 NLT

Before coming to faith in Christ, they were incapable of resisting the constant temptations thrown at them by Satan and the world, let alone the passions of their own sinful flesh. But now, as those set apart by God and possessing the power of God’s indwelling Spirit, they could say no to sin and yes to righteous living. But Paul goes on to tell them that they face a daily decision regarding their choice of lifestyle.

Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy. – Romans 6:19 NLT

The believer has been sanctified by God, but he faces a daily decision to live as one who has been set apart as belonging to God. That is why Paul so strongly emphasized the believer’s obligation to live according to his or her status as God’s chosen possession.

Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. – Romans 6:13 NLT

This pursuit of holiness is not intended to be meritorious in nature. In other words, Paul is not instructing the Roman believers to earn favor with God through their actions. They had already been sanctified by God. Jesus had paid the price for their sins – in full. They had already been declared righteous by God because He had imputed the righteousness of Christ to their account. But Paul was clearly teaching that the believer’s new standing before God came with an obligation to live in keeping with His divine will so that their lives would give Him glory. Notice what Paul says: “So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God.”

One of the amazing realities of the doctrine of sanctification is that it reveals how God has chosen to restore His image in man. Adam was made in the image of God, but sin marred that image. It damaged Adam’s likeness to his Creator. No longer could Adam’s actions bring glory to God by reflecting His glorious character. But Jesus came to earth as the second Adam, and He was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). Paul described Jesus as “the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT) and the apostle John said Jesus made God known and knowable (John 1:18).

And when sinful men place their faith in the Son of God, they become one with Him.

 …he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. – 1 Corinthians 6:17 NLT

Christ-followers are united with Him in His death, having had their sins nailed to the cross and crucified alongside Him. And believers are united with Christ in His resurrection, having received a new nature like His. Those men and women who place their faith in Christ are made new and receive the capacity to once again reflect the image of God. Their union with Christ provides release from slavery to sin and the restored freedom to serve God faithfully as His obedient servants.

But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. – Romans 6:22 NLT

But again, each and every Christ-follower faces the daily choice to live in their new-found freedom, made possible by the death of Christ. They can still choose to sin, or they can choose to pursue a life of sanctification. But this choice is only possible because of their relationship with Christ. It was not possible in their former fallen state. But because of Christ’s death on the cross and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, believers have the capacity to live godly lives. They can and should pursue righteousness. They should desire to live in keeping with the will of God and according to the example that Jesus left them.

And the New Testament is filled with countless calls to forsake the old way of living for the new life made possible in Jesus Christ.

…throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. – Ephesians 4:22 NLT

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT

But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. – Colossians 3:8 NLT

So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. – 1 Peter 2:1-2 NLT

Sanctification is to be the believer’s constant obsession. There is no place for complacency in the life of the Christ-follower. The status quo is to be avoided at all costs. Growing in Christ-likeness is to be the goal of each and every person who claims Christ as their Savior. And the joy of watching God transform their life from the inside out, through the power of His indwelling Spirit, is the reward of a life of sanctification. And it will continue until we see Him as He is.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. – 1 John 3:2 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.

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

 

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Consecrated by the Father

. 31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands. – John 10:31-39 ESV

At the core of the biblical doctrine of sanctification is the idea of something or someone being set apart. As we have seen, the Hebrew word typically translated as sanctified or consecrated in the Old Testament is qadash. The New Testament Greek equivalent is the word, hagiazō , which means “to separate from profane things and dedicate to God” (“G37 – hagiazō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It could also mean “to render or declare sacred or holy.” The root word from which it is derived was used to refer to that which was set apart or separated as being “holy.”

Grasping this idea of separation to God is essential if we are to understand the concept of sanctification and its role in the life of the believer. When something, such as the utensils used in the tabernacle or temple, were set apart or sanctified as belonging to God and for His use only, they were deemed off limits for any other use.

On the day when Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle and had anointed and consecrated it with all its furnishings and had anointed and consecrated the altar with all its utensils, the chiefs of Israel, heads of their fathers’ houses, who were the chiefs of the tribes, who were over those who were listed, approached – Numbers 7:1-2 ESV

The laver used in the temple could not be used by the priests for personal use. If they were to do so, they would end up profaning what God had deemed holy. While the laver remained ordinary and common in its essence, its status as being sanctified by God for His glory made it totally unique and  extraordinary.

