But Now…

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. – 1 Peter 2:9-12 ESV

Sometimes we can become forgetful. Life has a way of distracting us and causing us to lose sight of where we have come from and where we are going. As a result, we live as though this life is all there is. Our present circumstances become the only lens through which we view life. But Peter would have us remember our past, not avoid it or wipe it from our memories, so he tells us, “once you were not a people.” He reminds us that “once you had not received mercy.” Paul said something very similar to the Colossian believers: “once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Colossians 1:21 ESV). We should never forget pre-Christ condition. It is against the dark backdrop of our sinful past that the mercy of God shines the brightest. The very fact that we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and a people for God’s own possession is all that much more amazing when we consider what God had to work with when He saved us. Paul told the Gentile believers in Ephesus, “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV). Then he uses the same two power-packed words that Peter uses: “But now…”

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:13 ESV

And Peter tells us that in spite of our past spiritual darkness, things are different now. At one time we were living in darkness and incapable of seeing our way out of our hopeless circumstances. We were outside the family of God, spiritual orphans longing for adoption and the love of someone who might find value in us and make us their own. Mercy was in short supply. No one was willing to do anything about our helpless condition. But now…

…you are part of God’s family

…you are the beneficiary of His mercy

…you are living in the light

…you are part of a chosen race

…you are a priest in the Kingdom of God

…you are a citizen of a holy nation

…you are God’s personal possession

Needless to say, our circumstances have changed dramatically. We were…but now. Things used to be…not now. Our past provides a stark contrast to our present reality. It allows us to fully appreciate just how incredible our new condition really is. From homeless to adopted and loved. From hopeless to mercy-drenched. From debilitating darkness to liberating light. From discarded to chosen. From sinner to priest.

Like the people of Israel, we have been called by God to make a difference in the world in which we live. “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:6-7 ESV). The Jews, God’s chosen people in the Old Testament, were to have been a light for the nations. They were to act as lights to the blind and to provide freedom to those living in captivity to sin. But they failed. Instead, they chose to live like the nations around them. Rather than having an influence on the world, they became infected by it. Instead of modeling godliness, they mirrored worldliness. And we risk doing the same thing. If we lose sight of what we used to be and stop being amazed at what God has made it possible for us to become, we will lose our influence.

We can never afford to forget that we are God’s people, and as His people we are obligated to live like who we are. We are to abstain from the passions of the flesh, or as the New Living Translation puts it, we are to “keep away from worldly desires.” Our conduct among the lost of this world is to be honorable. The Greek word Peter uses is καλός (kalos) and it means, “commendable, admirable, morally good” (G2570 – kalos (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon. Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). The lost should be able to look at our lives and see something dramatically different about the way we conduct ourselves. In this passage, Peter echoes the words of Jesus Himself from His Sermon on the Mount: “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV).

Our conduct should be in keeping with our new character. We are members of a chosen race. We are priests. We are part of a holy nation. We belong to God. We live in the light. We have enjoyed the mercies of God. And Paul sums up just exactly what those mercies entail when he writes, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son … And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30 ESV). We have been showered with the mercy of God. As a result, we should long to live in such a way that our lives reflect our new God-given nature. We need to be who we are. We need to live out what we have become. Our actions should reflect our attitude that we are new creations who enjoy a new relationship with God and the transforming power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

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Where Is Their God?

Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples,Where is their God?” – Joel 2:17 ESV

This was a prayer prescribed by God Himself. It was to be prayed by the priests and ministers of the people in response to the coming “Day of the Lord”. God was bringing judgment against His people. “Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!” (Joel 2:1-2 ESV). Joel was used by God to prophesy to the nation of Judah and warn them of the coming judgment of God for their unfaithfulness and empty religious formalism. They had been going through the motions religiously for years. But what had been missing was true repentance. Their sacrifices had been meaningless. They were empty exercises, religious activities that had no heart behind them. The prophet Isaiah had delivered this stern message from God to the very same people: “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats” (Isaiah 1:11 ESV). What God was looking for was repentance and actions that properly illustrated their changed hearts. “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:16-17 ESV).

God gave the very same message through Joel. “‘Yet even now,‘ declares the Lord,return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:12-13 ESV). God was willing to forgive. He was anxious to see His people return to Him in brokenness and humility. He even had Joel suggest that they father all the people and hold a solemn assembly and fast. He even gave the religious leaders the very prayer they should pray. Because God knew that one of the consequences of the coming judgment would that the pagan nations would conclude that He had abandoned His people. Their failure to repent and return to God would not only result in their punishment, but it would harm the reputation of God among the nations. God stood ready, willing and able to forgive and restore them. But it was conditioned on their response. Disobedience would bring destruction. Repentance would bring restoration. 

