There are few more magnificent scenes in Scripture than John 17. In context, Jesus, on the night of His betrayal, while en route to the garden of Gethsemane, pauses to offer a prayer. Even though He knows that in less than 24 hours, He will die a degrading, shameful death, His concern is not for Himself. It is for His disciples.
As He prays for His ragtag band of followers, knowing full well that all of them will abandon Him before sunrise, He is most concerned that they remain united. Indeed, He asks the Father to make all of His followers in all time one, as He and the Father are one.
Tragically, Jesus wasn’t the only one who knew how important unity among His people would be. The devil knew too, and since the establishment of the church, he has worked tirelessly to divide it. Throughout the record of the first-century church, we see strife over caring for Hellenistic widows, the necessity of circumcision, and plain old personal friction.
Today, the fragmentation of those who claim to be Christians underscores the success of the devil’s work. Every denomination represents a victory for him. Even among those who have remained faithful to the ancient order, conflict and division within and between congregations continues to be a serious problem.
These challenges have only intensified during the pandemic year of 2020. All of us have found ourselves on unfamiliar ground amid a shifting landscape of government regulation, scientific confusion, and political passion. Even though most of us will candidly admit that we have no idea what we’re doing, we still must make decisions: church leaders for churches, and individual Christians for themselves and their families.
Not surprisingly, this confused process has yielded different perspectives and decisions. Some are haunted by the specter of disease stalking through an unwary congregation. They urge great care in assembling and sometimes even the suspension of the assembly altogether. Others fear that the coronavirus has led us to forget our duty to the Lord, and they are suspicious of any deviation from last year’s normal.
When we are afraid, it becomes easy for us to condemn others, and this too has happened. Christians who refuse to wear masks are foolish and unloving. Brethren who choose to worship from home lack faith and maybe were looking for an excuse anyway. Church leaders who curtail or suspend services have fallen for left-wing propaganda. And so on.
In the year 2020, this is not who the Lord’s church needs to be. We need to be the church of John 17:23 instead, the church that is so completely one that in a time as troubled as ours, others can look to us and see in our unity the evidence of Jesus’ divine origin and God’s continuing love. Our judgments may feel so right and true to us, but creating discord in the church over human reasoning can never be anything but sin.
Let us instead heed our Lord’s call to unity, not only in 2020, but in 2021, 2022, and all the years succeeding. He shed His blood to make us one. May we always take care with our actions, our words, and even our thoughts, so that we give full honor both to His prayer and to His sacrifice!
O Father, work in me
That I may seek Your will;
Provoke my heart with each decree
To listen and fulfill.
O Father, work in me
That I may work for You,
With faith to practice patiently
What You have said to do.
O Father, work in me
To do what You love best,
And I will trust You till I see,
Beyond my work, Your rest.
Tune: "Oh, Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel!"
Add hand motions to taste.
Oh, Korah, Korah, Korah!
You chose to disobey;
Because you wouldn’t listen,
God squashed you right away.
You smarted off to Moses;
The people gathered ‘round,
And then the earth split open;
It swallowed you right down!
Oh, Korah, Korah, Korah!
The people heard your cries;
Because of your rebellion,
You died before their eyes.
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.
Translation is an art, not a science, and this is true even of translating the Bible. We cannot hope to establish a one-to-one correspondence between words in Koiné Greek and English, so that one is an apt translation for the other every time. Instead, translators commonly are presented with several different possible translations, and they must choose the one that makes the most contextual sense.
As a result, different translations often say things differently, and in our search to discover God’s intent in His word, it can be quite useful to consider those different renderings. This is true even of familiar passages.
For instance, most Christians are familiar with the description of the Holy Spirit as “the Comforter” in Jesus’ farewell discourse in John 14-16. “Comforter” certainly is a permissible translation of the Koiné word paraclētos, but it is not the only possible one. Indeed, it reflects an extension of the meaning of paraclētos rather than its core meaning. Most technically, a paraclētos was something like a legal advocate or an assistant defense attorney.
The Christian Standard Bible, then, renders paraclētos as “Counselor” (as in the way a judge will address a lawyer) rather than “Comforter”. This sheds a great deal of new light on what Jesus is saying about the work of the Holy Spirit in the context.
For instance, in John 14:15-17, Jesus depicts Himself as One who gives commandments to be obeyed. He promises, though, that after His departure, God will provide another paraclētos, the Spirit of truth. “Comforter” doesn’t seem to make sense in a context that isn’t about comfort, but “Counselor”, as in “provider of legal counsel”, makes perfect sense.
The same is true in John 14:25-26. There, Jesus presents Himself as One who has taught the word of the Father. Later, though, the paraclētos, the Holy Spirit, will both teach them all things and remind them of the teaching of Jesus. The work of a Comforter? Not really. The work of a Counselor? Very much so.
Substituting “Counselor” for “Comforter” also enhances the meaning of John 15:26. There, Jesus says that the paraclētos, the Spirit of truth, will proceed from the Father to testify about Him. The appearance of the legal concept of testimony should lead us to view the role of the Spirit here in a legal sense too.
Finally, in John 16:7-8, Jesus says that the work of the paraclētos will be to convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment. Comforters don’t convict, but a counselor might!
All this is important for us to understand because it tells us what we should expect from the work of the Spirit in our lives today. Many people, perhaps because of the use of “Comforter” in most translations, have a very emotional view of that work. The Spirit makes them feel certain ways.
However, that’s not the point of John 14-16 at all. Instead, we should expect the Counselor who indwells us to teach us, to remind us, to testify about our Lord, and even to convict us if necessary. The Spirit of truth speaks in our lives with the voice of truth, and we must listen!