And yet, the Scriptures reveal that the people of Israel failed to keep holy that which God had set apart as holy, including themselves.

Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. – Ezekiel 22:26 ESV

When God set apart something as His own, He intended for it to remain that way. He expected His people to maintain the holiness of His Sabbath, the tabernacle, its utensils and furniture, and their own lives. All of it had been sanctified as His and the Israelites were expected to honor and respect the divine ownership and accompanying sacredness as God’s possessions. Even the great king, David wrote: “But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself…” (Psalm 4:3 ESV).

But the track record of the Israelites as recorded in the Old Testament is not a stellar one. Theirs is a history marked by failure to remain set apart unto God. And the story of the New Testament is that of God entering the darkness caused by the disobedience of His children, by sending His Son as the light of the world.

With the closing chapter of the Old Testament book of Malachi, there is a more than 400-year gap until we read the opening words of John’s Gospel.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

The light penetrated the darkness. But John goes on to say that, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:9-11 ESV). The people of God, who had been set apart by Him for His use, were living in spiritual darkness. And their spiritual eyes were blinded to the reality of who Jesus was and what He had come to do.

And later on in his Gospel, John records an encounter that took place between Jesus and the Jewish residence of Jerusalem. He had come to town for the Feast of Dedication and was walking in the section of the temple known as Solomon’s Portico. John reveals that there was much debate among the Jews regarding who Jesus was. Some saw Him as a miracle worker sent from God, while others viewed those very same miracles as demonic in nature. In an attempt to clarify His identity, the Jews approached Jesus and said, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24 ESV). And Jesus responded:

“I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” – John 10:25-30 ESV

We know from John’s account that the people were angered by Jesus’ answer because they viewed His claim to be one with the Father as blasphemy. They were so upset that they attempted to stone Him to death. But look closely at what Jesus said to them. Jesus is claiming to have been sent by His Father on a mission with a specific purpose in mind. He was to gather the sheep God had chosen or set apart as His own. Not only had Jesus been set apart for a specific purpose, so had the sheep who would hear His voice and follow Him.

We don’t have to guess at how the words of Jesus impacted by the Jews that day, because John states that “The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.” They were incensed. In their minds, Jesus was saying that they were not set apart or holy. And yet, they viewed themselves as the chosen people of God. They were sons and daughters of Abraham. But the problem was, they had not lived as who they claimed to be. Their lives did not reflect the nature of their set-apart status as God’s children.

The only thing the people heard Jesus say was His claim to be one with the Father. To them, this was blasphemy, a crime punishable by death. But Jesus responded to their accusation by stating, “do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” (John 10:36 ESV). Don’t miss the significance of Jesus’ words. He claims to have been set apart or sanctified by God (hagiazō). They were missing the whole point of Jesus’ God-ordained mission. They were so hung up on His claim to be the Son of God that they missed the mission He had been given and the message He had come to proclaim.

The truly remarkable thing about this passage is that the Son of God was proclaiming His own sanctification by His Father. He had been set apart for a purpose and He had come to faithfully and completely accomplish it. Jesus made it clear that He had come to do the works of His Father, and He challenges the Jews, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:37-38 ESV).

This is a powerful statement and provides much-needed insight into the idea behind sanctification. Jesus had been set apart by God for a specific purpose, and His status as God’s chosen one could be examined and proven by His efforts on God’s behalf. His works bore evidence of His calling. His obedient lifestyle was proof of His status as God’s Son. Jesus didn’t just claim to be the Son of God, He backed it up with visible, tangible evidence. And the same is to be true of each and every child of God. Our lives are to provide tangible proof of our status as God’s possessions. Jesus had been set part by God and His life reflected that calling. And the apostle Paul reminds all the one who has been set apart by God “to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God” (Ephesians 4:1 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.

