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Paul and Covetousness

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Just as we do today, the righteous men and women of the Bible struggled with temptation.  Sometimes, these struggles are well known, as with the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.  At other times, though, they can escape our notice.  For most of us, this is the case with Paul’s spiritual battle with covetousness.

Consider, for instance, his description of his own sin in Romans 7:7-8.  It may be that covetousness was the first sin that Paul remembered committing.  At the least, it’s clear from this that covetousness was a sin that he struggled with.  By his own admission, sin produced in him coveting of every kind.

However, Romans 7 isn’t the last thing Paul has to say about covetousness.  In fact, his relationship with money is a theme that runs through many of his letters.  In his discussion of the subject, we learn how he fought back against covetousness and eventually overcame it. 

This is both heartening and instructive.  From it, we learn not only that overcoming our strongest temptations is possible, but also some strategies on how to do it.  With this in mind, let’s consider the way that Paul dealt with covetousness.

First, we see that Paul PUT UP GUARDRAILS.  Consider his words in 2 Corinthians 8:18-21.  Contextually, this passage is about the collection and protection of the contribution for the needy saints in Jerusalem.  Paul didn’t put all that money in his own wallet and go sailing off toward Antioch by himself.  Instead, he asked churches who contributed to appoint men they trusted to travel with him and see that the money reached its destination safely.

Much of the time, we use this passage to show the importance of being above-board in the way we handle church finances.  That way, people can know that somebody isn’t siphoning off their donations.  However, there’s more to it than that.  Notice that Paul says that he’s concerned not only with what is honorable in the sight of men, but also with what is honorable in the sight of the Lord.  He wants everybody to see that he’s doing right, but he also wants to prevent himself from doing wrong.

If we know that there’s a sin that we struggle with, we ought to make practicing that sin as difficult as possible.  Consider, for instance, the famous Pence Rule.  Throughout his political career, Mike Pence has refused to meet alone with a woman who is not his wife.  He’s caught a lot of flak for that, but you know what?  If you’re never alone with a woman who is not your wife, you are never going to cheat on your wife with another woman. 

I think that’s very wise, and throughout my preaching work, I’ve tried to follow a similar rule myself.  Through the years, how many preachers have met their downfall over a woman?  I do not want to add my name to that list!  Whatever our weakness may be, one of the best ways to defeat temptation is to leave no room for it.

Second, Paul is willing to SURRENDER LIBERTIES in order to defend himself from sin.  Look at what he says in 1 Corinthians 9:13-18, 24-27.  A few weeks ago, Clay cited vs. 24-27 in one of his sermons, and in passing, he mentioned that he was using the passage outside of its context.  That got me to wondering what the context was.  How exactly was Paul disciplining his body to make sure he didn’t lose his soul?

I believe the answer lies in vs. 13-18.  He sets out the principle that men who preach the gospel have the right to get their living from the gospel.  However, he himself does not do that.  It would be 100 percent lawful for him to seek support from the church in Corinth, but instead, he preaches the gospel for free. 

Contextually, he gives two reasons for this.  First, so that he doesn’t hinder the gospel.  Second, so that he isn’t overcome by sin himself.  To put things another way, Paul doesn’t want to establish a financial relationship with the church in Corinth because he is worried that such a relationship will open the door for covetousness.  He would rather reject the money he can claim than give sin an opening.

In the same way, brethren, we need to be honest with ourselves about whether surrendering some of our liberties will help us in our struggle against sin.  For instance, there is nothing wrong with a Christian having a smartphone or having a computer in a private location.  I myself have both.

However, if you’ve got a porn problem, then it’s probably true that your smartphone or private computer (or both) are the gateways for your temptation.  Which is better, to forfeit a liberty we enjoy or to lose our souls because the liberty led us into sin?

Finally, Paul was able to TRIUMPH THROUGH CHRIST.  Let’s read Philippians 4:10-13.  This is a famous text, and it’s a famously misused text.  There are lots of people out there who think that doing all things through Christ means closing business deals or scoring touchdowns.

In the light of everything we’ve already studied this evening, though, it’s obvious that Paul is saying something completely different and much more powerful.  He’s saying that through the strength of Christ, he is able to win his battle against covetousness.  When he doesn’t have anything, no problem.  Through Christ’s strength, he can be content and not be greedy.  Likewise, when he’s fully provided for, no problem.  Through Christ’s strength, he’s able to defeat materialism.

