We’re going to be looking at the themes of 1st John, and we’ll see various themes woven throughout the five chapters of first John. The chief theme that we’ll consider throughout 1st John is the theme of the love of God (1 John 1:3, 2:1, 5:13 NIV). We’ll also consider the themes of God’s light and the darkness, as well as freedom from sin and holy living.
First of all, we consider the theme of “God is light.” John himself encountered and witnessed Christ. It says that John walked and talked with Him. John heard it himself when Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12 NIV). He knew of God as one who was light, and there was no darkness in Him. In fact, John wrote in his gospel account: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (John 3:19-21 NIV). In other words, those who desire to distinguish themselves as Christians should recognize that God is light, and they need to walk in the light. And it doesn’t say that they walk in the light showing they’ve lived perfectly, instead it says they walk in the light to show that they’re willing to be honest about their deeds and life before God. They walk in the light. To me 1st John 1:5-7 expounds on this truth, making it more clear how it works, when one walks in the light. 1 John 1:5-7 says, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” So if we walk in the darkness, it’s like saying we don’t sin (v.8-10) and make God out to be a liar, but if we walk in the light and do sin, which does happen, we can confess those sins before God, in the light, and repent, and God’s light purifies us from all sin. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915) puts it quite well when it says, “The first fact upon which the light of God impinges in human life is sin; and the first test of walking in the light is the recognition and confession of this fact. Such confession is the first step into fellowship with God, because it brings us under the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus...”
This theme of light and darkness was very much a present part of my life as an early Christian. I walked in the light sometimes, and I walked in the dark sometimes. I sinned a lot as an early Christian. Many times the Holy Spirit was grieved within me and I could tell it. The Spirit led me many times to go on my knees before God and ask for forgiveness with tears in my eyes for the things I’d done. I engaged in lust and sinned in many ways, walking in the darkness. But I always came back into the light and asked for God’s forgiveness. God had become the ‘light of the world’ in my life, but I kept sneaking back into the darkness and sinning whenever I could. I wanted to fulfill the desires of my flesh. In fact, I was at a Christian concert once, and a charismatic woman turned to me during the service and said, “Justin, I saw a vision in which you were standing halfway in the light and halfway in the darkness, and you came all the way into the light of God. I don’t know if that means anything to you.” And it certainly did at the time. I’ve always remembered what she said. I was slowly learning in my early Christian life that I needed to walk in God’s light, confessing sin, and repenting, instead of walking in darkness.
Second we consider the theme of freedom from sin and holy living. 1st John 2:3 (NIV) says, “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands.” To know God through Christ is to keep the commands of God, and John continues by saying that we show our love for Jesus by living as Jesus lived in the world. 1st John 2:29 (NIV) says, “If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.” It is evidenced by our freedom from sin and our right living that shows that we as believers are born of God, meaning that we are true Christians, and truly born again believers. 1st John 3:4-6 (NIV) says, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” Once again we see a necessity for freedom from sin in our lives. The idea of continuing in sin seems to be on a long term basis, indicating that in the long run, those who continue in sin are showing they never really knew God, but those who live holy lives are showing they belong to God.
In my own life I’ve seen God strip away sin after sin from my life. And it all begin with God removing my addictions to alcohol, prescription pills, and illegal drugs. A year later, he removed cigarettes, a bit later he removed several forms of lust and sexual immorality. He has continued to slowly remove evil from my life, including things like gossip, more forms of lust, divisive attitudes, ungodly passions, lying, stealing, and many other sinful desires of the flesh. One of the most difficult sins to break free from was jumping into relationships that I knew God wasn’t wanting me to be in. But for all these things it’s been a progressive journey. It hasn’t often happened all at once. And that’s the context that these scriptures from John have to be taken. We as humans think in days, weeks, and months. God’s view is from the perspective of years, decades, centuries, and further. Sanctification is a slow process of growth out of sin. But if we aren’t conforming to God, and cooperating with the Spirit in freedom from sin, we’re showing that we don’t really belong to God at all.
Thirdly, we consider the love of God. One could say that the chief theme of 1st John is the love of God. 1st John is where we see the phrase, “God is love.” John as a writer focused on the love of God so much in his writings that the gospel of John is sometimes referred to as “the love gospel.” 1st John 4:7-8 (NIV) says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” We see that the source of love is God, and He is the one who provides for the ability of Christians to love one another. If a Christian is loving toward his neighbors, he has shown he has been born of God. If someone is not loving, they don’t know God, because God is literally described as the word “love.” God showed his love for his people by sending his only son Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for sin (1 John 4:9-10). According to the Reformation Study Bible (2015), “By giving us His Son, the Father introduced us to the perfect love and eternal life that the Father and the Son have always enjoyed.” This means that we as Christians have been granted access to the love of God found in the fellowship of the trinity, as the body of Christ and co-heirs with Christ, awaiting the hope of eternal life. Truly in Christ we have received great riches of love and eternal glory. Indeed, there are endless references to the love of God and love for neighbor in the epistle of 1st John including 1 John 2:5, 2:15, 3:1, 3:10-11, 3:14-18, 3:23, 4:16-21, and 5:2-3. The love of God is a chief motivator for all we do as Christians, and should be reflected back to God as love for Him, and reflected toward our neighbors as love for all people.
The love of God has been a constant in my Christian walk since I first got saved. The love of God and the power of the gospel of grace are what drew me to become a Christian. I was attending a small Baptist church that met in a junior high school auditorium in 2012. And I was taught a great deal about the love of God, and how much God wants us to come to Jesus Christ for salvation. So very simply I listened, and one service I received the gospel and the Holy Spirit. I gave my testimony and was baptized later. I wrestled with sins in my life and slowly learned how to love God and love my neighbor. Love was a difficult thing for me to learn. I’m not prone to be particularly loving. Actually, I can quite often be rather cold, distant, and disconnected from those around me. I can tend to have a rather negative outlook, and I tend toward seclusion much of the time. But I’ve slowly been learning over the past few years to slow down, and be vulnerable enough to love people. It’s been difficult and awkward, and often times when I pray I have to simply ask God to teach me how to love Him and love people. Sometimes I wonder if I even love God much or love others that much either! But slowly and surely I’ve seen love begin to develop in my heart and life. It’s not a particularly strong or deep love, but it’s growing. And I consistently ask God to give me a heart of holy love that pours out to others. Love is not as easy as it seems, it’s actually quite difficult. But I can safely say that I’m learning to love my family, my neighbors, my colleagues, and even my enemies. God is doing this entirely of himself. I simply invite him to soften my heart, and make me able to love. When I was in the world I accumulated a great deal of brokenness from my lifestyle of sexual immorality and drug/alcohol addiction. My heart grew harder and harder, and the broken wreckage in my soul got worse and worse. My heart seemed impassible by the currents and streams of love. I didn’t even love my own family or friends. Only burnt ashes seemed to remain where my heart once was. But God has slowly given me a new soft heart of love. Sometimes I feel like I can’t love very well. But then I realize I do have a new heart of love, and the love of God pours out threw it toward others, when I least expect it.
1st John reflects a great overarching theme of God’s light as the light in which Christians walk; in holy living and growing freedom from sin, always experiencing the love of God, which pours out from us back toward God, and toward our neighbors, as we trudge the road of glory, awaiting the hope of our inheritance in eternal life. This great theme is reflected in my life through my own journey in breaking free from sins in the Spirit, learning to love holiness in The Salvation Army, and being taught by God to love Him and love others with all my heart, which is a new heart of Holy love.
Is it possible that we’ve missed the fullness of the narrow way of Christ in our modern day ‘nominal’ Christianity? Could we have missed the standard and not even realized it? Many of us belong to churches that we find ourselves fitting well into, movements and practices that encompass perhaps an hour church service, and maybe a Bible study once a week, or a small group, and perhaps a bit of prayer.
We go through the motions, and we do express worship, we listen intently to the sermon, but often times we have this nagging feeling deep in our hearts, that tells us something is wrong, something is off, despite all the puffy phrases from the pastor saying things like, “God loves you unconditionally” and “There is no way you can ever get away from his love.” And “Jesus loves you just the way you are.” And so on and so forth. Despite all of that, we sometimes sit and tremble, wondering and worrying that perhaps we have terribly fallen short of the radical new testament standard of total devotion to Christ. Have you ever felt that way?
