1 Therefore… (1 Peter 1:13-23) Last week we looked at 1 Peter 1, verses 3-9, and we paid special attention to the living hope that comes from Jesus’ resurrection. That hope features our inheritance of eternal life: a life that’s imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. By way of introducing this morning’s continuation of Peter’s teaching in that same letter, I thought I’d provide a little illustration I saw on the Internet that I found helpful. It was a photo of an adorable, very innocent looking chocolate lab reclining on a doggie bed. But if you look closely you can see a couple of white cat paws and part of a kitty face peeping out from beneath said dog. The caption underneath reads ‘No, I haven’t seen the cat.’ In some vague way this made me think of what happens sometimes in our assigned Sunday lectionary. A key transition from last week’s epistle reading to this week’s appears to have been ‘buried under the dog’, but I’ve taken the liberty of moving the dog so we can get a more complete picture. So instead of verses 17-23 of 1 Peter, the epistle reading we just heard goes from verse 13 through verse 23. I felt that the missing kitty was just a little too important not to include. Why? Well, for one thing the very first word in verse 13 is the word ‘Therefore’. Whenever we see ‘therefore’ leading off a paragraph in the Bible, generally it’s wise for us to take heed of what follows, because it is a teaching. After all that delicious stuff about eternal life, and a living hope, and purity, and permanence, and praise to the author of it all; after hearing all those benefits of being the resurrected Christ’s apprentices—we now we receive directions. This is an important little cat. Peter writes: ‘Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.’ Okay? He’s saying, ‘Prepare to mobilize! Apply some personal discipline, and perhaps most of all, set your eyes of hope on the amazing things that are going to happen when Jesus returns.’ Peter’s directions for us can be divided into two parts. The first involves attitude, and the second involves action. And when we change our attitude in response to the reality of the resurrection and the promise of eternal life, Peter’s saying that this, in turn, includes two parts. The first is a mindset of self-discipline. This is an easy one to misinterpret. When you think of self-discipline, what’s the first picture that comes to mind? For me it all has to do with exerting will power; you know, clenching your teeth and saying, ‘I will not eat that chocolate, I will not drink that beer, I will not notice that woman.’ In fact the Greek word interpreted here as ‘self-discipline’ actually means sobriety. What Peter’s prescribing is for us not to become intoxicated with the world’s distractions and vices. It’s about staying spiritually focused instead of indulging ourselves in things that corrupt and addict. Because, among other things, these run the danger of invading, or even supplanting, our nourishing relationship with God. They’re the spiritual equivalent of junk food, or worse. It goes along with that whole purity thing Peter talks about earlier on in the first chapter. Our inheritance in God’s kingdom is one of purity, kept for us in heaven itself, and if we’re 2 really going to honestly pray that the Father’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, it’s sensible to attend to this. We live in a day and age of addictions that threaten to consume us. And the antidote to these is the power and proximity of God. For practical help in this we need look no further than that wonderful book we spent some time studying a few weeks ago: Apprenticeship with Jesus, from about Day 23 onward. When it comes to self-discipline, where attitude meets action is in exercising the spiritual disciplines that keep us close to the Lord and thriving on the vine, relying on His energy and power to keep us ‘spiritually sober’. The more we practice, the more natural and fulfilling they become. The second attitude Peter exhorts us to adopt is hope. Specifically, he says, ‘set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.’ Here Peter doesn’t re-list all the anticipated rewards that we heard about last week. Rather, he talks generally about the grace that will be ours at Jesus’ Second Coming. That phrase ‘when he is revealed’ simply means ‘when he returns.’ He’s not saying, ‘Remind yourself every now and again; he’s saying, ‘Set all your hope on it!’ Don’t hold back! Throw caution to the wind and live like it’s really going to happen, because it’s really going to happen! I spent several years with Jesus, and I know that when he makes a promise you can take it to the bank. It’s a sure thing, and it should impact absolutely everything we think, do and say.’ In fact the tense of the verb Peter uses conveys a meaning that urges us to hope for it as if it were already a present reality. It is a done deal. (Are you convinced yet? If not I could pound on this a while longer… You do know I’ve only covered one verse so far… Time to postpone your lunch reservations.) Okay. Now we’ve heard about attitude; let’s get into the action part. In vv. 14-16 Peter writes, “Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, 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.’” Now, I know what you’re thinking. Half of you are thinking ‘Boring…’ And the other half are thinking, ‘Wait a minute, I thought this was all about grace! You mean I have to be holy too? I’m doomed.’ Let’s make an important distinction here. Peter’s not calling anyone to be perpetually flawless. He’s not recommending that we walk around in a bubble of piety with our palms pressed neatly together precisely in front of our sternums. Then we presumably wouldn’t even need grace. Think of it this way: When God gives us new life, if we’re tuned in God also gives us a new desire for spiritual cleanness. It’s like a hot shower after a two-week backpacking trip. When we’re given this new life, our new desire is to conform to a higher standard. In effect, to clean up. Instead of being shaped by our lusts, and our addictions, and our self-centeredness, we want to be shaped by healthy and life-giving things. This is what Paul meant when he wrote: ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ It’s not only about who our new Master is and what he offers us, but it’s about being united with Him in such a way that we want what He wants. We’re given that 3 transfusion of the blood of Christ that makes us want more of the healthy blood and less of the tainted blood. Peter expands on this in verse 17, in which he says, ‘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 (that is, during your stay on this earth as it now exists).’ Okay? If you recognize Him as Father, respect Him as such, and accept the fact that we’re all on a level playing field. No room for unjustified pride here. Peter then says that we were ransomed from the futile ways—the self-defeating circle of futility—that we inherited from our ancestors. The game has changed! God himself, through His incarnate Son, paid a ransom for us. The outworking, the judgment, the karmic debt, that cosmic law requires for immeasurable sin and depravity over the millennia, was paid in full by the precious life-giving blood of Christ. The sins were blotted out by the sacrifice of the sinless one. In verse 20 Peter proclaims that the Cross isn’t a divine afterthought; it’s not the implementation of Plan B when plan A failed, but rather that God foreknew that this day would come. God saw the trajectory of human behavior, and the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were unified in planning and carrying out the solution that would utterly defeat the oppressive reign of sin and death. Jesus is the solution. And in verse 21 Peter says, ‘Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.’ As we learned so clearly during Holy Week, the work didn’t end at the Cross. It came to completion with the establishment of the proof of its success: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Through the resurrection, through this verification that God succeeded in what God had set out to do, we’ve now come to trust in God, and our faith and our hope are set on Him. This begs from us an action critical for the lost people of the world: giving our testimony. Our hope speaks volumes to a world in a desperate quest for hope. Indeed two chapters later Peter urges us to ‘Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that’s in you.’ Finally, there’s one more action Peter prescribes in our passage. It’s one that was emphasized over and over again by Andy Stanley in our series, Christian: It’s Not What You Think. When done right this action also stands as a testimony—probably the greatest testimony—to a distrusting world. And, tragically, it’s the one that we seem to have the biggest struggle following through on. Peter says, ‘Now that you’ve purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.’ Do you know what he’s talking about? He’s talking about Christians, disciples of Jesus, loving each other. Really thinking and behaving like they love each other. And not just thinking and behaving, but even feeling love for each other. ‘Love one another deeply from the heart.’ And here we are back once again at the beginning of all this: To succeed in this we need to be attached to the vine. Because that’s where all the real love comes 4 from. Sometimes we just don’t have it in us to feel love for each other. That’s why we pray, first thing in the morning (at least if you’re doing daily devotions out of the Prayer Book), ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.’ It’s from a clean heart and right spirit that real love flows, and only God can dispense it without fail. We need to pray for it. We need to pray rightly for it. Kind of like one I saw the other day titled ‘A Woman’s Prayer’, which said, ‘I pray for wisdom, to understand a man; love, to forgive him; and patience for his moods; because if I just pray for strength, I’ll probably beat him to death!’ How important is it that Jesus’ apprentices love each other? Important enough that Jesus said, ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ Think of the converse of this: ‘If you don’t have love for each other, how will they really know, how can they trust, that you’re my disciples?’ Okay? This is the identifying attribute of the disciple of Jesus. It’s the secret code, the password and the handshake all in one. And one of the most difficult, yet crucial questions each of us might ask ourselves is: How are we doing with this? Do we at times gossip about fellow churchgoers? Do we refuse to sit in the same room with someone with whom we disagree? Do we compete with each other rather than joining forces on behalf of God’s kingdom? And this doesn’t just refer to individuals, but to congregations, denominations, and even whole communions. Both Peter and Jesus say that this simply won’t cut it. It’s testimony in the wrong direction, and it’s a huge factor in so many people’s disillusionment with the church. As a witness, genuine love speaks louder than anything else. So drawing the lens back, what’s Peter telling us this morning? He’s telling us that apprenticeship with Jesus requires something from us. It’s not just a status that we sit back and enjoy, but a life that we actively live. It involves both attitude and action. And Peter’s conclusion in today’s passage is intentionally both uplifting and a little sobering, because it gives us both assurances and expectations. Peter reminds us, ‘You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.’ ‘You have been born anew.’ As we go out from this place this morning, may we live into our new birth, our new identities, our new lives. With God’s help and in God’s power, may we more and more conform not to our former desires, but to those of the One who is both perfectly pure and perfectly loving. Amen.