Sunday, September 28, 2014

[Matt's Messages] "Living the Christian Life Today"

“Living the Christian Life Today”
September 28, 2014
1 Peter 2:11-12

I invite you to turn in your Bibles with me to 1 Peter chapter 2.

I know that was a surprise–it was a surprise for me, too.

Every once in a while you run out of week before you run out of work, right?

Well, that happened to me this week. I ran out of week before I ran out of work. And Romans is so important to get right I just didn’t feel like what I was preparing was going to be ready for today, so I switched directions and landed on 1 Peter chapter 2.

I’ve said before that sermons are kind of like casseroles. Sometimes they need a little more time in the oven before you put them on the table.

So, today, while the Romans casserole continues to bake, we’re going to consider just 2 verses in the second chapter of Peter’s first letter.

And here’s why I picked this passage.

Because Peter says here how Christians are supposed to live in the year 2014.

Now, it doesn’t actually “2014" in this passage. But it just about could.

What Peter had to say to those Jewish Christians living in exile in Asia Minor towards the end of the first century, is exactly what you and I need to hear in the last quarter of the year 2014.

What Peter had to say was profound, encouraging, challenging, and life-changing.

I’ve entitled this message, “Living the Christian Life Today.”

It was true 2000 years ago when Peter wrote it, but it’s so perfect for you and me today.

In this passage, the Apostle Peter is going to use the word “urge” or “exhort” or (King James) “beseech.” He is going to call us to a certain way of living. A way of living that might pinch a bit when we first put it on, but we will find it overtime it will wear just right.

Now, I think, because, he is going to go straight to the heart of our lives today, and because he just might step on a few toes, Peter begins with a very important word in v.11.

The word is translated “Dear friends” in the NIV.  Do you see that?  The NASB and ESV have, “beloved.”  The KJV says, “Dearly beloved.”  The Greek word is “Agapatoi” and you can hear in that word the idea it expresses. “Agapatoi” means, “Ones who are loved.”

Peter is saying, “I urge you, ones who are act a certain way.  Agapatoi, I urge you to live this way...”

Now, the question is, loved by whom?  Who loves the Agapatoi?

The obvious answer here is Peter.  “Dear ones whom I, Peter, love, I urge live a certain way...”

But I think we can hardly miss the significance of this word (Agaphtoi) falling on the heels of vv.9&10. Look up at what Peter had just said to these people. V.9  “You are a chosen people, a royal (priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God...Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy [from God!].”


Ones loved by God Himself.

Bask in that for just a second.  Revel in that!  If you are a Christian, you are the Agaphtoi–beloved of God.

Remember that thing I told you to put on your mirror and say to yourself each day? That was a month ago.

“I am loved by God.”

The hymnwriter said:
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure–the saints’ and angels’ song.

Loved by God Himself.

That, in and of itself, should be adequate motivation for compliance with any life-choices that God desires for me to make.

If God starts any sentence with, “Matthew Charles Mitchell, Agapatoi–loved one, I urge you to do this...” that should be much more than enough to engender obedience.

Being loved by God makes all the difference in how we live in 2014.

Now, let’s see exactly what He wants. The first part of v.11.

“Agapatoi, dear friends, dearly beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers in the world...”  Stop right there for a moment.

The first thing God wants for us to do is to recognize that we are aliens and strangers in the world.

Our Link Group which meets on Sunday nights has just started studying this book together, but we’ve already been talking about that theme.

Peter asks us to live as aliens and strangers in the world.

Now, this word “alien” does not mean E.T. or Yoda or Doctor Who or Mork from Ork. It generally means someone who does not belong officially to the country he or she is living in.  In other words, someone who is not a citizen.  My mother-in-law, for example, was not a citizen of Canada.  She was an US citizen that married a Canadian citizen and came to live permanently in Canada.  But she had never become a Canadian citizen before she died. So, in that sense (and in that sense only!) I used to joke with her that she could rightfully be called an alien.

The second word here (a “stranger”) generally means one who lives temporarily in a certain country or area.  For example: a hitchhiker just passing through or a migrant farm-worker.  Someone who is in an area or country but not expected to make this area or country their permanent home–that’s “a stranger.”

At bottom, these two words describe together a kind of person who does not belong.  One who does not have citizenship and one who does not expect to stay forever.

And Peter says, “Agapatoi, I urge you to live your lives as people who do not belong.”

Point #1 of three.

#1.  DON’T FIT IN.

You and I don’t really belong here.

The Christian slaves in the South used to sing, “This world is not my home, I’m just a’passing through.”

