Sunday, May 05, 2013

Sermon: 1 Peter 1: 13-21 God's True Grace... makes us Ransomed, Holy Children

I wonder if you’ve ever watched Family Fortunes on TV. They ask one hundred people some questions and you have to guess the four or five most popular answers. If the question was ‘Sentences most said in the home by parents’ I wonder if this would be one of the top answers: “So long as you’re in this house, you’ll live under our rules.” I know in our house we heard that one a few times... It flows from the fact that the parents are in charge of the household, and anyone else in the house has to get in line.

Peter is writing to a group of Christians who are scattered across modern day Turkey. They’re all new Christians, having previously been Gentiles (not Jews), so Peter writes to encourage them by showing them what the Christian faith is all about - God’s true grace, as we saw last week.

As he builds on the foundation of last week’s celebration of the resurrection of Jesus and what it means for us, he now moves on to the Christian’s new relationship with God as Father, and what that will look like in what we do. The heart of the passage is found in verse 17. ‘If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.’ If you call on God as Father, what will it look like? Peter says we’ll be in reverent fear.

Now I know that in a gathering of this size that some people may not have had a good experience of earthly fathers. To even hear the word can make you nervous, take you back to your childhood. And Peter says that our relationship is to be characterised by fear? To fear a bad earthly dad is right and proper - but to fear God?

But what Peter calls us to is ‘reverent fear.’ This isn’t blind fear; this isn’t the fear you may have known in the past; rather this is reverent fear - respectful fear, honour, perhaps even joyful fear. Now why is this? First of all, did you hear how God is described there? ‘the one who judges all people...’ God our Father is the judge of all, everyone we meet, even us.

Now when we hear that our Father judges impartially, according to deeds, what reaction does that bring in you? This isn’t just a GCSE practical exam; not just a home baking competition; but the whole of your life. How would you fare in such a judgement? What do your deeds and mine say about us? Would you be confident in the judgement by yourself? Would you be happy to stand before the judgement seat?

Yet the impartial judge is our Father. And Peter doesn’t tell us to live our lives in slavish, total, eternal, never-ending fear. Rather, in light of who God is, we’re to ‘live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.’ As we saw last week, the Christian, is in exile - we’re not at home with the Lord yet; we’re on the journey towards our home, we’re in this foreign and hostile enemy world.

Yet even now, even when we’re exiles, we are chosen exiles (or elect exiles) - as we call God Father, so we’re in his family, we’re his children. Peter urges us to live in the light of our relationship - to live like our Father (so long as you’re in my house...). That’s what he says in verse 14. ‘Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance...’ Imagine the situation where a tearaway teenager is adopted, given a new family and new relationships. Would it be appropriate for them to continue to live as they had before, when they were running wild? Not at all - they now fit into the family; the old desires wouldn’t be appropriate. In the same way, as children of our heavenly Father, we’re called to turn away from our former desires. They may still come, but we’re to resist them, not to be conformed by them.

Instead, Peter says, ‘as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct, for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”’ We call on God as Father - but we discover that he has first called us into relationship with him. It’s not that we have chosen God, but that he has chosen us - not just to be saved, but to come into relationship with him, to become more like him.

Now that word holy might give you certain ideas or impressions - a holier than thou attitude or whatever. But in the context, it means the opposite of those sinful desires - to do what God wants us to do; to copy God’s pattern. That’s what God had told the Israelites in the Old Testament (Leviticus quotation), and he still calls his people to be holy, separate, distinct.

It’s not easy, it doesn’t come naturally - those desires want to take us off course. Imagine you’ve a car that keeps dragging off to one side - when you got it fixed, you wouldn’t keep edging off to the side; you’d be better able to go straight ahead. Now at this point in the letter, Peter doesn’t give us detailed instructions of what it will look like to live a holy life (we’ll get to that in a couple of weeks’ time) - but for now, he recognises that the battle for holiness begins, not with our deeds, but in our minds. Verse 13: ‘Therefore prepare your minds for action, discipline your selves; set all your hope in the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.’ Prepare your minds for actions - what you think affects how you will act. Your deeds are like the flowers of the seeds you sow in your mind.

What you think matters. That’s why Peter has been helping us see the truth that we’re the Father’s children, called to be holy. But as you hear this truth you might still be troubled by your deeds. Your conscience cries out as you recall those incidents (big and small) when you have followed the evil desires; when you’ve not been holy; the fear becomes real. It’s not enough just to tell you to start to be holy now - what of the past?

Throughout the letter, we’ll see that Peter links what Jesus has done to our position, and none more so than here. God has called us to be his holy children - but that’s only possible because of what the Lord Jesus has done for us. We live in reverent fear as we are brought face to face with the great cost of our rescue. Verse 18: ‘you know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.’

The other day there was a news report of a WI meeting in England where the speaker was to talk about pirates. The ladies decided to all dress up as pirates, which was fine, until the speaker began to talk of his experience of being captured and held by real life Somali pirates. Every so often you hear of people being captured and the high ransom price being demanded - £3 million is the going rate. But when it came to ransoming us, the price was infinitely more important. The things that this world counts so important and values as precious - silver and gold - they’re perishable; they’re worthless. It’s not possible to pay for salvation. The chequebook couldn’t cover the cost.

The precious blood of Christ - not just a diabetes pinprick or a pint of transfused blood - but the full and total death of Jesus as he bled and died on the cross - this was the price of our ransom, like the Passover Lamb, which died instead of the firstborn to bring freedom. And so as we gather today around the Lord’s table, we marvel at the lengths that God went to in order to bring us into his family. Through the death of Jesus we are ransomed, given freedom from our slavery, welcomed into God’s family.

God’s true grace makes us ransomed, holy children - so be who you are, as you trust and hope in this great God.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 5th May 2013.

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