Unfulfilled justice. Delayed deliverance.

Therefore justice is far from us,
    and righteousness does not overtake us;
we hope for light, and behold, darkness,
    and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
10 We grope for the wall like the blind;
    we grope like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight,
    among those in full vigor we are like dead men.
11 We all growl like bears;
    we moan and moan like doves;
we hope for justice, but there is none;
    for salvation, but it is far from us.
12 For our transgressions are multiplied before you,
    and our sins testify against us;
for our transgressions are with us,
    and we know our iniquities:
13 transgressing, and denying the Lord,
    and turning back from following our God,
speaking oppression and revolt,
    conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words.

14 Justice is turned back,
    and righteousness stands far away;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares,
    and uprightness cannot enter.
15 Truth is lacking,
    and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. Isaiah 59:9-15 ESV

Where is God? If He loves me, why isn’t He doing something about my situation? If He’s so powerful, why won’t He fix my problem?

How many times have those kinds of questions been asked over the centuries? From believers and unbelievers alike.  And in this chapter, Isaiah has revealed that the people of Judah were asking these very kinds of questions because of their dire circumstances. They had concluded that either God was too weak to deliver them or simply hard of hearing. But Isaiah would not allow them to blame God for their dilemma. He laid the responsibility squarely on their shoulders.

…your sins have caused him to reject you and not listen to your prayers. – Isaiah 59:2 NET

Now, Isaiah positions himself as one of their own, addressing them as a fellow Judahite who finds himself suffering alongside them. Even though he had been faithfully trying to turn them back to God. Picking up where he left off in verse 2, Isaiah adds, “For this reason deliverance is far from us and salvation does not reach us” (Isaiah 59:9 NET). Notice that Isaiah now includes himself in their predicament. Rather than addressing them as “you,” he uses the plural pronoun, “us.” Because of the sins of the many, even the faithful would suffer.

That’s why Isaiah drives home the unpopular message that it was their sins that separated them from God. And God’s seeming unavailability was a matter of disobedience, not distance. God had not gone anywhere, otherwise Isaiah would not have been doing what he was doing. Every word the prophet shared was from the lips of God. He wasn’t silent. They just weren’t listening. God wasn’t gone, but they had most definitely left Him.

And now, they were suffering the consequences of turning their backs on God. They longed for light, but found themselves surrounded by darkness. They kept waiting for the brightness of day, but seemed to be in a perpetual state of living in dusk turning to more darkness. There was no dawn on the horizon. Their cloud had no silver lining. And not that the light or darkness really mattered. Because they were like blind men groping along and oblivious as to whether it was midnight of the middle of the day. In a sense, they were so spiritually blind, they wouldn’t recognize the brightness of God’s glory if it appeared right in front of them.

The powerful growl like bears over their sorry state of affairs. They grumble and complains. The weak, like doves, mournfully call out, unable to do anything about their condition. They all “look for justice, but it never comes” and “for rescue, but it is far away” (Isaiah 59:11 NLT). Unfulfilled justice. Delayed deliverance. Neither does anyone any good. Justice that doesn’t ever get meted out isn’t justice at all. Rescue that never shows up is nothing more than disappointment, not deliverance. But again, the problem was not that God was lacking in justice and incapable of rescue. It was their sins. And, Isaiah makes that point quite clear, once again using the plural pronoun, “we” that allowed him to speak as one of their own. He was no longer addressing them as the prophet of God pointing his condemning finger of judgment. He was a brother who longed to see them wake up to the reality of their situation and recognize the gravity of their problem.

For our sins are piled up before God
    and testify against us. – Isaiah 59:12 NLT

They had a long track record of transgression against God. Their sins, like witnesses in a trial, testified against them, condemning them as guilty before God. And Isaiah will not allow them to play the innocent, wrongly accused victim.

we know what sinners we are.
We know we have rebelled and have denied the Lord.
    We have turned our backs on our God.
We know how unfair and oppressive we have been,
    carefully planning our deceitful lies. – Isaiah 59:12-13 NLT

It’s as if Isaiah is saying, “Let’s stop fooling ourselves. We all know we’re guilty, so let’s just own up to it and confess it.” Attempting to hide or deny their sin was getting them nowhere with God. He knew. He saw. And now He was sending them His judgment. But they could avoid His wrath if they would only admit their guilt.

But while they were longing for justice from God and demanding that He deliver them, they were busy practicing injustice and taking advantage of the weak and helpless among themselves. They were expecting God to do for them what they refused to do for one another. They wanted God to rescue them out of their troubles and trials, while they were busy dragging the innocent into court and treating their brothers and sisters like prey to be devoured rather than family to be cared for.

No, things were not good in Judah. And their circumstances were a direct result of their sinfulness. As the old maxim goes, they had made their bed, now they were going to have to sleep in it.

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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The One True God.

10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
    will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
    and the moon will not shed its light.
11 I will punish the world for its evil,
    and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
    and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.
12 I will make people more rare than fine gold,
    and mankind than the gold of Ophir.
13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
    and the earth will be shaken out of its place,
at the wrath of the Lord of hosts
    in the day of his fierce anger.
14 And like a hunted gazelle,
    or like sheep with none to gather them,
each will turn to his own people,
    and each will flee to his own land.
15 Whoever is found will be thrust through,
    and whoever is caught will fall by the sword.
16 Their infants will be dashed in pieces
    before their eyes;
their houses will be plundered
    and their wives ravished.” – Isaiah 13:10-16 ESV

In this, the first of ten oracles Isaiah received from God, detailed and devastating descriptions are given regarding a day of coming judgment. Babylon, the veritable poster boy of pride and arrogance, is used by God as a symbol for the pagan nations of the earth, who reject Him and persecute His people, Israel.

But the judgments described in these verses are universal in nature and global in scope. They are not merely God’s plans for the destruction of Babylon. They encompass the entire world and all those who are living on it at the time the judgments fall. And verse nine makes that point white clear.

Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
    cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
    and to destroy its sinners from it. – Isaiah 13:9 ESV

And verse 11 elaborates on God’s future plans for pouring out His righteous wrath on sinful mankind.

I will punish the world for its evil,
    and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
    and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless. – Isaiah 13:11 ESV

In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul clarifies the basis for God’s coming day of judgment on the nations”

…he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. – Romans 2:8 NLT

They are self-absorbed and self-reliant. They are stubbornly disobedient to the truth of God. And the result is that they live lives of wickedness, violating the expressed will of God. According to Paul, their actions and attitudes are a willful snub against God, who has made Himself known to them through His creation.

But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. – Romans 1:18-20 NLT

Mankind’s rejection of God has been an ongoing affair, since the day Adam and Eve disregarded His command and decided to satisfy their own desires apart from and outside of His will. And that is what the world has been doing ever since.

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. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:21-23 NLT

Rather than worship the Creator-God, they worshiped the creation itself. They fabricated their own gods – lifeless, powerless stand-ins for the one true God – a product of their own imaginations and their own hands. And Paul says that God gave mankind over to follow their own self-absorbed standard of living.