Paul said in Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven.”

The Lord Jesus said that we are in the world but not of the world.

You and I don’t belong here.  But too many Christians act like they do.

We want to be loved.  We want to be accepted.  We want to correspond to the people around us and be well-liked.

But God calls us to stick out like a sore thumb.  To be different.  To not fit in.

Now, I’m not talking here about a Christian dress code, though being an alien and a stranger does have implications for the way in which we dress.  Ladies, do you dress just like the world? Do you take your cues from the world?  If you get your ideas of how to dress from the magazines at the checkout counter, there is something wrong.

And I’m not talking here about a legalistic list of do’s and don’ts, though being an alien and a stranger certainly does affect the list of things we will do and the list of things we most certainly will not do.

I’m talking here about being a different kind of person than those around us.  A person whose character and morals (and actions!) match the world to come more than they match this world.  Does that make sense?

If everyone at work pads their expense account, why don’t you?
If everyone at school uses the Lord’s precious name as a swear word, why don’t you?
If all of your friends spend all of their discretionary money on a bigger and better vehicle each year, why don’t you?
If the discussion around the water cooler is gossip, talking about people, or dirty jokes, why don’t you join in?
If your buddies say that revenge is sweet, and that you are justified in bitterly not speaking to her ever again, why do you go and forgive?
If your friends stay up late on Saturday nights watching stupidity on television or wasting time on the internet so that they are too tired to worship God with the full glad heart He deserves, why are you in bed by ten on Saturday nights?
If the people around you are paranoid about terrorism, or the government, or the economy, or rampaging viruses, why are you confident and secure?

Why are you different? The answer should be, because you belong to another kingdom than the one you live in.  You are an alien and a stranger in this world.  You don’t take your cues from the world.  You don’t do things the way the world does.   You don’t value the things the world values. You know that you are leaving this world soon so you better not get too comfortable.

Aliens and strangers don’t buy things the same way regular citizens do, they don’t dress the same way, they don’t talk the same way, they don’t even feel the same way.  They have different agendas, different hopes, different values, different aspirations.

Beloved, don’t fit in. ...

Now, the examples I’ve just given you may not strike you as the exact area where you are weak here.  You know where you struggle to fit in.  Why don’t you ask God right now where He wants you to change? What area of your life looks just like an unbeliever’s life and needs to change.  I invite you to write that area down on the back of your bulletin with a prayer for God to actually make you stick out. I’ll give you a couple seconds to do that. ...

Agapatoi, beloved, don’t fit in.


Let’s finish v.11.  “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.”

Don’t give in!

“Abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.”

Those are strong words. I almost titled this message, “The Soul War.”

Peter is saying that there is a war being waged that is more important than the war on terrorism. It is the war being waged inside of yourself by your own sinful desires on your soul. The KJV renders this more literally, “fleshly lusts” that is, desires that arise out of your sinful human nature–out of being a fallen human. The ESV translates it, “passions of the flesh.”

You and I have an internal enemy–our old nature–that rises up regularly to try to defeat our holiness and our hope.  Don’t let it!

Peter is saying that there are these internal terrorists called sinful desires and they want to get you!

You know what they are.  You know what is in your heart: lust, envy, malice, unbelief, greed, fear, selfish ambition, discord, jealousy, anger and rage and pride.  These all came with the package when you and I were born.  Batteries included.

They are the way the world works. They are the “bad news” of Romans 1. That’s why Peter puts this command to abstain from them with the call to live as aliens and strangers.

The world gives in to these desires.  Christians must not give in, or we lose the war.

Don’t give in.

I remember a time not too long ago that I gave in to gluttony.

Our family sat down to a delicious spaghetti dinner (one of my favorites).  Towards the end of the meal I got up and fixed myself a second heaping plate that I absolutely did not need.
I knew I didn’t.  I had a fleshly lust arise within me that told me that the second plate would make me happy.  I was stressed and frazzled, and I let myself listen to the internally-sourced lie that I deserved another plate after a long day of meetings and sermon writing.

The world says, “You deserve a break today, Matt.” “Pamper yourself.”  “You deserve the best.”  I saw a banner at Wal-Mart that said, “Submit a little, rebel a lot.”  It said that! And that night, I swallowed it–literally.  And there was a little battle in my soul’s war that was lost.

Now, you might think that that is a little thing–and quite natural, for me to want that second plate and extra plate.

But that’s just the point.  It is natural to sin.  It is natural to have desires for things I should not have.

