Stay Focused on God

Have you ever driven down the highway, 65 mph, and decided just to let the car drive itself? Get the car going straight, set it on cruise control, take your hands off the steering wheel, maybe climb in the backseat to look for some munchies?

What advice would you give a student with an important exam coming up? One possibility is to tell him not to worry, perhaps take some time off and relax. After all, the student has probably studied for other tests in the past. It wastes a lot of time to keep studying over and over again.

What advice would you give if you knew the end of the world was imminent? How about, “Don’t worry, this sort of thing happens all the time. Just make sure you pack an extra pair of underwear.” Our lesson today begins with 1 Peter 4:7, “The end of all things is near.” Let’s not climb in the backseat to look for munchies, let’s see what Peter has to tell us about living in the last days.

We know the end of all things is near… “for the bible tells me so…” but we mortals have such short memories. We forget and we take our focus off God. Peter, the author of our book today, was our textbook example of taking our focus off of Christ. When Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, Peter’s eyes were on Jesus and Jesus called him. And Peter walked on water! But then Peter looked at the world around him and noticed how high the waves were and how deep the sea was and started to sink. Peter’s salvation was still secure – Jesus reached in and caught him – but would Peter have sunk if his eyes remained on Jesus?

In the middle of going to work, shopping for groceries, exercising at the gym, we look at our watch and think, “What time was the world supposed to end?” And the end of the world becomes less important than picking up the dry cleaning. But the end of all things are near, and it’s not hard to imagine the last days becoming closer. If you forget the end is near, turn on the TV and watch the news for 5 minutes.

Daily focus on Christian living is important. I’m not talking about a checklist of Christian things to do daily – I had my quiet time, I prayed over my meals, I read my bible – I’m talking about minute-by-minute focus on how God wants us to live. What do we do, what do we think, what do we say. We are to live in a way that glorifies our Living God every single moment. Last week Fred taught us about living with joy in the midst of suffering. We’re first class passengers and we know our plane is landing safely, so a little turbulence is exciting. With joy in our hearts, what do we do with our lives? We glorify God through our character, and we glorify God for the way we endure suffering.

What do people see when they watch you and listen to you? In Matthew 5:16, Jesus says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” With every action and with every single word, what do people see when they look at you? Are you Christ’s ambassador?

I. Glorifying God through our Character
A. Focused Prayer

1 Peter Chapter 4 is about our character and how serving and suffering interact. To be good servants and to be good witnesses, we must be developing a character that glorifies our Lord. All of us – and especially me – tend to focus on the characters of other people and how they do not meet our needs. We think it’s very easy to fix somebody else’s problem. That’s a mindset that takes focus and prayer to overcome. Instead, we are to focus on our own character and how we can meet the needs of others.

1 Peter 4:7, “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” The very first thing toward building a focused Christian character is to pray. To pray effectively, be clear-minded and self-controlled. As children of God, we have a communion with the Holy Spirit living inside of us that interprets our prayers and gets answers from God for His glory. Our prayers are powerful and God desires them, it moves God to work in our lives. But to have effective prayers, the NIV says we must be clear-minded and self-controlled. KJV says serious and watchful. NLT says earnest and disciplined. To do this we must be focused on what God wants, not what we want. We clear our minds and we seek God’s will. The best way to do that is to study God’s word and see what God’s will is. Through study, prayer, and meditation, we clear our thoughts, we seek His will, and then we can exercise a disciplined prayer to God.

B. Focused Love

1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” This is agape love, the self-sacrificial love that Christ showed us. We are to sacrifice for each other with no hesitation or reservation. I don’t think the NIV captures the essence of the word “deeply” here. The Amplified bible calls it “intense and unfailing love for one another.” This agape love is from God working through us and has nothing to do with how we feel. Sometimes we don’t “feel” loving. Love anyway. Sometimes we feel irritated. Love anyway, because love covers a multitude of sins, both their sins and especially our own sins.

What is agape love? 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 tells us exactly what love is and what is not. As an engineer, I’m sort of spreadsheet oriented and I’ll eventually have the entire bible categorized properly in a giant spreadsheet like it should be, but for now, here’s a spreadsheet on love that you can stick on your refrigerator:

1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Attitudes
Actions
Love is Love is not Love does Love does not
Patient Jealous Rejoice with truth Brag
Kind Arrogant Bears all things Act rudely
  Provoked Believes all things Seek its own
    Hopes all things Keep a record of wrongs
    Endures all things Rejoice in unrighteousness

C. Hospitality

1 Peter 4:9, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Have you ever been asked to do something and you say, “oh, all right, I’ll do it. Sheesh, why does everybody always ask me to do it?” Whatever we do, do it in love and joy. Offering to help somebody while being grumpy about it does not glorify the Lord. God loves a cheerful giver, so… give cheerfully.

