Category Archives: Scripture
Is holiness possible today?
We might agree that holiness is an essential characteristic of God. We might also agree that Scripture says that we are to be holy. But if we are honest, we don’t think that we can ever be holy ourselves.
When it comes to holiness, there are many misconceptions. We have the idea that holy people are religious fanatics, and we don’t want to be thought of as “holier-than-thou.” We believe that a lifestyle of holiness will cause us to be miserable. Former quarterback Joe Theismann allegedly explained to his soon-to-be-ex second wife why he had an affair: “God wants Joe Theismann to be happy.” Holy people are hypocrites, or so we believe. A hypocritical Boston tycoon once told Mark Twain, “Before I die I mean to make a pilgrimage to the top of Mount Sinai in the Holy Land and read the Ten Commandments aloud.” “Why don’t you stay right home in Boston,” suggested Twain, “and keep them?”
Scripture calls us to live holy lives. In 1 Peter 1:13-16, we are told to set our hope on Christ and live a holy life. I don’t believe God sets us up for failure. If he gives us a command, it is with the expectation that it is possible to do it.
Verse 13 begins with the word, “Therefore …” I was always told that anytime you see the word, “therefore,” you need to find out what it is “there for.” What Peter is saying is that in light of our great salvation (1-12), we are to live differently. Salvation should have an impact on our lives. In fact, Peter points out five areas where salvation changes how we live.
- Mental outlook (1:13). We are to set our hope solely on God.
- Lifestyle (1:14-16). We are to live holy lives.
- Worship (1:17-21). We are to live life governed by reverence for God.
- Relationships (1:22-25). We are to love one another.
- Spiritual disciplines (2:1-3). We are to be nourished by spiritual food.
Today, we are looking at the first two areas. We will examine the remaining three areas after Easter.
Mental Outlook (1:13). We are to set our hope solely on God. Peter begins with the idea of having a steadfast hope. This is much more than a wishing well kind of hope. “I hope it doesn’t snow this week. I hope my team wins the World Series.” It is a confident expectation of what God is going to do. By linking it to verses 1-12, Peter is saying that on the basis of what happened when Christ came the first time, we are to put our full confidence in what will take place when he comes again.
We are to act like we mean business. We are to prepare our minds for action. It literally says, “gird up the loins of your mind.” It pictures someone wearing a long garment. If they wanted to move quickly or run, they would gather up the garment and tuck it into their belt. Today, we might say, “Roll up your sleeves and get to work.” We are to have a sense of intentionality about how we think. We need to gather all the random, disparate thoughts and focus them on God and his kingdom.
John Brown, a 19th Century Scottish theologian said, “Holiness does not consist in mystic speculations, enthusiastic fervours, or uncommanded austerities; it consists in thinking as God thinks, and willing as God wils.”
In addition, we are to be sober-minded and avoid mental intoxication. Rather than live a life of self-indulgence, we are to live discipline and self-controlled lives.
What distracts you from focusing on God? Are there other things that you place your hope in? If you really believed Christ would return today, how would you live? Wrestling with these types of questions will help us to focus our thoughts and hope squarely on Christ.
Lifestyle (1:14-16). We are to live holy lives. Holiness refers to purity or moral integrity. It involves separation from all that is morally impure and evil. It is dedication to a life of righteousness. As these verses explain, God has called us to a life of holiness. It is NOT optional.
Rather than command us to be obedient, Peter says we are to act like obedient children. In essence, we have an obedient nature and should act in light of that.
We are to actively resist our own temptations. Rather than be controlled by our desires, we are to control them. As unbelievers, we were ignorant of God’s standards. Now that we know better, we should live differently.
Holiness should permeate every aspect of our being. We are to be holy in the classroom, on the playground, at work, at home, in our workplace, in our schools, in our homes. Holiness should pervade every area of our lives and personalities.
In pursuing holiness, we demonstrate the family resemblance. God is the ultimate model of holiness and we are called to be like him.
As we evaluate our lives, we should ask ourselves several questions. Does this activity conform to the character of God? Is it the natural outcome of a life that has benefited from salvation? Will it stand up to God’s scrutiny in that final day when we stand before his presence?
We are to set our hope on Christ and live holy lives.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on March 18, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
What difference does salvation make in our lives? Is salvation just a matter of a hope in heaven? Is it just pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by? What difference does salvation make in the boardroom? On the assembly line? How does salvation affect our ethics? Our marriage? Our family? Our time with our grandkids? What difference does salvation make when we face an uncertain future? How does it affect how we face persecution?
