This week's Bible Study - July 20, 2014
Walk in Holiness
1 Peter 1:13-2:1
Quote of the Week:
Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.
When you think of walking, as opposed to running, what comes to mind? For one, it is at a slower pace, with the exception of speed walkers and slow joggers. However, to walk implies to be what you do by default. Some people train for races, but even those who are doing marathons will walk from their house to their car and most other places they go. To walk in holiness implies that some form of holiness should be our default behavior and tendency. The next thing we need to consider is what holiness means. For some people, they see anything that is holy as being sapped of any joy or fun. They might think of monks that live in a monastery, apart from the world. However, the truest definition of holiness is to be whole, complete, lacking nothing.
Some people look at the different attributes of God and focus on specifics attributes based on their own perspective. Some see God as being full of love, and accepting of anybody at any time. There are others that see God as being full of judgment, desirous to smite anybody that makes a mistake. It is interesting to see that people tend to view religion in the way that they view God. If He is full of love, they tend to be accepting of all types of people, despite their problems, and just about 'anything goes'. If He is full of judgment, they tend to become more and more legalistic, distancing themselves from those who have problems. Others see God as being a God of comfort, as they have experienced His presence in the time of need. Still others see God as being a far away being, contrived in the eyes of weak-minded foolish believers.
The key aspect and best rendering of God is holiness. He is without flaw and perfect. We have nothing that approaches this completeness in our world. When people think of how they will approach God after this life is done, some tend to think that they will run into God's presence. However, most of us will shrink away, as we become more aware of our own sinfulness, no matter how good we may think we are. God's plan is to cleanse us, so that we can be used to share the truth of the gospel.
There are things that we need to put into practice if we are going to live a life that honors God. There are several different disciplines that we need to establish in our lives. Many of these run counter to the world's views of life and if you are not intentional in discipline, you will find yourself conforming to the world. It certainly requires more than church membership and attendance. Some people attend church each week because they feel that is what they are supposed to do. For some, it may be to get their parents or others off their backs. Others may think that is what God calls for. They will listen to sermons and they may even attend Bible Studies. However, it isn't what you hear in church as much as what happens when you walk out the doors of the church. I would tend to believe that those who are reading this lesson at least have a desire to make their faith real. To do this, there are things that we need to do; and this lesson may be helpful as motivation in some of those areas.
In the first twelve verses of this chapter, we were reminded of the hope that we have in Jesus Christ, and the tremendous blessing that gives to us. This passage begins with the word 'therefore'. There is a reason that we should consider the words that follow, because of the hope that we have in Christ.
One thing that is of utmost importance to the successful Christian life is the control of our minds. If you were to integrate with the way that the world 'thinks', you are likely to adopt that mindset and believe that the prevailing views of the world are okay. How does the mindset of the world differ from God's mindset? To the world at large, the things of God seem outdated and no longer valid. Social order takes little, if any thought of God. Each of us is tempted to be conformed to the world in big and small ways. It may be the way we dress, or the diet we adhere to, or the way we spend our time (and money) or what we watch on TV or where we go on the Internet. What decisions have you made in your life that have taken your focus away from God, and are you guilty of being conformed to this world? Rather than to be conformed to the world, we are called to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
We are to be alert and fully sober. Although this lesson isn't in regards to alcohol, it is amazing to hear people (even some believers) that say they think a few drinks will help to loosen one up and be more comfortable around others. While this may be true, it takes them from a place of being in control of what they say and do to potentially saying and doing things that they would never consider doing otherwise. You may not have a problem with alcohol, or may not even allow alcohol a place in your life. However, having an alert mind will not happen by accident. You are liable to say the first thing that comes to your mind (which is often best left unsaid). If you don't have your mind in the right place, you will easily be distracted by events, circumstances and other aspects of life that will keep you from attaining spiritual disciplines in your life.
Prior to becoming believers and realizing the importance of a level of control, many have conformed to evil desires, without even realizing they were wrong. As believers, we are to have a different mindset and know that we should seek to be obedient. None of us are perfect (or even close), but we should have a bent towards doing the right things. The desire of a true believer should be to fulfill the desires of Christ. As we are in the world, these worldly desires are still prevalent and they still entice us. In the first 2 verses of Psalm 1, the psalmist writes "Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night". A lot of where we end up in life depends on who we walk, run, stand or sit with. David says that the blessed man delights in obedience, and meditates on God's law day and night. It is a continual action that we need to take if we desire to be successful. If we are spending more time with those who are opposed to God, you will eventually find yourself further from the holiness that God desires in your life.