In my own analysis, I’ve done several things in response to this feeling. First, I remind myself of the preachers soft words about how easy and free the Christian life is. Freedom in Christ, freedom, grace through faith, and I squash those lingering concerns in my mind as simple attacks by the enemy, attempting to try to make me “earn my salvation” or “trying to fill me with guilt and weigh me down in my past sins.” Or such pithy sayings. I squash the guilt and concern I have, because I cannot stand it. And it doesn’t fit with the message from the pulpit and the youth leaders, and most everyone in my church who does exactly the same thing.
But if I’m to be honest with myself, those attempts to quash the feeling of concern and dread I have seldom seem to suffice. The words seem empty, though true they may be, I look at them and say yes, these things are true, they are part of the scriptures, but there is much more in the scriptures that seems to be left out because it seems a trifle hard. There is something missing though, something missing from my Christian walk. I want more of God. I want more of the Christian way. I want to go deeper. Indeed, I despise the surfacy gospel, and I must go deeper. I must have more of it. I want it to truly transform me. I want all of God, all of Christ, and all of His Spirit.
Then there is the second option that I sometimes consider, and of a recent time, have begun to pursue, at first with a half-hearted measure, but now more and more seriously, and fully, with a fuller heart, though I would be lying if I said that I have given it my whole heart and mind and muchness to the expedition.
And it does appear to be quite an expedition. An expedition into a bright, shining forest of wonder, yet also inlayen with darkness, danger, and certain extreme difficulties. This way seems to me to be the road of humble holiness, the path of meek sanctification and the road to everlasting glory.
It is the terrifying and shocking realization that much of modern Christianity is so temporal and focused on this world and it’s concerns that we have largely missed the gospel’s radical narrow way of set-apartness and total life transformation, total allegiance and all out devotion to Christ.
Could it be my friends that we live in such an all-encompassing bubble of sleepy Christianity, of worldly Christianity that we don’t realize that we’ve become stuck on the journey of faith? We as pilgrim’s on our progress through this life were journeying through a dark and uncertain place, along a path long trodden by tens of millions throughout history, but could it be that while we were on that journey, we stopped at a village of cultural religion, a counterfeit half-measure of the true way, and gave up our journey to sit in the wells of a double-minded faith that triggers small delights of joy and peace, while missing the fullness of the Christian message? I think it could very well be so. And though I often look up to the preacher on the platform, preaching of grace, grace, and more grace, hyper grace, and no concern for sin or holiness, I am distracted, and I soon begin to stare out the window of the chapel, toward that opening in the woods that leads down the dangerous, difficult, radical path of holiness and intense intimacy with God our creator!
Now, having found this path, and desired to walk along it, though only a few of the thousands of church attenders will join me, now find myself having trodden for two years nearly down that jungle path, and I will now tell you a bit about it, and I will certainly urge you to break ranks and join me on this rugged road to true holy, Spirit filled, radical, intimate Christianity with a real, living Jesus Christ.
I had become increasingly centered on orthodoxy, or what one might call the doctrinal truths of the faith. I found myself examining the scriptures extensively and also concerning myself with the various apologetics that circle around the scriptures, in areas like the sciences, histories, and philosophies that show evidence for the faith. This is a good thing to do, and a great blessing to my walk.
But I believe I was lacking in the orthopathy, the practice of the deep emotional and relational aspect of the faith. I was not fully allowing the supernatural nature of the scriptures and the living God to transform my interaction with reality. Oh what a blessing it has been and continues to be! These may not be accurately relayed as orthopathy, but something else probably, a willingness to interact with the supernatural aspects of the Christian faith.
Why was this difficult? Because at once it became increasingly dangerous to a person of orthodoxy. What does one so focused on doctirnal truth and apologetics do with things like dreams, visions, hours in prayer, fasting, or even miraculous healings, and prophetic words, and deeper spiritual disciplines! They can at first appear risky or concerning to one centered on doctrinal truth.
And at times for good reason, as these concerns of the faith are often open to abuse, because they leave the door open for charletons to peddle their wears, or spooky spiritualist types to play their games and garner attention for themselves.
Then again, if I were to say I were so focused on doctrinal truth in it's entirety, and then neglect the portions of scripture that clearly detail these aspects of the faith simply because they appear dangerous, I would be a hypocrite speaking out of both sides of my mouth.
But it was God who called me toward this deeper experience of my faith, to a more radical, one might say 'whacky' Spirit filled experience of my faith. And that need not impede on doctrinal/scriptural truth at all. The scriptures leave ample room for it. They truly, truly do. Though sometimes we say that, and then quietly avoid those topics no matter the cost. I refuse to do that, and I'm glad I did refuse.
Because to experience God in orthpathy, in emotional connection, in prayer, in fasting, in longer prayer, in longer fasting, in spiritual disciplines, in believing for miracles, and stepping into risky proclamation and spiritual warfare one finds beautiful extensions of the faith.
I find a greater connection to God. Not because I've found some special knowledge or hidden way, but simply because God has revealed Himself more and more. He does it for all us. Sometimes we refuse to make the time though, and our walk is hindered. We must carve out time, large, large swaths of time.
In this day and age we condemn those who attempt certain set times of the day for prayer, and mouth platitudes about ones whole life needing to be prayerful, but then we neglect prayer entirely, but feel quite superior, and self-righteous having rebuked that 'legalistic spirit' of 'scheduled prayer.' Sadly, with a few words we've removed prayer. We pray for 30 seconds, or 10 minutes, when we should be in prayer for hours. That phrase will upset some, but I don't care. I'm tired of the platitudes and excuses about 'legalism' that cause us to neglect prayer and feel self-righteous about it. We've learned to neglect prayer, fasting, the study of scripture, spiritual disciplines, and a true living daily relationship with God, and it shows. It really really shows. And when someone dare encourages us to set a pattern, to live out a method in our lives, we call them a legalist. How sad, how sad indeed.
I think it was desire in me to live out what I saw happening in other parts of the world. I heard reports of the power of the Spirit moving in Iraq, in the middle east, and greatly across much of Africa, and of course China. These believers are on fire, they are Spirit filled, and they spread the gospels. Their worship is alive, passionate, and filled with power. They have learned to expect miraculous occurrences, and then they see them happen! They've learned to discipline themselves, fasting for weeks, praying for days on end, and when someone here in the west suggests we pray for an entire hour, they are hounded out of the room as a 'legalist." We in the west, and our expression of religion has become in some ways quite drab. Our dedication is minimal. We run about greatly, but we get very little done. Maybe it's because we've neglected these things.
So I decided, over much time of praying about this, and seeing these things happening on other continents, and I decided I wanted to partake in this. I want to try to do what they do, to really connect with God on a deeper level. I decided I wanted to try to be as sold out for Christ as they are.Sofar I've just begun to scratch the surface. But I hope you'll join me on this journey and come out of churchianity and into the true, total, transformational way of radical dedication to Christ in all of life's times and in all fullness of Spiritual power.
Since the early beginnings of the church, in the book of Acts, the apostles had to deal with false teachers. They had to deal with persecution. They had to deal with Gnosticism and the gnostic gospel forgeries. They had to deal with the bishops of Rome and later the corruption of the papacy. And today we face our own struggles as the church.
Today we deal with leaders in the church of God, who don’t really love or trust the word of God. They prefer to alter the word, to reshape the word, based on their own ideology, and worldview. We face various theological struggles in our day and age, that threaten to divide and destroy the church. More and more we face celebrity pastors who we listened to and respected, now being uncovered as abusive, or sexually immoral. On TV we see prosperity teachers gathering money from unsuspecting victims. And what a terrible witness this is to the world, of the gospel of Christ.
And I sense that God is generating a separation within the churches, between those who truly love the Lord and His word, and those who are just playing church, those who are living in perpetual sin, and those who are teaching falsehood as truth. Over the past six months, as I’ve prayed and studied the scriptures, God keeps bringing me to scriptures that say this: Rebuild the temple. Repair my temple. Build up the temple of God. And I couldn’t figure out what God meant by that.
So I had to ask myself, what is the temple of God, in the new testament? We are the temple of God. And Jesus Christ means to return to Earth, to claim his people and establish his kingdom on this very Earth. But are we really ready for Him to return? Are we really prepared?