In 1 Peter 1:1-12, the apostle Peter presents the idea that understanding the nature of salvation provides encouragement for those facing an uncertain future threatened by persecution. The main idea of the passage is that because our salvation is secure, we have hope for the future and joy in the present.
Someone might ask, Why is salvation even necessary? Don’t all roads lead to the top? Isn’t God too big for one religion? Aren’t people basically good? Yes, we might have problems, but it’s a disease, weakness, bad habit, or victimization. It’s not sin, after all.
In the first chapter of his letter, the apostle Peter talks about the nature of salvation. Salvation is new birth (3) to a living hope (3). Salvation brings us a secure inheritance (4). Our future salvation is secure (5) in which we will be redeemed (18). However, salvation is only available to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ (2, 14, 21).
In verses 1-2, Peter presents a theology of salvation. As he explains it, each member of the Trinity is involved in our salvation. We are chosen by the Father. We are set apart by the Spirit. We are forgiven by the Son. We are saved in order to be obedient. Other passages of Scripture point out our role in the process and that God holds us accountable for our choices. But Peter focuses on what God does to secure our salvation.
After laying the foundation, Peter then describes the nature of salvation (3-12). These 10 verses are an English teacher’s nightmare. It is one long sentence in which Peter piles words upon words giving praise to God for our salvation.
Our salvation provides hope for the future (3-5). Salvation comes from the mercy of God where he demonstrates his kindness to us. Because Christ conquered sin and death through his death, burial, and resurrection, we can have a personal relationship with him. As a result, we now have a secure inheritance that is death-proof, sin-proof, and time-proof. Our inheritance won’t perish, spoil, or fade away. It is protected by the power of God for us.
Our confidence leads to joy in the present (6-9). In the midst of trouble and difficulty, it is easy to forget what God has done for us. Peter wants his readers to experience joy in their present circumstances. To do that, we need to understand that trials are temporary and short-lived compared to eternity. They are also necessary because uses trials to shape our character in the same way a goldsmith uses heat to purify gold. With this perspective, we can show our love for Jesus and rejoice with glorious joy.
Our salvation was revealed in the past (10-12). We enjoy something today that the prophets and angels only dreamed about understanding. If they spent so much time trying to decipher what God was going to do, how much more should we enjoy our salvation and tell others about it?
Praise God that our salvation is secure! Praise God that the trials we experience are not meaningless, but refine and purify our faith! Praise God that his promises about Christ have been fulfilled! Because our salvation is secure, we have hope for the future and joy in the present.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on March 11, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
I have felt down the past couple of days. Tuesday evening was a more difficult PT session. My leg was more tired which made it harder to do the therapy exercises. Thursday morning I was discouraged as I was doing my therapy routine. My mind was filled with doubts. “What made me think I would be ready to travel in April? I have four weeks to get ready. There’s no way I’ll be able to walk by then. How naïve was I to think I could go to Russia so soon after my fall? What will the ultrasound show on Monday? I’m hopeful the blood clots are gone, but I’m fearful they are not. What if …?” My faith wavers and falters.
In the midst of my doubts, the Holy Spirit reminded me of 2 Corinthians 12:9. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” He also brought Matthew 6:34 to my mind. “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.”
Rather than worry about what ifs, I need to rely on God’s grace and seek his kingdom today. God will take care of the rest. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
People occasionally ask me why I do what I do. Why do I go to Russia once a year to teach and train leaders? Why do I mentor students through online classes at Regent University? Why did I teach a class on the character and habits of a leader last fall? Why do I invest in interns?
My passion for leadership development is because I failed as a leader. When I started in ministry, people assumed I knew what I was doing and no one mentored me. Getting fired from my first ministry was the best thing that happened to me because it shaped the course of my ministry. I learned the hard way of how to lead and I wanted to help others succeed without making the same mistakes I did.
As we see in the apostle Peter’s first letter, his message is shaped by several key events that took place earlier in the gospels. As we begin our study of 1 Peter today, we’re going to focus more on the background of the letter. Next week we’ll begin our exposition of the letter.
Author: Peter was one of the twelve disciples (Mark 3:13-19). The word, apostle, is used in a technical sense of one who was sent on a mission. He was part of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples. Along with James and John, Peter was present during Christ’s transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8) and when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 26:37). His name, Peter, was actually a nickname given to him by Jesus (John 1:42) and means “rock.” Jesus saw potential in his life and pictured his future strength of character.
Recipients: The letter is written to both Jewish (1:1; 2:12) and Gentile (2:10) believers who were scattered abroad because of persecution.
Date: The letter was written from Babylon (5:13) which is probably a code word for Rome. It was most likely written about A.D. 64, just before the persecution begun by Emperor Nero.
