As we draw near the end of our series, Standing Firm, this morning we set our sights on what is the end goal of our efforts to remain rooted in Jesus in spite of the culture’s attempts to pull us up. Any time we are on a long journey, it’s helpful to know where we are going. Peter gives us one of those points here. Let’s talk today about how we can become more like Jesus.
More Like Jesus
Have you ever arrived before? Now, you’re probably sitting there starting to think I’m just a bit off…okay, some of you were probably already thinking that, but this just confirms your suspicions. Of course you have arrived before. You arrived at church this morning and here you are. Duh. But that’s not what I mean. I’m thinking a little bigger than that, like when we finally arrived at my folks house a few weeks ago after having been on the road for almost 36 hours. I can’t remember a time I’ve been so thankful to be out of a car.
What I mean is, have you ever pursued some long-term task or challenge and finally mastered it? You felt like you had arrived at that particular destination. The Olympics just finished up the week before last. Think about an Olympic athlete. For those folks, winning a gold medal at that level of competition is an indication you have arrived in whatever sport you are playing. Now, sure, the most dedicated athletes will tell you they never arrive, they just keep finding new hills to climb, new skills to master, but from a practical standpoint, you don’t have any other victories to win once you have that one under your belt. Everything else is downhill from there. You have arrived.
Let’s think even bigger than that. When it comes to life in general, at what point do you ever feel like you’ve arrived? We’ve got a bunch of students who have started college over the last couple of weeks. Is college when you’ve arrived in life? How about when you graduate from college? Is marriage an arrival point? How about being married, with kids, in your first house, and working a job that’s paying well enough to pay the bills and even have a bit of extra for some fun stuff? Do you arrive when you retire? When is that point? Or, how about in our faith? If you are a follower of Jesus, at what point on that journey do you feel like you’ve arrived? Answering that question is probably well beyond the scope of any one, single sermon, but this morning, as we continue our journey through 1 Peter, we are going to see the apostle give us a point that’s at least worth our efforts to reach it.
This morning finds us closing in on the conclusion of our teaching series, Standing Firm. For the last several weeks, we have been working our way through the New Testament letter of 1 Peter. As I hope you’ve seen so far in the journey, 1 Peter is one of those letters in the back of the New Testament that are incredibly easy to overlook, but worth every bit of attention we can give them. The idea that really animates Peter’s letter and which has been driving our own conversations is that serving Jesus in the midst of a culture which doesn’t understand or like Christians is no easy task. Peter’s audience understood that intimately. Their culture was, on the whole, incredibly hostile to Christianity. That hasn’t been the case for us for most of our nation’s history, but things change. Seasons go and seasons come. The world you experience today when you walk around outside if you are a follower of Jesus is not the same one you grew up in. The likelihood of your facing persecution for your faith in this country is higher now than it has ever been. For some followers of Jesus this situation threatens to overwhelm them with fear or anger or even despair. None of those are the right response, though. Peter walks us through how to handle it; he tells us how to stand firm in our faith when the world comes against us without sacrificing our Gospel witness.
We spent the first three weeks together unpacking the foundation Peter builds for us to stand on to do this. This foundation is rooted in hope, character, and an unshakeable confidence that in Christ, God is making us into someone entirely more significant than we could ever be on our own. Once we are rooted on this foundation, we stand firm like Jesus did. And how did Jesus stand firm? With love. When the world strikes hard, we love back harder. Now, in the short term, sometimes this means our lives stay really difficult. But in the long term—and that’s the picture that really counts—we’ve got nothing but life ahead of us. However, as we’ve talked about again over the past couple of weeks, our character matters in this. Making sure our confession and our conduct are fully in sync out in public is great, but that consistency has to run throughout our entire lives. Living out the character of Christ at home and at church are both as important. Maybe more so. But when we get all of this right and still find ourselves in a hard spot, well, we’re on the solid ground Jesus has already paved for us. If you’re suffering for serving Jesus, you’re on solid ground.
That solid ground runs under our feet the entire journey we take with Jesus. But, you know, any time we are thinking about going on a long or difficult journey, it’s always good to know where the end point will be. When my family headed across the country to visit my folks a few weeks ago, it may have been a long journey, but we knew that when we pulled into their driveway, the journey was going to be over. The same was true coming back home. Sure, there was some uncertainty along the way like when we were calling hotel after hotel on the road hoping to find a room as the evening wore on and we were done with the car for a while, but the end point was clear. Thinking along these lines, if we are going to be talking about standing firm against a world pushing back at us because of our faith in Jesus, it would be nice to have some kind of an idea what the goal is. Well, as we get into this next section of his letter, Peter gives us just such a clue.
