1 PETER 1:13-25
I have a secret to share with you this morning. Lean in a little closer. I’m not perfect! You don’t seem as surprised to hear this as I thought you would be (lol). (Don’t worry – I am fully aware that I have many flaws.) Another part of that secret might surprise you – you are not perfect either! So how do we, as very imperfect people, live out this call to be different, this call to be holy?
This is our second week looking at the letter the apostle Peter wrote to encourage and instruct new Christians dispersed throughout what is now known, as Turkey and the Middle East. These are some of the very earliest Christians who have heard and believed in this man, Jesus; who have heard and believed in the resurrected Christ. They are striving to live into his teachings in a world that is very different from those teachings. They are resident aliens, strangers in a strange land. Rather than having a national identity that defines them, their identify now is found in Christ.
In the passage we heard read today, Peter issues a call to Holy Living and he begins to describe in greater detail how Christians are called to be different. “Prepare your minds, discipline yourselves, don’t be conformed, be holy.” That does sound good. Reading on into verse one of chapter two: “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.” I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find these sort of passages a little daunting. Some days I do pretty good at those things, but other days I fail miserably. Sometimes, in the past, when I was younger and my faith was not as strong and sure as it is now, I would read verses like this and I would wonder if I should just give up on the whole Christianity thing. Because I knew then, as I know now, that I will never be “all that”. I know that I will never quite attain, never be perfect. If you have ever felt that way yourself I want to offer you some encouragement today, just as Peter offered encouragement then. For, obviously I did not give up on the Christianity thing, instead I realized the important thing is not looking to myself and what I am able to do, but looking to Christ in whom all things are made new. It is Christ, who was destined before the foundation of the world, who is raised from the dead, it is his faith, HIM, the living and never dying word, that makes all the difference. And we are being made new, not because of our good behavior, but because of Christ. This encourages me.
But let me offer you a little something more by way of a small grammar lesson. In this passage from 1 Peter, there is a grammatical thing that happens, that if you know about it, brings the passage to life. So, the first thing I want to do is introduce you to a grammatical term (anybody here a grammar nazi?) I never fully understood grammar (still don’t) but it was a big topic in seminary when we studied Hebrew and Greek because knowing something about grammar can give a passage of scripture deeper meaning. So here is the term: indicative. The indicative verb tells us in this passage, that something has happened. One way you could think of this is to think of a wedding ceremony, in which the clergy says, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” That pronouncement ends one thing and begins another; something new has come through the spoken word. What follows is different, affected, and changed because of it. The imperative defines what that is.
In this passage from 1 Peter we find indicative words of grace. God pronounces that we are holy, we are ransomed, we are new people in Christ. One thing ends and another begins. What follows is the imperative that tells us how we are different, affected, and changed because of it. Now here is the tricky part. The part where we sometimes get hung up, it isn’t our action that makes us holy. It is the grace of God through the perfect sacrifice of Christ.
You have been given new birth in Christ. That’s who you are. You have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus. That’s what you have. You have an eternal, lasting inheritance. That’s what you’ve been given. That’s who you are. That’s what you have. That’s what you’ve been given. Therefore, because of this, because we have this, we can now go and be God’s people. We can be people of hope, we can be people of faith, we can go and be God’s people. It is because we are God’s children, it is because of Christ that we can live in faith as Christians. Try not to get it backwards. We aren’t God’s children because God finds no flaw in us, we aren’t God’s children because we follow Christ in perfect obedience. We don’t. Instead, we are God’s children because of what Christ did. We are recipients of God’s ridiculous grace. That is who we are. That, then is the basis for our actions. That sure and certain knowledge leads us to action, leads us to desire to be different, it calls us to be different.
So what do we do with this understanding that we are already new in Christ? How do we react to that? I would like to suggest that a very good way to respond to ridiculous grace is with ridiculous gratitude. When you think about it, is there really any other way? And that gratitude then may lead us to changed lives, new habits, a desire to let go of envy, a life that is more holy.
There is a song that is popular right now, sung by Christian musicians, Rend Collective called, “Counting Every Blessing.” The words include: “I was blind, now I’m seeing in color. I was dead, now I’m living forever. I had failed, but you were my redeemer. I’ve been blessed beyond all measure. I was lost, now I’m found by the father. I’ve been changed from a ruin to treasure. I’ve been given a hope and a future. I’ve been blessed beyond all measure. I am counting every blessing, counting every blessing. Letting go and trusting when I cannot see. I am counting every blessing, counting every blessing, surely every season you are good to me.”
Unfortunately, we can sometimes fall into a rut that is the opposite of counting every blessing and instead involves counting every infraction. Counting every wrong. Counting every stumble. Counting every misstep, counting. Not just our flaws, but the flaws of others, too.
What if we chose not to do that? What if we decided that 2019 is the year of ridiculous gratitude. Gratitude that lets us celebrate – that we celebrate who we are in Christ. What if we take time to marvel at all we have in Christ. What if we made this the year of counting blessings? Could we do that?
Could it be that the hard part has already been done? Really! And that our part is to accept that with gratitude. And could it be that in accepting we change? When you become a Christian you are made holy, in baptism and communion we are powerfully reminded that we are God’s. We are set free in Christ and when you are free in Christ, you are truly free. You don’t have to act under that old order. You don’t have to be weighed down by your past, by your flaws, by your failures. You are already holy, you are already redeemed, you are already forgiven, you are already being renewed, you are already implanted with the imperishable seed. You already belong to God through Christ. The precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. You aren’t just called to be different – you ARE different. Let that pronouncement work into your heart and into your life. Friends that is good news! Let us respond with great joy and great gratitude.