As we saw back in Romans 7, Paul had been haunted by the temptation to be covetous all his life.  By the time of Philippians 4, though, he has learned the secret.  Through Jesus, he can defeat any temptation.

Brethren, let’s pause for a moment to think about how encouraging this is!  This isn’t just about Paul and him overcoming his temptations.  This is about us and overcoming our temptations.  No, we aren’t strong enough on our own, but we will be strong enough if we seek the strength that Christ is eager to give.

Sometime this week, then, why don’t we all carve out some time to pray for that strength?  I don’t know what your greatest temptation is.  Maybe it’s covetousness, or sexual immorality, or porn, or drunkenness, or gossip.  I do know, though, that whatever it is, you can beat it through Jesus.  Work to get rid of it, but above all, pray to get rid of it, and He will bless you.

The Problem with Gambling

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

In April of last year, the state legislature of Tennessee legalized online betting on sports.  On November of this year, four online sportsbooks were approved to operate in Tennessee for the first time.  Not surprisingly, since that time, we’ve been bombarded with ads trying to entice us to gamble on sports.

Even at a practical level, gambling is not something I would advise others to do.  As the saying goes, the house always wins.  If they didn’t win, they wouldn’t go on operating, would they?  The way to get rich from betting on sports is not to bet on sports.  It is to operate one of those sportsbooks!  I wouldn’t bet on sports even if I were an atheist.

Of course, I’m not an atheist, and there is a moral component to this too.  Gambling is unwise, but we also must ask if it is immoral too.  In fact, I’m preaching this sermon because one of the elders asked me to explore the spiritual aspects of gambling.  All of us have heard that gambling is a sin, but what do the Scriptures say?   This morning, then, let’s consider the problem with gambling.

Our examination of this issue must begin with REASONING FROM THE SCRIPTURES.  We see an example of Paul doing this in Acts 17:2-3.  There, of course, was nothing in the Old Testament that out-and-out said, “Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah.”  However, there are hundreds of prophecies about the Messiah in the Old Testament, and Paul, using those prophecies as a starting point, reasoned from them to that conclusion.

Reasoning from the Scriptures is something that we are expected to do.  After all, Jesus condemns the Sadducees in Matthew 22 because they did not reason from the story of the burning bush to the conclusion that there is life after death.  However, all of us know people who have reasoned from the Scriptures to conclusions that were false.  Probably, we’ve even done that ourselves.

Thus, even though reasoning from the Scriptures is required, we also must regard our conclusions with skepticism.  We can fail to take into account everything that the Bible says.  Indeed, we even can deceive ourselves into reaching the wrong answer.  We must do it, but we also must do it carefully, and beware of regarding our conclusions with the same certainty as what the Bible directly states.

Gambling, of course, is an area where we must reason from the Scriptures.  Gambling certainly existed in the first century.  After all, we see the Roman guard gambling for the clothing of Jesus.  However, nowhere does the Bible condemn gambling as a sin per se.

Once some Christians realize this, they start jumping up and down and saying, “See?  I can gamble!  There’s nothing wrong with it!”  However, whether they know it or not, they have reasoned from the Scriptures to reach that conclusion, and the absence of a direct condemnation is not all the evidence there is.  Before we conclude that gambling is innocent, we need to consider the whole counsel of God.

In this regard, we must consider the importance of GUARDING AGAINST GREED.  Look at the words of Jesus in Luke 12:13-15.  This context is not about gambling at all.  It’s about a couple of brothers fighting over their inheritance.  However, Jesus warns us not only against that form of greed but against every form of greed.

That raises an important question, though.  How do we know when we’re being greedy?  After all, all of us want and need money.  I care very much that my salary is deposited into my bank account every week.  That’s not sinful; after all, the Scriptures tell us that the worker is worthy of his wage.  What’s the difference, though, between that and greed?

I think the answer is that greed arises when we start caring so much about money that we stop caring about others.  I care about being supported, yes, but I work throughout the week to give you value for your money.  Indeed, I try to give you more than you’re expecting.  Back when Larry still owned SCT, I know that he cared about those accounts receivable.  However, because he’s a good man, I know that he also cared about providing good service for his customers, so that everybody benefited, not just him.

The same thing is true when I buy and sell on the stock market.  Sometimes you’ll hear people say that stock trading is gambling because of the risk, but that’s not true.  The problem with gambling is greed, not risk, and buying and selling stocks isn’t necessarily greedy.  When I buy a stock, there’s a fair exchange.  They get the money they wanted more than the stock, and I get the stock I wanted more than the money.  Everybody benefits.  That’s the way the free market works!