D. Use Spiritual Gifts

Hospitality is one of the spiritual gifts described in the bible – we all have gifts, and as faithful stewards of these gifts God has given us, we are to use them for His glory. Give yourself to others cheerfully because you are doing the Lord’s work. In 1 Peter 4:10, he says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” You have a spiritual gift, an ability given to you by God. Are you using it? Are you unsure whether you have a gift? There are three main scriptures that describe spiritual gifts and are listed in Ephesians 4:11, Romans 12:3-7, and 1 Corinthians 12:1-12, 28. These scriptures clearly say that each one of us as a member of the body of Christ are given one or more gifts, each member is just as important as any other member, and that gifts we are given are to be used to glorify God.

What is your gift? If you’re not sure, get clear-minded and self-controlled and pray about it. God always answers those prayers when you’re asking His will. If you’re still unsure, pick one. Your gift will not grow unless you’re using it. Volunteer for something – anything – and start building your spiritual character. To some extent, our spiritual gifts will fall into two broad categories, gifts of speech (such as evangelism, encouragement and teaching) and gifts of service (such as administration, giving and mercy).

1. Guarded Speech

When we speak, speak carefully. I think this is one of the hardest things to control. We can talk the good talk, but it is so hard to remember 24 hours a day to control what we say. James 3 has very strong words about what we say, that the very same tongue we use to praise God we also curse people who are made in God’s image. What comes out of our mouth reflects what is really inside our hearts. And our words can be destructive, like a small spark that can set an entire forest on fire. James 3:6 says our “tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” That makes me shudder.

Listen to how important our speech is: Peter says in 1 Peter 4:11 that “If you speak, you should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.” When you profess to be a Christian, every word that you speak represents Christ on earth, for you are Christ’s ambassador to your brothers and sisters in Christ, to your spouses, to non-believers. Every word you say reflects your heart and reflects Christ, so choose each and every word carefully. Once you say them, you can’t take them back.

2. Serve with Strength

When we serve (and serve without grumbling), we are also using our God-given gifts. But sometimes when we serve, we take credit for the service we’re providing. Whatever and whoever we are, we did not create ourselves. Whatever IQ you have, you didn’t create your own intellect. God gave you your brains. Whatever ability you have to serve others, God gave you that ability. You didn’t grow your own arms and legs, God gave those to you. So when you use them, don’t depend on yourself. Learn to lean on the strength of Christ. 1 Peter 4:11 says, “If you serve, you should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.”

Why do we serve? For the same reason we exist – to glorify our king. God doesn’t want you to do it alone – God will grant you the strength you need to accomplish what He wills for you. Philippians 4:13 says “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Good Christian character is focused prayer, hospitality without complaint, words that reflect the Holy Spirit within you, and service that depends, not on you, but on the strength that God provides. We glorify God through our character.

II. Glorifying God through Suffering
A. Testing

We also glorify God for showing our Christian character when we suffer. Peter tells us that we are to expect hardships, trials, and suffering. 1 Peter 4:12, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Why do we suffer? It tests this character we have been building. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Without hardships, our faith doesn’t grow, it atrophies.

B. Christ’s Suffering

Just as James says, “consider it pure joy,” Peter says in 1 Peter 4:13, “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” Pure joy! Rejoice! Wahoo, I’m suffering! Ok, that’s a little over the top, maybe, but the minor suffering we endure mirrors the suffering of Christ. To focus on the suffering itself focuses us on this temporary life. When we focus on eternity, though, these hardships are only temporary.

1 Corinthians 4:16-18 says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” When we reach our heavenly destination, all this suffering will seem as nothing, all totally conquered by the saving grace of Jesus.

C. Verbal Abuse for Christ’s Name

1 Peter 4:14, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” This is what Peter means by “participating in the sufferings of Christ.” Christ was persecuted and crucified because of who He is, and if we are persecuted because of who He is, we share in His suffering. Peter tells us that we are “blessed” and it can be difficult to understand how persecution is a blessing.

Our Chinese friends returning back to China have told us they miss our church here and the freedom of worship. In China, the official position of the Communist Party is that party membership and religious belief of any kind are incompatible. Religious organizations are required to register with the government and accept supervision from the government. The official position from Beijing is that no one is persecuted for their beliefs, but evangelism is not permitted. Worshipping in groups is often prohibited. Peter tells us that those persecuted in this way are blessed. More than just being happy, the blessing is the favor that God finds with these martyrs for the Holy Spirit of God rests upon them. Knowing that God finds favor in us for persecution in His name gives us encouragement.

D. When Suffering is Not from God

Not all suffering comes from God, though. Just because we are suffering doesn’t mean God is blessing us. Sometimes we deserve the suffering. 1 Peter 4:15, “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.” “Or even as a meddler” – I found that interesting. If we’re punished because we’re bad, we deserve it. If we commit murder or we steal and go to jail, Christ is not honored and the suffering endured is merely punishment. If our persecution is because we’re sticking our nose into other people’s business and it annoys them, we’re not blessed. We’re bringing hostility on ourselves and Christ is not honored.

E. Suffering for Christ

Christian suffering that brings God’s blessing is specific; “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” Martyrs that preach the name of God to their captors are blessed. Cassie Bernall was reportedly asked by the Columbine shooters if she believed in God, and when Cassie said, “Yes,” she was killed. God blesses those persecuted in His name. Peter, the author of our book today, was also martyred preaching the name of Christ and was supposedly crucified upside down outside of Rome. Do not be ashamed, the end of all things is near, and persecutions in the last days will increase. Stay focused on God and not the light and momentary persecutions of this temporary life. We have hope in Jesus.