God judges each person impartially and He judges each of us individually. We aren't rated on a scale and compared against how 'good' or 'bad' others are. As opposed our legal system, God knows all and He will certainly see us for who we are. We can easily fool others, but there is no fooling God, and it is truly His perspective that matters There are people that accept Jesus as Savior, but more as a form of 'fire insurance' and less as Lord. If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, you have been forgiven of sin, and though you still deal with sin on a daily basis (as we all do), you have confidence that God is faithful and just to forgive you. This isn't your 'get out of jail free' card or your ticket to do whatever you want to do, but it should give you confidence to strive to live as God intends.
The passage tells us to live out our time here as foreigners here in reverent fear. There is a TV show in the past called "Locked Up Abroad". It was a documentary type of show that showed actual cases where unsuspecting tourists ended up in a foreign jail. Their problem was that they either didn't understand the laws of that nation or they presumed that they were exempt. Sadly for many of them, they found themselves in very difficult circumstances. If you travel, you should be aware of the prevailing laws and obey them. For a believer, the situation is almost reversed. We may very well follow all of the laws that are in our culture, but our culture may drift further and further from where God would have us be. That certainly seems to be where things are headed.
It is easy for some to presume upon God, or as some has said "sin on our calendar". In fact, we all have been guilty of this at one time or another. Some will be quick to point out sins of others, but be guilty of 'internal' sins at the same time. In God's eyes, sin is sin. Peter was making it clear that a tremendous price was paid for our redemption. We have not been bought by perishable treasures, but by the precious blood of Christ. Although we have been forgiven, we are not to presume upon the generosity of God.
We have been redeemed from emptiness of life without Christ. Most people that are not believers would not say that their lives are empty. In fact, some of them may say that their lives are much fuller than the life of a believer. They can do what they want to do when they want to do it, without any feeling of guilt or remorse. For believers who are seeking to honor God, we come to realize that the world can offer nothing that compares. We have realized how the presence of Christ in our lives gives us comfort when we grieve; peace when our world is unsettled; hope when we have nowhere else to turn and joy in the midst of sorrow. These are just a few of the 'benefits' of a life with Christ and things that the world cannot offer.
We read that Jesus was chosen before the creation of the world. Some skeptics argue His deity, but the fact of the existence of Jesus as a real person cannot be questioned. The Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus and any honest pursuit of the facts would overwhelm any skeptic - see Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ". The problem is not that there is insufficient evidence. Many look for any convenient reason to not believe. We understand that God draws people to Him, and we find that no matter of reasoning can convince someone on its own merit, however powerful it may be. All we can do is pray for others and be open to share when they are seeking Him.
Our relationship with God is based solely on our relationship with Christ. Those who believe in God but are unwilling to accept Christ are trying to approach God on their own goodness. To do so is to either minimize the holiness of God or to greatly exaggerate one's own goodness. Without Christ, we would be utterly lost. You and I, nor anybody else can approach God on our own goodness.
Since Jesus has paid this price for us, we must realize that we are called to live differently than we did before. We are called to have sincere love for one another. Does this mean that we will agree on everything? We know that won't always happen and in fact, even when you disagree with others, we are still called to love one another from the heart. When some people look at our churches, they see anything but this. It has been said that they will know we are Christians by our love, but experience of many has shown that not to be the case. Sadly, some know Christians by bitterness towards others that they disagree with, antagonistic actions towards others and smug self righteousness. Would any of these characterize Christ?
This precious gift we have been given has no monetary value. You cannot buy God off or barter with Him. It is only through God's power that we are redeemed. Most believers understand that we are not drawing closer to God because of our goodness, any deed we have done or anything of ourselves. This gift is totally handled by God through Jesus Christ. Over time, many tend to think that they are responsible for the 'upkeep' on the relationship with God, based on good works, which is futile. Certainly, we must put forth our own effort, but that isn't what draws us closer to God. In the book of 1 John, John spoke of different types of false teaching - some say that they can continue living in sin; some say that they have a new nature (so they don't sin) and others say that they just have stopped sinning. Sin will always be a part of our lives. However, we are told that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us from our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Don't forget the power of Christ that redeemed you and don't fall into the trap of living life totally on your own.
We need to remember who we are and what we are capable of. When we think we have the answers, we are reminded that we as people are like grass and flowers - we wither and fade. On our own, we may be capable of holding things together for a little while, but we are guaranteed to fade. God, on the other hand, endures forever. Our hope is based upon God and not ourselves.