So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. – Romans 1:24-25 NLT

And mankind’s rejection of God has continued for generations. And over that time, we have seen the human capacity for sin increase exponentially – to the point where sin is not longer viewed as sin. Right is wrong and wrong is right. What God condemns, man now glorifies. What He denies and deems off-limits, we defend and demand as our right. And Paul painted a prophetic picture of the day and age in which we live.

That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved. – Romans 1:26-27 NLT

But the sinful act is not the issue here. It is the rebellious hearts that ultimately lead to the shameful desires and the sinful actions. The rejection of God always result in rebellion against the will of God. And Paul provides a graphic description of what this way of life, lived without God, looks like.

Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. – Romans 1:29-32 NLT

But Isaiah reminds us that God will not put up with mankind’s rebellion against Him forever. There is a day coming – that day – when He will judge sinful mankind, not for the individual sins they have committed, but for their refusal to accept Him as God. Their sinful behavior is nothing more than a byproduct and evidence of their lack of a relationship with God. The Scriptures make it clear that ALL humanity has sinned against God. They all stand as guilty before Him. But those who have placed their faith in the offer of salvation made possible through His Son, have received forgiveness for their sins. They have been made right with God. And, as Paul puts it, they live free from the threat of future condemnation.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. – Romans 8:1-2 NLT

But for all those who refuse God’s gracious offer of salvation through faith in His Son, condemnation and judgment remain inevitable and unavoidable. Which is exactly what Isaiah is warning. He speaks of God’s wrath and fierce anger. He describes that day as one that will feature cosmic disturbances in the sky and incredible violence on the earth. And he is not the only prophet who wrote in starkly graphic terms concerning this coming day.

I will veil the heavens and darken the stars.
I will cover the sun with a cloud,
    and the moon will not give you its light. – Ezekiel 32:7 NLT

The Lord is at the head of the column.
    He leads them with a shout.
This is his mighty army,
    and they follow his orders.
The day of the Lord is an awesome, terrible thing.
    Who can possibly survive? – Joel 2:11 NLT

And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. – Daniel 12:1 NLT

The world has experienced its fair share of dark days. There have been countless wars and periods of civil unrest. We have invented new and ever-more-deadly means of wreaking havoc on one another. Our capacity and propensity for sin has increased, not decreased. And yet, God is not blind. He is oblivious to what is happening on the life-sustaining planet He created. He is well aware of the sorry state of things on earth, and one day He is going to deal with it. All that Isaiah predicts in these verses will take place. And the book of Revelation reveals the details concerning the coming day of God’s judgment on sinful mankind.

In his vision, given to Him by God, John sees a time when God’s wrath will take the form of famine, widespread disease, civil unrest, earthquakes, and bizarre cosmic disturbances. Ane while we may see signs of those things already happening, their quantity and intensity will be like nothing we have ever experienced before. Not only that, there will be strange, inexplicable phenomena taking place that will clearly reveal that God is the cause behind all that is happening. The seas will be turned to blood. The drinking water will become bitter and poisonous. The primary crops for making bread will be destroyed. Starvation will be widespread. Civil unrest will be worldwide, not localized.

And as if all that is not enough, God will unleash demonic activity on the earth like nothing anyone has ever seen or experienced before. People will suffer and die at the hands of demons. But before we express sorrow and regret over this sad state of affairs, look at what John records.

But the people who did not die in these plagues still refused to repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. They continued to worship demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood—idols that can neither see nor hear nor walk! And they did not repent of their murders or their witchcraft or their sexual immorality or their thefts.  – Revelation 9:20-21 NLT

No repentance. No remorse. In spite of all that God brings upon them in terms of His divine judgment, they remain stubbornly unrepentant. They will cling to their false gods and continue to snub their noses at the one true God.

And the bleak picture that Isaiah paints is a prophetic glimpse into this future time of God’s judgment. It has not yet arrived, but it will. And while the vivid descriptions of its outcome may leave us confused and confounded, the psalmist would have us rejoice. Because God’s coming judgment is a sign of His sovereignty over the earth. He will one day make all things right. He will restore His creation to its former glory. He will rid the world of sin once and for all.

Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice!
    Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!
Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy!
    Let the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord, for he is coming!
    He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with justice,
    and the nations with his truth. – Psalm 96:11-13 NLT

Justice will prevail, because God is a just and holy God. He will step into His creation and reclaim His rightful place as God. And all the world will one day acknowledge Him for who He is: The one true God.

Let all the world look to me for salvation!
    For I am God; there is no other.
I have sworn by my own name;
    I have spoken the truth,
    and I will never go back on my word:
Every knee will bend to me,
    and every tongue will declare allegiance to me. – Isaiah 45:22-23 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

Here I Am. Send Me!

1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”– Isaiah 6:1-8 ESV

This chapter seems a bit out of place. It provides details concerning Isaiah’s divine call, but appears after the first five chapters, which contain a summary of Judah’s sin and God’s coming judgment. It would appear that Isaiah wanted to begin his book with a clear description of the state of affairs in Judah so that the people would understand the nature of his message to them. Now, in chapter six, he reveals that he is a messenger sent from God. He has received a commission from Yahweh Himself, and has been tasked with the responsibility to warn the people of Judah of what God has ordained, unless they repent and return to Him.

Isaiah prefaces this chapter by providing the date of his calling. It was in the year King Uzziah died. That would have been around 740 B.C. It’s interesting to note that King Uzziah was one of the few godly kings to reign in Judah since the split of the kingdom after Solomon’s reign. He reigned over Judah for 52 years, but like so many of the other kings of Judah, Uzziah failed to remain faithful to God. He enjoyed the blessings of God, but allowed them to go to his head.

But when he had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. He sinned against the Lord his God by entering the sanctuary of the Lord’s Temple and personally burning incense on the incense altar. Azariah the high priest went in after him with eighty other priests of the Lord, all brave men. They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is the work of the priests alone, the descendants of Aaron who are set apart for this work. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have sinned. The Lord God will not honor you for this!” 2 Chronicles 26:16-18 NLT

Don’t miss the details concerning Uzziah’s sin. He had entered the sanctuary of the temple and burned incense on the altar of incense. In other words, he had taken on the role of the priest and, in doing so, had violated the law of God. He had committed the very same crime that had resulted in King Saul’s removal and replacement by David (1 Samuel 13:9).

When confronted by the high priest, Uzziah had reacted with rage, screaming at Azariah and the other priests. As a result of his actions, God struck him with leprosy. And the text tells us that he remained a leper until his death.

So King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in isolation in a separate house, for he was excluded from the Temple of the Lord. His son Jotham was put in charge of the royal palace, and he governed the people of the land. – 2 Chronicles 26:21 NLT

His God-ordained disease banned left him unclean and banned from ever entering the temple again. He spent the remaining years of his life in quarantine, secluded in a separate house and unable to govern the people of God.

And in the year of his death, Isaiah was given a vision by God. It is not coincidence that Isaiah saw God in His holy temple, the actual temple in heaven. He was given a glimpse into the actual Holy of Holies where God sits on the mercy seat. The author of Hebrews wrote of the existence of the true temple in heaven where God dwells.

That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals.