F. Judgment

In verse 17 & 18, Peter tells us that the time of judgment is near. The followers of Christ will be judged and found righteous through the covering of the sacrifice of Jesus. As sons and daughters of God, we have no fear of judgment. We know we are sinners, but we also know that Christ our Lord died for those sins so that we may appear unblemished before God.

Sometimes we long for the Rapture to come and take us away from this wicked world, to save us from this corrupt generation. But God placed us here for a reason, and God doesn’t make mistakes. If we long for the Rapture because we want to be closer to the Lord, that’s a beautiful thought, but our purpose in this life is not simply to exist then go to heaven. Our purpose in this life is to see His will done on earth as it is in heaven, and He will use us and give us the strength we need to do His will. Why do you exist today? Because God is using you to show His glory. Your looks, your body, your possessions, your talents and your spiritual gifts are given to you by God to show His glory in us. We have purpose in this life, given to us by God.

Those that do not know the good news, that Christ died for us and that we may have a relationship with the living Christ need to know this. Suffering and persecution are all around us, but those that suffer for Christ have hope. It can be a difficult life, but Peter reminds us that we should not be surprised, this fiery ordeal tests us. How much harder then, is it on those that do not know the love of Christ and do not know why they suffer? We exist so that the love and hope of Christ may shine on them with every word, with every deed, with every hospitality we show them in order to bring glory to God. This is God’s will. Verse 19, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

So Pray. Love. Serve. Speak His name. Live like there’s no tomorrow because someday you’ll be right.

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Christian Submission

When I started studying for this lesson, my first thought was, “ooh, I’m not going to like this one.” Then it was sort of a frustration, like God is picking on me and giving me a lesson that probes specifically at my weakness. Of course, it also brings a smile; I know that God is working on me. It’s always a good thing when you realize when God is at work, even when it’s a bit uncomfortable.

Today we learn about submission, whether you want to or not. Do you hear me? “It’s a free country! You can’t tell me what to do! You’re not the boss of me!” When I hear the word submission, my first reaction isn’t good. I don’t like other people telling me what to do. So before we get in too deep into the book of Peter, let’s define what we mean by submission. What do you think it means?

Submission is Opposite of submission Too much submission is
Acceptance Arrogance Wimpy
Willing Resistance Cowardly
Humble Pride Spinelessness
Respect Conceit Slavery

The Greek word used here in the book of Peter is “hupotasso” and is a military term meaning “to arrange in a military fashion under the command of a leader.” When used non-militarily, it meant “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.” What is your normal reaction to yielding to somebody else’s authority?

In America, we value our freedom. Nobody tells me what to do. It’s a free country. And freedom is a good thing, of course, but used improperly, total freedom can be destructive. Teens that want total freedom from their parents rebel against rules and can wreck their lives. Husbands and wives can alienate each other by pursuing self-fulfillment. Workers lose jobs because they don’t like the idea of obeying the boss or being told what to do. Many people nearing retirement are looking at meager years because they spent their money in search of freedom in their younger years.

Freedom can be misused to the point of harming ourselves or harming others. God’s plan is that as Christians, we are to lead lives of submission in service to one another. Our submission first is to God and to God’s Word. But when we think about submission, it can make use feel uncomfortable because we are voluntarily surrendering authority to somebody else. We’re agreeing to let somebody else tell us what to do. I think part of that reason is we’re afraid to surrender, to give up control of our lives, but that’s exactly what Christ calls us to do when we follow him.

Does submission mean we become second class citizens? Not at all; the bible is clear that whoever would be first will be last; whoever would be last will be first. Submission is far more challenging than anger or rebellion or arrogance. The natural reaction is to rebel; the Christ-like example is to serve. Rebelling is simply reaction; submitting is a conscious decision not to rebel. We are called not to be a slave to sin, not to be a slave to our rebellious nature.

Our scripture today is 1 Peter 2:13-25. It’s only 12 sentences long, but they’re powerful sentences, so we’re going to step through them one at a time.

Peter is living as a subject of the Roman Empire. The Romans at this time were not especially kind to Christians; Christians who confessed Christ as their Lord were often punished or killed for treason for not obeying the Roman Emperor. The Romans were suspicious of early Christians, suspecting them of insurrection and planning to overthrow the empire. So in a brutal repressive society, how do you reconcile that with the Christian teachings of freedom in Christ? Did this freedom allow rebellion? What about slaves who worked for cruel masters? What about Christian wives who were married to harsh, unbelieving husbands? Peter points to the Lord Jesus Christ to see how we are to live.

