As we continue in our new teaching series, Standing Firm, this week we’re talking about what to do once we have set ourselves firmly on the foundation of our hope in Christ. If we are going to claim such a foundation for ourselves, there should be some pretty profound implications that has for our life. What those implications are is what Peter explores in the next section of his letter. Thanks for joining me in thinking through these.
I am sitting down right now. What’s wrong with that statement? Well, perhaps most notably…it’s not true. My words and my actions don’t line up. We naturally expect there to be a connection—a rather direct one at that—between what someone says and what someone does. In fact, the whole of human society is rooted in that belief. When there is a disconnect here, everything is more difficult than it otherwise would be. For instance, think about what might happen if you went to the store and didn’t believe there was a connection between the words of the manager expressed in the price tags on various items and the action of the items’ actual cost. What would you do? It’s easy to simply say you wouldn’t buy it, but what if this was a jug of milk and you had a hungry little one at home? Now things are more complicated. You might try and barter the manager down to the price you believe it should really have. But what if the manager doesn’t believe there is a connection between your words regarding the amount of money you are able and willing to pay and what you will actually give him when the time comes? Now you’re thinking about how you can steal the milk because you have a baby to feed and he’s thinking about how he can protect his product. We’re starting to have a real mess on our hands, aren’t we?
Now, there are some situations when a person’s words and actions don’t line up and nobody bats an eye about it. We encounter the most notable of these situations when we go to the movie theater. (Do you remember movie theaters? They were these places where people used to gather in larger groups to watch a film together. They were popular circa 2019 BC—Before Covid.) I watched the new Marvel movie, Black Widow, last weekend. As a committed Marvel fan, it was a little like getting a big gulp of air when you’ve been holding your breath for a long time. One of the characters in the movie played a totally amoral military commander who was willing to treat people like disposable pieces of garbage no matter who they were (even his own daughter) as long as it meant advancing his own agenda. I have a sneaking suspicion that the man playing that role is not like that in real life. As a matter of fact, he has been married to one woman since 1979 and has three daughters. Not many Hollywood types can make a claim like that. He’s probably an excellent husband and father. It’s a very good thing that his words in the film don’t line up with his actions in real life.
The stage has provided a place where words and actions can be wildly divergent from one another for a very long time. The word we use today to describe someone whose words and actions don’t line up (and I don’t mean the word “liar”) actually comes from very much more ancient times. The ancient Greeks used this word for their actors. Jesus took the word and used it to describe people generally whose words and actions didn’t line up, and gave it a decidedly more negative spin than it had ever had before. His reorientation of the word stuck. It was such a striking word that when English translators were seeking a fitting word to use when they came across this word in the Gospels, they decided they couldn’t do any better and simply transliterated it. Thus, we have our word “hypocrite.”
To all of that, let me now add this: The word “hypocrite” doesn’t appear in our passage for today at all. Aren’t you glad you have all that information, though? You’ll be ready to dominate next time you’re playing trivial pursuit and an ancient Greek theater history question comes up. You’re welcome. Of perhaps greater significance, though, is the fact that the idea behind the word is layered all through what Peter has to say next as we continue in our series, Standing Firm.
This morning we are in the second part of our new teaching series, Standing Firm. Over the course of the next few weeks, we are working our way through the New Testament letter of 1 Peter. Peter was, of course, one of Jesus’ disciples. He was one of the big three with James and John. He also had the hottest temper and the biggest mouth. He talked a big talk, but on the other side of the cross from where we are now, his talk didn’t always line up with his walk. It’s a pretty amazing testament to what the Spirit can accomplish in a life submitted wholly to Him to see where Peter has come by the time he’s writing this letter. Speaking of this letter, Peter’s major driving concern as he writes is giving encouragement and instruction to some believers who were living in a hostile cultural environment on how to stand firm in their faith without giving up their witness. As we talked about last week, as the world around us continues to turn away from our commitment to Jesus, this is something we need to know as well.