Gambling, though, is different.  Unlike free-market exchange, gambling is a zero-sum game.  When we buy and sell goods and services, there are two winners, but with gambling there is always a winner and a loser.  If I had made a bet with Derrick on the outcome of the Alabama game last Saturday, he would have been the winner, and I would have been the loser.  He would have gotten all the money, and I would have ended up with nothing.

You see the problem?  When we actively want to hurt somebody financially for our benefit, or if we even don’t care that we are hurting them financially because we have benefited, we care more about money than we do about them.  That’s greed, and that’s a sin.

What matters then, is not the gambling per se.  It’s the greed, and that means that we must SPEAK TRUTH IN OUR HEARTS about whether we are being greedy or not.  Look at Psalm 15:1-2.  As the psalmist makes clear here, this is a big deal!  If we aren’t honest with ourselves about our motivations, self-deceit will separate us from God.

Is everybody who gambles necessarily acting out of greed?  I’m not willing to say that.  For example, I can remember that during one debate tournament in high school, I found myself playing poker for pennies between rounds.  I didn’t care whether I won or lost, which probably is why I lost.  If I had won, and somebody had asked me for the fifty cents or whatever, I would have given it to them.  I admit that I was being dumb, but I don’t believe I was being greedy.

However, I believe that the great majority of the time, when people gamble, greed is involved.  The key question to ask, I think, is, “Would you be gambling if there were no prospect of winning anything?”

Sometimes, the answer is yes.  At that debate tournament, I would have been happy to play cards with no stakes.  The money wasn’t my idea. 

Usually, though, the answer is no.  Think about online sports betting.  You don’t have to bet on sports to be a passionate sports fan.  The important thing about sports betting is not the sports.  It’s the money, and wanting to win that money at others’ expense is greedy.  The same holds true for playing the lottery, going to a casino, and a host of similar activities.

This is not an analysis that I can force on anybody else.  You can go off and bet on the Vols game while insisting all day long that it’s not about the money.  We must remember, though, that self-deception is sweet for now, but an eternity in hell is bitter.  Let’s be people who speak truth in our hearts, both about greed and about everything else.

The Purpose of the Christian

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

To say the least, there are many advantages to being a Christian!  Not least of these is that it gives meaning and purpose to our lives.  Think about it.  If you’re an atheist, you have to believe that life is meaningless and purposeless.  Your existence represents nothing more than a chance combination of atoms, you don’t have free will any more than a dog does, and after you die, in a few hundred years, it will be as though you never had existed.  There’s no point to any of it.

Of course, the lives of millions who aren’t conscious atheists aren’t any more meaningful.  They go to work every morning to get the money to buy stuff that doesn’t make them happy.  They distract themselves from the banality of their existence with a steady diet of TV, video games, and cat videos on YouTube.  They spend their lives chasing a peace that is always out of reach.

We, by contrast, are blessed with lives that are meaningful, not because of our concentrated selfishness, but because we have given them over to someone else.  To see how this works, let’s see what Peter says about the purpose of the Christian.

First, consider his words about GROWING INTO SALVATION.  Here, let’s read 1 Peter 2:1-3.  Like many passages of Scripture, this one is about spiritual renewal.  It’s about getting rid of some things while pursuing others. 

The get-rid-of list, though is really interesting.  We might expect Peter to warn us to get rid of drunkenness, adultery, theft, and all the other sins we think are really terrible.  That’s not where he goes, though.  Instead, he highlights the dangers of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. 

These are all subtle sins, sins that we could practice while sitting on a pew on Sunday morning for decades.  And yet, they also are the ones that Peter singles out as most likely to hinder our purpose.  He wants us to see that the sins that corrupt the heart are the most dangerous.

It’s also worth noting that these things are opposed to longing for the word.  All my life, I’ve thought of this list as sins that originate in us.  However, that’s not how the word works.  Instead, it’s something that we take in.  In the same way, I think, we need to beware of the malice, deceit, and slander that we also can take in that will corrupt us.

As the old computer-programming saying goes, garbage in, garbage out.  In our politically charged era, it’s not hard for Christians to find malice and slander that accords with their political views.  Brethren, those things will eat us up like rust on a backyard grill!  If we spend our days drinking partisan venom rather than the pure milk of the word, that will make us useless in the kingdom.

