Lord God our Father, we pray that your word would be our guide, your Holy Spirit our teacher and your glory our supreme concern. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
I can’t resist telling you the story of a young police officer taking his final exam at a Police College in north London. You may have heard it before, but I make no apology for that as it’s worthy of repetition. He was faced with this question: “You are on patrol in outer London when an explosion occurs in a gas main in a nearby street. On investigation you find that a large hole has been blown in the footpath and there is an overturned van lying nearby. Inside the van there is a strong smell of alcohol. Both occupants - a man and a woman - are injured. You recognise the woman as the wife of your Divisional Inspector, who is at present away in the USA. A passing motorist stops to offer you assistance and you realise that he is a man who is wanted for armed robbery. Suddenly a man runs out of a nearby house, shouting that his wife is expecting a baby and that the shock of the explosion has made the birth imminent. Another man is crying for help, having been blown into an adjacent canal by the explosion, and he cannot swim. Bearing in mind the provisions of the Mental Health Act, describe in a few words what actions you would take.” The officer thought for a moment, picked up his pen, and wrote: “I would take off my uniform and mingle with the crowd.”
I’d like to say that it’s easy being a Christian – but it isn’t, and (if you’ll excuse the cheese) we are often tempted to take off our Christian uniform and “mingle with the crowd.” Christians are under pressure - Pressure to compromise in order to get along. Pressure to sin, to fit in. Pressure to water down what we believe. Pressure to not be so vocal about it. And the pressures can be come from all over - from family, friends, colleagues, government, marketers, and media. And they can also be non-stop in a 24/7 world. The pressure to give up and go with the flow is incessant.
Which is exactly what the people the apostle Peter wrote to were feeling. He wrote to people who were being ostracised because of their faith in Jesus - and like Christians in any era they felt like strangers and aliens in their society. Their faith cost them money, status and job security. Their beliefs were mocked, ridiculed and scorned. Some were even being tortured and killed because they believed in Jesus. And they were losing hope. Losing hope that life was going to get any better. Losing hope that God is actually out there to help them. Losing hope that walking with Jesus was really worth it.
So Peter writes to them and to us also, to say: “Don’t lose hope! Don’t give up! Keep going!”
And in 1 Peter 1v.13-25 he gives us 3 things that will keep us from giving up and going on. So please grab a Bible and open it up to page 1217 so you can have that passage open in front of you and we’re going to dive in and look at 3 things that will keep us growing in Christ. Here’s the first one:
REMEMBER WHERE WE’RE GOING (V.13)
Take a look with me at verse 13:
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Now whenever you see a “therefore” in the Bible you’ve got to ask what it’s there for. It’s the Bible’s way of shouting “Sit up and pay attention!” It always means, “because of what you’ve just learned about God, therefore you’re meant to be like this”.
And what Peter has been telling them about God is what he has done for them. He’s assured them that God has chosen them, and made them new in him and though things are going to be tough for a little while they will not regret sticking with him because one day Jesus will return, their salvation will be made complete and they will be given an inheritance in heaven which is better than anything this world has to offer. Or to put it in Peter’s words in verse 3 of this chapter:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that will never spoil perish or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
I don’t know what you were looking forward to when you leapt – or crawled! – out of bed this morning. For some I’m sure it’s the relief of finishing your exams. For others it’s the respite of a summer holiday. Then again maybe you’re hopeful about a job offer, a potential relationship, the housing market picking up, a pain relieving medical treatment. There are so many things that we can hope for in this world. But Peter is saying that none of those hopes are better than the hope of heaven.
Because this hope is different to any other hope. It isn’t wishful thinking or naive optimism - it’s not like saying “I hope I get tickets for the men’s 100 metres final” or “I hope Scotland win the World Cup”. No! When the Bible talks about hope it means a confident certainty. Did you see what Peter called this hope? He said it is “a living hope”. For it is grounded in Jesus resurrection from the dead. Jesus died, but then he rose again. So our hope lives, because Jesus lives.
This is so different from all of our other hopes. If your hope is in anything or anyone other than Jesus - your hope will die. If your hope is in a relationship, a friendship, a family, a personality or even a pastor - your hope will die, because people die. If your hope is in money, property, possessions - your hope will die, because as we well know that God dies all too easily when the bubble bursts!
You can hang your hope on anything... thinking that once you get this or that or you get to a certain point in your life then things will get better, be fuller, more worthwhile, more satisfying. But everything, eventually disappoints… apart from Jesus’ return! Because nothing else has the same God-given guarantee.