The temple of God, the body of Christ, is in need of growth in holiness. We need to set ourselves apart for the Lord, and stop living with one foot in sin and one foot in God’s kingdom. It’s time to fully commit ourselves to God, to be totally sold out. No more sin, no more selfishness and self-seeking.
Is there a sin in your life right now that needs to be removed by the Spirit of God? God will certainly remove this sin, this defect, this addiction if you cry out to Him day and night for freedom from it. Many sins are common in the church, especially issues like gossip (speaking evil of others in a spirit of cruelty), back-biting (striking back at someone verbally/physically), dissensions (waging a manipulative sort of quiet war of dissension against someone else, or a leader or a pastor or coworker), lust (entertaining fantasizing in the mind about someone), gluttony (consistently over-eating in a way which dishonors God), various addictions (drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, social media, pornography, television, etc), unforgiveness (refusing to forgive completely those who have hurt us), and many other sins of the flesh. If you struggle with sin as a Christian please realize that God will help you and set you free. Please also realize that action may be necessary, like meeting with your pastor or a Christian counselor, or attending a group like Celebrate Recovery.
God has called us to be holy and pure in His sight. If we do not live in holiness, we will not inherit eternal life. It’s time to be truly holy before God. It’s time to go all the way. Isn’t that what we all long for?
We long for a time of great revival, a time of great awakening, a time when God does mighty deeds in his church. Do you know what the key to this is? A truly set apart church, a truly holy church, that practices holiness within, and holiness toward the world. It doesn’t start with others, or with some organization, or some set of ideas, it starts with you, and me, deciding that we’re going to take God’s teachings seriously. To truly live for Him, no more half in and half out.
No more 90% to God and 10% for me. 100% all in for God. Total love for God. Total trust in His word. Total surrender to His will. Nothing less will do. Is this possible? Many think it isn’t. But I know it’s more than possible. It’s inevitable, because His Spirit lives in us. Maybe we so much don’t think that it’s impossible, it’s that we realize there will be a cost, which is the death of self. So we really don’t think it’s impossible, we just quietly don’t want to pay the price, of losing ourselves completely in Christ. But imagine what can happen when we do that. Imagine what you will do for Christ when your all in for Him.
This is your destiny my friends. This is what you were meant for, from birth. Your destiny, the very meaning of life is that you would come to know God through Jesus Christ His son, to live for Him, to lose yourself in Him, and thus find yourself forever. Your future, if you give it all up for God, is in the new heavens, and new earth, in the new city of God. Paradise. And that isn’t the end of the journey, that is just the beginning.
Let it cut deep, accept the Spirit’s leading. God is separating us, setting us apart, God is calling us as Moses called his people and his leaders, “Come to me if you stand with the Lord.” Come to Him. Lose yourself completely in Him. Yes, we’ve all sinned. Many of us as Christians have continued to live in quiet, hidden sin. Now it’s time to return to Him. Now it’s time to be set apart. Now it’s time to lose ourselves in His holy love for us. Stand with God. Because we know that the sheep and the goats will be separated. Be one of the obedient sheep, who follows Jesus completely, whole heartedly, sincerely.
I'd like to ask for you who are reading to pray. Please pray. Pray hard and pray often. Don't just pray for five minutes, or twenty minutes. Pray for an hour. Pray for two hours. Pray for eight hours. Fast and pray all day. Pray for days, pray for weeks, pray for 40 days.
Prayers: 1. We’re going to pray for God to make the Salvation Army a holy army of love.
2. We’re going to pray that God would make each of us holy set apart to Him.
3. We’re going to pray for the church across America, that the church overall would repent, turn to God, and learn to live in holiness.
4. We’re praying for God to set us apart, just as he set apart the Israelites, just like he set apart the twelve disciples, just like he set apart the Apostle Paul, and just like he calls all his saints to be set apart in these last days.
The desert air is cold. A wind blows through the camp, and the smell of frankincense hints in the air from some distant shrubs along the arid landscape. You stand outside a small tent, and in all directions tents dot the landscape, beyond your vision. You’ve woken up early, and darkness still covers the land, with just a few hints of sunlight in the far distance. You look down at your hands, to the scars of the shackles you used to wear in Egypt. Now your free, or so it seems, but something in you longs for the slavery again, yet this raw excitement fills you, because you’ve found something greater, a whole new way of life, with a God of the universe. You smile looking up at the star filling the sky. Then you gaze at it again, a giant beam of fire licking the night sky, standing there like a pillar, unfueled, yet ceaselessly burning. You watch, as the first hints of the light of the morning touch it, and the pillar is suddenly replaced, by a strand of cloud, as the morning roosters start crowing.
Imagine it… 2 and a half million people traveling through the wilderness, they must’ve looked like a mighty stream from above. And now they’d come to a stop, around an ancient mountain.
Today we’re talking about The Exiles at Mt Sinai. We’re going to consider concepts like being set apart by God and the high cost of sin. So the Israelites had been delivered by God from slavery in Egypt, and they’d traveled for some time in the wilderness.
Soon God had led them to make camp near Mt. Sinai. And we see here an amazing close encounter happen between God and man. The culmination of these events is that the Israelites and God enter into a binding covenant, based around the 10 commandments, and the rest of the law. God says, I’ve called you to be set apart as holy, different, starkly different from the world. And this is how you do it, you live by my laws.
Notice the order of events: Did God come to the Israelites while they were slaves in Egypt and say, alright, here are the laws you have to live by, and if you can measure up, then I’ll set you free. No. Freedom comes first, then comes holiness.
Similarly, today, God has saved each of us, before we were holy. We come to Jesus Christ completely helpless, sinful, a hot mess and he saves us like that. And how is he able to do that? God takes all that sin upon us, and he transfers it to Jesus Christ, crucified on the cross. He deletes our sin, with the heavy price of Jesus own blood, the blood of the son of God. Then our sins are gone. And much more, we are reborn, given the Holy Spirit, and set on a course of progressive sanctification. Have your sins been crucified with Jesus? Take a moment now to receive that.
We see Moses repeatedly acting as a mediator, between God and man, as one who intercedes for the people, and stands before God as a representative of the people. Does that remind you of anyone from the new testament? Jesus.
Next Moses is called up to the mountain top to meet with God. Has God ever called you to the mountain top? Is he calling you today, to come to the mountain top, and receive something from Him? A gift? A freedom from sin? A new cleansing in holiness?
But while Moses is high up with God, time passes, weeks and weeks go by, and the people down below become impatient. And they appeal to Moses’ second in command, Aaron, to make them a god to go before them. Something physical that they can see, so they can worship God in such a way. Aaron gathers gold from the people, and they fashion it into a golden calf, set up an altar, and they even declare a day “To the Lord” in which they bring their burnt offers to the calf, and make sacrifices to God, mediated by this gold idol. Then after this solemn time of offerings, they throw a party, and everything goes crazy from there.
Today when we study this story, we think to ourselves: How foolish could these people possibly be? They’ve personally seen God split open the water, and they walked on dry ground. How could they do this!
But how often do we do the same thing in our Christian life? We saw God deliver us from sin. He gave our lives meaning. We were out there chasing after sin, sinning in all sorts of ways, lying, stealing, enslaved to lust, manipulation, and God didn’t hold that against us, He saved us anyway. We saw the transformation. We saw our lives go from darkness to light.
But one day we see one of those old sins, and we jump right back into the mud pile. And once that first compromise is made, it so quickly can become a new habit of behavior. And Satan has just built a beachhead in our hearts.
If we allow sin to live in us too long as Christians, it begins to separate us from God. Instead we must allow the Holy Spirit to convict us, and cooperate in His process of change in us. Early in my walk as a Christian I struggled with just such sins in my life, and I had to dig into Christian books, and prayer, and accountability relationships. And I had to fight those battles, to be free from sin.
Maybe we aren’t so different from the Israelites and their golden calf. Maybe our golden calves are just a bit more modern, and socially acceptable.
So as the golden calf rises up in the camp, God tells Moses what is happening below, and He says, “I see what they’re doing.” And Moses is led to intercede for the people, and ask God for mercy, which God grants. Did God really change his mind? I don’t think so. God wanted Moses to learn to intercede for his people in that moment. And he did.
So Moses goes down with the stones tablets, and Moses is so upset at what he sees that he throws down the tablets, and they smash on the ground.