If you have a copy of the Scriptures handy this morning, find your way with me once again to 1 Peter. We’re going to be in the beginning of chapter 4 today. Let’s start at the beginning of the chapter here, I’ll read a few verses with you, and then we’ll talk about it. “Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same understanding—because the one who suffers in the flesh is finished with sin—in order to live the remaining time in the flesh no longer for human desires, but for God’s will. For there has already been enough time spent in doing what the Gentiles choose to do: carrying on in unrestrained behavior, evil desires, drunkenness, [immorality], carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you don’t join them in the same flood of wild living—and they slander you. They will give an account to the one who stands ready to judge the living and the dead.”
Now, there’s a lot going on here, but there are a couple of ideas that really jump out that I want to make sure you don’t miss. Let me take you to the second idea first. It picks up there in v. 3. Peter says there has been plenty of time for doing what the Gentiles do. We’ll talk about why he says there’s been plenty of time in a few minutes, but what does he mean by “doing what the Gentiles choose to do”? Well, he fairly well spells that out with the vice list that follows, but that doesn’t get to the heart of our question. What Peter is talking about here is behavior that tends to characterize people who aren’t followers of Jesus. Even as you hear me say that, though, I suspect some of you are rightly getting a bit defensive. Given the nature of the things on this list right here, that’s not without apparently due warrant. I mean, this is a pretty ugly list, but you know some folks who are not Christian in any sense, but who seem to you like good and decent people. I’m sure they are. So, why does Peter seem to stereotype the unbeliever as some sort of a wild child living a totally unaccountable, out of control, life? He was picking out a picture of sinful living his audience could easily envision. This kind of behavior wasn’t so publicly uncommon then as it is today because of the lingering effect of Christian morality on our culture. Today he could have chosen other sins, but the specific sins we see here aren’t Peter’s point.
We can get our heads and hearts a bit more fully around this with what he says in v. 4. He said they—talking about the Gentiles, or people generally who aren’t followers of Jesus—are surprised that you don’t join them in the same flood of wild living. Forget about the “wild living” part for a second. Why do people who don’t follow Jesus do the things they do? For the same reason you and I do the things we do: they think those things are okay to do. If you are a follower of Jesus, you may identify their behavior as sinful, but they don’t think so. If they did, they wouldn’t do it. Hold on a second here. Don’t believers occasionally do things they claim are sinful? Yes, and more often than just occasionally, unfortunately. So, isn’t this just a double standard? No, and let me tell you why. All of us do the things we do because we think they are okay to do. We may give lip service to their not being okay depending on the expectations of the situation we are in, but in the moment of action, we think they’re okay right then. Or, at least, we believe the consequences of our doing it will be less significant than the benefits we will gain for ourselves. The difference is, if you are a follower of Jesus, you have a worldview framework explaining why that wrong thing you did is wrong. What’s more, you believe that framework isn’t just something you’ve adopted for the sake of personal convenience, it is fundamentally true for all people at all times because it describes how the world actually is. It’s on the basis of that standard—God’s character of righteousness—that we characterize the sinful behavior of people who aren’t following Jesus as sinful. But again, they haven’t adopted that standard. As a result, they don’t understand why we won’t do the same things they will.
Now, think with me for just a second here. How well do people typically handle dealing with things or people they don’t understand? Not so good, right? That fits with what Peter says here. They don’t understand why we won’t join them in doing things they think are right, but which we know to be wrong, and so they slander us. They speak poorly of us. They defame our character. They look to try to either force us into conforming or else punish us when we refuse. In other words, it’s an ugly business. But it won’t last forever. Where anyone sticks to a path of unrighteousness, there will eventually be consequences for it.
So then, what’s the point of all of this? Why do I go out of my way to bring this to your attention? Well, because it’s in the text, for one. But just as significantly for this morning, this is a reminder of what we are facing. The pressure we will face to be like the world around us is going to be intense. It already is intense. Perhaps you have experienced this. I want you to know, Peter wants you to know, that what you have experienced and are experiencing is not something unusual. As we’ll see next week, he’s going to come back to this idea again. The world doesn’t want us in the kingdom and will do everything it can to make our efforts to remain there as painful as they can possibly be.
Okay, then why do we keep doing what we are doing? Where is all of this going? That’s the first point Peter makes. Let’s go back to that. Look at this with me again: “Therefore…” Do I even have to ask the question? What’s this therefore there for? Peter is referring back to v. 18: “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.” Therefore, Peter says, since Jesus did that, when you are facing your own prospect of suffering of some kind, put on the same mindset toward it that Jesus had. And what understanding was this? That the one who suffers in the flesh in finished with sin.