And that’s not just in terms of certainty. But in also in terms of abundance! For Peter says that God has given us “an inheritance that will never spoil perish or fade.”
I have 3 small children – and when I die they will inherit everything of value that I own. So my CD collection, my collection of James Bond Novels, my Partick Thistle Scarf, my bank balance... er… that’s probably about it. And that was probably in descending order of value. But when I die my kids get the lot! That’s their inheritance.
In contrast - what does God own? Everything! The whole universe is his! Think of the most amazing hopes and dreams you have about the summer or the rest of your life and you will find that as a Christian your inheritance in heaven will top the lot. For the God of the universe is going to share with you all that he has! It doesn’t get any better than that!
Which is why Peter wants us to live in this hope. Remembering that the best is yet to come. So that no matter how hard the going is, or how tempted we are to be distracted by what others have, we will be able to say, “I know that God is good, I know that Jesus loves me, I know that God is with me, I know that whatever life throws at me God is going to teach me something special - so it’s never a waste of my time or my tears. And I know that one day... Jesus is coming back to take me to heaven and that will be more valuable than anything the world has to offer.”
So: “Therefore,” says Peter, “prepare your minds for action; be self controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” The original translation here says “gird up the loins of your mind”. If you don’t know where your loins are and you’re not keen on girding them, then don’t worry. This is merely a picture from the first century of a bloke wearing robes. And if he wanted to run they were too long and cumbersome, so he had to pull them up at the front and tuck them into his belt or he’d trip and fall. So essentially Peter’s saying that we need to get ready to run towards heaven! He’s saying: “Come on guys pull your thoughts together and focus on where you’re going.”
And I reckon if he was here tonight Peter would be encouraging a stampede to the bookstall at the end of the service. He wants us to be eagerly fixing our minds on the reality of God’s future promises - so he’d expect us to go looking for any resources that would help us do so. We are so privileged in this country to have so many great books and quiet time notes to help us get our head in the game. So, buy one thing tonight that will “prepare your mind for action”.
And “be self-controlled”. It’s easy to lose discipline with our Bible reading and prayer over the summer months when often our routines are disrupted by holidays, but it’s essential to get a grip of our minds if we’re going to keep running for heaven. The same could be said for getting to church - don’t take a holiday from meeting with God’s people and hearing his word taught. Even if you’re away - you can always use the Good Church Guide to find out about churches if you’re moving some place new after graduation or you could download some sermons to take away with you on holiday.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re off to Coventry or the Costa Brava your ultimate destination is heaven and you need to keep reminding yourself of that. If you are a Christian you need to be looking forward to heaven.
If we’re to keep going with God, we not only have to remember where we’re going, we have to secondly: REMEMBER WHO WE ARE (v.14-17)
For God has not only called you to heaven, he’s called you to holiness. Check out verse 14:
14As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
As I said a minute ago I have 3 children - Lucy who’s 4, Jamie who is 2 ½ and Kate who is barely 3 weeks old. And for the moment - incredibly - they think I am the most amazing person in the whole wide world and they want to be like me! If I stick my tongue out at Kate - which of course I have been wont to do - after a while she will start copying me. When Lucy gets down from the table to go to the toilet during a meal she will say: “I’ll just be a minute, in a second, for a little while.” And Fiona and I will think “well how long is that?” until we realise that she’s just copying the things we say. And Jamie has recently taken to sitting down beside me, tapping me on the arm and saying “Daddy, you funny.” Because that’s what I keep saying to him. Unfortunately this copying thing goes for everything we say. So it was a bit of a shock to the system when we were recently stuck in heavy traffic on our way to nursery one morning and I heard both Lucy and Jamie cry from the back of the car “Oh, come on!”
Well if you’re a Christian you are one of God’s children. And unlike my kids, you have a perfect dad. A dad who even though you used to live ignoring him and satisfying your own selfish desires – even though you were completely incapable of living up to his standards – even though you were utterly unattractive to him and there was no reason why he should give you the time of day – he took you and made you part of his family and is committed to giving you a living hope and a glorious inheritance. And you should want to be like your dad. Not as payback – as if you could ever give him anything that would compensate for the way you’ve treated him. Not to make him love you more than he already does – as if he could actually love you anymore than to pay for your sin with the precious blood of Jesus! No you should want to be like Him, because he’s your dad and he’s amazing and there’s no one else in the whole wide universe like him!