Moses asks Aaron, “What is going on?” And Aaron is like, “Bro, I swear, the people threw their gold in the fire and out came this calf. Isn’t that crazy?” So Aaron lies, and Moses goes to work.
Exodus chapter 32:26-29 says, “Moses stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.
27 Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.”
What do we do with all of this? What most scholars believe is that this was dealing with the instigators behind the golden calf incident. Possibly some of them were Egyptians who had gone with the Israelites into the wilderness. These corrupt leaders of the people had been the ones orchestrating this rebellion. And God ordered their deaths to prevent sin from infecting the camp once again. This is where we struggle to understand the seriousness of sin. We’re appalled at the slaughter of three thousand people, even if it’s ordered by God. But maybe that’s because we don’t take sin seriously enough. Sin is like an infectious disease, that spread so quickly, and ruins people’s lives. We’re pretty tolerant of sin in our day and age. But God isn’t. God knows sin must be confronted and dealt with, or it will spread, and lead to more chaos, sorrow, and suffering for humanity.
How do we understand these events in our modern context? Obviously God doesn’t order us to go and kill false teachers. That’s not how things work in the new testament period. We are told as Christians to pray for those who persecute us, and love our enemies, and to speak out against false teachers. We know that ultimately God himself will deal with false teachers at the last judgment at the end of time.
To us today, three thousand years later, these events seem alien and difficult to understand. But maybe it’s because we tend to be pretty cavalier about sin today in the modern church. God isn’t so cavalier about it.
These events give us a stark contrast, the contrast of the way the modern church sometimes portrays God, as a god who doesn’t care about sin, and just wants to bless us, and the God of the Bible, who is much more complicated than that. The real God of the Bible cares about things like justice and truth, and goodness and holiness! God is pure love, and full of mercy and grace, yet also a powerful mighty Being of glory, sovereignty and judgment. He is so infinitely beyond us that we can only glimpse a mere image of His expansive omnipotent nature. To exclude the aspects of God we don’t like, or find uncomfortable, is to make a false god in our own image, in fact, it is to make a golden calf of a sort, and call it god.
In the incident of the golden calf, we see a tragic event for God’s people. They’ve failed God already, and it seems like they’ve only just begun their journey. In fact, we know that they will continue to fail God in various ways throughout their wilderness trek. And at the end of Exodus 32 we see that God even strikes some of the people in the camp with a plague as punishment for their sin.
Have you ever had a time in your life when it felt like God was disciplining you? I’ve certainly had those times in my life. But thankfully the story doesn’t end with discipline and punishment. The page turns, and things get better.
Flip the page in your Bible, to chapter 33. Despite all the Israelites have done, once again God and Moses speak. And God still promises, verse 3, You will go to the land flowing with milk and honey. But Moses insists, “Lord we need you to go there with us.” And God replies, verse 14, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And again in verse 17, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” And Moses asks God to “Show Me your Glory.” And God shows Moses his glory. Basically he is asking God: “I need to know who you really are.” Have you ever asked God that? Do it. I dare you. You won’t be disappointed.
In the final analysis, despite everything that had happened, Moses interceded for the people, and the covenant that was broken was restored. And today in the same way, when we fall short, when we fall into sin, when we set up our golden calves, the very best thing we can do is come to God, ask for forgiveness, and repent. Then we begin to move in a new holy direction. We ask to see God, and God shows us his glory.
One of the greatest things a saint can do, is go even deeper with God, to a new level of intimacy. Make a declaration before God: I want more of you. Lord, show me your glory. Lord, break every chain of sin in my life. Lord, I confess my need in this area. Lord, I throw my golden calf into the fire and I repent.
He was the sage who wrote the most beautiful, eloquent, and theologically deep description of the life of Jesus. He followed Jesus all the way to the cross when the rest of the disciples fled. He was so humble and self-effacing that he only mentioned himself in his gospel account as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ (John 13:23 NIV). And at the end of his life he encountered the risen Christ once again, and was given an extended vision of the end of the world (Revelation 1 NIV). Today we are looking at the character and life of the apostle John.
The Apostle John was one of the sons of Zebedee, a fisherman, along with his brother James (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1982). John was most likely the younger brother as he is always listed second to James (Chadwick, 2017). John was on a boat fishing with his father Zebedee when Jesus called him to “come and follow me.” Before following Jesus, John and his brother had been followers of John the Baptist. His mother was Salome. He was one of Jesus’ inner circle, being present at the healing of Jairus’ daughter and the transfiguration. John and his brother James were referred by Jesus as the ‘sons of thunder’ perhaps because of their passion and zeal for the faith (Chadwick, 2017). It is traditionally believed that John’s mother Salome was the sister of Mary the mother of Jesus, which would make him and Jesus cousins (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1982). John authored the gospel of John, as well as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John. According to most traditional sources, the apostle John is the same “John of Patmos” who recorded the book of Revelation, though some dispute this claim (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1982). The author of Revelation claims to be “John” though no further identification is given (Walton & Keener, 2016, p. 2216). The apostle John’s authorship is generally supported by early church tradition (Walton & Keener, 2016, p. 2216).
Let us consider the Apostle John’s character. He was certainly prone to error just as any of the other disciples were. Him and his brother desired to be the greatest in the kingdom of God, and requested Jesus would do it for them (Mark 10:37 NIV). He forbade a man to cast out demons in the name of Jesus because he was not a follower with them, but was rebuked by Jesus for doing so (Luke 9:49-50 NIV). He had also desired to cast down fire on a village that rejected the teachings of Jesus along with his brother James (Luke 9:54-55).
Yet we see the apostle John is a thoughtful, deep thinker who followed Jesus faithfully as one of the inner circle of disciples (Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 5:37 NIV). In his gospel he refers to himself rarely, and quietly accounts the fact that he stayed with Jesus all the way through the crucifixion when the rest of the disciples fled. He was trusted so thoroughly by Jesus Christ that when Jesus was upon the cross he looked at John and his mother Mary and said, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother” (John 19:26-27). His love and devotional to Jesus seemed to go beyond Peter, James, or any of the other disciples, as he loyally followed Jesus through his passion and to the cross itself. This would’ve taken great courage and fierce loyalty. Later in life John would be the one whom Jesus would trust his revelation of the end times to through a vision. John would record Jesus’ instructions to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation as well.
Beyond what is recorded in the gospels and epistles, John’s history and actions outside the scriptures fades into myth and legend (Chadwick, 2017). Polycrates and St. Irenaeus, early church fathers indicated that John died in Ephesus and that his tomb was there (Chadwick, 2017). During the second century it was reported by Tertullian, another church father, that John was dropped into a giant pot of boiling oil but miraculously came out unburned (Chadwick, 2017). Other legends went around that John was martyred in some way (Chadwick, 2017).
In conclusion, the apostle John famously wrote in his gospel account, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5). John’s gospel gives us a look at the life of Jesus in deeper theological context. It gives us a greater understanding of God’s love, the hope of everlasting life, and brings out the fullness of the passion of Jesus Christ. He was a zealous and devoted man, though not immune to error and sin, he was part of Jesus’ inner circle, and entrusted with the care of Jesus’ mother Mary. Overall, the Apostle John through his simple, yet provocative life gives us a picture of a quiet, thoughtful, yet imperfect man made into a hero by the power of a loving God.
We are each called by God to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as officers of The Salvation Army to love and serve him supremely all our days, to live to win souls and make their salvation the first purpose of our lives, to care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the unlovable, and befriend those who have no friends. Today we gather to celebrate the rewards of ministry! We gather as a body of believers, as Christian soldiers. But we are not alone.
We find ourselves surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, down through the ages of history, that attest to the life of faith. And it goes back much further, to the very beginning, when one man named Abraham dared to believe God and strike out into the unknown. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Samuel, David, Solomon, Daniel, Nehemiah, and Erza, into the new era of John, Peter, James, Matthew, Paul, Justin Martyr, Augustine, Martin Luther, William Wilberforce, Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, William Booth, Samuel Logan Brengle, Evangeline Booth, Paul Rader, Israel Gaither, Linda Bond, on and on the list goes. Look to your left and your right and you will see a present day hero of the faith. And they speak volumes.
Throughout human history, a lucky few, like you and me have had the privilege of being added to the number who are called by the name of Christ. That lineage goes back through history, and to the present day, where in these last days Christ has called you and me, to be preachers of this gospel.
