Today we begin a brand new year. If you are like me, it doesn’t feel like today is much different from yesterday except when you are trying to write a date on a check! However, this is a good opportunity to step back and honestly ask ourselves, “Where am I going?” and “Am I on the right road to get there?” Each New Year’s Day, each birthday, each anniversary, each life change is a chance to reflect, adjust and, if necessary, begin again.
We have been working our way through 1 Peter, a letter to people who are facing some harsh realities in life. They are facing great tests and growing persecution. Some, I’m sure, were weary from the battles. They may be exactly where some of you are today. Peter is going to give us some direction this morning.
We left our text focusing on living with a submissive mindset. We are to submit first to His wisdom and control in life. This attitude will lead us to show respect and honor to the government, to our employers, to each other in marriage, and to each other in the body of Christ. It changes even the way we share our faith. Instead of being antagonistic we answer questions with gentleness and respect (3:15).
In chapter 4 Peter calls us to a new beginning, a new direction, and a better life. He summons us to turn onto the “narrow road” that leads to life. They are words we need to hear because in them we find solid wisdom for the days ahead. We see four specific guidelines for a new beginning
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. (v. 1)
We are used to making resolutions. We set goals for the year, we resolve that we will develop certain disciplines, master weaknesses, and lose weight. However, Peter is not merely talking about making a list of short term goals. When he says, “arm yourselves with the same attitude” he is using a military terms that denotes a soldier who is arming for battle. He is calling us to serious preparation for what is ahead.
During the last month I watched again the tremendous film series “Band of Brothers” and have begun watching the companion series, “Pacific”. These mini-series chronicle the struggle, devotion and heroism of those who served in World War II. These productions reveal the great resolve, courage, and selfless determination of our soldiers. They came to do a job. They sought to serve their country and to do so with honor even if it should cost them their lives.
I believe this is the kind of resolve that Peter urges us to have toward the Lord: a determination to serve our Lord faithfully, fully, and without reservation. He wants us to live for the greater cause of advancing the gospel . . . even if it should cost us our own earthly lives. Peter appeals to us because of what Christ has done for us and because of the importance of the work we pursue.
The words at the end of the verse, “because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin” does not mean that we are sinless because we suffer. We know from personal experience that we continue to battle sin. Our perfection will not be fully achieved until we read Heaven when evil is destroyed and we receive new heavenly bodies.
So what is Peter saying? It could be either of two things which are both true. First, Peter may be saying, “The person who suffers (and dies) for Christ is a person who has finally and victoriously gained his final victory over sin.” In other words, “remember that even if suffering and persecution kills you, it is a victory for you because it means that sin is finally defeated in your life. You have reached your ultimate destination.
Second, Peter may be saying, “The person who is willing to suffer for Christ has made a sure decision to follow the way of Christ rather than the way of sin. In other words, adopting this mindset is the first step in truly being free from the power of sin.” Suffering pushes us to maturity. It makes us get serious about our faith. We cannot defeat sin in our lives unless we are willing to fight a real battle with sin.
Eugene Peterson’s the MESSAGE adopts this second approach,
Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want. [2 Peter 4:1-2]
Make a Clean Break
2 As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. 3 For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry
We have looked at a similar command earlier in 1 Peter 2:11-12
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
The principle is simple: we cannot follow the Lord and live like everyone else. We must make a clear break with the way others live. Think of an Olympic athlete. In order to compete on such a high level they have to choose to forego life as everyone else lives it. They get up in the morning while others are sleeping to work out. They stay away from drugs and alcohol so they can protect their body. They are careful about who they hang out with so their reputation is not tainted by their associates. Champions have made difficult choices and have chosen a different road than others
The common weakness in our society is a lack of self-control. We tend to ride the waves of the trends of our day. We want to be like the cool kids. We want to be among the “movers and shakers of society”. We want the latest stuff. As a result, we push our kids, we are never home, we compromise our values, we spend more than we make, and we do it all because we want to be like the people “on top”.
Peter tells us we have to choose which hill we are going to climb. We can devote ourselves to hill of holiness or the hill of worldly pleasure.
Peter’s argument is simple: we have all tried the hill of pleasure. To a greater or lesser degree we have all had a drink of the Kool-aid of the world. We have all tried to find happiness through following our hormones, indulging our appetites, numbing ourselves through a variety of substances, non-stop work, and an increasingly aggressive approach to life.
Peter makes the simple observation: we know by experience that this doesn’t work. Yes, there is often a few moments of pleasure (or in some cases numbness). We have a few laughs and we kept ourselves amused. But in the process we
- Lose the respect of those around us
- Destroy our families
- Hurt others
- Become saddled with debt
- Destroy our soul
- End up with a profound sense of emptiness
- And invalidate our Christian testimony.
If we don’t make a clean break with these worldly pursuits we can reach a point of numbness that makes it impossible to change.
The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard tells a parable of the disastrous effects of not putting to death the desires of the flesh, of failing to leave a way of life behind. One springtime a duck was flying with his friends northward across Europe. During the flight he came down in a barnyard where there were tame ducks. He enjoyed some of their corn. He stayed for an hour, and then for a day. One week passed, and before he knew it a month had gone by. He loved the good food, so he stayed all summer long.
One autumn day, when the same wild ducks were winging their way southward again, they passed overhead, and the duck on the ground heard their cries. He was filled with a strange thrill and joy, and he desired to fly with them once again. With a great flapping of wings he rose in the air to rejoin his old comrades in flight.