We kicked things off last time by establishing the foundation on which we can stand when the world starts pushing back. That foundation is our hope in Christ. In Christ, God has given us an incredible, powerful, and secure hope. No matter how bad things may get here and now, we can lean all our weight on our hope in His promises for a future better than the present and have no fear of it falling out from under us. Your hope in Christ is big enough to lean on. But if we are going to stand on the foundation of the incredible hope we have in Christ—a hope that even the angels long the understand—then we need to actually stand on it. It’s no use talking about it without actually doing it. It won’t do us any good and we’ll just affix ourselves with the label “hypocrite.” Fortunately, that’s where Peter goes next. Let’s look at this together.
Peter begins this next section with a call to action. If you haven’t already found your way there, join me in 1 Peter 1:13 so you can see this with me. “Therefore, with your minds ready for action, be sober-minded and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Are you with him here? Peter is basically summarizing last week for us. If you are a clear-thinking person, lean into this hope you have in Christ.
There are two sides, though, to every decision we make. There’s the one we choose, and the one we don’t. If we choose to put our hope in Christ, that necessarily means we are not choosing to put it elsewhere. And where else might we place our hope? On the things of this world. The thing is, though, we don’t tend to like rigidly binary choices. Either-or situations don’t really sit well with us—especially nowadays. We want options. We want to be able to set our hope on Christ, but also to keep our options open just in case our first choice doesn’t pan out. That’s just wisdom, right? What’s the old adage? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. We need to diversify our portfolios so that if one investment falls through on us, there are still others we can depend on. The trouble is: that isn’t how it works with this foundation. The foundation of Christ really is an all-or-nothing affair. That’s why Peter instructs us to set our hope completely on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. He calls us to that and then immediately nixes the other side. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires of your former ignorance.”
Now, Peter’s starting to get a little personal here, isn’t he? That phrase “your former ignorance” smarts just a bit. In fact, it more than smarts for someone who isn’t currently a follower of Jesus. It’s downright offensive. But Peter isn’t trying to be pejorative here. He’s simply being descriptive. He’s not saying unbelievers are dumb. He’s simply saying they don’t know about the incredible hope available to us in Jesus, which, of course, is why they are unbelievers. Peter is saying here, “Look, the people you were before you placed your hope in Christ aren’t the people you are anymore. Don’t go back there. You had desires for things that were the result of the hope you were trying to find for yourselves. Those desires, those hopes didn’t pan out. They didn’t hold you up. They made you just like everybody else. Don’t be like everybody else. “But as the one who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct.”
Got that? Holiness means two things. It means being different from and morally superior to. Someone who is holy doesn’t think, act, or speak like the people around her. She does all of those things in ways that are better than the people around her. And by “better,” I mean more consistently in line with the character of God. As those who have placed our hope completely on the grace coming to us when Jesus returns, it is absolutely imperative that we look and act and speak like people who have placed our hope completely on the grace coming to us when Jesus returns. Why? Well, number one because this properly reflects the character of our God. Verse 16: “for it is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”
Children tend to become mirrors of their parents. That may be good, or it may be not so good, but it happens all the same. If my children begin behaving in ways that are wildly out of sync with my character, it would be hard for someone who didn’t know them to associate them with me (minus the part where they look just like me, poor guys). The same thing applies here. If we are going to be children of our heavenly Father, if our character is out of sync with His, that becomes a more difficult claim to uphold. In other words—and I’ll just lay this on the line for you here: If your hope is in Christ, your life should look like it. Someone should be able to look at you and know whose you are. They should be able to tell that something is different about you even if they can’t quite put their finger on what it is.
Some of you perhaps saw the America’s Got Talent audition featuring the singer who calls herself Nightbirde from a couple of weeks ago. She’s got an incredible story which I told some of on my blog from the Friday before last. What makes her story so good, though, is not just that she’s singing about being okay in spite of a third grim cancer diagnosis at age 30. What makes her story so good is the fact that her hope is resting entirely on Jesus. If you’ve seen the audition, everyone in that room knew there was something different about her as soon as she opened her mouth to speak. It was obvious. Her holiness was a fitting reflection of the holiness of her heavenly Father. If your hope is in Christ, your life should look like it.