I have a challenge for you, then, for the next week.  You can keep it up for longer than you like, but try to keep it going at least for a week.  For the next seven days, then, for every minute you spend on politics, reading or watching the news, worrying about the country, spend a minute reading your Bible.  Drink deep.  Grow spiritually.  Taste that the Lord is good.  I think that even after a week, it will give you a whole new perspective on life.

Second, Peter discusses our relationship with OUR CORNERSTONE.  This discussion appears in 1 Peter 2:4-8.  The imagery here is fascinating.  Peter tells us that we come to God as living stones, precious to Him.  However, He doesn’t want us so that we can sit around isolated like a rock garden.  Instead, He wants to build us together into a spiritual house where we can offer sacrifices to Him through Jesus. 

We don’t find meaning in life by ourselves.  We find meaning in life as part of the church, and apart from one another, life can only be meaningless.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that you’d be just fine without God’s people.  The only purpose we can have is the purpose we share.

In this spiritual stonework, the cornerstone must be Jesus.  Back in the day, apparently, the cornerstone was a stone with perfectly square edges, such that you could use those edges to line up the rest of the building.  So too with Jesus. 

If we want to be part of His spiritual temple, we have to line our lives up with Him.  Our society is not the standard.  Our friends are not the standard.  Our Lord is the standard.  What He says needs to go for us in everything.

Sadly, lining up with Jesus is not the alternative that most take.  For us, he’s the cornerstone.  Others, though, reject Him and find Him to be the stone that they stumble over.  He says things and tells them to do things that they can’t accept.

As I said last week, if we think everything Jesus says is easy, we aren’t listening hard enough.  However, whether we listen to the hard sayings of Jesus determines the course of our existence.  If we hear Him, we are destined for everlasting glory.  If we reject Him, we are destined for everlasting failure.

The first option is possible, though only because we have been PREPARED FOR GOD’S PURPOSE.  Let’s finish our reading with 1 Peter 2:9-10.  In this text, Peter contrasts Christians with the world.  They are doomed, but even now, we have been glorified with Christ.  We are the spiritual race of Israel.  Every one of us is part of His royal priesthood.  Our whole nation has been consecrated to His service.  We, and we alone, are His own special people. 

From time to time, I’ll talk with Christians who like to run down the church and other Christians.  They zero in on the flaws and imperfections, sneering at congregations of the Lord’s people.  Brethren, people like that are judging what God has consecrated, and that is a very dangerous thing to do!  When we deny the glory of His spiritual creation, we indict Him as a failure.

Because of our spiritual position, we can do something that no one else can do.  We can proclaim the excellencies of the One who saved us.  Indeed, that is precisely what we ought to do.  We ought to give our lives over to declaring the glories of God.  If we truly understand what we have in our salvation, we won’t be able to be quiet about it!

However, our special status shouldn’t give us a big head.  We can do these things not because we are intrinsically fit to do them, but because God chose us as His people and poured out His mercy on us. 

Sometimes, I think we get this mixed up.  We put the burden of our salvation on our own shoulders and spend our lives worrying about whether we’re good enough.  That’s a silly thing to worry about!  Of course we’re not good enough.  I’m not, you’re not, none of us are. 

Instead, it is Christ who is enough, now and forever, and rather than worrying about our own goodness, we need to trust in His.  Without Him, we never could succeed in the work to which we are called.  With Him, we cannot fail.

Jesus, the Light of the World

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

In writing his gospel, the apostle John often likes to group Jesus’ “I am” statements with events that define that characteristic.  “I am the bread of life,” follows the feeding of the 5000, “I am the resurrection and the life,” precedes the raising of Lazarus, and so on.

This certainly is the case with His statement in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world.”  In John 9:1-8, Jesus illustrates this claim by using His power to give sight to a man who was blind from birth. 

However, this narrative focuses not so much on the miracle itself as it does on the reactions to the miracle.  Even though several different groups see the light of Christ, only one person reacts favorably to it.  Sadly, today many people reject Him for similar reasons.  Let’s consider these things this evening as we ponder Jesus, the light of the world.

In this story, Jesus appears in three different ways, and the first is as A CHALLENGE TO TRADITION.  Look at John 9:9-17.  The Pharisees’ reaction here is fascinating.  Rather than marveling that a miracle has taken place right there in their neighborhood, they get hung up on the fact that the miracle was performed on the Sabbath.  