For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. – Hebrews 9:23-24 NLT

The earthly temple was modeled after the heavenly one. And while Uzziah, in his pride, had entered into the earthly temple and offered unlawful sacrifices to God, Isaiah was allowed to see into the heavenly temple where God’s presence dwells. And he describes it in great detail.

I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. – Isaiah 6:1 ESV

Isaiah, like John in the book of Revelation, was given the privilege of seeing God Almighty in all His glory. And Isaiah describes God as sitting on his throne, the mercy seat located in the Holy of Holies. We know this is the location of God’s throne because of Isaiah’s description of his immediate surroundings.

Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. – Isaiah 6:2 ESV

Over in the book of 1 Kings, we have a very similar description of the Holy of Holies in the temple Solomon constructed.

He made two cherubim of wild olive wood, each 15 feet tall, and placed them in the inner sanctuary. The wingspan of each of the cherubim was 15 feet, each wing being 7 1⁄2 feet long. The two cherubim were identical in shape and size; each was 15 feet tall. He placed them side by side in the inner sanctuary of the Temple. Their outspread wings reached from wall to wall, while their inner wings touched at the center of the room. He overlaid the two cherubim with gold. – 1 Kings 6:23-28 NLT

These two cherubim are not to be confused with the two that were located on the top of the ark of the covenant. Notice their size. They were 15-feet tall and on permanent display in the Holy of Holies. It was inbetween these two massive statues that the ark of the covenant was to be placed.

Then the priests carried the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant into the inner sanctuary of the Temple–the Most Holy Place–and placed it beneath the wings of the cherubim. – 1 Kings 8:6 NLT

But, while the cherubim in Solomon’s temple were lifeless statues, the two that Isaiah saw standing above the throne of God in heaven were living creatures. And they cried out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3 ESV). This is very similar to the scene John saw in his vision of the heavenly throne room.

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!” – Revelation 4:8 ESV

In both visions, the emphasis is on the holiness of God. The whole earth is full of His glory. He is all-pervasive. Yes, He sits on His throne in the Holy of Holies, but He is not restricted in any way. God’s glory fills the entirety of His creation. And it is that fact that makes the sins of Judah so much more egregious. The reaction of Isaiah reveals that he fully understood the dramatic contrast between the holiness of his God and the sinfulness of his own people.

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”  – Isaiah 6:5 ESV

He even saw himself as unworthy to stand before a perfectly holy and righteous God. Even his lips were contaminated by his sinfulness, making him unworthy to sing the praises of his God. And he was not alone. The entire population of Judah was marred by sin. Like Uzziah, who found himself covered with leprosy and banished from the temple, the people of Judah were covered by the guilt of sin and unwelcome in God’s presence. It was their sin that separated them from God. Their unrighteousness kept them from approaching the righteous King, the Lord of hosts.

But with Isaiah’s confession of guilt came cleansing and forgiveness. One of the cherubim touched his lips with a hot coal from the altar of incense and pronounced:

“Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” – Isaiah 6:7 ESV

The apostle John reminds us that this incredible opportunity is available to any and all who will simply confess their sins to God.

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. – 1 John 1:9 NLT

Isaiah required cleansing before he could act as God’s spokesperson. He needed to have his own sins forgiven before he could deliver God’s message to the people of Judah. We see this lived out in the life of Aaron, the original high priest, who, each year on the day of atonement had to offer sacrifices on his own behalf before he could intercede for the people of God.

Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. – Leviticus 16:11-13 ESV

Once cleansed from his own sins, Aaron could then offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. And, after having received cleansing for his sins, Isaiah was ready to serve as God’s messenger to His people.

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” – Isaiah 6:8 ESV

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

Godly Perfection.

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:48 ESV

In all that Jesus has said up to this point, this one line jumps out like no other, and He makes it at the tail end of His discussion regarding love. Jesus has let them know that the kind of love God expects from those are blessed and approved by Him is a non-discriminatory love. It isn’t a love that has to be earned or deserved in some way. There is no expectation or demand of love in return. In other words, it’s not reciprocal in nature. Human love says, “I’ll love you, as long as you love me back.” But that’s a self-centered kind of love. Jesus said, “If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that” (Matthew 4:47-48 NLT).

Our model for love is to be God, not man. Which is what led Jesus to say, “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:49 NLT). And if we’re honest, the very first thought that goes through our minds when we hear that statement is, “You’ve got to be kidding!” Is Jesus serious? Is He really asking us to live up to some kind of godly form of perfection? Is He calling His listeners to do the impossible? YES!

What Jesus is demanding is righteousness – God’s brand of righteousness. Mankind is adept at producing flesh-based righteousness. That is what Jesus has been addressing during this opening section of His message. He knew that those in His audience tended to measure their righteousness based on external adherence to some set of rules or standards. Here’s how they approached righteousness:

“As long as I don’t commit adultery, I’m doing okay with God.”

“If I don’t kill anyone, I am keeping God’s law and keeping Him happy with me.”

“If I happen to divorce my wife, I’ll still be okay with God, as long as I do it in the prescribed manner, according to His law.”

“I thank God for oaths, that allow me to break my word, but in a way that God will accept, even if my friends don’t.”

“God even approves of me when I do harm to others, as long as I’m doing it to get even.”

“And I can keep God loving me as long as I love my neighbor and hate my enemies.”

But all of those thoughts are based on a human understanding of righteousness, a merit-based concept that connects righteousness to behavior. But Jesus is presenting a radically different view that teaches that God’s ultimate expectation of men is nothing short of sinless perfection. In fact, the Greek word Jesus uses that is translated “perfect” is teleios and it means “whole” or “complete.” It was used to refer to consummate human integrity and virtue. Jesus wasn’t calling for a better, slightly improved version of human righteousness. He was calling for sinless perfection. And there wasn’t a single person in His audience that day who could pull it off, including His 12 disciples. We are all totally incapable of doing what Jesus is saying, without His help.

What Jesus is demanding is simply a reiteration of what His Father had demanded of the Israelites centuries earlier.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” – Leviticus 19:1-2 ESV

The Hebrew word translated as “holy” is the word qadowsh. It means “pure, clean; free from defilement of crimes, idolatry, and other unclean and profane things” (“H6918 – qadowsh – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It was also used to speak of someone or something’s status as having been “set apart” by God for His use.

You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. – Leviticus 20:26 ESV

It was a call to separation and distinctiveness. The people of Israel were to be holy, set apart by God for His use. But their holiness was not to be simply a positional reality. It was to have practical ramifications. God had expectations regarding their behavior, but also regarding the condition of their hearts. They were expected to “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV). And they were expected to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 ESV).

The apostle Peter would echo the words of Jesus in his first letter.

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

Be holy – in all your conduct. Be perfect – just as your heavenly Father is perfect. Those are some staggering concepts to get your mind around. They come across as so far-fetched and impossible that we end up treating them as some form of hyperbole or over-exaggeration on Jesus’ part. Surely, He can’t be expecting us to be holy like God is holy, or perfect in the same way God is perfect. But Jesus is simply revealing the standard of God. God doesn’t grade on a curve. He doesn’t dumb down the test because of the spiritual acumen of the students in His classroom. One of the issues Jesus is exposing in His message is that the Jews were guilty of lowering God’s holy and righteous standards so that they could somehow measure up. That’s why Jesus said, “if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:19 NLT). And He topped that off with the bombshell: “unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:20 NLT).