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

 

Imitate Jesus

1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.– 1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV

When you think of a godly person, who comes to mind? And what are the characteristics that lead you to believe they’re godly? Is it the quality of their prayer life, the level of their compassion, their knowledge of Scripture, or just they sense of spirituality they convey?

Each of us has at least one person we admire, look up to, and consider an icon of spiritual virtue. Depending on how we were raised, we will utilize different criteria to determine godliness and assess Christlikeness. For some, the primary determiner is love. For others, it’s biblical knowledge. And then there are those who see selfless, sacrificial service as the most effective barometer measuring another person’s godliness quotient.

But what does the Bible say? And is it useful or even right to judge one another’s spirituality? Better yet, is it helpful to assess our own spirituality by comparing ourselves with others?

As we saw in our last post, we were created by God in His image. We bear His likeness. Not that we are mini-gods or human representations of deity, but that we were meant to reflect His glory in some limited way. Unlike the rest of creation, man was given unique capabilities by God that allow him to create, reason, love, and provide caring dominion over the rest of creation. Man is a rational being, capable of intellectual thought and the capacity to operate according to something other than mere instinct alone. Man as a will.

And Adam and Eve utilized their wills in choosing to disobey the expressed command of God to stay away from the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They saw, they desired, and they ate. And sin entered the world for the very first time. Those two, created in the image of God, became infected with the virus of sin, resulting in their forced quarantine from the garden and a loss of the unhindered communion they had enjoyed with God up until that moment.

Now, every aspect of man’s nature has been contaminated by sin. Even man’s reasoning capacity has been infected and affected. In his letter to the Roman believers, Paul describes what happened.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. – Roman 1:21-22 NLT

Paul goes on to describe all men as “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them” (Ephesians 4:18 ESV). It is not that humanity has lost its intellectual capacity. Mankind has more than proven its capacity for intellectual rigor and scientific discovery. But man’s intelligence has been marred by sin. His ability to think of ways to improve human existence is always juxtaposed with his seeming penchant for using innovation to inflict pain and suffering.

So, the image of God has been damaged by the fall. But Jesus came to restore that sin-damaged image, and He began by taking on human flesh and showing what it looked like for a man to live in perfect, sinless obedience to God. He became the image of God unveiled and uninfected by the damaging influences of sin.

Which brings us back to our the verse and questions that opened up this post. The apostle Paul invites us to imitate him, but he provides us with an important caveat. His invitation to be imitators of him is qualified with the words, “as I am of Christ.” In other words, the ultimate model for our behavior is Jesus Christ Himself. But Paul, knowing that the Corinthian believers would never see Jesus in the flesh, would need a tangible representation of His presence. So, he offered himself as a stand-in for Jesus. In doing so, He was not claiming equality with Jesus or setting himself up as on the same spiritual plane as the Messiah. He simply stated that he was an imitator of Jesus. The Greek word Paul used is mimētēs, and it is where we get our word, “mimic.” In other New Testament passages, it is sometimes translated as “followers,” but it carries the same basic idea. Like the children’s game, Follow the Leader, we are to mimic or replicate the actions of Jesus. Paul told the Thessalonians believers:

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. – 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 ESV

Jesus, as the ultimate bearer of God’s image, left us an example to follow. He has provided us with a tangible expression of what it means to live a Christlike life. And Paul’s invitation to use his own life as an example was his way of saying that he had made Jesus his model for Christian living. And Paul was making it clear that the Corinthians were only to imitate him as long as he effectively imitated Jesus. If at any time he failed to imitate Jesus, they were no longer to follow Paul’s lead.

The preposition “as” is vitally important. When Paul says, “as I imitate Christ,” he is effectively saying “in the same way that I imitate Christ.” Paul’s main emphasis is Jesus. If Jesus was not the focus of Paul’s life and the model by which he lived his life, then he was going to make a lousy example to follow.

Paul’s primary concern was that the Corinthian believers fixate on Jesus. In fact, that was Paul’s concern for all the churches he helped to found. He told the Philippians:

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. – Philippians 2:3-5 NLT

But Paul made it his life’s ambition to be like Christ, to have the same attitude that He had. Paul determined to live a selfless, sacrificial life. He made it his goal to live humbly and obediently to the will of God. Why? Because Jesus did, and whatever Jesus did, Paul wanted to do as well.

