Everyone has a past. Each of us can recall aspects of our life experiences that have taught us lessons, brought us pain, or caused us to feel embarrassed. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you were given the opportunity to go back in time and live your life over?
The good news is that in Christ, we have been made a new creation and a line has been drawn with our past. Through Him, we aren't who we used to be. We have been granted a new name and an identity that isn't anchored in our mistakes, failures, embarrassments, or old nature. Still, sometimes we struggle with issues from our past that resurface again in our present. What kind of line is Christ inviting us to draw with our past? How is the Holy Spirit empowering us to live, no longer for ourselves, but for Christ in the present?
I. Set your hope on the grace of Jesus Christ
The letters that the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to write aren't very long compared to some of the other books of the Bible, but they're packed with helpful counsel and content for believers of all eras. In the midst of looking at the content that's shared in these passages, it becomes clear that Peter was a man of action. In his role of leadership in the early church, Peter was someone who strongly encouraged believers to do something with their faith. He wanted to see those who were under his care or influence actually putting their faith into practice.
Even as we look at this section of his letter, we see Peter encouraging believers to do the right thing, not only with their bodies, but also their minds. This is helpful to notice because the actions we commit with our hands have a direct connection to what we welcome into our thinking or allow our minds to dwell on.
The counsel we're given here as followers of Jesus Christ is to first of all prepare our minds for action. We're being challenged to not just be people who dwell in the muddy waters of theories and speculation, but to use our minds in an active manner.
But, as we well know, there are plenty of things that challenge or even inhibit us from using our minds in an active and healthy way. Peter reminds us to be "sober-minded." A sober-minded man is someone who yields their mind over to the Holy Spirit, and as a result, their mind is disciplined, focused, and morally straight. I'm often asked my opinion on certain drugs, drinks, medicines, hypnosis, and images that are meant to entice or arouse. One of my main reasons for not wanting to welcome these things into my life is because I lump them together into things that have the capacity to inhibit my desire to be a sober-minded follower of Christ.
Instead of yielding our minds over to competing affections, Peter encourages us to be hopeful people. Specifically, we're challenged to set our hope on Jesus Christ and the grace He delights to bring into our lives. I think this is particularly good counsel when something comes your way that seems to have a depressive effect. Our hope isn't in our circumstances. Our hope is in Christ.
II. Don't conform to the passions of your old nature
Peter goes on to challenge the readers of his letter. He encourages us to see ourselves in a new light. Specifically, we're reminded that we are children of God who have the privilege of living in obedience to Him. This is the kind of advice that sounds quite similar to the directions Jesus gave the apostles just before He returned back to Heaven.
Instead of living in obedience to our sin nature or the shameful ways of this world, we're encouraged to live as obedient children of God.
I don't know about you, but I know for me this tends to be one of the biggest struggles I face as someone who truly desires to follow Jesus and grow in my relationship with Him. Peter speaks of the temptations of this world as passions that we gave into when we were living in ignorance. Now that we've been shown the light, we're challenged not to go back to the very things Jesus rescued us from. But let's be honest. Those things still tempt us.
Gratefully, we haven't been called to face temptation without help. It's been said that temptation tends to fall into three primary categories; the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. We have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit to begin seeing those lusts and boasts for what they really are. They make false promises to soothe our hearts, when all they really want to do is destroy our lives. In Christ, we can see this now.
III. Walk in Spirit-empowered holiness
So what are we supposed to do? How do we draw the line between the old life we used to live and the new life we've been blessed with in Christ? According to this passage, we're encouraged to walk in holiness, just as Christ is holy. The way we conduct ourselves in this world is to be empowered by the Holy Spirit and reflective of Christ who has granted us His name and a place in His family.
In a related way, we're encouraged here to conduct ourselves with a healthy form of fear as well. It's helpful for you and me to recognize that God the Father holds us accountable to Him. He sees how we conduct ourselves and He has the power to intervene in our lives, however He chooses to. We're cautioned to remember that, partly so we will learn to revere and respect the Lord, and also so we will be mindful not to willfully take our lives in a direction that is in direct opposition to the will of God.
Conversationally, all believers would probably admit that this is one of the primary goals they have for their life, to walk in obedience to the Lord. I desire that and you probably do as well. But there's two very different ways Christians have tried to approach this objective. One approach is damaging to your faith and testimony and the other approach is helpful. The difference between the two is the strength you seek to rely on for the help you need.
If I rely on my strength to empower my obedience, I'll become a proud, rule-keeping Christian who develops a pattern of looking down on others who don't keep my arbitrary standards as well as I'm convinced I'm keeping those standards. I'll also begin to experience despair when I stumble, and a hesitancy to confess my sin because it will challenge my sense of identity to do so. But if I rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to work within me, I won't develop an unhealthy dependence on my flesh. I'll maintain hope in the midst of my struggles and I'll be willing to confess my sin because my sense of identity and well-being won't be anchored in my personal abilities or self-reliance.
IV. Know that you were ransomed
Our identity isn't anchored in our flesh. Our new sense of identity is found in who we are in Jesus. Peter wanted believers to remember this, probably in part because he could testify to what it was like to forget it. As believers in Jesus, he encouraged us to know something about what Jesus did for us. He wanted us to know for certain, and regularly remember, that we have been ransomed from the futile life we inherited from our forefathers. We inherited a sinful nature that bound us like prisoners, but Jesus ransomed us. He paid for our freedom with His own blood.
Knowing that we're that precious to our Lord, what kind of impact should that have on how we see ourselves? What kind of value should we start to place on our own lives if Christ valued us enough to do this for us?
Not long ago I was talking to a family member who had temporarily forgotten this. I prayed with her and encouraged her to remember once again just how much she is loved by Jesus.
V. Love one another
And as people who are loved by Christ, we're encouraged to practice that kind of love toward each other. We're invited to be sincere toward each other, and love one another from a pure heart.
God, who is loving by nature, chose to show us love in Christ, even when we weren't making ourselves very easy to love. Likewise, I'm certain that we have all made it challenging at times for others to love us, and others have made it challenging to love them. But we're called and empowered to love as we have been loved. Without a list of pre-requisites or conditions. Without pretense.
During the past few weeks, there have been some majorly debilitating weather events in Texas and Florida. I saw a news story published by the Washington Times the other day that said Christians outpaced FEMA in the amount of aid they provided in the immediate aftermath of the storms. I thought this was a rather contemporary application of the concept being described in this passage. We love one another in active and tangible ways because Christ loved us in active and tangible ways first. (Source: The Washington Times)
Through Jesus, we're invited draw a line with our past. Our hopes, obedience, strength, and love are now anchored in Him. The futility and ignorance that once enveloped us has been robbed of its power as we've been graced with new life in Jesus Christ.
© John Stange, 2017