He is “holy”. Which doesn’t mean he’s like a monk. Holiness has nothing to do with mystical experiences, strange clothes or bad haircuts. No, it’s the Bible’s word for God’s perfect moral purity. It literally means “set apart”. And God has set himself apart from anything that would corrupt his blazing, awesome purity. He is completely distinct from all that is evil or sinful.
Your toothbrush is set apart in the same way. It is kept pure so that when you brush your teeth it cleans them rather than infects them. So, you don’t use it to scrub potatoes, or apply your make up, or get the mud off your shoes after a walk in the country. You could, but you would never put it in your mouth ever again! No, you set it apart, you keep it holy for your teeth.
And because God is like that we should want to be like that too. We should want to be set apart from all that contaminates - anything that would make us unclean and therefore unusable. “... just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.”
In all you do! So we aim to be distinct not just when we’re at church, but also when we scatter to our homes and families and schools and work places. Everywhere we go and in everything we do we are to pursue God’s holiness. So, let me ask you: In what areas of your life are you not acting like your dad? What do you need to take action on to become more like Him? What needs confessed? What needs to go? What do you need to be accountable to others for?
For Peter knows that we can easily get sucked back into patterns of sin and selfishness if we let things slide and don’t deal with them. Which is why he says in verse 14:
…do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.
If we compare ourselves to those who are ignorant of God – who are basically living deliberately suppressing any knowledge of a higher standard, then our own standards will slip. So we don’t see any harm in sharing a “juicy bit of gossip”, or in telling a little white lie, or in checking out those interesting photos on line. But before we know it we’ve lowered our standards and gossip, deception and lust become a part of who we are. We are conformed. We become no different to the world around us, and we lose the distinctiveness of our Father.
Which is why Peter encourages us not to look around, but to look up – and remember who we are! For if we do that we will run to our Father, confess our sin and say: “Father teach me how to be like you!”
If we’re to keep going with God we need to be serious about holiness and live as obedient children. And finally we need to REMEMBER WHAT WE’RE HERE FOR (v.17-25)
Have one last look in Peter’s book! Verse 17:
Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
You know when you’re buying something, you want to know the quality of it? Perhaps it’s a digital radio, or a vacuum cleaner: you pick it up to feel the weight. And if it’s all flimsy, too plastic, it feels hollow, not built to last, you think, “I'm not getting that.” Well Peter is saying that one day God will judge us, he’ll be utterly impartial, he’ll pick up our lives and weigh them and he’s hoping to find something of substance. Something that will last forever.
Which is why God rescued us from living an empty life. He saw how vacuous our lives were without him, and decided to do something about it. So he went shopping for people - and you could say he spent all he had on you. God spent everything, to make your live count for something!
So what does last forever? Well that’s verse 23:
23For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, 25but the word of the Lord stands forever.”
There is only one thing that lasts forever. The life-giving word of God. Everything we think is glorious about us will all just fade away to nothing. All of our achievements, exam results, friendships. Our good looks, marriages and families even – they’re like grass, here today and gone tomorrow. And so are we. You may be around until Jesus comes back or you might walk out of here this evening and get run over by a bus. Either way do you get what Peter is saying here? He’s saying: “Life is short! Use it wisely. Don’t waste a day of it.”
So, can I encourage you to use all the opportunities you have before Jesus comes to call you home, to love and encourage and call others home too. Get busy planting the living and enduring word of God in folks’ lives so that they may last forever too.
That’s why we go on and on to you students to make the most of your summers and get stuck into camps and mission trips. That’s why it’s so encouraging to see folks like Tom having the vision to sacrificially use his precious holidays to still get away and serve in that way. That’s why Andy is jumping up and down inviting you to join one of the youth and children’s work teams. It’s not because we get paid on commission to fill these teams, but because we know that what really lasts is God’s word being planted in people’s lives.
And the opportunities to do that aren’t just limited to the set piece things – they’re everywhere. They’re there with families and our friends. Our neighbours and our colleagues. We may feel like we’re banging our heads off a brick wall trying to share something of God’s word with them. But don’t give up. His word is living and it lasts. So we have to believe it can eventually take root in folks’ lives and grow.
Well, I don’t know where you’re off to, or what you’re going to be up to this summer and beyond. But wherever God leads you will you be remembering? Remembering that he is taking you to heaven. Remembering that as his child he is calling you to be like him. And remembering that as his rescued people God is calling us to make the most of our lives.
Father God, we thank that though life can be tough now, you have called us to a living hope that far outweighs our temporary troubles. And we thank you that you’re our perfect Father! So we pray that you would help us fix our eyes on the future you have in store for us and as we journey there transform us to be more like you – walking in holiness and planting your word. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.