That is the heart of sanctification. It is all about growth in Christlikeness. It is about becoming like Christ. Paul told the Roman believers to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14 ESV). He told the Galatian believers, “all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes” (Galatians 3:27 NLT). Paul compares putting on Christ to putting on a new set of clothes. We are to array ourselves with the nature of Christ.

Back to our original question: When you think of a godly person, who comes to mind? It’s actually a trick question. Because the answer should be “Jesus.” When you think of someone whom you determine to be godly, you should immediately be reminded of Jesus. Paul wanted his life to mimic the life of Jesus. When people looked at Paul, he wanted them to see Jesus. But sometimes, the godly people we admire tend to reflect themselves more than they mirror Jesus. They are good people doing good things. They are well-meaning individuals whose lives are worth emulating, but we have to always examine whether their actions truly reflect those of Jesus. Do they have the mind of Jesus? Do their lives reflect the character of Jesus.

Ultimately, sanctification is God’s method of molding us into the likeness of His Son. And, as we will see, God uses His Word and His Spirit to accomplish this lofty goal. Through time in His Word and willing submission to His Spirit’s leading, we can find ourselves growing increasingly more like Jesus, in our words, thoughts, and actions. And we too can find ourselves able to say, as Paul did, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

As we live our lives, we must keep our eyes focused on Jesus. He must be our ultimate example and the one by whom we model our life. As the author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote, “…let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Hebrews 12:2-3 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., Caro l Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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

 

Faith Alone, But Not By Itself.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 1:5-11 ESV

Peter would have been one of the first to defend the concept of sola fide, salvation through faith alone. He firmly believed that man could not be justified or made right with God by anything other than faith alone in Christ alone. But that did not mean he believed that saving faith was all that was needed or necessary in the life of the believer. Our faith in Christ must be accompanied by a change in our behavior and character. James wrote, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14 ESV). Then he answered his own question, saying, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17 ESV). James was not contradicting sola fide, he was simply acknowledge that saving faith is life-transforming faith. It results in a life of good works. And Peter corroborates the view of James when he tells his readers: “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5-7 ESV). That’s quite a list. James summed his up in one word: Works. But Peter decided to get a bit more specific.

When speaking of supplementing their faith, the  Greek word he used is ἐπιχορηγέω (epichorēgeō) and it is an interesting choice. It actually means “to supply, furnish, present” (“G2023 – epichorēgeō (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. www.blueletterbible.org). But it comes from another Greek word that is compound word in the Greek that combines the preposition “in” or “on” with chorēgeō, a word that literally means “to procure and supply all things necessary to fit out a chorus” (“G5524 – chorēgeō (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. www.blueletterbible.org). That gives Peter’s words a whole new twist. He is telling his readers to “make every effort” to see that their faith in Christ be outfitted with all the necessary elements to produce a harmonious and God-honoring life.

It is important that we remember the encouraging words Peter wrote just a few verses earlier. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). These “supplements” Peter speaks about come from God. They are not man-made or self-produced. In his first letter, Peter stated, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies (chorēgeō) — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11 ESV). The seven things that Peter mentions are God-given and designed by Him to complete every believer with the Christ-like character necessary to live harmoniously and righteously on this earth.

Spirituality, or our growth in godliness is a daily choice. It doesn’t just happen. It requires cooperation and effort on our part. The list Peter supplies is in a specific order and each word builds on the one before it. He uses a common literary device to move his thoughts toward a crescendo that ends with the word, “love.” He is not necessarily giving priority to one word over the other. He is also not saying that you have to add them to your life in the order in which he has given them. He is simply expressing that their is a natural progression to godliness. Like a tree, we are to grow gradually and intentionally, just as our Creator has designed. He begins with virtue. This is a word that described our inward character. It is moral excellence that begins in the heart and expresses itself through behavior. Virtue is a willful obedience to the calling of God on your life.

Knowledge refers to our need to know more about God and His Son. In chapter three, Peter writes, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 ESV). Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians was the God “may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Ephesians 1:17 ESV). His prayer for the believers in Colossae was that they would “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10 ESV).