Theme: The theme of the book is Hope in a Hostile World. 1 Peter was written to Christians who were experiencing various forms of persecution. Peter exhorted them to steadfast endurance (5:13) that resulted from putting one’s focus on Christ even though they lived as aliens and strangers (2:11). Peter reminded his readers that we have a living hope because of a living Christ (1:3).
Divisions: There are three main divisions in the book. Each one focuses on a theme and answers a basic question. Salvation: What does it mean to be a Christian? (1:1-2:12). Submission: How are we to living in relationship to others? (2:13-3:12). Suffering: How should we respond to those who oppose the gospel? (3:13-5:14).
The events of Peter’s life shaped his heart and his message.
|Matthew 16:13-23||Peter confesses that Jesus is the Son of God.
Christ will build his church and Peter will be involved.
|1 Peter 1:15, 20-21; 2:4-8||
Jesus is the Holy One who called you.
Jesus is the cornerstone of the Church.
|Peter was proud and unwilling to have Jesus wash his feet.||1 Peter 5:5-6||God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.|
|Matthew 26:30-35, 69-75||Peter is unaware of the spiritual warfare taking place.
Operating in his own strength, he denies Jesus three times.
|1 Peter 5:12||
Stand fast in the trued grace of God. Don’t give up and walk away.
|Jesus restored Peter and gave him a task—Be a good shepherd of God’s flock.||1 Peter 5:1-4||The elders are to shepherd the flock of God. They are accountable to the Good Shepherd.|
|Acts 10:9-16||Peter was prejudiced. God had to help him understand that the body of Christ is bigger than his narrow theological convictions.||1 Peter 2:9-10||
The body of Christ is unique.
When you compare Peter in the gospels with the message of 1 Peter, you see a profound transformation. Peter goes from spiritually dense to spiritually discerning; from listening to Satan to listening to God; for worldly minded to heavenly minded; from proud to humble; from walking away from Christ to standing fast in God’s grace; from having a narrow view of the gospel to having a broad view of the church; from being a failure as a disciple to being a restored servant; from being a stumbling block to God’s plan to being used by God to help build the church.
- Nothing is ever wasted in the will of God. The trials and experiences we go through are part of God’s curriculum to prepare us for an even more determinative ministry.
- Failure is not fatal. No matter what you’ve done. God can forgive and restore and use you in ministering to others.
- Don’t allow pride to keep you from serving and ministering to others.
- The Body of Christ is BIG. It is bigger than just us and those of our narrow theological persuasion.
This is a synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on March 4, 2018. It is the opening message in a series on 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
In a recent series of comic strips, my favorite theologian, Calvin & Hobbes, conspired to keep his babysitter nemesis, Rosalyn, locked out of the house.
While it is humorous in a comic strip, it is sad in real life. It is even sadder when the person we lock out of our lives is Jesus Christ. In Revelation 3:14-22, the church in Laodicea had pushed Christ out of the church, but didn’t even know he was missing.
In Revelation 1:11, Jesus sent a message to each of seven local churches in Asia Minor. Jesus rebukes the church in Laodicea for its self-sufficiency and materialism which blinded them to their spiritual poverty. He exhorts them to repent and open their hearts to pursue a deeper relationship with himself. This letter tell us that We need to repent of our self-sufficiency and materialism. We must pursue a deeper relationship with Jesus.
The Church (14a) – It is possible that the three sister churches—Laodicea, Hierapolis, Colossae—were established at the same time by Epaphras, who founded the Colossian church (Colossians 1:7) as well as evangelized Laodicea and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13) during Paul’s three-year ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19).
The City (14a) – The city was located about 40 miles southeast of Philadelphia on the road to Colossae. It was the greatest city of the Lycus River Valley. The city had material wealth through its banking industry. They were renowned for producing a garment of black wool fabric. The city was famous for its medical school that exported a powder used for eye salve. The independent nature of the city is demonstrated in the fact that when it was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 60, wealthy citizens paid to rebuild the city themselves without outside help.
The Character of Christ (14b) – Jesus described himself as the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. As the Amen, whatever Jesus says is true and certain. As the faithful and true witness, Jesus is reliable and trustworthy. As the beginning of God’s creation, Christ existed before creation and is sovereign over it. As the supreme creator and ruler of the universe, Jesus Christ has every right to critique his wayward church.
The Condition of the Church: Concern (15-17) – There is no commendation given to this church. Instead, Jesus soundly criticized the church. Their biggest failure was that the church was self-sufficient and blasé towards God.