Let’s start with verse 13, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.” I told you I wasn’t going to like this. Studying this week as focused my attention on my rebellion and how I rebel in a hundred little ways, my natural tendency toward passive aggressiveness. Here are ten simple words that we all might want to rebel against, but what does Peter call us to do? Submit ourselves. Why? “For the Lord’s sake.” Not because those in authority can crush us, but because it is the Lord’s will (and we’ll get to more of this in a moment). To who do we submit ourselves? To every human authority. The context here is that of governmental authority, that God calls us to voluntarily and cheerfully submit to legal authorities. We are to obey the law and to be good citizens. And we do this, not because the government is a huge bureaucracy that can throw us into jail, but because we are to be obedient to Christ.

Let’s continue with the rest of verse 13 and 14, “whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the President of the United States, or the local policeman, we are called to submit to every human institution, and we obey the state and the laws out of our obedience to Christ.

The Roman emperor at this time was Nero; Nero was capable of rewarding obedient citizens and punishing rebels. Even though Nero was a pagan emperor, Christians were still called to be good citizens. God creates governments to accomplish His will, whether that government is aware of it or not. Government over us keeps us out of anarchy. In Romans 13:1-7, Paul tells us:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Peter is teaching us to submit to the government because the government is teaching us right from wrong. Submission to authority, cheerfully and willingly. Being good subjects of the Roman Empire. That doesn’t mean we can’t use legal, peaceful means of bringing change in our government. Certainly as good Christian witnessed we should seek to change those government laws that violate God’s laws; our Christian duty is to be agents of change in this world, but we are to do it within the framework of existing governmental laws.

Are there any exceptions to this rule? Absolutely. We must be careful to set aside our personal desires and goals; those goals are subject to government. But God’s goals supercedes those of government. Peter, who wrote our scripture today, was faced with this exact circumstance in Acts 4:18-20. The Jewish leaders were disturbed that Peter and John were spreading the message of Christ and ordered them to stop, but Peter chose to obey God instead of man:

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

So we are called to follow authority and show respect, but not at the expense of following God’s will.

A moment ago in Romans we learned that a government agent is an angel of wrath, to enforce right and wrong. When we submit to authority, Peter tells us in verse 15 why God wants us to do this. “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” When we’re argumentative and rebellious, we are poor examples of Christ. The Romans distrusted the Christians because they openly declared Jesus as their Lord. Jesus was their king, a king that was crucified on the charge of rebellion against Caesar. Word about town is that those Christians are dangerous; they’re planning to overthrow the government. In order to silence rumors and ignorant talk, Christians are to lead a law-abiding life of respect to the government.

Verse 16, “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.” Jesus came to set His followers free, but this is not a freedom to do evil. In order to be free of sin, we voluntarily become slaves of God. Using our freedom to conceal evil actions is hypocritical. The world only grudgingly gives respect to Christians, and quickly condemns us when our hypocrisy shows. Expressing our freedom from sin means we obey every legal authority and not our own selfish, rebellious heart. We are to lead holy lives, set apart lives, and law abiding lives.

Verse 17, “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.” I find these distinctions interesting. We are to show “proper” respect to everyone, but that proper respect isn’t equal. We show respect to everyone – after all, everyone is created in God’s image.

To our brotherhood of believers, though, we show more than respect. We show love, the same kind of love Christ showed for us. The word used is “agapao” or agape love, and it means to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly, to be well pleased, to be content with. Christ showed agape love to us to model, and we are to show this agape love to our brothers and sisters. Submission in the church, submission within this bible class leads to the purest kind of love, where we are genuinely concerned about each other and set aside our own vain attitudes. We are not in competition with each other about who can be the best Christian. Or the worst Christian, for that matter.

And to God, we show fear – not scared fear, but reverence and worship. The word used here is “phobeo” – our God created the heavens and the earth and if He so wished He could smite us so hard we’d be smitten. We are thankful for the grace He shows us through Jesus that we don’t get the punishment we deserve; Jesus has already taken our place.

We are to show honor to the king and to people in authority. The word “timao” is used here; it means to estimate or to set a value, to respect and honor. Note that it says we are to fear the Lord but give honor to the king. Jesus made the same distinction in Matthew 22:21 when the Pharisees asked Him if it was right to pay taxes. Jesus replied, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” We give our authorities respect and obedience, but to God we give reverence and worship.

Next, in verse 18, Peter addresses a particularly difficult subject, slavery. “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.” Where’s that freedom Christ promised? Many early believers were slaves. Educated slaves, sometimes, but still slaves. They served as teachers, doctors, administrators, musicians, craftsmen. Over the centuries, Christian influence about our equal worth as God’s children eventually led to the abolition of slavery, but opposition to the slavery during the time of the Roman Empire would be seen as an insurrection and would certainly bring the wrath of Rome, crushing the early Christian movement.

Peter’s not justifying slavery here in any circumstances; but if a Christian is in slavery, the Christian is to submit, to obey their master. I think we have an innate repulsion to this idea, that slavery is wrong and we should oppose it. And while that is true, slavery shows us an extreme example of how we are to behave as Christians. We are to submit and show respect. Not grudgingly and with an attitude, but respectfully and willingly. And while there are no Christian slaves today, we can extend this instruction to our workplace, to our bosses who are in authority over us. We are to obey our bosses, be a good example of Christ within us. The natural tendency of the unsaved person is to gripe, to badmouth, to fight back. As a spirit-filled Christian, we learn to submit and let God fight our battles for us.

