Last week on Easter Sunday we focused on the resurrection of Jesus. We looked at how the resurrection of Jesus changed everything. People who encountered the resurrected Jesus were completely changed. One disciple in particular, Simon Peter, had abandoned Jesus in his hour of need, along with Jesus’ other disciples, and then went on to deny knowing Jesus three times. We shared last week that he likely experienced guilt, discouragement, despair, self-loathing, disappointment, fear. He was defeated, downcast, scared, cowering in a locked room. But when he encountered the risen Jesus his life was changed forever. Jesus forgave him, restored him, and filled him with God’s Holy Spirit. In Peter’s own first letter to Christian believers in the Bible, he is able to say, “praise be to God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth and living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Just like Peter every one of us can receive new birth or new life because Jesus is risen. New birth is more than just a fresh start on life, it is even more than just being forgiven of all our sins, as awesome as that it, God actually transforms us from the inside out. He gives us a new life. It means hatred and bitterness are replaced with love, anxiety is replaced with peace, our sorrow is replaced joy, and our loneliness is filled with God’s presence. And that is just the beginning. Living hope is the promise we have of eternal life with God.
Now that you have tasted this new life, having praised God with this wonderful Good News of Jesus’ resurrection, Peter continues in his letter to share with Christian believers what it means to live (or how not to live) our new life in Christ. Since we have received God’s gracious gift, now what? How should we live?
Be holy Because God is Holy
The first thing he says in verse 13 is “Prepare your minds for action.” He’s saying we need to be mentally prepared. Prepared for what? Prepared for action. We need to be to do whatever God asks us to do—ready to obey, follow, and speak. In the old life, we did whatever we wanted to do, whenever we wanted to do it. In the new life we have in Christ we are ready at all times to go and do what God wants. The Christian life isn’t about sitting back and watching life go by. It’s about sitting at the feet of Jesus, and when he reveals to us what he wants us to do we go and do it. Christians tend to have one of two problems, we either run around being so busy doing things Jesus never asked us to do (even though they may be good things) getting burned out because we fail to sit at the feet of Jesus, preparing our minds, praying, listening, getting ready. Or we sit at the feet of Jesus, and sit at the feet of Jesus, and sit at the feet of Jesus. We absorb his words from the Bible, we pray, and pray, but we never do the action part, actually being the hands and feet of Jesus.
If we are in neither of those camps we are in danger because our life has lost its focus on the one who has given us life and we have gone back to living it for ourselves. We have become a casualty of war by falling back into our old me-first lifestyle. Peter says we need to “be self-controlled” or self-disciplined is another word for this. Self-control means we don’t do everything that is available to us just because we can, instead we monitor and restrain our desires (whether they are material, sexual), anger, and words. I realize this is counter cultural because we live in a society where people would rather live by the motto, “if it feels good, do it,” which is incredibly self-centered and destructive. Without self-control we become pulled around like a horse with a bridle to every temptation that comes along. Two other times in Peter’s letter he writes about being self-controlled, the first reference is so we can pray (4:7), and the second time he says we need self-control because without it we will become a casualty to the devil who prowls around like a lion waiting to pick off the weak (5:8). Why would we desire self-control? It is because we are holding out for God’s best. The world and Satan are always going to work against God’s way, so we better be prepared and self-controlled.
Peter wrote this letter because he was concerned that Christians had received the gift of new life, but because of whatever hardships they were facing, some Christians had already become casualties. They returned to the lifestyle they lived before. Peter warns his readers in verse 14, “do not conform (or return) to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” In Peter’s second letter he was more blunt and crude. He said, “Of them [the people who return to their old lifestyle] the proverbs are true: "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud." (2 Pet. 2:22)
Now there’s a visual image for you. You won’t get that out of your brain for a while, trust me I’ve been working on this sermon all week and its still there. God has given us a new life, we are a new creation in Christ. The old is gone the new has come. Why go back to wallowing in the mud of our self-centered, it’s all about me lifestyle, going back to thinking and behaving the way we did before? If we do that we are right back to where we started. Right back into the problems we had in the first place. The problems Jesus saved us from. Rather God has given us a new life and living hope of eternal life so we will live for God.
Too often Christians become casualties to the temptations of our culture and to the lure of the devil. And pretty soon people can’t even tell us apart from anyone else. The most painful comment I ever received was from someone I had worked with for several years who one day said, “oh I didn’t know you were a Christian.” The reason it was so painful was because my life looked so much like everyone else around me that my faith wasn’t evident. Can people tell there is something different about you? The truth is, we’re not supposed to blend in, we’re not meant to conform to this world. We are called to be different because we have a new life in Christ.
The way Peter says it is by using God’s word in the OT, “be holy because I [God] am holy.”