In what follows here, Peter goes on to tell us another reason why this is so important to get right. Listen to this starting again in v. 17: “If you appeal to the Father who judges impartially according to each one’s work, you are to conduct yourselves in reverence during your time living as strangers. For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was revealed in these last times for you. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory so that your faith and hope are in God.” In other words, if you are going to claim this incredible hope as your own, and appeal to God for help in your present circumstances, you need to live accordingly because this isn’t just some common hope that isn’t worth very much. The very Son of God spilled His blood so that you can have this hope. Jesus Christ, the eternally preexistent second member of the Trinity, gave up His very life so that you can live and have hope in a better tomorrow. To live in a way that is out of sync with this hope reveals a deeply troubling belief on the part of the one doing it, namely, that Jesus’ sacrifice really didn’t mean very much. I don’t know about you, but I’m not really all that interested in standing before God and telling Him His Son’s death wasn’t much of a big deal. If your hope is in Christ, your life should look like it.
And that sounds good, but it leaves a pretty important question on the table. In fact, it leaves two. What does this look like, and how do we do it? Okay, our lives should look like our hope is in Christ if indeed it is, but how? Stay with me in the text at v. 22 now: “Since you have purified yourselves by your obedience to the truth, so that you show sincere brotherly love for each other…” Pause there for just a second. Are you with him here? Our obedience to the truth—our willingness to make sure our lives reflect the hope we claim—results in a purification from sin, from the desires of our former ignorance. How? Grace. When we, by faith, commit ourselves to the commands of Jesus, His grace covers us and cleanses us of our sin. And when we do that, we are able to love one another. When we have truly placed our hope in Jesus, we are able to love one another, and so, what does Peter tell us to do? Look at the rest of the verse: “from a pure heart love one another constantly, because you have been born again—not of perishable seed but of imperishable.” If your hope is in Christ, your life should look like it, and what does it mean for your life to look like it? It means you love one another. The mark of Christian hope is lived out love. That sounds an awful lot like something Jesus said. They’ll know you are My disciples when you love one another. It’s almost like there’s just one consistent message we have to keep getting told in different ways throughout the Scriptures.
If that’s the what, Peter flows smoothly into the how. Look at the end of v. 23. This new birth that is the result of our hope which enables us to love one another comes to us “through the living and enduring word of God. For ‘All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like a flower of the grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord endures forever.’ And this word is the gospel that was proclaimed to you.” The how here is the Scriptures. We gain the knowledge and wisdom we need to keep our confession and our actions fully aligned when we immerse ourselves in the Scriptures. Root yourself in the Scriptures, love one another well, place your hope in Christ. This really isn’t complicated stuff. The Gospel is simple. But if we are going to claim it as our own, we need to live in a way that is consistent with our confession. If your hope is in Christ, your life should look like it.
Here, then, are two things you can do today to make this meaningful in your life. I’m just going to give you two. If you can remember and practice these, you will be on the right track here. For starters, make sure your hope is in Christ and in Him alone. Do some introspection this week. In what things are you placing your hope other than Christ? The way you identify these things is to ask this question: When things fly apart on you, where do you turn for comfort and encouragement? When the storms begin to blow up around you, what do you grab as an anchor for stability? Those are the things in which you are placing your hope. If you want to get really bold with this, ask someone who knows you well the things to which they see you turn in difficult circumstances. That’ll give you some real clarity on the matter. And, once you’ve started to identify these things, begin the work—with the Spirit’s help—of extracting your hope from them so you can place more of it on Christ. If your hope is in Christ, your life should look like it. If you’ve got hope resting on a few things in addition to Christ, it’s not very likely to look like it.
Here’s the second thing: Start looking for some ways you can live now like the kingdom of God is already here. In other words, start practicing some intentional love for the people around you. Do it for the folks who are a part of this body of believers with you. Do it for folks who aren’t. Do it for everyone around you. Find some intentional ways you can love someone else in Jesus’ name. There really isn’t anything else that will declare as loudly as that where your hope really lies. If your hope is in Christ, your life should look like it. Love is how it will look like it. In this life there are places where acting out a part is welcomed and encouraged. The stage of your life is not one of them. If your hope is in Christ, your life should look like it. It should look like it because in Christ God has something pretty special planned for you. We’ll talk more about that next week.