There is a road, leading through the murky wastes of this life (can you see it?) It leads toward the brightness of God’s glory. Millions today are walking on this path home. And along this sacred road, God has assigned us, as way-makers, on the pathways home. We’re soldiers in the army of God marching along passage ways of glory, leading souls out of the darkened wilderness, and onto the pathways of life. What an amazing ministry we have! What a great journey we’re partaking of, to call God’s people home to Him.
Some of us sooner, and some of us later, will be sent out to outposts along these roads of glory, assigned to serve as officers of the Salvation Army. And we know though trials will come, we look forward to life full of the blessed rewards of ministry.
There are two areas of reward in our ministry. The first area is in the now, today. We experience the presence of God with us each day.
As we serve in ministry, we get to watch as God changes people’s lives. We will see miracles happen in our corps. We will see people healed as they are prayed for by the congregation. We will get to see hopeless alcoholics and drug addicts suddenly change. We’ll get to teach children about Jesus, and watch their eyes light up as they realize how much Jesus loves them. We’ll spend our lives going from place to place in the mid-west of the United States setting the fires of revival and great awakening amongst the ranks of fallen humanity. We’ll get to minister to people of all walks of life, the poor, the rich, the mighty, the weak, and the hurting. Many of us will even go beyond the borders of the United States, overseas to different parts of the world. We will come to people who no longer believe in a future or a hope, and get to see the moment when God relights the fire of hope in their soul. Like He did for me.
The second area of reward in ministry, is in the future. In the future, when we share in eternal life, with God almighty on the new earth, in the city of God called the New Jerusalem. There we will share in particular closeness with God, as we venture into a future of joy, peace, and unparalleled intimacy with God. In the new city of God we will experience an infinite future of new adventures that we can hardly imagine.
And as ministers of the gospel, having faithfully completed our calling, and won the race, we will be rewarded for every good deed we did, every soul we won to Christ, and every need we met in the world.
William Booth experienced a foretaste of this blessed future in a dream once. Booth had several visions from the Lord in his life, the most famous being the vision of the platform, and those drowning in the sea. But he recorded another vision, in which he saw a heaven, from the book “Amazing Visions” Booth wrote:
“I am constrained to say no human eye ever beheld such beauty, no earthly ear ever heard such music, no human heart ever experienced such ecstasy as it was my privilege to see and hear and feel during the first hours I spent in the celestial country. Above me was the loveliest of blue skies. Around me was an atmosphere so balmy that it made my whole physical frame vibrate with pleasure. By the bank of roses, on which I found myself reposing, there flowed the clearest and purest of rivers, which seemed to dance with delight to the murmurings of its own waters. The trees that grew on its banks were covered with the greenest foliage and laden with most delicious fruit, sweet to my taste beyond all earthly sweetness. By lifting my hand I could pluck and eat the fruit to my heart’s delight. In every direction, above and around, the air was not only laden with the richest of odors yielded by the loveliest of flowers but also rendered vocal with sweetest sounds and filled with fairest forms. Floating about me were beautiful beings I felt by instinct were angels and archangels, seraph and seraphim, cherub and cherubim, together with the blood-washed and perfected saints who had come from the world below, sometimes far away and sometimes drawing nearer. The blue sky appeared at times to be full of white-winged, happy, worshiping, joyous beings, while the whole country—apparently of limitless extent—seemed to be filled with a blissful ecstasy that could only be realized by being experienced.”
The rewards of ministry are many, today in the joys of service, and tomorrow in the eternal life we’ll inherit. We are blessed beyond measure, to be chosen by God for this task. Let me leave you with this thought:
If Jesus Christ is really real, and the true and only way to eternal life, then what we do, proclaiming the gospel, is literally the single most important job on the planet. Nothing is more meaningful than what we do. Nothing is more critical. That is our greatest reward. And the saying is absolutely true: We are doing the most good imaginable.
How can a Christian live out sexual purity in a relativistic world? And what should Christians believe about issues like sex, gender, and marriage? We'll delve briefly into an array of issues, looking at how we can live out a holistic worldview of Christian purity.
The goal of living out the Christian ethic in this area is holy wholeness, of embracing healing, life, integrity, peace, joy, and truth in the areas of sexuality that we navigate through in life.
Sexuality is a gift from God to humanity. That much is quite certain from the scriptures. One need only read scriptures like the Song of Solomon, that depicts the intoxicating romance between Solomon and his wife to realize sexuality is a good and holy thing. God designed humanity in a basic format, as male and female from the beginning, which is shared with us in Genesis. And God commands the first humans, Adam and Eve, to be fruitful, to have children and fill the Earth with their descendants. Jesus himself quoted from Genesis, in the book of Matthew when questioned about marriage and divorce.
Matthew 19:4-6 (NIV) “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
God designed marriage from the beginning to be a bond between a man and woman that would never be broken in this life. But of course we know that things went terribly wrong in the garden, and humanity turned against God. Humanity betrayed God, embraced the lie of Satan, and as a result creation was cursed, human nature became fallen, and humanity was expelled from paradise.
Thus we face many situations where the good, holy, and blessed gift of sexuality from God becomes distorted, misused, and even used for evil. Yet in our lives as Christians we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live out sexual purity. The gift of sexuality is still a free gift from God, and we can actively participate in it, assuming we are willing to navigate the world carefully.
First we consider marriage. Marriage is a sacred union of one man, and one woman, in which two people become one flesh. They join their lives together, and this joining cannot easily be broken. Sadly, divorce is a common occurrence in our society. The Bible says that God hates divorce, which is very strong language. But one can see easily the terrible effects a divorce has on a family, for the reasoning behind why God hates divorce. Divorce causes great sorrow, pain, and brokenness. Marriage is not a simple contract, but a permanent bonding. And there is only one biblical mandate that allows for divorce, according to Jesus, that is adultery. Leaving a marriage in divorce just because of disagreements, or stresses, or because we "fell out of love" is worldly madness of the most foolish kind imaginable. It's based in selfishness. Of course there are situations, like when abuse is taking place, when one should meet one on one with their pastor/minister and discuss reconciliation and healing.
The act of sexual intercourse between husband and wife is a sacred act, by which male and female become one. This union is powerful and not only emotional, but physical in nature. This is why sexuality is meant to be practiced only in the context of marriage. You'll notice that those who practice sexual intercourse with many partners will often appear disgruntled and empty. When one unites with many sexual partners, one leaves behind pieces of themselves.
Often today we treat sexual intercourse as a try out while dating. This is not a wise or biblical practice for sexuality. While sex with multiple partners is harmful emotionally and spiritually, it can also be harmful physically. Many STDs are rampant throughout the human population, along with HIV.
Of course the gravest concern is the chance of becoming pregnant. It's ironic, that we as humans treat sex so cavalierly, as if were some sort of sport, yet when the realization of pregnancy comes upon us, and the testing stick shows the red lines, we suddenly wake to the realization that sex is actually a sacred act, that produces a sacred God-given life, and we're shocked with the realization that we've treated God's gift of sex as if were some damp rag to be used to get our jollies off.
What about masturbation? Surely if a Christian must refrain from sexual intercourse outside marriage, and given that young adults are getting married at later and later ages, surely God must allow for masturbation as an antidote for those pesky lustful desires? Fortunately God is much wiser than us. And masturbation ought to be considered clearly outside the defined boundaries of biblical sexuality. And masturbation, far from being an act that drives off the lustful desires of youth, it actually intensifies them, and as masturbation is practiced, the lustful desires become stronger and stronger. And interestingly enough, as masturbation is refrained from, the lustful desires lose more and more power. Eventually their power is defeated, and God's victory is declared in your heart and life. If your caught up in masturbation, pray constantly to the Lord about this issue, and He will set you free.
Obviously as we consider masturbation the issue of pornography instantly comes up. What you'll notice, and what I've noticed more and more over time is that these sexual issues in our culture are all connected to one another. Pre-marital sex to abortion, masturbation to pornography, pornography connected to human sex trafficking, and so on and so forth. It's all a tangled web, intricately connected.