Now, that may seem like a small thing, but allow me to assure you it is not. Think about what Peter is saying there. The person who endures suffering for the sake of righteousness and does so without sacrificing her Gospel witness in the process is finished with sin. Finished with sin. Do you want to be done with sin? I sure do. Can you even imagine that? Being done with sin? Living a life in which you don’t sin anymore and have to deal with all its ugly consequences? That would be incredible. It’s more than that. Given that the goal of the Christian life is for our lives to become perfectly aligned with the life of Jesus, reaching the point at which we don’t sin anymore is the place where that goal has been accomplished. That’s the end point in our journey after Jesus. It is so, because when we are without sin completely, we’ll be ready for life in God’s kingdom. That’s as good as it gets. In other words—and this is what I want you to take away from this morning—standing firm in your faith makes you more like Jesus. Standing firm makes us more like Jesus.
That’s why all of this matters so much. That’s why Peter wrote this letter. When we get this right—when we stand firm in our faith in spite of the world’s aggression without sacrificing our witness in the process—we are reaching the goal of our entire journey. But really? We just need to endure some suffering for Jesus, and we’ll be done with sinning? That doesn’t seem like it should pass the smell test. Well, think about it. How do you know that you really hold a belief strongly; that it’s something you actually believe instead of being merely something you say you believe? Well, perhaps in several ways, but one of the very best I can think of is that you are willing to endure some grief because you hold it.
If someone were to come to you and say, “I’m going to erase your entire net worth if you don’t immediately renounce your faith in Jesus,” and you were to look them right back in the eye and say, “have at it, I don’t really need it anyway,” I think we could safely assume that your belief in Jesus is stronger than your need for your stuff. Let’s put that another way with Peter’s context here more fully in mind. If someone were to come to you and say, “If you don’t do this thing you believe to be sinful and dishonoring of God, then we are going to fire you,” and you responded by saying, “my letter of resignation will be on your desk in a few minutes,” it would be a safe bet that your faith in Jesus is stronger than your desire for whatever the sinful thing was. What’s more, there’s a pretty high likelihood that you’re not going to do whatever it is they were trying to get you to do ever again. If you reach the point that your faith in Jesus is bigger than your fear of what the consequences for holding that faith might be (which, by the way, is a much better application of that slogan than we often hear it put to these days), then we can all agree that’s a belief you really and truly hold. Well, if you really and truly hold a belief in Jesus, that belief is going to affect how you live. Namely, if Jesus is really your Lord, then you’re not going to sin. You’ll be done with it. The Christian life is in a sense, a long struggle to make Jesus Lord of every part of our existence. When we do that, sin goes away. Standing firm makes us more like Jesus.
But again, as I said to you last week, this doesn’t mean we go looking for persecution. We cannot forget the character piece when it comes to taking a stand. If we choose to resist some authority of the world around us, we must do so with the clear-eyed expectation that there will be consequences for it. But the only reason for those consequences can be our decision to stand firm with humility and gentleness and grace. If we are going to face hard times, they must be coming our way in spite of our character, not because of it. Let me put this another way: If you take your stand and feel like you should do a mic drop, then you probably have not taken your stand in a way that honors Jesus. But when you stand firm after the pattern of Jesus, that’s when the magic happens. It will bring a consequence, but when you are willing to suffer through it and keep standing, you are moving in the right direction. Standing firm makes us more like Jesus.
So, what do you do with this? Well, in the short term, hopefully not very much. I hope that you don’t ever suffer for your faith in Jesus. If Jesus wanted to avoid the cross if at all possible, I think it’s okay for us to desire to live a quiet life without any fanfare or undue (and unwanted) attention. But there just may be a day coming when you don’t get the choice. You will have to decide if you are going to stick with your confession, or compromise it to avoid the hassle of the bad opinions, not to mention bad behavior aimed in your direction, of others. In those moments, whatever the cost may be, stand firm. Do it with humility and gentleness and respect, but stand firm. Standing firm makes us more like Jesus.
In between now and those moments, you can prepare for them. Every time you stand before a decision point at which holding onto the character of Christ won’t necessarily be life threatening, but perhaps just inconvenient, stand firm. Don’t give in; not even a little. It won’t be easy, but it is training; training that will come in handy when the hard moments arrive. It’ll come in handy because they are training you to be more like Jesus. Standing firm makes us more like Jesus. And I, for one, can’t think of many better things to be. Standing firm makes us more like Jesus. So stand firm.