God is calling us, as Christians in 2014, to abstain from those. TO NOT DO WHAT COMES NATURALLY!

To live differently.  To not fit in and to not give in.

What is it that wars against your soul these days?  Write it down on the back of your bulletin with a renunciation of it.

It might be gluttony like it was for me. Or it could be something completely different.

What desires are natural for you, but must be resisted in your ongoing war with sin?

The world says to us, “follow your heart” as if our heart was an infallible guide.

Instead, we should be saying to our hearts, “Follow the Lord.”

“...abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.”

Do you have an ongoing war with sin?  Or have you just given in?

Write down your enemy that you need to kill. I’ll give you a few seconds...

Agapatoi, don’t give in.


#3.  DO GOOD DEEDS.  V.12

“Live such good lives [literally: excellent, honorable, beautiful lives] among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds [literally: excellent, honorable, beautiful deeds] and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

Peter will go on to give practical examples of this principle at work in different kinds of relationships: civilian, work, and marriage. Those relationships may not always be with the best of people–unbelievers that have a grudge against you just for living differently!

And that’s what our culture has become in 2014. There is a growing bias against Christianity at least in some areas.

And we need to prepare for how we are going to act when people don’t like us.

Christianity used to have a favored status in the United States.

I’m not saying that we were ever a Christian nation. I don’t know exactly what that means. A nation doesn’t have a heart. A nation can’t receive Christ.

But we had a Christian heritage. A nation with many Christians. And a nation that had Christian assumptions, Christian presuppositions.

Americans liked Christians and assumed a kind of cultural Christianity (for good or ill).

But that day is, in many ways, over.

And instead of moaning and whining about it, or trying to vote it back into existence somehow, we, instead, need to think of ourselves as aliens and strangers warring against the flesh with righteousness and good deeds so that some day those slanderous mouths against us will be silenced. Do you see what I’m saying?

Do you remember a few weeks ago, I said that the campus ministry InterVarsity had been de-recognized by the California state universities. And it was because they required the student leaders to believe the teachings of Christianity.

Well, that’s going to be the new normal. We need to get our heads around that. Unless there is a revival (for which we can pray) and gospel transformation of many people,  this is the sort of thing we can expect in the future.

But here’s the good part. It doesn’t change anything. The InterVarsity Christians are just going to get more creative. They’re just going to keep on doing what they were doing and living out Christianity before the watching world.

It doesn’t change Christianity. We were always supposed to be a pilgrim people.

“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 “day God visits us” in v.12 is either the day that God visits a person with salvation or when God brings judgment.  Both will be present at the Second Coming of Christ.

Peter is saying, live your life before unbelieving humanity in such a way that over time they will see that there is something good and different about you.  You don’t fit in and it is good.  And on the day that God visits, there will be just judgment for those who saw your life and still did not believe.

And for others, there will be salvation because they saw your good deeds and came to praise a God who could do something miraculous.

Because it is miraculous when we abstain from sinful desires and do good things!  That’s God at work in us to will and to do His good pleasure!  If you have any measure of victory in the war against sin, that’s God!  And others may see it and come to believe the gospel.

Because they are watching, you know.  Peter got these words (I’m pretty sure) from the Lord Jesus Himself who said, “Let your light so shine before men that they see you good deeds and praise you and really give you credit for being such a good person”–NO!!  “Praise your Father” who made your holiness and good deeds possible through His grace!

That’s the goal–the ultimate glorification of God.

And we get there by doing good deeds.

Notice the progression.  First, recognize that you are dearly loved by God Himself  and an alien and a stranger who doesn’t belong here.

Then, secondly, internally fight the war with sinful desires. The soul war.

Then, finally, externally let your light shine with good deeds.

God is saying to you today in 2014, to live a good life.  Do good deeds.

Do morally praiseworthy things:
sacrifice something for someone
help someone
pray for someone
pray with someone
minister to someone at work
do your job really really well when no one is looking!
call someone to encourage them
keep your promises
forgive someone
apologize to someone
stand up for someone who is being picked on or talked about.

Do good deeds.  And do them in such a way that you stick out as a Kingdom citizen who is sold out to Jesus Christ so that He gets the glory on the day He comes back to visit us.

Maybe right now God is laying a good deed on your heart. Write it down on your handout sheet. Don’t let this pass.  Don’t go a day, or more than two, before you do it.

Let me give you a second to write it down with a prayer to live a good life before your unbelieving neighbors. ....

Brothers and sisters, God loves you.  Here’s what He wants from you in 2014:

Don’t fit in.  Don’t give in.  Do good deeds.