Pornography is the act of watching pre-recorded materials of two or more human beings, created in the image of God, engaging in sexual intercourse. Pornography is obviously a destructive perversion of God's will for sexuality. Sexual activity is meant to be between two people, and when another person enters as an onlooker the sacredness of the sexual act is lost. Often times the argument for pornography is simply this: "Everybody is doing it, and if you say you don't, your lying." This is a lie. Many, many people don't use pornography in any form. This is a bandwagon fallacy, suggesting everyone is doing it (which is false) and thus you should do it (which is also false). Even if every single human does something, I still have a choice as to if I'm going to do it or not. And the truth is, many, many people don't view pornography. As such they shouldn't, because it's simply disgusting. Many of the actors and actresses in the pornography business may actually be sex trade victims themselves. Pornography fuels lust, pornography fuels the sex trade industry, pouring money into it, and thus those who view pornography inevitably end up supporting sex trafficking in some form. Don't be part of that. Cry out to God for freedom from it. Pray against it.
Human Trafficking is a great evil of our time, in which women, men, and children are kidnapped, coerced, or groomed into the industry of sex slavery. Women are used as sex objects, repeatedly raped, until they die, and all of this for the purpose of making money. Sex tourists travel, and use these men and women as sex objects for their own gratification. Human trafficking must be prayed against, spoken out against, and stopped worldwide. Human trafficking is evil. And victims must be rescued from the sex trafficking industry, and traffickers must be stopped, healed, and delivered to healing as well. Pray hard. Human trafficking is ultimately a consequence of the fall of humanity, and the desire of humanity to play god, and redefine sexuality to suit our own desires.
Abortion is another consequence of humanity's fall, and a consequence of seeing sexuality as a sort of sport arena for engaging in fun and conquest. Those pesky unborn babies end up showing up on the test, and humans are painfully reminded that sexuality is directly connected to procreation, not just entertainment. Abortion is a sacrifice of a sort, in which an unborn child is sacrificed on the altar of expediency, on the altar of sexual fun, and tossed aside as a non-human being, a clump of cells, to be discarded based on convenience. Abortion denies the sanctity of human life, and destroys a human life. Abortion very simply is murder, and on a larger scale, is genocide.
Next we consider the issue of homosexuality. What is a biblical understanding of homosexuality? Clearly, from a plain reading of the scriptures, we understand that to actively practice homosexual activity is sinful (Romans 1:24-29).
1st Corinthian 6:9-10 states, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."
Now it's important to remember that this scripture says "the practice of homosexuality." To have temptations toward homosexual behavior is not blameworthy in itself. It is not sin to be tempted. All people are tempted is various ways, I may be more inclined to certain sins, others have their unique temptations, and that is the way of things on Earth. But one's willingness to abstain and resist temptation is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
If you struggle with temptations toward this sin, God is calling you to celibacy and abstinence from the practice of this sin. God may remove the temptations over time, or they may not be removed. It's same with any other sin. Sometimes we find we are no longer tempted through prayer and scripture study, other times our 'thorn in the flesh' remains.
There is never any excuse to treat someone who is homosexual, abstaining, or active with any less dignity than you'd treat any other person. We are all made in the image of God. And we are called to love people, and help them to find the love of Jesus Christ. Of course we also can't encourage homosexuality as a positive good, for that would be encouraging sinfulness. And as teachers and leaders, and people of the body of Christ, we will not be held blameless if we lead others astray in this manner. So the equation is to show great love, mercy, and dignity to those who struggle in this area, while also guiding them toward the truth found in the scriptures and the freedom found in Jesus Christ.
Lastly, we consider the topic of gender. There is an increasing amount of confusion about gender in our society today. Might you be wondering why this is? Well, one of the ideologies prominent in our society today is post-modernism, which brings with it relativism, and naturalism. These ideologies look to deconstruct in many ways pre-conceived notions about society and how we live. They are essentially working to overturn many of the assumed Christian beliefs that had informed western civilization in the past. So if the only basis for gender is found in the Bible, and in historic civilization, they look to deconstruct that, and change that if some people are being left out, and so on.
Thus we find ourselves with many new genders being created, seemingly out of thin air. I've read that something like 56 exist, with more being created over time. The basic idea is that "gender" is a social construct, meaning to them it's not really real. Thus they believe since it's simply a social construct that they can take it and adjust it to fit the needs of less fortunate individuals.
As Christians we know that gender is not simply a social construct, but the way in which God created us, male and female, from the beginning. As it says in Genesis 1:27 ESV "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."
As people are increasingly confused about gender and what it means, we as Christians can be a prophetic voice to the lost people of society, calling them to embrace the truth of God's word, and understand that gender is not simply a human construct, but a divine gift of God.
Thanks for reading, and please be in prayer for those who struggle in many of these areas, from families ruined by divorce, to those addicted to pornography, and those struggling with the results of human trafficking and pornography, and of course those who struggle with homosexuality and gender confusion.
One of the evils of society that Christians should and do fight against is the evil of racism. Racism is a great evil in that it destroys the unity of humanity, and divides people. It destroys the image of God in others, by causing people to hate and distrust one another because of the color of their skin. Racism is the idea that one race is superior or inferior to another, which is of course completely false.
In the word of God we see that really the only distinction God viewed in humanity was the distinction between Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews). But even then, once the new covenant came, and Jesus Christ won the victory for us on the cross, we see a foundational scripture that declares a total unity in the body of Christ.
It's found in Galatians 3:28 which states,"You are all one in Christ." There are no more prior distinctions, like male or female, slave or free, or Jew or gentile. The body of Christ is a unity. It's one body.
Recently in society, particularly in the west, the label of "white privilege" has begun to spread throughout some sectors of society, usually in larger cities. Is this a label and ideology that the Christian church should adopt in fighting racism? Why or why not?
The idea of white privilege is to show that people of color, are systemically oppressed, or disadvantaged in western society. The idea is that Anglo-Saxon peoples are born with privilege in society, people whose heritage is from Europe, such as Poland, France, Great Britain, Sweden, Holland, Germany, Russia, and so on.
The American ideal is that all people should be treated equally. That is the hope that was enshrined in the declaration of independence, and it was implemented to varying degrees, imperfectly, until the modern time. Of course people aren't always treated equally. One example is of course slavery in the past, and after that Jim Crow laws, that kept races separate. Sixty years after the abolition of such laws, we continue to see the debate rage in American society about mistreatment of people of color.
Is it true that people of color are treated fundamentally different in western society? Some say yes, and some say no. Many would point to police brutality toward African-american young men. Others point out that when looking at statistics nationwide, more white people are killed by police than black each year per capita. Others say that racism went underground after Jim Crow and continues to be a constant struggle in society. Still others say that the election of President Barack Obama was a signal that society had moved into a new era of racial peace and equity. Overall, there are arguments on both sides that have decent support. Is there inequity? Probably in some aspects of society, and probably not in others.
But let's set aside the question of if it's actually true. Because the more pertinent question for us is, does saying "white privilege" and telling people to "check their privilege" help anyone? To me the answer to that question has to be no.
When someone indicates "white privilege" one of two things will happen. Either a person of color will believe that society is fundamentally racist, and that white people are fundamentally oppressing them. This contributes to a mindset of victim-hood. And when someone views themselves as a victim, very little good can come from that. A victim mentality often leads to a self-defeating mindset that one is can't hope to escape the evils of racism and inequity in society, and thus they shouldn't try. Instead they can quickly become self-defeated, and pessimistic, and even hostile toward society.
The other situation is that well-meaning white people become guilt-ridden, and disturbed, and in the worst case, they can become hostile, and begin to believe that people of color hate them, and are racist toward them. This is not a good thing my friends.
When the label of white privilege comes up, fundamentally, it divides people. It causes people of color to view the world as fundamentally racist and hostile, and it can cause white people to take on self-defeating guilt, and even hostility. The label of white privilege does not sow peace, or unity. Instead it sows division, and divides people against each other. It divides whites against blacks, it divides blacks against whites, it divides Asians against whites, whites against Latinos, and on and on the list goes. It sows guilt, hostility, hatred, racism, and division.
Instead of pushing the concept of 'white privilege' we as the church should proclaim the concept of 'unity in Christ.' We should insist on total unity and equity between all believers in Christ. We should call our people to reach out to people who are in need. But we should fundamentally work for unity, whites, blacks, Asians, Latinos, and all peoples uniting as a single unity, a single body of Christ. We are one. We are one people, undivided. I don't even like using these labels of white and black and Latino and so on. It just subconsciously promotes more disunity and division. We are one people. And we must treat each other with love, truth, equality, and liberty. The best way to do that is to promote unity in love, not the resentment, hate, and divisiveness of concepts like "white privilege."