Verse 19 tells us suffering in slavery or suffering in our job in obedience to Christ brings favor with God. “For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.” The word is “charis” and can be translated commendable, finds favor, a reward, good will, but also means grace. As a slave to God, we submit unconditionally, we love unconditionally, we obey unconditionally. How can we do otherwise? How can we set rules for when and how God shows us grace? We can’t of course; as we learn to submit unconditionally, we learn how God’s grace is provided to us. Jesus submitted unconditionally; through His submission, God brought salvation to all humanity. Jesus certainly had the power to resist, to punish the men responsible, but instead Jesus submitted to authority and at the same time showed us how to forgive those who oppress us.

Verse 20 also gives us another reason to submit. “But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.” If we do wrong and we’re punished, well, we deserve it. If I go out to the parking lot and spray paint a bunch of cars and get caught, will anybody respect me for the way I bravely take my punishment? No, they will say I deserved it. But if I am innocent and I’m punished, by freely submitting to those in authority, God will find favor in me. If we spend all day at work surfing ESPN for the latest basketball scores and our boss comes in and gives us a dressing-down, well, we deserved it. But if we are innocent in these things and our boss treats us harshly, we are to endure it patiently. We show respect because this brings glory to God. This is a true test of our faith. Being a good example when things are going well is easy. God’s not impressed. Being a good example when under stress or persecution – God will find favor in us.

We are called to do this as Christians. Verse 21 says, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” Christ suffered unjustly for us. When we think about our suffering, think about the suffering of Jesus. The Romans punished Jesus, flogged Him, and crucified Him to die a slow death on the cross. What did Jesus do to deserve it? When our boss tells us to work late, compare that to the suffering of Jesus. Why do we grumble over minor afflictions when Jesus submitted willingly to crucifixion? Think about your job for a second. Think about those things that irritate you the most. Coworkers? Bosses? Clients? Customers? That’s your suffering. Compare it to the suffering of Jesus. Who suffered more? Who complains more? Yet verse 21 tells us to follow in His steps. Here’s how Jesus set an example for us when He suffered –

Verse 22, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” Jesus suffered and died without a grumble, without a complaint and without a sin. Because Jesus was innocent, He can take the blame for us. If Jesus was a sinner, the punishment He received would be His own. But Jesus is sinless and can offer to take our punishment for us. Because He can do that, He is our savior. When we suffer, when we are punished unjustly, Jesus is also our role model, our example. No deceit in our mouth, we hold our tongue and do not condemn.

Verse 23, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” As the son of God, Jesus could threaten to destroy His oppressors. He could have said, “I’ll get you my pretty… and your little dog, too.” Instead, Jesus left us an example – he committed himself to trusting God to judge. Jesus showed us that a person can be in the will of God, be loved by God, and still suffer unfairly. Don’t fall for that “feel good” brand of Christianity that says trust in God and you will never suffer. It’s not biblical; it doesn’t reflect the life that Jesus gave for us. Instead, unjust suffering – at work, at home, in pain or poor health, in loss of a loved one – unjust suffering gives us an opportunity to showcase the Holy Spirit within us. No threats, no insults, no retaliation, no harsh words. We trust God will right all wrongs at the Day of Judgment. By the time Peter wrote this book, Peter had been preaching the gospel for 30 years and the Holy Spirit has made him into a true man of God – where once Peter took up a sword to defend Jesus, now Peter preaches submission to authorities. This is how we lead as Christians; we lead by submission.

The last two verses, Peter reminds us why Jesus is our example. It’s because Jesus is more than just an example. Jesus is the savior we all need. In verse 24, Peter reminds us what Jesus did for us and why Jesus could no what none of us can. Jesus is more than “just a good man.” “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” Jesus did not die as a martyr; Jesus died as a savior. He took the punishment for the sins we commit. Christ was wounded so we might be healed. Christ died so that we might live. Our sinful lives died with the crucifixion of Christ; we are no longer slaves to sin, but willing and righteous slaves to God. One day we will have glorified bodies, but right now, even some of God’s most favored servants suffer physically. By the wounds of Jesus, we will be healed of this physical suffering.

And in verse 25, Peter says, “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Every lost sinner is ignorant, lost, foolish, wandering, in danger, and unable to help ourselves. We have wandered into the wilderness without a Shepherd to protect us. Before we accept Christ, we have a mistaken belief that we can save ourselves, that we are all we need, yet we spend our entire lives trying to figure out why that hole in our soul won’t fill up with toys, entertainment, knowledge, service. It’s only when we recognize that we cannot do it on our own and accept Jesus that we truly begin to live in Him. Jesus is our good shepherd; Jesus watches over us and protects us, and nobody can snatch us out of His all-powerful, ever-loving arms.

After studying for this lesson this week, I’m convicted of some growth in Christ that I have to do. Not to gripe about what minor hardships I have at my job, but to respect my boss. And while I will continue to speak out against what I believe is bad legislation that goes against the will of God, I will remember that God expects me to submit to governmental authorities and to obey the rules willingly, respectfully, and without complaint. And to show love to my brothers and sisters, respect and honor to those who fulfill God’s plan of government that keeps us out of anarchy, and to remember the example Christ set for us as one who suffered unjustly.