We don’t talk much about God’s holiness to much anymore. We talk about how God is love, and he loves us, he sent his Son out of love. But we often forget to remember the holiness of God. God is complete moral purity, whose eyes cannot even look upon evil and sin. Just because God is now our Father and we are his children who can call him our Abba, our papa, or daddy doesn’t mean God is any less holy. He is still to be reverently feared. God is still a judge of sin. He holds us all accountable for all we’ve done. Peter reminds us that God is still holy and he still judges us each person’s work whether you are saved or unsaved. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we say “Our Father who art in heaven.” The relationship, God is our Father, we can relate to him like a child to a parent, but the next part we pray, “hallowed be your name.” Or holy are you God. We can have the tendency of taking our sin too casually. Oh well, Jesus will forgive me. That’s cavalier, arrogant. God is holy and he gives us new life so we will be holy.
Holy means we are set apart for God. We are called out to live for God, which means our lives will look different than those who still continue to live for themselves. When we say Jesus is my Lord. We are saying he’s the boss, he’s in control of my life. I have given it to him. I live the way he wants me to live, do the things he wants me to do. To be holy doesn’t mean we are perfect, it means we live for God. We are set apart for his use. The more we revert back to a self-centered lifestyle, the farther we are from the new life God has given us.
We Must Acts Like Citizens of God’s Kingdom
Because we are set apart for God, we are now strangers or foreigners living in this world because this world is no longer our home. We have become citizens of another kingdom. When I was born into this world they wrote out a birth certificate for me, Matthew Todd Stoll born on November 19th, 1972 to Ron and Connie Stoll at St. Mary’s Hospital, Kent County, Michigan. Because I was born in the United States that makes me a U.S. citizen. My citizenship is American. However once we receive the grace of Jesus Christ, who died and rose from the dead so we can be forgiven, we have received the new birth, we are born again. It is no longer my birth certificate which becomes the written document of greatest value for us, instead it is a new record. Can anyone tell us what that record is? Our name has been written in the lamb’s book of life in heaven, and we are now a citizen of God’s kingdom. We are still citizens of the U.S. and we need to follow the laws of the land and respect the government and its leaders (as we will discover in a couple of weeks), but our citizenship to God’s kingdom supersedes my citizenship here. In other words we need to live according to rules of God’s kingdom, which go above and beyond our U.S. laws.
Peter warns us to live like strangers in this world because we often become too attached to the things of this world, and what it offers us. People who live like this world is their home try to accumulate stuff, get it while you can mentality, they are jealous when someone has something they don’t have, they disregard their relationships with others, and are concerned about what other people think about them. When we think like a stranger passing through we don’t worry about stuff, or the economy, or what other people think of us.
NIV 1 Peter 2:1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.
That is what citizens of this world do, they act maliciously, they deceive, lie, they are hypocrites, saying one thing and doing another, they are jealous of what other people have, they slander people, gossip, stab them in the back. But that is not to be the case for us because we have been set free from those selfish, self-centered, sinful desires.
When we remember we are just passing through, it changes our entire perspective of life here. If I’m just passing through, what am I going to do in the short period of time I have here on this earth? What am I going to do with the relationships I have with Christians, knowing I will be with them forever (better get along now), and with the relationships I have with people who don’t know Jesus yet. Am I willing to share my faith knowing it could change their life forever?
Beginning in verse 18, Peter says we were redeemed from our empty life handed down to us from our ancestors. Redeemed is a slavery term meaning our freedom was purchased. He is saying our new life, our freedom, was purchased from the empty life, or the self-centered sinful lifestyle. The cost was very high, it cost the precious blood of Christ the lamb. Our freedom was bought with a high price, God’s own Son.
How Do We Live as Citizens of God’s Kingdom
Because we are born again we need to sincerely love for our brothers (and sisters), loving one another deeply, from the heart. In other words our love for each other is not superficial, a show, pretending as though we love. We really do love each other from the heart because Jesus placed that love there.
Peter knew what it was like to say he loved other believers but have his actions fail to demonstrate it. About ten years earlier the missionary Paul had written a letter to the same region, Galatia, and in his letter he mentioned how he had chastised Peter, this same Peter who wrote this letter, because the Christians were not loving each other. The Jewish Christians were not associating with the Gentiles Christians, and Peter fell into their trap. Paul called him on it. He wrote this about the event, NLT Galatians 2:11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong. 12 When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who don’t bother with circumcision. But afterward, when some Jewish friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these legalists would say. 13 Then the other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was influenced to join them in their hypocrisy.
When Peter wrote his letter he knew from personal experience what it meant to fall into peer pressure and walk away from brothers and sisters in Christ, failing to demonstrate true, genuine love. He learned that loving each other means being there for all believers, even if it isn’t the popular thing to do. He also learned there is no division among believers who truly love each other, there is no us and them, there is only one church.
Peter tells us we need to nurture that love. Just because we are given new birth, born again, doesn’t mean we are spiritually mature. Peter is writing to Christian believers, who are obviously not acting like citizens of the new kingdom. We are like newborn babies, we need to grow up in our salvation.
2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Too often we want to live in both worlds, straddle the fence, have our cake and eat it too. We pretend as though our actions, once we are a believer, aren’t really that important. But Peter is trying to remind us that they are very important.
Are we living as citizens of this earth, or as citizens of God’s kingdom? When people look at us do they see a person who is set apart living for God, with different values and priorities, or do we blend in with everyone around us? God says to us, be holy because he is holy.