One of the results of refusing to repent would be that the people of God would a “reproach”. The Hebrew word for “reproach” is cherpah and it means “disgrace, contempt, scorn”. By rejecting God’s plea that they confess their sins and accept His mercy and forgiveness, they would bring judgment on themselves. It would allow the nations around them to mock and ridicule them. But worse yet, it would cause the godless to dishonor the name and reputation of God Himself. They would sarcastically ask, “Where is their God?” By stubbornly refusing to accept God’s offer of forgiveness and restoration, they would be disgraced, but God would be dishonored among the nations. How often does that sad scenario take place even today? We refuse to come to God in repentance, confessing our sins and humbly accepting His offer of forgiveness and restoration. So we continue to live in defeat, despair and disillusionment, lacking joy, missing out on the promise of abundant life and failing to experience the full extent of His power and presence. Many who know us to be believers probably ask that very same question, “Where is their God?” They look at our lives and wonder what difference our salvation has made. We don’t seem to live any differently than they do. We don’t have any more joy than they do. We don’t seem to have any supernatural advantage over them, in spite of our so-called status as children of God.

But the lesson from the book of Joel is that of repentance. It is a reminder that the deliverance of God is never far away. It begins with a heart of repentance. It is as close as our next confession. He has never left us or forsaken us. The answer to the question, “Where is their God?” is: Right here. He stands ready to step in and offer His forgiveness to any who are ready to confess their sins. He is always ready to restore those who are willing to repent. The amazing thing is that each and every time we return to God in repentance and humility, not only do we receive His mercy and forgiveness, but the world gets a first-hand look at what it means to have a relationship with the living God. We become living, breathing witnesses to the love and grace of God. Our lives become illustrations of His power and presence on earth. God gets glory. Jesus said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV). Peter echoed those same words when he wrote, “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world” (1 Peter 2:12 NLT). Where is our God? As close as our next confession.

The Fading Darkness.

At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. – 1 John 2:8 ESV

Light penetrates and permeates. Light illuminates and eliminates the darkness. Just as physical light has a transformative nature, so does the Light of the world. Jesus said, ““I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12 ESV). Those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ have had the darkness of their lives penetrated by the Light. We have been given the Spirit of God, resident within us, to enlighten us and empower us to live our lives in such a way that we make a difference. “You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket  but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV). But if we are going to have an illuminating impact on the world around us, we first have to allow the Light to have its full influence on us. John made the claim that the darkness is fading. It is a statement of fact. As light grows, darkness diminishes and fades. Yet, it would be easy to look around the world and conclude that the darkness is winning. Evil appears to be increasing. But could the problem be that we, as children of light, have allowed the darkness to overtake the light in our own lives? Are our lamps too feeble? Is our faith too small? Is our light too weak to penetrate the darkness around us? 

Paul gives us words of encouragement. The night has advanced toward dawn; the day is near. So then we must lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the weapons of light” (Romans 13:12 ESV). We must live with a realization that the light wins. The darkness loses. There is a movement of God going on that is moving the world from darkness to light. We may not be able to see it. We may not feel it. But as soon as Jesus entered the world, the light of God penetrated the darkness and began to spread. But we have a responsibility to see to it that we don’t end up loving the darkness more than the light. We must live as children of the light, fanning the flame of faith through regular time in the Word, fellowship with other believers, and a reliance upon the Spirit of God for strength, wisdom and ongoing exposure of any darkness that remains in our lives. The darkness still resident in our lives should be passing away. The light – the righteousness and holiness of God – should be increasing. Everywhere we go, our lives should provide light in the darkness. Our lives should be proof of the transforming power of God made available through Jesus Christ. When Jesus commissioned Paul to take the good news regarding Jesus Christ and His offer of salvation to the Gentiles, He said, “I am sending you to open their eyes so that they turn  from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified by faith in me. (Acts 26:17-18 ESV). So not only is the light in our own lives to be increasing, slowly and steadily eliminating the last vestiges of darkness; but it is to be shining out of us into the darkness around us. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7 ESV). We have the light of God in our lives. That light should be increasing in intensity and influence. It should be shining through all the cracks and flaws our lives, revealing the power of God at work in our lives. When people look at us, they will still see clay jars; flawed, cracked and seemingly without value. But they should also see God’s light shining through us and around us. We are simply receptacles of His glory. We are the conduits of His life-changing, darkness-diminishing light. As the children’s song says, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine! Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!” But we must never forget that our ability to illuminate others and eliminate darkness is not self-produced, but a by-product of walking in the light.