Next Peter mentions self-control. This has to do with the ability to master our desires and passions. Rather than allowing our sinful flesh to dictate our behavior, we are to live under the control of the Spirit of God. That’s why Paul told us to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16 ESV). Our flesh or old nature wants to control us. It wants to dictate our behavior, but we must keep it under control.

Next is steadfastness or perseverance. This has to do with having an attitude of resilience. Living as a believer on this planet can be tough at times. We must keep on keeping on. But it is much more than just a toleration of what is happening to us. It carries the idea of confident and joyful awareness that God is in control and is using any and all circumstances to mold us into the likeness of His Son.

Godliness is just what it appears to be. It is to have and display the character of God. This does not infer that we can become God, but that, as His children, we should reflect His character. We have the Spirit of God living within us, and as we submit to His leadership, we begin to exhibit the fruit of His presence: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Brotherly affection is simply love for our fellow believers in Christ. That includes the unattractive and unlikeable, the haves and the have-nots. It eliminates any place for jealousy, envy, gossip, slander or hatred. Paul gives us a glimpse into what this looks like when he writes, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10 ESV).

Finally, Peter ends his list with the word, “love.” He uses the Greek word ἀγάπη (agapē), which refers to the highest form of love. It is the same kind of love with which Christ loved us. It is selfless, sacrificial, and always puts others as the highest priority.

Peter tells us that these qualities should be evident and constantly increasing in our lives. And if they are lacking, then we have every reason to wonder what has happened. He says we have become so nearsighted as to be blind. We have lost the ability to see those around us and have become so self-focused that we end up living as if God and others don’t even exist. Is that really saving faith? Is that what we have been called to as believers in Christ? Peter tells us that as these seven qualities increase in our lives, we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are truly called and our faith is real. They are the evidence of our election, the proof of our calling by God. So we must constantly remember what Paul told his disciple, Timothy. “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;( NLT).

Without A Word.

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. – 1 Peter 3:1-6 ESV

Peter now takes his message of submission into the inner sanctum of the home. And for us, as modern-day Christians, this message can have a certain archaic and painfully old-fashioned ring to it. But we must keep what Peter has written on this within the context of his letter and social setting of the day in which he wrote. First of all, the fact that Peter addressed women at all is not something we should miss. In the culture of his day, women often were considered inferior. They were expected to follow the religion of their husbands and were given little say in the matter. And yet, here is Peter addressing women who had placed their faith in Christ. He is speaking to them as a separate group and addressing their specific situation, providing them with insight into how they were supposed to live as believers when their husbands were not. He knew that they were going against the cultural norms of their day. Rather than worship the false gods of their husbands, these women had placed their faith in Christ and now found themselves in a delicate, if not dangerous, place.

It is important that we recognize that Peter is primarily addressing women who are married to unbelievers. His admonition to submit is applicable to all Christian women, whether their husbands are believers or not, but he seems to be putting a special emphasis on wives whose husbands do not share their faith. He says, “wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct” (1 Peter 3:1-2 ESV). The idea of submission has a certain distasteful to many. And while we may not particularly like Peter’s command to submit to those in authority over us when it comes to the government or even the workplace, the idea of wives having to submit to their husbands has a particularly unattractive appeal to many today. But it is important to note that when Peter uses the Greek word hypotasso (“to submit”) he is speaking about a willing coming under another as part of God’s willed order. It has nothing to do with worth or value. It is not an admission of superiority or inferiority (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. “hypotasso,” by Gerhard Delling, 8 (1972):44). It has everything to do with God’s divine plan and His children’s conduct and character. Ultimately, all of us are required to submit to someone and we are to see our submission as unto the Lord. Each of us answers to Him. God has ordained an order and a structure to the universe. And while the idea of wives having to be subject to their husbands may rub us the wrong way, it is important to remember that God has a method to His seeming madness.