April 15th is approaching. So who’s going to cheat on their taxes this year?

Once Saved, Always Saved

We’re going return to the New Testament for the next 3 months and work through 1st and 2nd Peter, written by the apostle Peter approximately 30 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. In the 30 years since Peter denied Jesus three times, Peter has grown a lot. Within two years of writing 1st and 2nd Peter, Peter was martyred, proclaiming the glory of Christ till the very end.

I’d love to spend a lot more time discussing who Peter was, how he grew from a fisherman, and in Acts he was described as “unlearned and ignorant,” to the man who wrote these letters. Peter is a perfect illustration of 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Peter was in Rome when Rome burned; Nero, who “fiddled while Rome burned,” blamed the fire on Christians and martyred both Peter and Paul during this time. So you can see how much history is wrapped up in Peter’s life, but we need to delve right into 1 Peter and see what this apostle has to say to us. So let’s get started and see what the Holy Spirit has to say through this man of Christ and perhaps have hope that we, too, may become this unlearned and ignorant. So take out your bibles and turn to 1st Peter and let’s dig in. 1 Peter 1:1-2 :

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

“Strangers in the world” is also sometimes translated as “temporary residents” or “aliens residing in a foreign land.” Believers in Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit inside, soon find that their moral values are different from the world. We become new creations that don’t seem to fit with the old world anymore. We turn from partying to service, we turn from selfish behavior to loving our neighbor. We become strangers in the world. Peter defines a whole bunch of characteristics of Christians in a single sentence –

  • God’s elect, chosen according to the foreknowledge of God. God knows all, including knowing who will choose Him. It doesn’t say God makes us choose Him, we have the gift of free will He gave us. But God knows all.
  • Through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. When we accept Christ, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who turbocharges our conscience and begins the lifelong process of sanctification.
  • Obedience to Jesus Christ. To love our Lord, we seek to find His will in our lives.
  • Sprinkling of His blood. This is a also a gift given to us, and nothing we did to earn it. Christ died for us.
  • Grace and peace be yours in abundance. Two more gifts given to Christians; as we allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify us, God’s grace and the peace from Christ lives in us. In abundance, too.

Wow. No wonder we’re going to go through the books of Peter slowly. That’s five descriptions of Christians and we’re not out of the first paragraph yet, and each description we could devote a complete study. Not today, though, we’re going to study 1 Peter 1:3-9 instead. I’d like to read this together as a class, and to make sure we’re all reading the same version, I’ve provided a handout with these verses:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Peter tells us so much here, about how to have inexpressible and glorious joy, how our faith is protected by God’s power, how we suffer so that our faith may be proved genuine. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Once saved, always saved?” I confess that before I started studying this week, I had some doubts about that. No more, no more doubts. And absolutely knowing that there’s not a thing I can do to mess that up brings me this peace and inexpressible and glorious joy. The salvation of my soul is secure, kept in heaven for me and shielded by God’s power. There’s a lot of comfort in that. Peter tells us that through Jesus we have come into an inheritance that can never, spoil or fade, that this inheritance is kept in heaven and protected by the all powerful God.

Are you pretty sure you’re going to heaven? Unless something goes horribly wrong, there’s a good chance you’re going to heaven? Or do you absolutely know, without a doubt, 100% guarantee, that you’re going to heaven? God wants you to know and be absolutely confident, because there is joy and peace in this knowledge. Let’s see if there’s any other scripture that talks about this confidence.

1 John 5:13:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may *know* that you have eternal life.

It doesn’t say “think” we have eternal life. So that we may *know* we have eternal life. It’s not arrogance to say that I know I will go to heaven. It’s confidence, not in my ability, but in Christ’s sacrifice. Once a person places their trust in Jesus, God immediately and irrevocably grants that person eternal life and salvation and a guaranteed place in Heaven that can never be lost, regardless of what they do or what they don’t do. It’s not based on you, never was. It’s entirely based on what Jesus did.

John 5:24, Jesus says,

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.

Jesus uses certain Greek tenses of verbs here to make His point. When He says, “has” eternal life, Jesus uses the present tense. Then He switches to future tense, “will not be condemned”. Jesus says believers have it! And if that wasn’t clear enough, Jesus says the believer “has crossed over from death to life.” Jesus switches present tense to perfect tense, and is saying that the believer has already crossed, always will be crossed over from death to life. We are new creations already, we don’t become new creations after we die. We *have already* crossed over, we *have* eternal life, and *will not be* condemned. Past, present and future.

John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son *has* eternal life.” John 6:47, “I tell you the truth, he who believes *has* everlasting life.” It’s an irrevocable contract Jesus makes with us when we confess Him as our Lord, written here in the Good Book for us to read the fine print anytime we wish. What does Jesus promise to do for us as our Lord? Well, here’s the fine print of the contract.