Jesus critiques the church by saying they were lukewarm and that he wished they were hot or cold. The tendency is to think he is talking about one’s spiritual temperature. However, he seems odd that Jesus would rather someone was turned off toward him rather than lukewarm. The description makes more sense when you understand the geography and background of the city.
Laodicea was near two other cities, Hierapolis and Colossae. Hierapolis was a spa known for its hot mineral baths and medicinal waters. Colossae boasted the finest supply of cold, pure, refreshing water. While Laodicea was blessed with prosperity, their water supply was a problem. An aqueduct brought water to the city. Over time, mineral deposits accumulated in the pipes. The water that arrived in Laodicea was lukewarm and mineral laden. It was nauseating and disgusting to drink.
Like the city’s water supply, the church was neither a cold, refreshing drink nor a warm, healing bath. Some churches make the Lord weep, others make him angry; the Laodicean church made him sick. Lukewarm spirituality makes Christ gag.
Their biggest problem was they did not even realize they had a problem. Like the city, the church thought it was rich and self-sufficient. In reality, they were poor. The church thought it was clothed with righteous character. In reality, they were spiritually wretched, pitiful, and naked. The church thought it had spiritual insight. Instead, they were blind.
The Command (18-19) – While he finds the church repulsive, Christ takes time to offer counsel. They were urged to buy three things they did not think they needed.
Refined gold. A goldsmith subjects the gold to intense heat that liquefies the gold. The impurities rise to the top and are skimmed off. What remains is a purer gold of higher carat.
White clothes. Though they had beautiful clothes, they were urged to wear white, which was symbolic of righteousness which would cover their spiritual nakedness.
Salve for their eyes. The medical school offered a special salve to heal common eye troubles of the Middle East. What they needed was not this medicine but spiritual sight.
Christ’s criticism is based on his love. The most undeserving church is still loved by God. Christ rebuked them because he loved them.
The Commitment (20-21) – In addition to gold, clothing, and eye salve, Christ wants them to enjoy his person and his fellowship.
Christ pictured himself as standing outside and knocking on a door. Sadly, the church had pushed Christ right outside but did not even know he was missing. The appeal is for those who hear to open the door. To them Christ promised, I will go in and eat with him, and he with me.
With Christ on the outside, there can be no fellowship or genuine wealth. With Christ on the inside, there is wonderful fellowship and sharing of the marvelous grace of God. To those who respond, Christ promises to give the right to sit with him on his throne and share his victory.
The Challenge (22) – Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.
|True condition||God’s solution|
Relationship with Christ
Principles (1) Self-sufficiency and materialism can blind a person to their spiritual poverty. (2) Jesus rebukes and disciplines his children in order to heal them. (3) To experience renewed fellowship with Jesus, we must be serious enough to change.
Questions to consider: (1) Are you making progress in the Christian life? (2) Where do you need to change and/or grow? (3) Are you willing to change? (4) Who will hold you accountable? (5) If “YES,” repent & pursue a deeper relationship with Christ.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 25, 2018. It is the final message in a series on The State of the Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
The world was horrified last week to learn of another school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In the midst of the tragedy, there were also acts of heroism as teachers shepherded students to safety. In particular, assistant football coach and security guard Aaron Feis used his own body as a shield to protect students. Taking a bullet and giving his life to save a student was a noble, heroic, sacrificial action.
Aaron’s action prompted one editorial cartoonist to suggest it was an automatic ticket into heaven.
It God grades on a curve, a sacrificial death would certainly rank higher than helping an elderly person cross the street. It would undoubtedly gain more points than donating blood, telling the truth, digging a well in Saharan Africa, curing malaria, or giving up your seat on a bus to someone with a broken leg.
But does God grade on a curve? Can one earn their way into heaven by performing good deeds? Do some actions guarantee one’s entrance into heaven?
In order to answer that question, we need to examine what Scripture says. Jesus told his own disciples that the path to God runs through himself.
John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
In an interview with a Jewish leader, Jesus said that eternal life is directly related to one’s faith in Christ.
John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
The apostle John reiterated the same point years later when he wrote his first letter.
1 John 5:13 – I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.
The apostle Paul explained that one needs to believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Only then can we be saved and enter heaven.
Romans 10:9–10 – because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
If there was any question about how to enter heaven, the apostle Paul explained that salvation is determined by what God does for us, not by what we do for ourselves.
Ephesians 2:8–9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Good works, selfless deeds, and sacrificial acts are certainly valuable. While they might result in greater rewards in heaven, they won’t guarantee one’s entrance into heaven. Only putting one’s faith in Jesus for salvation will lead to eternal life.