When we live in this world according to God’s will, submitting to His plan for our lives, it not only pleases Him, but it gives living proof of the change that has taken place within us because of the presence of the indwelling Spirit of God. To expect a believing wife to submit to her unbelieving husband seems unfair and potentially stifling to her faith. But God says that her conduct could have a redemptive aspect to it. Christlike behavior can be a powerful force within our relationships. How we act as Christians can have a major influence on the lost with whom we come in contact. So Peter gives these women some insights into how their behavior can have a saving influence on their husbands. And he goes straight to the heart of the matter: “let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4 ESV). Peter’s concern seems to be that women who had discovered their newfound freedom in Christ would allow their behavior to push their unbelieving husbands away from the faith. Believers must never forget that their salvation is not to be viewed in an individualistic way. The good news we have embraced is meant to be shared. Our faith is meant to be lived out among the lost. We are to be salt and light – agents of change and ministers of reconciliation, calling people to be made right with God. That is why the apostle Paul calls on believers to remain as they were when called by God.  “To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him” (1 Corinthians 7:12-13 ESV). Our godly influence over the lost in our lives is a big part of God’s plan for our lives.

Much of what Peter says in these verses sounds out of touch with real life. It is counter-cultural and seems to go against the grain of societal expectations. But much of what God expects of us is revolutionary in nature. It is intended to set us apart and requires us to live differently than those around us. It is our ability to do good in the midst of the bad that surrounds us that gets the attention of the lost. Our joy in the midst of sorrow, peace in the middle of the storm, contentment with little, hope in spite of heartache, and our ability to love when treated in unloving ways, that sets us apart.

Paul gives us each some wise words to consider. “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches” (1 Corinthians 7:17 ESV). How does God want to use you right where you are? Who has He placed in your life so that you might have a godly influence over them? Ultimately, our submission to God will lead us to submit to all those with whom we come in contact. We will gladly come under another in order that we might win them over to Christ by our actions.

 

Glory According to Grace.

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 ESV

Paul was a brilliant man. He was well-verses in the Scriptures and highly knowledgeable. But at the core, his theology was quite simple. It all centered on God. God was at the center of Paul’s life and the central focus of his teachings. He knew that nothing was possible apart from God. Salvation was unachievable. Sanctification was impossible. A right relationship with God was unattainable. He knew from first-hand experience that it was God who had pursued and captured him. He had been living his life in a well-intentioned, but misinformed attempt to earn favor with God. “I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin–a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault” (Philippians 3:5-6 NLT). But he had been miraculously transformed from a self-righteous, self-focused spiritual over-achiever into a selfless servant of God, and it was all the work of God.

So when Paul prayed for others, he never lost sight of the fact that anything good that needed to happen was going to have to happen because of God. Only God could make them worthy of His calling. He had saved them and He was going to have to be the one to sanctify and progressively transform them into the likeness of His Son. Our best efforts on our best day will never measure up to God’s standard for righteousness – which is His own sinless Son. Which is why Paul prayed that God would make them worthy. He knew that it was God who would have to empower them to live their lives in keeping with their status as His children. It was also God who would make it possible to change their resolve to live godly lives into reality. It was the power of God that would give intentionality possibility. He alone can fulfill every work of faith by His power. And Paul never forgot that all of this was due to the unbelievable, inexhaustible grace of God. God would do all of this, not because anyone deserved it, but for His own glory. When God accomplishes something in our lives, He gets the recognition and glory. When we attempt to do it, or take credit for it, we rob Him of glory. As children of God, we live in order that God might be glorified through our lives as we live in dependence upon Him. Our continuing transformation into Christlikeness points to Him. It is the result of His power and grace. Our good deeds, when done by His power and according to His grace, point people to Him. He gets the glory. Paul’s prayer was “that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him.” That is an amazing thought. When we live dependently upon God, the name of Jesus is glorified in us and through us. Everything He died to accomplish is made evident and proved true in our lives. We become living proof that He was exactly who He claimed to be: The Savior of the world and the Son of God. Our new lives prove that His sacrificial death was more than sufficient to redeem hopeless men and women from condemnation and captivity to sin and death. But here is the other amazing thing Paul realized: We are also glorified in Him. When God works in us, according to His grace and power, we are glorified in Christ. Our lives lived according to God’s power bring glory to Christ. But we are also glorified in Christ. Paul describes it this way: “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord–who is the Spirit–makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT). We are gradually being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Himself – from one degree of glory to another. And God gets the glory.