But he found that his good fare had made him so soft and heavy that he could rise no higher than the eaves of the barn. He dropped back again into the barnyard and said to himself, “Oh well, my life is safe here, and the food is good.” Every spring and autumn when he heard the wild ducks honking, his eyes would gleam for a moment, and he would begin flapping his wings. But finally the day came when the wild ducks flew overhead uttering their cries, but he paid no attention. In fact, he failed to hear them at all.
Think about people who are floating down a river in a canoe. They are enjoying the movement of the current. They kick back and laugh with friends. They conclude that they are living the good life. They don’t notice the current getting faster. At first they don’t hear the sound of rushing water. Suddenly they awake to discover that they are quickly approaching a deadly waterfall. They paddle frantically but it is too late. The current has them in its grip. Their “good life” is about to end.
There are real choices that need to be made . . . serious choices; hard choices. The longer you wait to make a clean break . . . the harder it will be.
4 They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.
Peter is a realist. He knows it is not popular to go the way of the Lord. He sees two levels of resistance. First, people will be surprised. Your friends will be confused by your change of direction. They cannot understand why you don’t want to “hang out with the cool people”. They will wonder why you are acting so “religious” or “holier-than-thou”. They don’t understand why you no longer embrace the values which are so near and dear to them.
Then things will escalate. They will start heaping abuse on you. They will call you a prude, a religious fanatic, and a killjoy. They will talk behind your back. They will say you are a hypocrite and call you judgmental. They might even accuse you of “hate speech”. They may sever their ties with you.
Think about Tim Tebow, the quarterback for the Denver Broncos. He was a standout athlete in college. Throughout his college career and now in his professional career he has been an unapologetic follower of Jesus Christ. He truly wants to honor the Lord in everything he does. Because of this he has been mocked and ridiculed for his faith. The criticism is not about his ability (though that has been slandered too), it is about his faith. Ironic isn’t it? The NFL is filled with players who have engaged in all kinds of reckless, dangerous, and illegal behavior yet the person they make fun of is the guy who says he loves Jesus! Heed the warning!
Today believers who truly follow (as opposed to the “pretenders”) are pictured in the media as empty headed nitwits. They are ridiculed as wimps and enemies of decent people. We must not be surprised by such things. Peter has warned us. It’s not easy standing up against the enemy. You will get shot at. You may get wounded. You may even be killed.
See the Big Picture
Why would anyone deliberately move in this direction if it is going to be so difficult? Peter answers the question:
5 But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
Peter tells us that there are two judgments: there is the judgment of this world and the judgment of God. One judgment is rendered by men, the other by the Ruler of all Creation. We won’t score well in both judgments. We need to decide which test we are going to prepare for.
Peter writes to people who are reeling from the negative judgments from the world. Some of the people may have been publicly condemned by officials leading to death. They were called traitors, infidels, and wicked. Peter says they may have been condemned by men but they are approved by God.
Here’s the question: which test do you want to score well on? The one graded by your friends, or the one graded by the teacher? Are you going to live for the temporary applause of the world around you or the final “Well Done” of the Lord? Most people live for the moment. They want the immediate approval of the world. Peter encourages us to see the bigger picture.
So here we are at the beginning of a new year. I think Peter would encourage us to use this “new beginning” to take stock of our lives. He would ask us to think about the direction we are heading and to think very carefully. Peter would call us to live deliberately rather than impulsively. He would tell us to choose to let Christ set our priorities rather than prevailing public opinion. He would encourage us to start every day by making the decision to trust the Lord and to be faithful to Him no matter what the enemy brings against us.
A good place to start is to set aside time every day to meet with God. This should involve talking with God in prayer and listening to God through reading the Scriptures. Whether you set out to read through the entire Bible, through just the New Testament, or any number of other possibilities, make a plan! Set your focus and move forward.
Second, think seriously about cultivating character and right mindset. We spend a lot of time setting superficial goals but spend little time on substantive goals. The Puritan Jonathan Edwards wrote down resolutions for how he was going to live his life. He reviewed those resolutions every week. Here are a few of those resolutions,
- Resolved, to live in a such a way as to gain as much happiness in the next world as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way I can think of.
- Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, where I could possibly in any respect have done better.
- Let there be grace and kindness in everything I say.
- Resolved, never to do anything which I should despise or think negatively of if I saw it in another.
- Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.
- Resolved, never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.
I’ve started working on some resolutions of my own in this regard.
- I want to demonstrate that God is Lord in my life by the priority in my schedule, the use of my free time, and in my spending.
- I want to learn compassion by trying to put myself in the shoes of another person and imagine what it would be like to face what they are facing.
- I want to make sure that I don’t let things that don’t matter much (eternally) matter too much. (Things like sporting events, petty irritations, inconveniences)
- I want to pursue holiness by remembering that victory over sin is just about saying no to the next temptation. Holiness is won one battle at a time.
- I want to feed my mind healthy food by critically monitoring what I read, watch, listen to, and think about.
The point here is that we need to be deliberate about our spiritual growth. You probably have some health goals this year. Maybe you want to lose weight or exercise more. We must remember the question Jesus asked, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” To focus on the physical without doing at least equal diligence to our spiritual lives is reckless and foolish.
It won’t be easy, but it is a battle worth fighting. The gain is worth the sacrifice. Like soldiers in any battle we must be diligent, focused, and prepared. We must see beyond ourselves and must give ourselves fully to the goal. And the best time to start is today.