God has always expected and demanded perfection. He has always required that His people be holy, just as He is holy. There is no lower standard. God doesn’t take a look at mankind, recognize their inability to live up to His expectations, then lower the bar so more people can qualify. Later on, in this very same message, Jesus will reveal “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it” (Matthew 7:13-14 NLT). God’s way is not the easy way. The kind of righteousness He demands and expects is not easy to achieve. It’s impossible. The life of holiness He requires of those who would be His children is measured by His own holiness. It is a holiness and righteousness that is far superior to anything the Pharisees or teachers of religious law could ever hope to produce.

Holiness and godly perfection are high standards indeed. And they are impossible to produce in the flesh. You can’t manufacture what God is demanding. You can’t be like God without the help of God. The apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth and reminded them:

Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said:

“I will live in them
    and walk among them.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
Therefore, come out from among unbelievers,
    and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord.
Don’t touch their filthy things,
    and I will welcome you.
And I will be your Father,
    and you will be my sons and daughters,
    says the Lord Almighty.” – 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 NLT

Then he follows this up with the logical conclusion or application.

Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God. – 2 Corinthians 7:1 NLT

You see, there is an expectation of separation. We are to live differently and distinctively from those around us. Part of how our holiness should manifest itself is in the alternative way of living that we model. As God’s children, we have a capacity to live differently than all those around us. We have the ability to live truly righteous lives because we have received the righteousness of Christ. We have the Spirit of God living within us and empowering us to live like Christ. We have a high standard to live up to: Jesus Christ Himself. He is the model of righteousness we are to emulate – not scribes, Pharisees, rabbis, pastors, teachers, evangelists, parents, or friends. That is, unless they are modeling their lives after Christ. Paul put it this way: “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NLT).

So, when Jesus said to the crowd seated on the hillside that day, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” He wasn’t presenting anything new.  He was simply reminding them that God’s standard had not changed. He had not lowered the bar. Human alterations and addendums to God’s laws might make them easier to live up to, but they couldn’t produce the kind of righteousness God was expecting. That’s why, as Paul reminds us, God did for us what the law could never have done.

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. – Romans 8:3-4 NLT

Holiness and perfection are not impossible, unless we try to produce them on our own. God never intended the law to be lived up to. Yes, He expected His law to be obeyed, but He knew that sinful men would never be able to keep His holy standard. The law presented God’s divine criteria for holiness. It made painfully clear what God demanded in the way of behavior from mankind. But in the end, it was intended to reveal our sin and our need for outside help, what Martin Luther referred to as “alien righteousness” – a righteousness outside of ourselves.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 NLT

Jesus was introducing the concept of godly perfection and preparing His listeners for the day when He would offer Himself as the payment for the sins of mankind and the means by which they mighty be made right with a holy God. Godly perfection would be made available to men through the death of the Son of God and through the power of the Spirit of God.

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

Escape From Tribulation.

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ Revelation 3:7-13 ESV

revelation_Turkey_mapTo the church in Philadelphia, Jesus addresses Himself as “the holy one, the true one.” These two divine attributes are inseparable. His holiness and truthfulness go hand in hand, each being impossible without the other. As the holy and true one, Jesus is more than qualified to address the church in Philadelphia. He is without sin and devoid of any falsehood or deception. And as a result, those who are called by His name should live in keeping with His character. We are sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus, so our behavior should reflect that reality.

…for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. – Ephesians 5:8-10 ESV

Jesus’ reference to the key of David ties back to John’s description in chapter one, when he first saw his vision of Jesus. John fell to his feet as if dead, but Jesus said to him, ““Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18 ESV). With His death, burial and resurrection, Jesus unlocked the doors of death that had held men captive. No longer would men and women be subject to the inescapable prison of condemnation for their rebellion against God. His resurrection provided victory over death. Which is what led Paul to write, “But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 5:17 NLT).

His reference to the key of David is also a direct tie to Isaiah 22:22, which states, “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” This passage was speaking of Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who had the key to all the king’s treasures. Jesus is appropriating this passage for Himself, claiming to hold the keys to all the treasures of God. It is He alone who can open and shut the doorway to God’s goodness, grace, mercy and love. And according to Jesus, He not only holds the key, He is the door.

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” – John 10:9 ESV

And as Jesus has done with each of the churches so far, He lets the congregation at Philadelphia know that He is fully aware of their works. And in keeping with His emphasis on the key and His ability to open and shut, He states, “Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut” (Revelation 3:8 ESV). He seems to be assuring the faithful believers in Philadelphia that their ministry will be successful in spite of the opposition and persecution they faced. While they had “little power” due to their relatively small number, they would continue to have a powerful influence on their city. In the midst of much hostility, they had kept the word, the message of Jesus Christ. They had refused to deny the name of Jesus, even in the face of intense pressure and persecution. There were obviously those in the “city of brotherly love” who had expressed intense hatred for this fledgling group of faithful believers. And Jesus names one such source as “the synagogue of Satan.” He describes them as those “who say that they are Jews and are not” (Revelation 3:9 ESV). These members of the local Jewish synagogue proudly proclaimed their Hebrew heritage and their status as children of Abraham, but Jesus saw them simply as those who rejected Himself as the Messiah. In the gospel of John, we have recorded a confrontation between Jesus and the Jews of His day. John makes it clear that Jesus was speaking to a group of Jews who had expressed belief in Jesus. He said to them, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 ESV).

They responded, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33 ESV). To which responded, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you” (John 8:36-37 ESV). Jesus was letting them know, that while they had expressed belief in Him, they were going to attempt to kill Him. Jesus accused them of doing the deeds of their father, and when they responded that their father was Abraham, Jesus exposed the truth to them.

“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” – John 8:39-41 ESV

And Jesus left no doubt as to who their father was:

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.” – John 8:44-45 ESV

And Jesus declares the Jews in Philadelphia to be a synagogue of Satan for the very same reason. They were rejecting the truth regarding Jesus being the Messiah. They were attacking the believers in the church there, because they refused to believe the truth about salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

But Jesus tells His faithful followers in Philadelphia that they will one day find themselves reverenced by these very same Jews. The day was coming when the tables would be turned and the oppressed would become the exalted. Jesus is assuring the believers in Philadelphia that there will be a reward for their faithful service to Him. And one of the greatest rewards He has to offer them is their escape from the coming day of tribulation.

“I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” – Revelation 3:10 ESV

While they were suffering tribulation and trials in their day, they would not have to endure the coming great day of tribulation. This is a reference to the seven years of tribulation that will come on the earth as part of the end times. The book of Revelation will go on to describe those days in great detail. But Jesus is assuring the believers in Philadelphia, and every other believer who has ever lived, that they will escape this coming judgment on the earth, because of the reality of the rapture. Paul describes this great event in the book of 1 Thessalonians.