Some argue, unsuccessfully, that they should pay more attention to the miracle than to when it happened.  However, the consensus that emerges is that Jesus can’t be from God because in working a miracle, He broke the Sabbath.  Rather than evaluating their traditions in the light of the Lord, they evaluate the Lord in the light of their traditions.

Obviously, there are lots of potshots we could take at the denominational world for the way they reject Jesus in favor of their traditions.  However, focusing on somebody else’s spiritual problems never made any of us more righteous.  Instead, we must ask whether our own traditional views keep us from seeing the true Jesus.

Indeed, if the Jesus we see does not challenge us, we are not seeing the true Jesus.  The true Jesus exalts the poor and pronounces woes on the wealthy.  The true Jesus reaches out to the marginalized and unwelcome.  The true Jesus celebrates the humble heart of the penitent sinner while condemning the religious elite.  The true Jesus warns us not to be distracted by political issues from the spiritual issues that will destroy us.  He tells us that we must take up our crosses and follow.  Our Lord is an amazing Master, but if we find Him easy to hear, we aren’t listening hard enough.

Second, this story presents Jesus as A THREAT TO SOCIAL STANDING.  Let’s keep going in John 9:18-23.  In their quest to expose Jesus as a fraud, the Pharisees summon the blind man’s parents.  Even though the parents surely must have known that a miracle has happened, in their answers to the Pharisees, they are as evasive as they possibly can be.  They know that if they acclaim Jesus as the Messiah, they’ll be thrown out of the synagogue, so they refuse to acknowledge the truth.

On one level, this works really well.  They don’t make the Pharisees angry, so they get to stay in the synagogue.  The problem is that Jesus really did heal their son and really is the Messiah, so they knowingly have rejected their hope of eternal life to avoid social discomfort.  They knew the truth about Jesus, but they refused to tell the truth.

It’s easy for us to shake our heads in contempt at the blind man’s parents.  They knew that Jesus worked miracles, but that mattered less to them than staying on good terms with the Pharisees.  Pretty dumb, huh? 

Well, how about us?  We know the truth about Jesus.  Every one of us who is a Christian has professed that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. 

However, how often in our lives is the truth about Jesus less important than our social standing?  How often do we have an opportunity to share our faith with an outsider, but we remain silent because we’re afraid it will ruin our relationship with them?  Maybe the light of Jesus shining on our lives reveals that we are more like the parents of the blind man than we care to admit.

The final perspective on Jesus in this story, though, is that He is A MAN FROM GOD.  Consider John 9:24-34.  In his own words, the formerly blind man is a man with one idea.  He knows that he was blind, but now he can see.  He is willing to follow that fact where it leads.  Because Jesus could not have done that if He had not been from God, Jesus must be from God.

This is a deeply unpopular conclusion.  In response, the Pharisees ridicule Jesus.  They try to pick holes in his story.  They ridicule him too.  In response to it all, the formerly blind man clings to the one thing he knows.  In the face of that one thing, the Pharisees lose the argument, and they acknowledge that they have lost by throwing him out of the synagogue.

This looks like a deeply negative outcome for the formerly blind man, and in some ways, it is.  However, it also is a deeply positive outcome because he is the only one who pleases God. 

Our application is simple.  Like the formerly blind man, we need to know one thing.  The apostle Paul knew one thing.  He tells the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 2 that among them, he determined to know nothing except Christ, and Him crucified. 

So too for us.  If the one thing we know is that Jesus is the Christ, and we are willing to follow that fact wherever it leads, we will end up in the right place.  The true problems in our lives don’t arise when we remember that fact.  They arise when we forget it.

The Holiness of the Christian

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The other day, I was chatting with my brother about all sorts of things, and the conversation turned to religion.  Even though he is not a Christian, he observed something that I also have noticed throughout the years.  You would think that the religious groups that would do the best would be the ones that make the most accommodation with the irreligious world around them. 

However, exactly the opposite is true.  Religious traditions that compromise end up dissolving into meaninglessness.  By contrast, the religious traditions that take a stand for something, that draw clear lines between them and the world, are the ones that thrive. 

The lesson for us is clear.  Despite all the voices clamoring for us to go with the flow when it comes to women preachers, the instrument, toleration of homosexual activity, and so on, that is the one thing that we must not do.  We must take our stand on the word of God and stay there.  If we do, that will ensure our survival for years to come, but even more importantly, it will find favor with God.  This morning, then, let’s consider what the Scriptures teach us about the holiness of the Christian.