The Christian life is not about self-effort. It is about dying to self and living for Christ. It is about abiding in Christ and trusting in God for all that you need. It is about reliance on His power, not our own. It is about submission to His will, instead of our own. It is about seeking His glory, rather than our own. And when we do, we get the extra-added benefit of being transformed into the glorious image of Christ – a process that will find its ultimate fulfillment and completion when we go to be with Him. “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT). All because of God.



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1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

God’s Will – Part 2.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT

Earlier in his letter, Paul had told the Thessalonian believers that it was God’s will for them to be holy. then he gave them a practical example of what that kind of life looked like. They were to avoid sexual sin at all costs. They were to control their own lustful passions and live holy lives, not impure lives. They were to love and honor one another. They were to live their lives in such a way that they honored and pleased God. And now, at the close of his letter, Paul gives them another practical application of what a holy life looks like – a life that reflects God’s will for all believers. It is a life marked by joy. Not a giddy, unstable happiness based on changing circumstances, but a deep joy that is founded on the knowledge that we have a right relationship with God, our sins forgiven, our eternity secure and a God who loves us so much that there is nothing we can do that would ever cause Him to fall out of love for us. He is constantly out for our best interests and our circumstances, whether good or bad, are not an indicator of God’s love for us. His love is expressed in our spiritual transformation, that was made possible by His Son’s death on the cross. And that transformation is ALWAYS taking place within us, because of the indwelling presence of His Spirit. Which should bring us joy.

We are to pray without ceasing. In other words, prayer should be a constant part of our lives because God is a constant part of our lives. Prayer is not just petition, or asking God for things. It is also expressions of thanksgiving and praise. Prayer is the intimate communication between the Father and His child. And He wants to hear from us as much as we want to hear from Him. Prayer includes spending time listening to God, which is difficult, because we can’t hear His voice audibly or out loud. He speaks to us through His Word and His Spirit. God is always speaking to us, but the problem is that we seldom take time to listen. So we are to pray or communicate with Him constantly, unceasingly.

And we are to live lives that are marked by thankfulness – not just for the good things that happen in our lives – but even for the trials and difficulties. Why? Because as believers, we should know that God is at work in our lives at ALL times, using even the difficulties of life to transform us into the likeness of His Son. And we can live our lives with the assurance that He ALWAYS loves us – at all times – even when our circumstances seem to shout otherwise. And we can be thankful for that love and express our gratitude back to Him. None of this comes naturally. It isn’t a normal reaction for most of us, because it runs contrary to our sinful nature. We are wired to complain, not express thanks. We are prone toward dissatisfaction and discontentment, not gratefulness. Prayer is the ultimate expression of dependence on God, and we tend to be far too independent to have to rely on God. And since joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and not a byproduct of our human nature, it must be produced by the Spirit in our life. We can’t manufacture it or even fake it well. As we live in tune with and in obedience to the Spirit, He produces within us a joy that goes far beyond mere happiness. It is not based on circumstances, but on the certainty of God love for us.

God’s will for us is that we live holy live. But holy lives are practical lives. And ultimately, Paul tells us, God must make us holy. That is his prayer for the Thessalonian believers and, by extension, his prayer for us. “Now may the God of peace make you holy in every Way and make your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ returns again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 NLT). It is not only God’s will that we be holy. It is His mission. And one day He will complete that mission. There is a day coming when our holiness will be complete. Sin will be eradicated. Our transformation into the likeness of Christ will be finalized. We will be holy and blameless, because God is faithful and true.

Father, our holiness is of great importance to You, so it should be of great importance to us. Not that we should try to make ourselves holy, but that we should see it as our highest priority. We should view the circumstances of life as Your laboratory in which You are refining and perfecting us. You are always at work within and around us. Your ultimate goal is not our temporary happiness, but our eternal holiness. Give us that divine perspective. Help us to see our lives from Your viewpoint and with Your ultimate goal for us in mind. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org