Growing in the New Life

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The new life in Christ has ethical ramifications.  Being born again means that you should cast off certain behaviors and earnestly seek God’s righteousness.  This is the two-faceted exhortation which begins 1 Peter 2.

On the one hand, those who have been given new and everlasting life by the word of God must, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind” (1 Pet. 2:1).  Like other NT ‘vice lists’ this is a representative group, not exhaustive–that is, the apostle surely would want believers to throw off greed and lust as well, though he doesn’t mention them.  It is also a list that focuses more on the attitudes of the heart than on the external actions that emerge from these attitudes.  And it is a list of sins that particularly would disrupt the brotherly love that Peter has called for Christians to show one another.

But Christian ethics isn’t just about what you cast off; it’s also about what you take on.  “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (vv.2-3).  The sinful attitudes of the heart are to be replaced with the goodness of God, with His Word and the spiritual growth brought by the Spirit.  Peter is not suggesting here that the believers he’s writing to are immature, but he’s using the image of the new birth to urge believers to seek spiritual growth as earnestly as babies crave the milk that helps them grow.

All of this is predicated upon the work of God in the life of the Christian.  God is good, the source of all goodness and life.  You have tasted God’s goodness; let that taste drive you to more and more fulness in Him.

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The Technocracy Is Not Your Friend

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Recently, Pulpit and Pen posted about how a Christian is trying to organize others to get them censored on Facebook.  Now, I can understand why someone would be concerned about Pulpit and Pen, and my point is not to defend them.  But I think it is a mistake to appeal to the technocracy to silence voices we find objectionable.

Facebook, Twitter, and so on, the social media platforms I am here referring to as ‘the technocracy’, are all too willing to silence voices they don’t approve of–troublingly so.  They will suspend accounts for things like saying men aren’t women or linking to sermons they find disagreeable.  They’ve established themselves as valuable networking tools, and use their influence to shut down Christian and conservative views, and even liberals who don’t toe the line.  This is disturbing, not laudable.

Now, I don’t mean to make this bigger than it is.  Having your Facebook account cancelled is hardly persecution.  But it’s not fearmongering to say that this sort of practice forebodes worse things to come.

To Christians, and to anyone who’s not lock-step with the spirit of the age I say this: the technocracy is not your friend.  They don’t need any encouragement in their censorship program.  Appeal to them at your peril.  You could easily be next.

Imperishable

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The gospel message may seem small compared to the powers of this world.  American culture loves the display of grandiose wealth and extravagance by the elite figures of the entertainment industry, the wonders of technology, the allure of power.  When we look with the eyes of the world, the church (or at least the average church) may seem insignificant and out of touch, a relic of the past.

But appearance does not always equal reality.  Peter reminds Christians that their spiritual new birth is the mighty work of God, which grows from the seed of His word: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23, NIV).

This stands in start contrast to the pomp and prestige of the world: “For, ‘All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.’  And this is the word that was preached to you” (vv.24-25).

The splendor of the world passes away, but the word of God does not.  The glitz of Hollywood and the power of technocrats is dust, but the word of God endures.  God is eternal, and the gospel of God imparts everlasting life.

The church has a treasure the world cannot buy and cannot compete with–the gift of the word of God.

A Beating Heart

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Babies with beating hearts should be protected–even if they are still in their mothers’ wombs.  So thinks the state of Georgia; and they should be applauded.  None of the social issues in America today are more important than standing up to the wickedness of the abortion industry.

It took some courage to make this stand.  Certain parties in Hollywood have threatened them with a boycott if Georgia stands up for the most vulnerable.  Hollywood is powerful, and Mammon is one of the chief gods in their pantheon, greed is one of their defining languages; it makes sense that they would expect Georgia to shrink before the coercive arm of Mammon.

Georgia’s Governor Kemp did not feel that way.  “We protect the innocent, we champion, the vulnerable.  We stand up and speak for those unable to speak for themselves,” he said.

Of course, Georgia could have had a different governor.  Stacey Abrams, who lost the gubernatorial race to Kemp, has her own view of Georgia’s pro-life legislation: she called it “an abominable and evil bill”.

What can we say to such a morally bankrupt statement?

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20, NIV)

It’s not evil to protect a beating heart.  It’s not abominable to shelter the precious life of a baby.  Hollywood elites and liberal legislators may threaten and fume, and they get their way often enough–but the truth will stand.

A beating heart is worth protecting.

From the Heart

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One of the great tragedies of the history of Christianity is our division–within local churches, denominations, and the faith as a whole.  Truth matters, and we need to make a stand for the truth; yet divisions are hardly a good witness for the gospel.  After all, one of the repeated messages of the New Testament is the call for believers to love one another.

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22, NIV).

Love for the family of faith comes from the gospel.  God’s sanctifying work, which we receive by faith, gives us that love for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  As usual, the apostle Peter takes this redemptive reality and shows the ethical force: God has given you love for the church, so love the church.

And this love is not simply a matter of outward appearance.  God cares not only about behavior, but about our hearts.  He desires to form in us a heart-holiness, a heart-love that we then live out.

Love is the ethic of faith, the sign and witness of the work of God.  It begins at home, with the family of faith.  Christians, love one another.

A Road to Nowhere

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I have written before on troubling statements to come out of Union Theological Seminary, an institution that would at one time have been called a Christian school, but can hardly be given that label these days.  Earlier this month, journalist Nicholas Kristof did an interview with Union’s president, Dr. Serene Jones, for the New York Times.