Our text this morning will be the second half of 1 Peter 1, and in it, Peter begins by setting out THE STANDARD OF HOLINESS.  Look at 1 Peter 1:13-17.  The first thing that we see in this context is that we seek holiness because of our hope.  Indeed, holiness must begin by setting our hope completely on the grace that will be brought to us.  That’s not “half-heartedly”.  It’s not “kind of”.  It’s “completely”!  If we are hoping in anything else other than Jesus, Satan will use our double-mindedness to turn our lives aside from holiness.  We are holy because we long to inherit eternal life, and there is no other way.

Second, there can be no compromise when it comes to holiness either.  Peter doesn’t tell us that we are to be holy like other Christians, or even holy like a respected religious leader.  Instead, we are to be holy as God is holy.  His holiness is to be evident in every aspect of our conduct.  We don’t get to negotiate with God about our favorite sins.  Either we hate those and strive to exterminate them from our lives, or we abandon the commitment to holiness that He expects.

Finally, because of our commitment to holiness, we are to think about ourselves and live in a certain way.  First, we are to view ourselves as strangers, exiles on the earth.  We often sing “This World Is Not My Home”.  I think that’s a fine hymn to sing, but we can’t just sing it on Sunday.  We have to live it out Monday through Saturday too, and if the world isn’t our home, then we’d better not be living like we expect to stay here forever! 

Instead, Peter says we need to walk in reverence.  Some translations say “fear” here.  We need to look suspiciously at everything in our lives to make sure it won’t cost us our souls, because it is certain that Satan is trying something with every one of us.

However, we can’t hope to attain holiness through our own righteousness.  Instead, we must seek HOLINESS THROUGH CHRIST.  Here, consider 1 Peter 1:18-21.  We walk in fear not merely because we are concerned with losing our hope.  Instead, we walk in fear also because of the staggering price that was paid for us. 

As Peter points out, we weren’t redeemed with human money.  We were bought with the precious blood of Christ.  Every one of us who is a Christian has that blood anointing our souls right now.  The value of the lifeblood of the Son of God is beyond human comprehension.  It should awe us to think of how much God paid to ransom us! 

Once that blood has been applied to our souls, there is nothing we can do to get rid of it.  Be as righteous as we want to be, be as wicked as we want to be, the blood is still there.  The only question is what it will say about us in the judgment.  If we have been faithful, it will speak up to justify us, but if we have been unfaithful, it will cry out to condemn us.  We will be guilty of that precious blood, and in His righteous wrath, God will condemn us to the lowest depths of hell.  We need to walk in fear, brethren, because we have been bought with a price.

However, there’s a flip side to that coin.  Precisely because the blood of Jesus is so precious and powerful, we can put our trust in Him.  As Peter says, God raised Jesus from the dead and gave Him glory so that our faith and hope would be in Him.  Our faith and hope is not in ourselves, in our flawed human righteousness.  We must walk in fear, yes, but we never should think that we are doing the justifying.  Instead, we are justified by blood, which has the power to erase the record of our crimes so completely that it is as though they never happened.  If we remain faithful, that blood will do its great work.

Finally, Peter describes THE FRUIT OF HOLINESS.  Consider his words in 1 Peter 1:22-25.  Here, I think Peter offers us an important insight into what holiness looks like.  From somewhere, maybe the idiom “holier-than-thou”, we’ve got this idea that holy people are a bunch of stuck-up snobs that wander around looking down their noses at all those wretched sinners like the Pharisee in Luke 18. 

Peter, though, wants us to see that exactly the opposite is true.  When we purify ourselves through obedience, that’s so that we can fervently love one another from the heart.  Holiness doesn’t reveal itself through contempt.  It reveals itself through compassion, kindness, and love.

This makes perfect sense once we remember that we are to be holy as God is holy.  That’s not only a how-much statement.  It’s a how statement.  God isn’t a contemptuous, judgmental jerk.  Instead, even though He is perfect, He paid a tremendous price so that we could be perfected.  Holiness cares deeply about others.

However, this doesn’t mean that we get to freelance our idea of love like the world does, declaring evil good because we already have declared it loving.  Instead, if indeed we have been born again, that is through the seed of the word of God.  Just like the word defines holiness, it also defines love.  Just like an acorn contains the instructions to make an oak tree and a grain of wheat the instructions to make a wheat stalk, the Bible contains the instructions to make a disciple.  That word endures forever, so what a disciple looked like and did 2000 years ago is the same thing that disciples look like and do today.  If we move away from the pattern of the word of God, we only can move toward unrighteousness.

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