In a time of mounting seemingly endless disharmony, disunity, and polarization, we must work twice as hard as Christians to promote love, compassion, forgiveness, equality, and unity in these times. Remember, we are one body, the body of Christ, and though we are diverse elements of this body, we are fundamentally a united body of Christ. Amen.
As we look at 1st Peter chapter 2 and 3, we consider the background of this epistle. Peter wrote his letter to Jewish Christians in the dispersion throughout Asia Minor, in the Roman Empire. Jewish Christians were the recipients, but Peter also speaks clearly to the gentile Christians throughout Asia Minor as well. And Peter writes to these people, exiles, foreigners, people who are scattered, and he instructs them on how to live as exiles in a foreign land. But we will see that its more complicated than just Jews in exile, but more so, Christians in a fallen world.
Peter addresses many questions for us, that we even have today: How do we live in a society that doesn’t honor God? How do we live in our little Babylon, honoring God, but also obeying the laws and precepts of American society?
1st Peter chapter one begins with a greeting, then goes into a beautiful depiction of the salvation message, split equally between grace through faith in Christ, and then a strong message of holiness and purity in the world. This section about holiness, which the NIV titles “Be holy” concludes by saying “put aside all sin, and grow up in your salvation.” So the context for our scripture today is this exhortation to be holy as God is holy. That leads into our portion, which seems to be the “how” of holiness. It starts “As you come to him, the living Stone…” How do we be holy? Continuously coming to Christ.
“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” -1st Peter 2:4-5
From the Reformation Study Bible: “living stone. Christ is this stone (1 Cor. 10:4). The image of “rock” and “stone” is common in the Old Testament (Ps. 118:22; Is. 8:14; 28:16) and is applied by Jesus to Himself (Matt. 21:42). “Living” indicates that Christ is the source and giver of life (John 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:45). Jesus often uses imagery drawn from stonemasonry, a trade He was intimately acquainted with. Carpenters in antiquity worked with stones as well as wood.”
Question: It says Jesus was rejected by humans but chosen by God. How in your life have you experienced a rejection from humanity? Have you noticed ways in your life that God shows he considers you chosen and precious?
Question: We’re spiritual stones, being built into a house of God. What spiritual sacrifices do you offer to God? (morning detail, 6 am snow shoveling? Big or small, doesn’t matter)
We are exiles in the world, and yet we are so precious and chosen, and being built as a holy priesthood in a lost world.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” -1st Peter 2:9-10
Question: What was it like before you knew Christ as Lord? “Once you were not a people.”
It was very dark for me. I was a badly addicted soul. Several times in early twenties I was near suicide. I didn’t know what life was really about. And I called out to God that night and I felt only emptiness. Life without God is very dark, at least for me it was.
Question: What’s it like now to live with Christ in the light?
“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” -1st Peter 2:11-12
The sinful desires of this life wage war against our very souls. Which tells me that I’m in danger. We find ourselves as foreigners and exiles in a kingdom that is not our own. We wrestle with the sins of Babylon, and try to throw them off ourselves. And that’s what God calls us to. Abstain from sinful desires God says to us. Abstain by prayer and the Spirit’s victory in us.
For me, I’ve had to really wrestle, to kind of see past the indoctrination our society has put in me. If I don’t resist, I’m prone to become selfish, materialistic, always accumulating more possessions, loving my Starbucks and my high tech gear, and my luxurious accommodations more than I love God. The idol of self is the primary false god of modern society, in my view.
God gives us a radically different way: Live such pure lives among the people here that even if they accuse us of evil, they will see the good we do, and give glory to God.
Question: Have you ever worried that you might have one foot in the world, and one foot in the faith? How can we overcome and give all to God?
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.” -1st Peter 2:13-16
Peter didn’t write to the diaspora exiles saying, “Work to overthrow the Roman empire.” Or “Gather yourselves to initiate revolts.” Instead Peter writes saying submit yourself, for the sake of God, to all human authorities.
The irony of these statements, especially verse 14, is that Peter writes that governors and leaders are “sent by God to punish those who do wrong, and commend those who do right” and it’s interesting because of how the authorities in Jerusalem persecuted the church. And soon the church would be under heavy persecution from Nero. Yet despite all that, Peter says submit to all human authorities. “Live as free people” it says “but don’t use your freedom as a cover-up for evil.” How many of us have seen Christians who live worldly lives and when you try to encourage them to change, they say, “Well your just being legalistic.”
I’ve encountered that many times. We can certainly abuse our freedom in Christ by using it as a vale for sin, and every time we sin we say, “Well I’m free in Christ.” That is not a proper use of God’s freedom, because God’s freedom calls us to be free from sin, and slaves to Christ.
Question: How do you see the contrast of freedom in Christ and slavery to God play out in your life?
Freedom in Christ I see as freedom from the shackles of sin. Sin is addictive, and Christ sets me free from it. But paradoxically, I’m also a slave to God, one who is called to take part in good works to his service. But I enjoy those works of service, and the shackles of sin offered no such eternal rewards as service to God does.
“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.” -1st Peter 2:18-19
Some of the diaspora Jews and believers would be slaves in the Roman empire. Did Peter write to them saying, “Overthrow your masters, kill them in their sleep?” No he didn’t.
Does this mean that the Bible condones and approves of slavery? Of course not! This scripture simply points out a reality of the ancient world. He is instructing slaves to obey God, and through submission to authority win others to the cross of Christ. And if one suffers under the yoke of slavery, they are glorifying God.
Of course God knew that slavery would one day be abolished, by Christians like William Wilberforce. But in the context of 2000 years ago, it was simply a reality of ancient society. Remember, Peter didn’t write to Christians telling them to overthrow governments, instead Christians were called to walk in the tension of ultimate worship of God, and submission to human authorities.
“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” -1st Peter 2:23-25
In verse 23-25 we see a picture of Christ’s perfect form of submission. People hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate. He suffered, but made no threats. And instead he trusted Himself to God. And not only that, Jesus put our sins on himself in his body on the cross. So that we could die to sin, and live for righteousness sake. We were once empty, lost, confused people without a true place. But now we have come back to the shepherd, and walk in his flock. So while we walk in the world, we are exiles, caught in the tension between submission to God, and submission to the various Babylon’s in which we live.
Question: How have you failed to submit to government, authorities, and employers? How have you succeeded?
Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. -1st Peter 3:1-2
7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. -1st Peter 3:7
Here we see the concept of submission, which has moved from government, to masters, to the example of Christ’s submission, and now comes to wives and husbands. God gave us the great gift of marriage, between man and woman, exclusively, and he gave us guidelines which are quite clear: mutual submission. That doesn’t mean we meet halfway, that doesn’t mean we put up which each other’s nonsense, it means we submit to each other.
Wives are told that if they have unbelieving husbands, that the purity of their lives will win their spouses over for Christ.
Husbands are told to be considerate of their wives, and treat them with respect. Don’t look down on your wife, don’t treat her like an object, don’t be harsh with her, but be respectful. And respectful in a manner such as this: the realization that you and your wife are heirs of the gift of eternal life. Heirs. Now let me ask you this: What are heirs? They are receiving an inheritance. Now in the context of the body of Christ, heirs are considered what in authority? Equal. Equal heirs of eternal life. Isn’t that interesting? Of course it also refers to the woman as the “weaker partner.” And it also gives the reference that Sarah submitted to Abraham and called him her lord, but we should balance that with a general sense of equality (Galatians 3:28).
So what’s the overall message we can take from these scriptures in 1st Peter chapters 2 and 3? First of all, we know we are chosen, from out of the world, from darkness, and we’ve been brought into the light. And we’re a temple of God. In fact, it says we were predestined for this. We recognize that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of this temple we’re a part of.
Second, we recognize that each of us are like bricks in this house being built up. We’re each different pieces of this puzzle which fits together to form the body of Christ.
Then we are told that we’re foreigners and exiles from the world. We’re a gathering of refugees out of the world, who live in this tension between being citizens of heaven, while still being in this fallen world. We’re told to live such pure lives among Babylon that the Babylonians are amazed and it helps win them to Christ.
Then we’re given this exhaustive list of submissions that we’re supposed to live in. We’re to be submitted to government authorities. We’re to be submitted to our masters, to our leaders. And we’re to be submitted to our wives and to our husbands.