14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 ESV

Jesus assures them that He is coming soon. He encourages them to hold fast. He will one day return for His bride, the church. And for all those who conquer, who remain faithful to Him to the end, He promises to make them a pillar in the temple of God. They will have a permanent place and play a significant role in the heavenly realm. There is a permanence to Christ’s promise. “Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Revelation 3:12 ESV). They will never have to fear losing their rightful place in God’s Kingdom. They will bear the name of God, a sign of His ownership of them. Not only that, they will bear the name of the new Jerusalem, where they will find their permanent residence in His presence. And they will bear the name of Jesus, the name of the one they refused to deny.

And as usual, Jesus addresses this message to all churches of all times, assuring them that what is true for the believers in Philadelphia is true for all. The faithful are those who overcome, who will one day find themselves enjoying their role as fellow conquerors with Jesus. He holds the keys of David. He alone can open up the treasuries of God, providing access into the Kingdom of God, and offering up all the abundance of God’s blessings for those who trusted in His holiness and truth.

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

Destruction From Within.

1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’  Revelation 3:1-6 ESV

revelation_Turkey_mapIn opening His address to the church in Sardis, Jesus once again uses imagery provided in chapter one to describe Himself. This time, He mentions the seven spirits of God and the seven stars as being His possessions. If you recall, in Revelation 1:4, John described seeing the seven spirits before the throne of God. And in verse 16 of that same chapter, John described seeing Jesus holding seven stars in his right hand. The seven spirits of God is thought to be a reference to the Spirit of God. Throughout the Scriptures, the number seven is symbolic of perfection or completeness. By referring to the Spirit as being seven in number, it is a way of describing His perfection. He is lacking in nothing. And Jesus addresses the church in Sardis, assuring them that He comes to them with the Spirit of God. And this is important, because the indictment that Jesus levels against the congregation there has to do with their spiritual apathy. They are dead. But it is the Spirit who brings life. The Spirit regenerates non-believers, providing them with new life. Paul told his young protegé, Titus: “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7 EASV). The Holy Spirit brings new life. And yet, as Jesus will accuse the church in Sardis, “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1 ESV). It would seem that Jesus is saying that some within the fellowship there had never really been renewed or regenerated. They remained in their former dead spiritual state. During His earthly ministry, Jesus had clearly equated new life with belief, telling those who followed Him:

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” – John 6:63-64 ESV

By bringing the Holy Spirit with Him, it is as if Jesus is offering the unbelieving, spiritually dead members of the church in Sardis with an opportunity to experience new life through the power of the Spirit. It is important to note that Jesus describes the congregation as a whole as being dead. They were ineffective and incapable of doing what they were supposed to be doing. Their works were incomplete. They had a reputation for being alive, but were really lifeless. Nothing can rob the life out of a local congregation than the presence of unbelievers masquerading as believers. That is why Jesus demands that the church wake up and strengthen what remains. They were to recall the message they had received in the beginning, the gospel message of new life made possible through faith in Christ. They had walked away from the basic truths of the gospel message and allowed spiritual compromise and moral complacency to infiltrate their fellowship. And by describing Himself as having the seven stars in His hands, Jesus is reminding the spiritual leaders of the church at Sardis that they belong to Him. They answer to Him. He is their authority and they are responsible to the flock He has placed under their care. Peter has a similar warning to elders in his first letter:

shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. – 1 Peter 5:2-4 ESV

Poor leadership in a local church can result in spiritual apathy and provide an atmosphere in which falsehood can thrive. Unbelievers can easily find access into the fellowship, bringing their false understandings of what it means to be saved. They can practice the outward signs of religion, creating a church that appears spiritual, all the while missing the very thing they need to be truly alive and empowered by the Spirit of God. The apostle Paul warned the elders from the church at Ephesus:

28 “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders. 29 I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. 30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out! Remember the three years I was with you—my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you. – Acts 20:28-31 NLT

Paul told them to remember. He wanted them to recall the time, energy and effort he had poured into making them a healthy and vibrant fellowship. And Jesus tells the leadership at Sardis to remember as well, and He warns them to repent. They need to wake up and recognize the problem in their fellowship. If they don’t, Jesus warns, He will come like a thief in the night. When they least expected it, He would bring judgment against them. Jesus takes seriously the spiritual well-being of His bride, the church. He will hold the leadership of His church responsible for how they care for and protect those for whom He died. Sadly, Jesus indicates that there are only a few in Sardis who had not “soiled their garments” (Revelation 3:4 ESV). That means that the majority of those who claimed to be members of the local fellowship in Sardis had soiled their garments – they were stained by immorality and sin. In comparison, a faithful few had remained pure, and Jesus promises that they will one day walk with Him in His Kingdom wearing the white robes of sinless perfection. John will later describe seeing these very people standing before the throne of God in heaven.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. – Revelation 7:9 ESV

And Jesus promises those who overcome, who maintain their spiritual integrity and faithful commitment to their calling, that He will reward them.

The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. – Revelation 3:5 ESV

Jesus is not demanding sinless perfection in this life. He is not saying that only those who remain sin-free on earth will enjoy the reward of eternal life. The one who conquers is a reference to the those who truly belong to Christ. They are conquerors because He has already conquered. Jesus defeated sin and death on the cross. And those who place their faith in Him are already victorious. Their salvation is secure and their eternal state, already prepared for them. As followers of Christ, they pursue holiness in this life, in the power of the Holy Spirit. They seek to live righteously, refusing to pursue the old sinful habits of the past. The apostle Paul put it this way, “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT).

The church in Sardis had a reputation for being alive, but Jesus knew the truth. He could see the spiritual apathy and the debilitating influence of those who claimed to be followers of Christ, but who were really non-believers. Their presence was destroying the church from within. The church’s leadership had been asleep at the wheel and had allowed the enemy to infiltrate their ranks and begin to destroy the church from within. It is interesting to note that the city of Sardis, which sat on a high hill, had been thought to be impregnable to attack. But there was a hidden pathway that led to a secret entrance into the walls of the city. And about 548 B.C., Cyrus the Persian captured Sardis by using this hidden pathway to breech the city’s walls. The same thing happened again in 218 B.C., when the city was taken by Antiochus. One of the greatest dangers to any church is a spirit of complacency and over-confidence. When the leadership of a church no longer recognizes the reality of spiritual warfare and the need to protect the flock of God at all costs, the enemy takes advantage of their apathy and brings destruction from within.

So, as He has done before, Jesus warns every one who has ears to hear what He is saying to the churches. His wake-up call to Sardis applies to each and every church in every age. As Paul said, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37 ESV), but if we fail to remain faithful and committed to His cause, we can find ourselves becoming the conquered. While Jesus promised that all the powers of hell would not prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18), Satan is still going to do everything in his power to destroy the church. The victory has been won, but the battle is real. And we must remain awake and alert.

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

These Things.