The verses in 1 Peter are somewhat theological in nature. It is important to understand why our hope is in Christ and the need to adopt His mindset. However, 1 Peter 2:1 is more tangible and starts to get to 'brass tacks', telling us to rid ourselves of every type of bad behavior. It includes a list (malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind) that is certainly not inclusive of all bad behavior. Many people read these lists and focus on others, thinking themselves to be exempt from such problems in their own lives. Have you ever noticed that it is easier to focus on the problems that another has, without owning up to your own? We should be reminded of the way that Jesus spoke; that thinking and doing are essentially the same thing. In that light, we all have a problem with things that are in this list and others that we know should not be in our lives.
Many people will look at the list given and only think of the extremes, excusing their own behavior. For example, malice is desire to inflict injury on someone else. You may not want to run over somebody with a car, but we all deal with hostile impulses and sometimes, we can all just be downright mean. Is there anybody that you wish you had a voodoo doll for? If you find yourself thinking that someone deserves to have bad things happen to them, this is a problem for you.
Deceit is telling a lie. We all have lied at one point or another, but one of the most dangerous types of deceit is to distort the truth, as opposed to outright lying. Many people excel in this type of behavior, in order to mislead others or to excuse their own aberrant behavior. This often happens in business, as salesmen and saleswomen often stretch the truth to close the sale. Have you ever misrepresented the truth in order to gain some advantage in a situation? (The answer is yes)
Hypocrisy is pretending to be one thing that you are not. We are all hypocrites in one way or another. Are you the same person in every area of your life? If not, why not? What are you trying to prove? Envy is coveting another's successes, possessions, advantages, and so forth. Sometimes, we think 'if only I had …" and we look at someone else who has what we want. If we keep focusing on that, we become more and more envious.
The last topic in the list is slander. Unfortunately, this is a huge problem in many churches, yet it is masked in discrete ways. For example, times of sharing prayer requests can on one hand be a time to let others know a little more specifically on how to pray, but on the other hand, it can lead to gossip and slander. You can't really stop some of the things you hear, but you can surely stop what you repeat. Are you guilty at this time of slandering someone else? It is a sad situation when this is done against people that we love. If you think back to the last couple of weeks, have you consistently talked someone else down in front of others? You may think you are justified to do so, but I feel quite certain you would not want to be slandered by someone else.
These are all parts of our lives, and truly, in and of ourselves, we cannot control these behaviors. We are told to rely upon the power that God has given us. Even when know this, we spend more time trying to handle these things on our own. If you don't remain focused on the things of God, the things of the world and its sinful attitudes will take root in your life.
We all have issues in our lives, to be sure. We'll never fully get past them, but we are to be reliant upon the power of Christ, daily. Do you have a dedicated time of seeking God each day? Are you spending time in prayer? We want the benefits, but many people don't really invest the time required. Almost every person wants to have a healthy body, but few people actually spend time exercising and eating the right things to achieve that. I have heard many people say in Bible Studies and at church something along the line "I know I should, but.." followed by a list of reasons. I know it is difficult to set aside time, as life has a tendency to swallow up our best intentions. But I also know if you want something to be a priority, you need to make it a priority. When you really invest the time and resources, you begin to see the benefit. Just saying the words does not really help at all.
It really isn't about pumping ourselves up, as one might do in the world of fitness. It's not making your muscles stronger or being better in shape. It is truly about realizing our total reliance upon Christ. As we go through our days, everything from our minds to our actions needs to be guided by Him. We need to build that relationship, so that we will indeed be ready for action.
In the past several weeks, we have seen many tragedies. The news media will focus on these tragedies over and over. If you watch the 24 hours news stations, you will see the same report over and over and over. I am a sports fan, but if I were to watch ESPN for a couple of hours, I start see SportCenter over and over again. The things we see and hear become etched in our minds. They become the things we think of and talk about. When is the last time we were similarly focused on God's word?
When we renew our minds, we are able to prove what the will of God is - that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Renewing of your mind is something you have to work at. What are the first things you hear when you wake up? What are the first things that you think about? If we truly want to renew our minds, it does require effort - and that effort is to be grounded in Scripture. When you really get into Scripture, you will find that it is very relevant. How many times have you gone days, if not weeks, without Scripture - finding yourself in the midst of a big funk? And, how many times have you really gotten into Scripture on a regular basis - and found that it was extremely relevant to life as you were living it?
We truly have been given much as believers through our relationship with Christ. Don't take that for granted, but pursue holiness in your life. Realize that we are called for a purpose and that purpose only comes through growing closer to God.