Dr. Jones’s views highlight just how far the school has strayed from its original vision and from anything resembling Christian orthodoxy.  Her statements are also illuminating as yet another example of where we end up when we stray from the truth.

The interview might be characterized as a brief list of key Christian beliefs that Dr. Jones denounces.  She doesn’t believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ, the atonement (at least not in the biblical sense), the virgin birth, or even in the God of the Bible.

Where does such (un)faith lead?  Kristof asked, “What happens when we die?”  Dr. Jones answered,

I don’t know! There may be something, there may be nothing. My faith is not tied to some divine promise about the afterlife...

Theological liberalism is a road to nowhere.  Without the cross and resurrection of Jesus–the real cross and resurrection, the atoning death and bodily resurrection of the Son of God incarnate–there is no hope.  We are left with only this life and what we can make of it.  It is so tragic when people reject the gospel.

But God is real, God is strong, and His promises are good.  Christ is risen, and offers life eternal to all who trust in Him.  Christmas means light in our darkness, and Easter means hope unshakable.

The Lord in His Temple

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When Jesus came into Jerusalem on that holy week, He went to the temple and cleared it of merchants who’d taken up business there.  The gentle King who came riding on a donkey’s colt showed His authority and strength.  With force He cleansed the temple of the greed that had taken root; His judgment was severe: “‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘ “My house will be called a house of prayer,” but you are making it “a den of robbers”‘” (Matt. 21:13, NIV).

The picture is as simple as powerful; the religious leaders have gotten used to corruption, and Jesus shows the true heart of God–the place of prayer should not be a place of preying on the poor.  The gentle King is also strong to drive out wickedness and protect the needy.

But the more we contemplate it, the more intriguing this episode becomes.  For Jesus is the great high priest, and in His own way He is the greater temple–the meeting place of God and man.  Indeed, He will in this same week replace the temple, by making Himself the true sacrifice to which all of the sacrifices of the Old Covenant pointed.  He will render temple, priesthood, and sacrifices obsolete–for He is the fulfillment of all.  He is the one by whom we pray and in whom we are reconciled to God.

In cleansing the temple, Jesus shows us the heart of God, who has provided a place of reconciliation for sinners.

Praise be to Christ, our temple, priest, and sacrifice.

Palm Sunday

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The story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem begins holy week with such joy; yet the message of Christ’s love and compassion is only magnified by our understanding of what He entered Jerusalem to do for our salvation.

The King of Kings came into Jerusalem not on a warhorse, but on a donkey’s colt.  This was a deliberate gesture by Jesus, symbolic of His gentleness and compassion.  Matthew the evangelist recognized that Christ’s coming in this way to the city fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey'” (Matt. 21:5, NIV).

Here is the compassion of the Lord of all things.  He comes to us not with a flaming sword of wrath, but humbly and gently, bearing His message of grace.  He comes to bear Himself our sins upon the cross.  And there He will triumph, conquering Satan, sin, and death.

The crowds acted better than they knew to greet Him with the cry “Hosanna!”  ‘God, save!’ is what it means; and here came God their Savior, our God and Savior, to save us from our sins.

Hosanna!  Blessed is our Lord and King!

Before the Foundations

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It is hard to grasp the wonderful privilege of receiving the gospel message.  Prophets in ages past were given the message in part, but couldn’t discern the fulness.  Who could have anticipated that God would send His Son to be the Savior of the world?

God anticipated it.  God planned it, before there was even a world of lost men to save.  The Savior was foreknown, fore-ordained; the apostle Peter, speaking of Christ, says, “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake” (1 Pet. 1:20).

This may strike us at first as a rather strange passage; but think about what it says.  God planned our redemption from the beginning.  The wondrous work of Christ was in the mind of God before mankind’s fall from innocence.  God is so merciful and compassionate that He undertook this work of creation and redemption with full insight and knowledge.  Great is His love for us.

Because of Christ, chosen before the foundations of the earth, revealed now, we can know God (v.21).  Faith and hope are gifts that come to us in Christ, the gift of God to lost men and women.  If we only receive that gift, we may have this hope through all of life’s darkness and struggles, and know the God who loved us before He even brought us into being.

Reverent Fear

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The pursuit of holiness fits within a certain view of life–a serious view of life.  If we treat life trivially and think that our decisions don’t matter, if we think there is no accountability, then we will not be inclined to a diligent pursuit of righteousness.

But life is serious.  We are accountable.  The world may deny this, but Christians know it: “Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear” (1 Pet. 1:17, NIV).  This world is not our home, and this life is not ours to use as we see fit.  God is drawing us back to Himself, and we are to follow our Father in loving obedience.

Reverent fear isn’t a popular topic in a lot of churches these days; but it’s something we need.  Our heavenly Father is the God of the universe, the judge of all.  Sonship does not preclude reverence.  But it is not only knowledge of judgment that urges us to live seriously.  There is also gratitude, because our redemption wasn’t cheap.

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (vv.18-19).

Silver and gold.  These are the sorts of things the world thinks precious and imperishable.  But from the spiritual perspective these are just perishable things, the things of this world.  And blood–a perishable thing in this world, which represents human life (not regarded as particularly precious, if all our violence is any indicator)–well, the blood of Christ is precious.  His sacrifice will never lose its power.

We were bought with the blood of the Son of God.  We should live gratefully, in reverent fear.