12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. 2 Peter 1:12-15 ESV

Peter is dead serious about the seven virtues he has just brought up. They weren’t just friendly suggestions that the readers of his letter were free to take or leave. No, Peter saw them as indispensable and unavoidable necessities for living the Christian life. They were the attributes of Christ Himself. And since growing in their knowledge of and intimacy with Christ was to be an objective of their relationship with Him, they should also grow in the likeness to Him. Their character of their lives should emulate His. So, Peter warns them that he is going to continue to lovingly nag them about these things. He knows that he has not told them anything they have not heard before. This was basic Christianity 101. But, he knew that they needed constant reminding because these things were easy to lose sight of in the midst of all the pressures of life and the temptations that come with living in a fallen world. Other things take precedence. Each of the seven virtues have competing alternatives that can tempt believers to display opposite character qualities that are destructive, rather than constructive. Instead of virtue or moral excellence, there is always the temptation to live in moral compromise or mediocrity. In other words, to live a slightly-less-than holy life. This usually happens when we begin to live according to human, rather godly standards.

If knowledge is the Spirit-empowered capacity to know right from wrong, how simple it is to silence that still, small voice of the Spirit and listen to the wisdom of this world. When we do, we begin to call good evil and evil good. Our sense of perspective becomes corrupted by the passions associated with our old sin nature. And instead of displaying wisdom based on a knowledge of God’s will and ways, we begin to act like fools, operating in ignorance, and all the while thinking we are wise.

Self-control is the ability to master one’s desires and passions. So, it doesn’t take a genius to understand what a lack of self-control looks like. When we stop adding self-control to our faith, we fall into the trap of operating according to our own fleshly desires. For the Christian, self-control is really about being controlled by the Spirit and not by our own flesh. And the apostle Paul makes it clear what happens when we let our old nature take back over the reigns of our life.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

Steadfastness is patient endurance and perseverance, even in the face of difficulties and trials. The obvious alternative is impatience and impulsiveness. We find ourselves quickly running out of endurance and the stamina it takes to live Christ-like lives in this fallen and sin-filled world. The pressures of life mount up and we find ourselves giving up.

The opposite of godliness is ungodliness. But that doesn’t necessarily mean totally depraved, sinful behavior. Godliness is nothing more than behavior that reflects the character of God, so ungodliness is any and all behavior that fails to reflect His character. You don’t have to hate someone else to fail to reflect God’s character. You just have to refuse to love those He has called you to love. You can simply ignore others and refuse to give them the time of day. You don’t have to murder someone to reflect ungodly character. You simply have to slander them or spread damaging rumors about them. Even despising them in your heart is ungodly in the eyes of God. So, if we are not constantly adding godliness to our lives, the opposite will show up.

Brotherly affection is nothing more than love for a brother or sister in Christ. But it is more than a feeling of affection for them. It is an outward display of tangible care and concern. It is the ”one another” passages of Scripture lived out in real life. We are to encourage one another, admonish one another, carry one another’s burdens, accept one another, forgive one another, and patiently tolerate one another. You can easily see what the opposite of brotherly affection would look like.

Finally, there’s love – agape love – the kind of love by which God loved us. It is selfless and sacrificial, expecting nothing in return. It is other-oriented, not me-focused. And when our love of self overshadows our love for others, we are not living out this non-negotiable character quality of Christ Himself. We are not loving as He has loved us.

So, Peter tells his readers that he is going to continue to bring these attributes up, even thought he knows they are already familiar with them. Knowing them and living them out are two different things. Having a cognitive understanding of them is of no use if our lives fail to display a visible application of them.

In this passage, Peter says that he feels it is only right that he remind them of these things, and that he will do so as long as he is alive. Then he makes an interesting statement: “since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me” (2 Peter 1:14 ESV). What is he talking about? What did Jesus makes clear to him regarding the putting off of his body or his death? If you recall, after the resurrection of Jesus, when He had made numerous appearances to the disciples, He had a particularly memorable encounter with Peter. Three separate times, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. It is important to recall that Peter had denied Jesus three different times on the night that He had been betrayed and was being tried. The three questions Jesus asked Peter had been difficult for him to hear and answer. But each time, Peter answered in the affirmative. “Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you’” (John 21:17 ESV). And, it was right after this that Jesus said to Peter:

18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” – John 21:18-19 ESV

Notice that last two words, “follow me”. Those were the same two words that had started Peter’s journey with Christ more than three years earlier. But this time, Jesus was indicating that Peter was going to follow Jesus in death. Tradition states that Peter was eventually crucified. His hands were stretched out and he was carried where he did not want to go. But at the time Peter wrote this letter, he had no idea when his fate would come. He simply knew that he was going to one day follow Jesus in death. So, he was driven by a sense of timeliness and urgency. And he tells his readers, “I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 2:15 ESV). In other words, Peter was going to leave them some form of written encouragement to continue to remind them about these seven character qualities.

Peter made “every effort” – he wrote down his thoughts, making them a permanent record of his feelings concerning these things. And that letter not only encouraged those who received it initially, it became a permanent part of Holy Scripture, providing all of us who have come to faith in Christ with words of encouragement and admonition. These seven virtues are as necessary today as they were the day Peter penned his letter. “These things”, as Peter calls them, are still a vital part of living the Christian life. Times have changed. Cultures have evolved and adapted themselves to new conditions. But there is still a need for virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. And only the body of Christ can display these characteristics, because they are spiritual in nature. They are Spirit-empowered. Apart from the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit of God, no man is capable of producing these qualities. We can fake it. We can display poor imitations of them. But these Christ-like character qualities begin with faith in Christ and are supplements to that faith. They are the marks of those who have been chosen by God and who have received new natures and a new capacity to live as His children in a lost and dying world.

 

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

If You Believe It, Prove It.

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. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 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 1:8-11 ESV

Virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. Seven characteristics that should mark the life of each and every child of God. They reflect what Peter means when he says, “as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15 ESV). These are character qualities found in the life of Jesus and, as the author of Hebrews puts it, “the Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God” (Hebrews 1:3 NLT). To be holy as God is holy, is to reflect His nature, just as Jesus did. It is to live a life that is set apart and distinctly different from all those who don’t know Him, who don’t have His Spirit living within them. These seven qualities are Spirit-induced and empowered, not man-made and self-produced. But if someone has placed his faith in Christ, these qualities should be a part of his life. That is why Peter says, “if these qualities are yours and are increasing” (2 Peter 1:8 ESV). He is not suggesting that his readers do not have these qualities. He is simply separating those who do from those who don’t. Peter knew there were those in his audience who had failed to supplement their faith with these virtues. Some of them were not even believers. They had never placed their faith in Christ. Their lives would not be marked by these characteristics, because they are essentially spiritual in nature.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. – 1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV

So, Peter is addressing believers, reminding them that these qualities are theirs and should be increasing. That is to be the norm. That is what God intended. And their very presence in a believer’s life, and that believer’s determination to see these constantly added and increased will result in an extremely positive outcome: “they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8 ESV). The Greek word Peter uses that is translated “ineffective” is argos, and it refers to someone who is lazy, shunning their responsibilities or assigned duties. The Greek word for “unfruitful” is akarpos, and it refers to a tree that is not yielding fruit as it should. Like a barren tree, the believer whose life lacks the “fruit” of these seven qualities, is abnormal and unnatural. His life is not as God intended. It doesn’t take a high IQ to figure out that the opposites of these two negative words would be diligence and fruitfulness. But notice what Peter states is to be our focus: the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The seven characteristics Peter has outlined are to be a means to an end, a very specific end. As the NET Bible puts it: “they will keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive in your pursuit of knowing our Lord Jesus Christ more intimately” (2 Peter 1:8 NET). That is the end game, the final goal, an intimate knowledge of Christ. And we get there, Peter suggests, by diligently adding these seven virtues to our life. When we supplement our faith in Christ with the attitudes of Christ, we grow to know Him better. We grow in our understanding of who He was and how He has called us to live. Because we can add these seven virtues only with the help of the Holy Spirit, we become increasingly more dependent upon Him. And it is He who makes Christ known to us. Jesus told His disciples regarding the Holy Spirit, “he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26 ESV). He also told them, “he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13 ESV) and “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14 ESV).