  • Hebrews 10:17, God says, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” You and I can’t forget, as hard as we try, but God will remember no more. Poof, it’s as if they never happened. With the blood covering from Jesus, we become pure in God’s sight.
  • Philippians 4, our names are inscribed in the Book of Life. Again, not *will be* inscribed. They *are* inscribed.
  • Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Now. No condemnation. Freedom.
  • Micah 7:19, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Deeper than the Titanic, our sins are buried in the sea.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” The Holy Spirit lives in us, takes up residence, and gives our conscience a kick-start.
  • Galatians 4:6, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” We become adopted by God, we are His children, His heirs. We are no longer slave to sin and the death that comes with it.
  • Romans 8:31-33, God has chosen us, we are God’s elect, and if God is for us, who can be against us?
  • Ephesians 1:13-14, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” Marked, sealed, identified, stamped. Seems like every translation I read used a different word here. Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours. We are indelibly branded, permanently stamped, and guaranteed our inheritance.
  • John 10:27-28, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus becomes our shepherd, we becomes His sheep, He gives us eternal life, we will never perish, and no one can change that.
  • Any loopholes left in this contract? Romans 8:38, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Looks like an absolutely iron clad contract to me, how about you?

This salvation we already have. This eternal life we already have. Heaven is a destination where we go when our mortal chores are through, but our place there is already guaranteed. Peter says praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that our inheritance awaits us and to rejoice. Rejoice! Again I say, rejoice! I rejoice because I know if I could do something to lose my salvation, I’d have done it already. I’ve messed up so many times and if I was given a second chance, I’d just lose it again. Sometimes I can go for 6 or 8 hours in a row without sinning, but then I wake up and have to get out of bed. This is great news, knowing we’re eternally saved. In order for us to lose our salvation,

  • somebody would have to find some sort of loophole in the contract that isn’t up or down, present or future, angel or demon, and convince Christ not to love us anymore,
  • change us from Christ’s sheep into a toad,
  • remove the brand He sealed onto us,
  • snatch us right out of the hand of Jesus even though He chose us,
  • cancel God’s adoption papers and write us out of the will,
  • evict the Holy Spirit out of His home in our heart and tell him to find someplace else to live,
  • dive to the very bottom of the ocean and dredge our sins back up,
  • remind God of all the things He’s promised to remember no more,
  • and make God into a liar for putting all these promises down in writing.

Ya know, I just don’t see any of that happening.

So what about all those difficult questions about “Once saved, always saved?” What if I claim to be a Christian, but don’t seem to be living a Christian lifestyle? I party and drink and do drugs and sleep around and so forth – Am I still going to heaven? And what if I say I’m a Christian and I know I’m going to heaven, does that mean I can do anything I want? Lie cheat and steal, take candy from babies or be a serial killer? Am I still going to heaven? How about if I say I’m Christian, but then I curse God to His face, turn my back on Jesus and says I want nothing do with those uptight religious freaks anymore? Am I still going to heaven? And what about when I hurt or when I’m depressed and I just don’t feel like getting up and going to church anymore? Am I still going to heaven?

Great questions. I hope somebody here can answer them, I ran out of time studying.

No seriously, they are great questions, and the answers are in this same Good Book.

Number 1. What if somebody claims to be a Christian, but doesn’t seem to be living a Christian lifestyle? Partying and drinking and so forth? I think it’s important to remember that eternal salvation is granted when you confess with all your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord. God does the rest. If we think our actions before God are better than somebody else’s actions, we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what Jesus did for us. Romans 3:20 says, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.” No one, no matter how good we try to be, is good enough for God. Any righteousness we have comes not from ourselves but from accepting the blood covering of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” It has nothing to do with what we do. We don’t gain eternal life because of our good performance, and we don’t lose eternal life because of our bad performance. It’s Jesus plus nothing; it’s a gift. The church of Galatia thought the same thing, and Paul gave them a dressing down. In Galatians 3 Paul writes, “You foolish Galatians! […] After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” 2 Timothy 2:13 Paul says, “if we are faithless, He will remain faithful.” Getting into heaven has nothing to do with our human performance and everything to do with God’s grace. We don’t sing Amazing Human Performance in worship for a reason, we sing Amazing Grace. So if somebody has truly accepted Jesus Christ but doesn’t seem to be living a Christian life, they still have an invitation to God’s Grand Afterlife Party.

Number 2. If our salvation is secure, does that mean we can do whatever we want? If I’m going to heaven no matter what I do, why does it matter what I do? Why not lie, cheat and steal? Why not cheat on my spouse? Why not party like it’s 1999? I’m going to heaven! Well, there’s a serious problem with this. You may have that invitation to God’s Grand Afterlife Party and you are guaranteed entry, but what you do in this life has everything to do with what kind of reception you’ll get when you get there. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 says

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames

.

The foundation is Christ, and with our mortal lives we build on that foundation. We can build on it with long lasting stuff – obedience, servant hood, prayer, humility, or we can build on it with disobedience, arrogance, and selfishness. The choice is up to us. But there will come a day of Judgement where we stand before Christ, and all our earthly deeds will be exposed for what they are. Everything bad or worthless will be burned away, and if there’s anything left, there’s a reward. What kind of reward? I don’t know – I’m guessing something made of chocolate. All I know if there’s a line forming to collect a reward from the almighty God, I want to be in that line. What if your building is all gone? Well, you don’t get any chocolate, but you yourself will be saved. You’re not in heaven because of the building, you’re in heaven because of the foundation.