-Chosen as part of God’s temple.
-Live pure lives in exile.
-Submit to God, to government, to masters, and to your spouses.
Application Questions: Question: Do you really see yourself as part of a new kingdom? Or do you still live like an average American chasing the dream of money, family, and good insurance policies?
Question: What parts of your life do you need to unhook from this fallen world to live out a more authentic Christian walk?
Question: Do you practice submission to government authority? Do you practice submission in your marriage relationships? Do you practice submission to those you work for? How can we live it out more fully, the act of Christ-like submission?
"Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." -Romans 13:13-14 ESV
In our modern day we as Christians can assume that we're fine with one foot in and one foot out. We've got the whole grace through faith in Christ equation going in our lives. That's what it's really all about right? I mean, if we have some active sins in our lives, no big deal right? I mean, nobody can be perfect. Especially if it's just some of the 'small sins.' After all we've got grace, right?
Part of the equation of salvation is the recognition that we've set aside our old selves, which were corrupted by sin, and we've "put on" our new selves which are being built up in righteousness. Indeed, the equation of salvation is fairly simple, as Jesus put it, "repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1:15).
"Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." -Ephesians 4:22-24 (ESV)
And again, "Be holy as I am holy, for without holiness no one will see the Lord" 1st Peter 1:15-16.
Also it is written: "Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord." -Hebrews 12:14
So, let's say I'm a Christian, and I live my life in service to God, preaching the gospel, and living a set apart life. But during my life I never repent (turn away from) the sin of stealing. I occasionally download music illegally from the internet. I do that in my life, then I die, and face God in the judgment at the end of the world. Do I go to heaven or hell?
Another example, we have a woman, shes a Christian, lives for God, and serves in lay ministry. But there's a sin in her life that she treasures, it's the sin of gossip. She loves to speak about others, and share details about their lives, and she can sometimes be harsh and cruel in her private judgments. So she dies, and she goes to face God on judgment day. Where does she go?
Another example, we have a man who is a Christian, but he holds out a fair amount of unforgiveness toward people who have hurt him. Other than that, he leads a pure life, but he feels justified in not forgiving others who have sinned against him. He dies suddenly, and goes before God. Where does he go?
Still another example, a man struggles with pornography and masturbation. He's a minister, and he preaches to a large congregation. He gives a good witness, but has a private addiction that he never addresses despite the Holy Spirit prodding him to do so. Where does he go when he dies and faces God?
One final example, a godly Christian woman has led dozens of people to Christ, she's done great deeds in His name, but she hangs on to a certain habit. She asks a friend at a local pharmacy to get pills for her, and give them to her, for a sickness she has, which she could pay for, but since her friend works there, she gets them for free. The Holy Spirit has convicted her many times, but she refuses to set those things aside. As she passes away, and faces God, where will she go? Heaven or hell?
The truth is that each of these people in these scenarios would not go to heaven, they would go to hell. Can a Christian end up going to hell? Yes they very much can. We each have a requirement in our personal lives of living in holiness and purity before God.
This is a high standard of living, but it's quite thoroughly livable in the power of the Holy Spirit. Thankfully for each of us, the Holy Spirit is active in our lives, convicting us, rebuking us, comforting us, and helping us live out our Christian walk. But we have the choice of resisting the Spirit's leading, and clinging to our old sins. And if we don't "repent and believe the gospel" but remain unrepentant (unwilling to change) we shouldn't expect to inherit eternal life. Instead we'll inherit condemnation.
Ephesians 4:30-31 "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice."
Our sins are washed away by the powerful blood of Jesus Christ. He has paid our debt of sin. But it was a high, high cost to pay. Jesus didn't die on the cross, so we could continue sinning in our earthly lives, and use him as a constant damp rag to wipe off our own sin over and over again. Sadly, we often have a cavalier attitude toward sin in our day and age. We comfort ourselves with catch phrases about grace, grace, and more grace. In fact it seems as if many of these grace-junkies in the church worship the idea of grace more so than God himself. Now grace is absolutely a central theme of our faith. But it's not the end all be all. Many have used the concept of grace as an excuse to live in sin, not realizing that the scriptures clearly tell us that we've been called to live pure, holy, set apart lives.
If you are caught in a sin in your life right now, realize this: Jesus Christ will set you free. The Holy Spirit is right there with you, willing and able to set you free. Follow His leading! Any sin that we commit on Earth, as long as we come to Christ in prayer, confess the sin, and repent (turn away from it) we know we will be forgiven. The important thing is to move into the future and not continue to habitually commit that sin again and again.
Our God is a God of great love. In fact the word of God tells us God is love. But our God is also a consuming fire. Heaven and hell are both realities. We should live in light of that, trembling before our Heavenly Father, and learning to fear Him and as such, live holy lives of reverence and awe for God.
Sadly, this is a somewhat lost teaching in the pulpits of modern day Christianity. Pastors don't wants to offend anyone. Pastors don't want to risk losing church members by preaching on those pesky "sin and judgment" verses. After all it's the message of love that will get people saved right? Well, yes and no. Love is very important, yes. But often times we need a good dose of some raw facts about sin and hell, to motivate us toward repentance and change. Should we share about these things in order to scare people to change? Not at all. But people should be taught, and should be warned about the many messages about purity and holiness in the scriptures. We're abdicating our duty if we ignore them. We can't ignore and minimize the warnings of hell and eternal torment in the scriptures. We can't just write these things out because we don't like them, or think they might offend someone.
Holiness is our calling. And holiness we must have, in order to see God. We all struggle, and stumble in many ways. But in the journey of our lives, as the Holy Spirit convicts us, and calls us out of sin, we should be quick to respond, and quick to repent, realizing that to remain in sin, even as a professing Christian, is to leave our souls in great danger. God loves us. Jesus will help us be free from sin. But we have to take dutiful action as the Spirit convicts and leads us. But please don't be afraid. As it is written, "I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" -Philippians 1:6.
But I will remind you, that this is not a message that you will hear from many pulpits in our modern day and age of feel good worship experiences and self help sermons. Which is why it's more important then ever that Christians read the Bible for themselves, carefully, and understand everything that is written. Don't trust in theological systems, don't trust what the pastor or priest says, trust what the Bible says, line by line, and carefully studied.
I've made the mistake in the past of clinging too closely to a preferred theological system, whether it be Arminianism or Calvinism or whatever. Don't make that same mistake. Hold closely to the word of God, and hold lightly to the theological systems of man. I had noticed over the years of my faith that there seemed to be a disconnect between what I heard in pulpits and what I was reading in the Bible.
But I comforted myself that the preachers must know better than me about the word, and theology. But often times that's not the case, and if we see something in the Bible, we should study it and learn it, and follow it to it's logical conclusion. Heaven is real and hell is real. Jesus Christ is real. Everything hangs in the balance. Don't let any man or woman deceive you with empty words or hollow philosophy.
As it says in Galatians: "We are each responsible for our own conduct. Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them. Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit." -Galatians 6:5-8 NLT
So what is the final answer? Can one sin in my life lead me to hell? The answer to this question is yes. One sin that the Holy Spirit has repeatedly convicted you of, and you've consistently resisted that call to change, throughout your whole life, to the moment of death (which is an unknown moment for each of us) can and will lead you to hell.
Our God is a holy, pure, perfect, righteous God of love, grace, and mercy. He has given us everything we need to live a godly life in Christ Jesus. But if we snub the Lord, living with one foot in holiness and one foot in sin, we shouldn't expect for the outcome to be heaven, but instead hell and punishment. I'm sorry, I know, it's a tough teaching, but that is God's standard.
There are no big and small sins, to sin by breaking one command is to break them all. But thankfully we have a great savior in Jesus Christ who actively walks with us through this life, and His Spirit is within us, helping us to grow further and further away from sin and deeper and deeper into righteousness. If you walk with Jesus Christ, He will make you to be holier and holier day by day. Do that carefully, giving consideration to your ways, and you won't have to worry about falling short of eternal life. But if you resist the Spirit of God and lazily allow sin to prevail in your Earthly life, realize that the word says you'll reap what you sow.
Trust in God, brothers and sisters, and give no provision for the flesh to obey it's desires, but live instead to obey the Spirit and fulfill His desires in you. Amen.