So, as we diligently add these virtues to our lives, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we grow in our knowledge of Christ. We become more like Him. We begin to see life the way He does. And our lives begin to take on His very same character and truly become Christians, not just in name, but in action and attitude.

But Peter knows that there are believers in his audience whose lives are not marked by these seven attributes. Which is why he states, “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (2 Peter 1:9 ESV). Think about it. A believer who lacks virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love, is missing the whole point behind being a believer. He is living as if he was still enslaved to sin and incapable of exhibiting Christ-likeness. He is nearsighted, living with a stunted perspective on life, that never allows him to see his true identity as a child of God. He forgets that he has been chosen by God. He can’t see that he has been set apart for God’s glory and purposes. His ability to see that he is a new creation and has a new capacity to live out his faith in everyday life is cloudy and lacks focus. And he comes across as lazy and unfruitful. 

Which is why Peter so strongly admonishes his readers: “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10 ESV). He encourages them to get busy, to make every effort to prove their new identity in Christ by purposefully and diligently adding these seven virtues to their faith. Their presence proves our calling. They give outward evidence of our new nature and our status as sons and daughters of God. Peter promises, “if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10 ESV). Peter is not suggesting that it is our practice of these seven virtues that keeps us saved. No, our eternal salvation has been secured by God’s grace through His Son’s death on the cross. We don’t save ourselves and we don’t keep ourselves saved by doing good works. Peter made this clear in his first letter.

…he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time – 1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV

What Peter is trying to say is that when you “make every effort to supplement your faith” (2 Peter 1:5 ESV) with these seven character qualities, you give evidence of your new life in Christ. This evidence is not for your benefit. In other words, it isn’t intended to prove to you that you are saved, but it does reveal to the lost world around you that faith in Christ is truly life-changing. It is marked by diligent, obedient effort and fruitfulness. Jesus spoke of this very thing.

“Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5 ESV

And He went on to say:

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” – John 15:8 ESV

Those who are believers in Christ are to live lives of fruitfulness. They are to be marked by these seven characteristics that emulate the very life of Christ. And their lives will have an impact on all those around them, both saved and unsaved. And we do so with the confident assurance that our eternity has bee permanently secured for us by Christ.

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 1:11 ESV

Our reward is in the life to come We live in this life in order to obey and portray Christ to a lost and dying world. We will face rejection and persecution for our efforts, just as He did. But we are willing to endure the suffering because we anticipate the reward to come.

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

Dress Like It.

1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. – 1 Peter 2:1-3 ESV

Peter has just told his readers to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22 ESV). He has reminded them that they have been born again as a result of hearing the good news regarding salvation through Jesus Christ. They have been ransomed from the empty way of life they had inherited from their ancestors “with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:19 ESV). They were to “live as God’s obedient children” and, as he put it, “Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires” (1 Peter 1:14 NLT). Now, he gets specific, and provides them with a list of things they were to “put away.”

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.  – 1 Peter 2:2 ESV

As a result of their new life in Christ, made possible by God Himself, they were to take concrete steps to live as who they now were. Their outward behavior was to match the inward reality of their born-again status. Peter lists five different characteristics or evidences of their old way of living that they were to cast off or set aside. There is the imagery of forcefully removing something and getting rid of it. These things are no longer to be acceptable to the child of God. They are like worn and filthy garments that are ill-suited to our newfound status as citizens of heaven. We have been born again by imperishable seed, the Word of God, and are new creations. And the five things Peter instructs us to get rid of are inappropriate and unacceptable for those who have been given new life by God.

The first word on Peter’s list is “malice”, which comes from the Greek word, kakos, which means “evil.” But this word is more specific in nature, referring to an evil that desires to injure another. These are relational words. They reflect the opposite of the “sincere brotherly love” Peter talked about in the first chapter of his letter. Malice is an attitude, as is guile, which refers to intentional deceit. An individual characterized by guile is someone who knowingly attempts to deceive someone, using cleverly crafted ploys to take advantage of another. Malice and guile never have the well-being of another person in mind. They are inherently selfish and self-serving. And they can be accompanied by the next three characteristics: Hypocrisy, envy and slander. Someone who attempts to deceive another individual will inevitably display hypocrisy, displaying a false front in an attempt to come across as trustworthy and caring. They will live a lie. Their goal is to deceive, so they will go out of their way to disguise their true intentions. The apostle Paul described this kind of attitude in his letter to the church in Corinth.

13 These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve. – 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 NLT

Malice and guile are not acceptable attire for the believer. We are to get rid of them, at all costs. Hypocrisy is like wearing a disguise to fool others into believing you are something other than what you truly are. It is intended to deceive. It is a cover-up. And the next word in Peter’s list, “jealousy”, deals with an envy of others that is accompanied with a desire to damage or destroy them. In other words, it is not a harmless desire for what someone else may have. It is accompanied by a deep-seated ill-will that wishes the other harm. And this can lead to and be accompanied by slander. The Greek word Peter uses for “slander” is katalalia and it literally means “evil speaking.” Remember, the Greek word for “malice” is kakia. And they both come from the Greek word for “evil”: kakos. Malice is an attitude, but slander is that attitude put into action. It is our evil thoughts about another put into words that others can hear, and the intent is to do harm. It is the art of rumor-spreading, with the intent of damaging someone else’s reputation.

Peter says we are to put away all these things. There is a continual action conveyed in his words. This will be an ongoing, lifelong process and it must be accompanied by yet another action: “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 NLT). Peter chooses an interesting Greek word to convey his thoughts: epipotheō. This word literally means “to lust for.” It is a craving, a deep-seated desire. And if you thing about it, the five negative characteristics that we are to put away are each driven by a desire for something. They are selfish. They are me-centered. They lust for recognition and self-satisfaction. They long for what we think we deserve and what we believe others have. But Peter tells us to lust after the “pure spiritual milk.” The Greek word for “spiritual” is logikos and Peter is using it as a play on words that reflects back on what he wrote earlier in his letter.