Another problem with living a sinful, selfish life, the Holy Spirit is inside doing a number on our conscience. We will feel guilty. Things we could get away with before accepting Christ, we feel bad when we do them now. David writes in Psalm 32 that when he kept silent about his sins, not confessing, not repenting, his bones wasted away and he groaned all day long. When we accept Christ as our savior, we become more focused on pleasing God.

Number 3. What if somebody turns their back on Jesus, renounces God, becomes an atheist. Are they still going to heaven? Let me tell you a story about Robert Robinson, a young teen who lived in London from 1735 to 1790. He was a delinquent teen, but at 17 took his gang to an open air revival service where George Whitfield was preaching to “laugh at the poor deluded Methodists.” Two and a half years later, Robert Robinson gave his life to Christ. He felt the call to preach, was appointed by John Wesley to pastor the Calvinist Methodist Chapel in Norfolk England, writing powerful sermons and hymns, and at the age of 23 wrote this powerful hymn:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Beautiful hymn, and 250 years later we still praise our Lord with these words. But these words were a spiritual, prophetic autobiography. Robert Robinson did not stay in the fold of Christianity, eventually dismissed by the church and he returned to his sinful ways, eventually turning his back on Christianity and became Unitarian who do not believe Jesus was the only Son of the Father. In his later years, while taking a stagecoach ride, and in a non-Christian condition, a female passenger offered to share a poem with him, that it might help him as it had helped her, and she began to read “Come Thou Fount” to him, and when she got to the third stanza,

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.

Robert Robinson broke down and cried and said, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” Robert Robinson never did return to Christianity, and died denying the deity of Christ.

So what happened? We can’t know for sure, can we, because we can’t ever know Robert Robinson’s heart. But we do know this – if he ever truly trusted Christ, then yes, Robert Robinson is in heaven. Even if we are faithless, God is faithful. In Matthew 21:18-19, Jesus tells us what happens to people like this.

Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

In order to produce fruit, you have to be connected to the sap of the Holy Spirit. If you’re not connected, the best you can produce is leaves, and Jesus says if you’re not connected to the sap of the Holy Spirit, the sap of the church of a body of believers, you wither. You become bitter and angry. I’ve never met a person who has accepted Christ and then turned his back on him that was a joy to be around. They’re hurtful, mean, selfish people. But when you’re connected to the sap, you produce fruit. So when you meet a person like this, either they never truly gave their heart to Jesus, or they did give their heart, but through circumstance, weakness, persecution, suffering, whatever, they turned their back on Jesus. It’s not for us to determine, but the Lord knows their heart, and if they truly gave their heart, they’re in heaven. But not in the chocolate line, they’re in the … carob line.

Number 4. What if I just don’t feel saved? What if I don’t feel connected to the Holy Spirit, or connected to the church. Am I still going to heaven? One of Satan’s tricks in our materialistic secular humanistic society is the “do what feels good” philosophy. Feel bad about debt? Go shopping until you feel good. Feel bad about weight? Eat until you feel better. Don’t like your spouse? Get a divorce. And you look at our society and see what happens to us when we let our feelings determine our direction. When our feelings are at the wheel, we don’t have any idea what direction we’re headed.

I know exactly first hand what happens when you let feelings rule. I left my wife because of feelings and my feelings drove me right off a cliff. But you know what? Christ caught me. Now instead of trying to get happy and going in whatever direction I wanted to, I let Christ take the wheel and let Him determine the direction, and I ended up far happier than when I was trying to be happy. Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Feelings aren’t supposed to be driving your around; feelings are supposed to be in the passenger seat.

So do your feelings determine whether you’re going to heaven? Does John 3:16 read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” as long as he feels like it? John 5:24 says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” How do your feelings change that? John 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Unless, of course, they’re unhappy? Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Where do feelings come into play? Your feelings are something you do, and nothing you do will gain your salvation. I think we try to make this complicated, but it’s almost too simple to believe. God gives us the gift of salvation, and we say “thanks.” That’s it, and nothing we do or feel or say will change that. No performance evaluation, no report card. Just grace. Your destiny is already safe, already secure, you are already an eternal being. When you’re not afraid to die, then you’re not afraid to live.

So you don’t have to get up every week and walk down the aisle every single week and give your life to Christ, Meredith. You already belong to him and nothing, not death nor life, not angels nor demons, not the present nor the future, nor any powers, not height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to change that one teeny bit. Your destiny is safe. And that’s why Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:8-9, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Once Saved, Always Saved? It really is that simple. Don’t complicate it with man-made judgments and opinions. Salvation is a gift through Jesus that is eternally secure. To receive it, all we have to do is ask. And all we have to do to keep it is… nothing.

* due credit goes to Lon Solomon of the McLean Bible Church and his sermon series on Bible bootcamp for the ideas and scripture references behind the “fine print of the contract” above.