“you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” – 1 Peter 2:23 ESV

We are to long for the abiding word of God, the gospel regarding Jesus Christ. That is to be our greatest desire. It is what we need to “grow up into salvation.” All the other things Peter has just listed are detrimental to spiritual growth. They are damaging, stunting our growth and delaying our transformation into the likeness of Christ. And since Christ-likeness should be our desire, we should crave the one thing that makes it possible: The Word of God. Knowledge of the Scripture is essential to our spiritual growth. Like milk for a baby, it is a non-negotiable necessity for spiritual transformation. And notice that Peter encourages us to grow up in our salvation. Salvation is not a one-time event. It is a life-long process that begins with placing our faith in Christ, but continues throughout our lives as we continue to abide in Him, growing in our knowledge of Him. Salvation includes our initial justification, our ongoing sanctification, and our ultimate glorification. All are necessary. And because we have gotten a taste of God’s goodness, as revealed in His love for us, demonstrated in His Son’s death for us, we should crave more and more of that goodness. We should desire more of the Word, both the living and the written Word.

And when we crave the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word, we will find it hard to live with malice, deceit, hypocrisy,envy and slander. The Word of God convicts us of those things. The Holy Spirit of God provides us with the power to say no to those things. We can live free from those characteristics that once marked our old nature. But we must want to put them away. We must develop a deep-seated aversion to their presence in our lives. They don’t belong. They are inappropriate attire for a child of the King. We are to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ, not the rags of this world. The apostle John was given a vision of a day in the distant future when God will clothe His people with white, sin-free, unstained garments:

“Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. – Revelation 3:4-5 NLT

We are to be like the church in Sardis, remaining unstained by the malice, guile, hypocrisy, envy and slander that marks this world. Our motivation is to be our future reward, when we will walk with God in white, stainless garments, an image of our sinless perfection and righteousness. We have to cast off and put on. We have to put away and pursue. We have to get rid of those things that hinder our pursuit of holiness and long for the one thing that can make it possible: the Word of God.

 

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

Live Like It.

17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.  – 1 Peter 1:17-21 ESV

Peter has appealed to his readers to see themselves as holy, because God has chosen them for salvation. They are His children and heirs of His Kingdom, so they should act and behave accordingly. In making his appeal to holy behavior, Peter is referencing an Old Testament passage found in the book of Leviticus.

44 For I am the Lord your God. You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. So do not defile yourselves with any of these small animals that scurry along the ground. 45 For I, the Lord, am the one who brought you up from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God. Therefore, you must be holy because I am holy. – Leviticus 11:44-34 NLT

This had been a recurring theme in Leviticus.

“Give the following instructions to the entire community of Israel. You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. – Leviticus 19:2 NLT

So set yourselves apart to be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep all my decrees by putting them into practice, for I am the Lord who makes you holy. – Leviticus 20:7-8 NLT

God’s gracious favor on them should produce godly behavior in them. So, Peter warns them that, if they are able to call on God as their Father, it is because He has chosen them to be His own. And that same loving Father will examine their behavior, impartially and without any signs of favoritism, “according to each one’s deeds” (1 Peter 1:17 ESV). There is a common misconception among believers that, because we are God’s children, we are free from judgment. We look at verses like Roman 8:1 and make some false assumptions.

1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. – Romans 8:1 NLT

But notice that it says, “there is no condemnation”, not “there is no judgment.” As believers in Jesus Christ, and sons of daughters of God, we no longer face the condemnation associated with our former sins. We face no death penalty because of our rebellions against God. But that does not mean we are free to live as we want and to sin with abandon because we are forgiven. The apostle Paul kicked that misconception to the curb in a powerful, no-holds-barred way:

1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? – Romans 6:1-2 NLT

We may be free from condemnation, but we are not free to live as we wish. So, when Peter says that God is impartial, it is a reminder that He does not treat us any differently when it comes to judgment of our behavior. He is impartial. Now, it is true that, as believers, our sins have been paid for, in full, by Jesus Christ. We stand before God as righteous because of the imputed righteousness of Christ. God sees us as holy because His Son paid our sin debt with His own life. John will speak of this in the first of his three letters.

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. – 1 John 2:2-3 ESV

God has been satisfied. Our debt has been paid. But that does not mean we are no longer required to live in accordance with the laws and commands of God. Look at what John says. The proof of our position as God’s children is our obedience to His commands. John drives that point home in a powerful way.

If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. – 1 John 2:4-6 NLT

Back to Peter’s letter. He warns his readers to “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (1 Peter 1:17 ESV). Remember, he has already told them that they are exiles, living here on earth as they wait for their future inheritance. In the very next chapter, Peter will refer to his readers as “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). He will warn them “to abstain from the passions of the flesh.” He will tell them to “get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech” (1 Peter 2:1 NLT). Peter will remind them that, while others in their community may reject Christ as Savior, they have not.

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. – 1 Peter 2:10 NLT

They are chosen. They are set apart. They have been deemed by God to be His holy nation, His possession and kingdom of priests. And it should show up in their behavior. Their salvation was not just a designation, a stamp of godly authenticity, but it was to be a way of life. Back in verse 15 of chapter 1, Peter told them that because God is holy, they were to be holy in all their conduct.

15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. – 1 Peter 1:15 NLT

And Peter reminds them that God paid a high price so that they might be set free from their former lives of sin.

18 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. – 1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT

Jesus spilled His blood so that they might be purified from their sins and set free from future enslavement to sin. He died so that they might live new lives, no longer captive to their former lusts. That’s why Peter had warned them:

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 knew better now. But Peter wanted to drive that knowledge deep into their hearts, so he refuses to take his foot off the gas. He keeps pressing home his point, in an attempt to get them to understand the gravity and greatness of what God has done. He tells them that this remarkable salvation was not a new idea or something God came up with at the last minute.

20 God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake. – 1 Peter 1:20 NLT

God had not been caught off guard by the fall of man. He had known it would happen, even before He had created mankind. The incarnation of Jesus, His coming to earth as a man, was not a knee-jerk reaction on God’s part, attempting to remedy man’s ongoing sinful state. The Ten Commandments were not a last-ditch effort on the part of God, to provide sinful men with some rules to follow, hoping they could get their spiritual act together and obey Him. God gave the Law in order to reveal to sinful men just how sinful they really were. The Law provided a black-and-white, no-questions-asked, not-to-be-argued-with description of the kind of life God required. And no one could live up to His holy standards. That is, until His Son came to earth and lived a sinless life, fully obedient to every command God had ever given. And His sinlessness made Him the perfect, sinless sacrifice and the only acceptable means of atoning for the sins of mankind. Remember what John said in his letter?

He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. – 1 John 2:2 NLT

That was God’s plan, from before the foundations of the world. Christ was revealed to mankind in order that men might be made right with God. And Peter reminds his readers “Through Christ you have come to trust in God” (1 Peter 1:21 NLT). It was their faith in Jesus that had made their relationship with God possible. Had God not sent His Son, they would still be living in their sins, with no hope of ever reconciling themselves to God. But, Peter points out, “you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory” (1 Peter 1:21 NLT). And that faith and hope should show up in a desire to live differently. It should reveal itself in godly behavior, in lives of holiness and set-apartness, and in a desire to obey God out of gratitude and love for God.

For Peter, the bottom line was that, if God had been powerful enough to raise Jesus back to life after three days in the tomb, could He not also raise us up to new life, right here, right now? Could He not give us the capacity to act and think differently, even while we live as sojourners and strangers in this land? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” He could. He has. And we should.

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