Permanent People in a Temporary World

(Psalm 34:8-10Isaiah 40:1-111 Peter 1:22-2:3)

You have been redeemed from the empty way of life of this world with the precious blood of Christ, who gave his life as the perfect, sinless sacrifice for sin.  God the Father raised him from the dead, and through him you believe in God and have been made children of God; therefore your faith and hope are no longer in this world or the things of this world, they are in your Father in heaven.  This is Peter’s summary of the gospel in our passage from last time.  As he makes clear, it’s not enough for us simply to agree with this in our heads; we need to agree with it in our hearts, our mouths, our hands, and our feet as well.  If we nod and smile and say, “Yes, that’s true,” then go on about life as if we’d never heard any of it, we’ve missed the point.

This is truth we need to obey.  That might sound like a strange way to put it, but it’s a normal part of life.  We obey the law of gravity:  we know that if we hold something out and let go of it, it will fall, so we don’t intentionally do that unless that’s the result we want.  We know the law of gravity is true, and we act on that knowledge—we make our plans and our decisions with the understanding that gravity is in effect.  I am married, I have four children, and I obey that truth—I don’t do things the same way I would if I were living alone.  (Partly because I don’t want to be living alone.)  These truths define and limit us.  They tell us this is how life is, this is what we can do and what we can’t, and we obey them, or else we get the consequences.  So it is with the gospel.  The Father doesn’t just want us to say that it’s true, he wants us to live the truth.

It’s through this, Peter says, that our lives are being made holy, as God commands in Leviticus 19.  I said last week that part of seeing ourselves as children of the Father is recognizing our fellow believers as our brothers and sisters in the family of God; Peter lands on that here, telling us that part of the purpose for which we’re being made holy is that we would love one another deeply and sincerely as brothers and sisters in Christ.  There should be no place among us for evil actions or dishonesty—no hypocrisy or jealousy, no gossip or backbiting or trying to undermine one another; we should never have agendas against one another, no matter how justified we might think them to be.  We face too much opposition from the world to be turning it against ourselves.  Instead, the more we look to the Father, the more his love will move us to value the good of those around us ahead of our own desires.  That’s his character being formed and revealed in us, and it’s the core of our witness to the world around us.

Obviously, this is something God is doing in us, not something we can do by our own efforts.  Our part is to seek to develop a taste for the things of God—a commitment to taste and see that the Lord is good.  My Nana used to tell us kids that we weren’t allowed to say we didn’t like something until we’d tried it five times, and she wanted us to try everything honestly.  There was no room in her view for taking a bite of food determined to dislike it—we were supposed to look for reasons to like it.  For all that, broccoli and I had a hate-hate relationship until a couple years ago when I tried some that my in-laws had just picked from their garden; all of a sudden, I had some idea what the good part of broccoli was supposed to be.  I’m still not hugely fond of it, but I’ve been able to develop more of a taste for it now that I know what I’m tasting for.

There are a lot of kids out there who won’t eat anything much beyond Wonder Bread, hot dogs, cheese pizza, and candy—cheap pleasures that don’t require any effort from them.  That’s the sort of food, spiritually speaking, that the world teaches us people to enjoy:  the cheap pleasures of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander, among others.  To learn that the food of God really does taste better, and to learn to desire his goodness instead of the evils of this world, takes time, and a certain degree of commitment.  There are exceptions, but generally, you have to want to taste that the Lord is good before you will.

I said this takes time and commitment; but it takes something else, too, because if all you have is the life of this world, the things of God will never taste good to you.  The food of God does not feed the life of this world—it starves it.  I mentioned learning to like broccoli a moment ago, but I left out part of the story.  My in-laws’ garden broccoli had a significant effect on my perceptions, but I don’t think that would have happened were it not for some medication I’d started taking a while before which changed my tastes in food—not hugely, but significantly.  I was able to make an external change, in my response to broccoli, because there had already been an underlying change in me; I could act differently because I myself was different.

That, working inward from the beginning and end of this passage, brings us to the key point at its heart.  What makes all of this possible?  What makes all of this real?  “You have been born again, not of any mere earthly seed that will perish in time, but of the eternal, incorruptible seed of the life of God through his living word, which abides forever.”  When my children were conceived and then born, they received life from me and from their mother; that life passes and decays, and in time it will end.  We have been born again as children of God, and we have received his life; that life will never end, and it does not decay.  This world is temporary, and everything that is born of it is temporary.  God is eternal and his word is permanent, and everyone who is born of him is permanent.

That ought to change how we live.  Whatever we spend of ourselves is permanent; what­ever we buy from this world is temporary.  Obviously our time is passing, and so is our money; but we have the chance to spend them on things that will last forever, instead of things that are here today and gone tomorrow.  Our talents and skills are gifts God has given us for his service, meant to be used to do works that matter eternally.  If we use them instead merely to gain the goods of this world, which do not last, aren’t we wasting them?

And if we let ourselves be filled with envy of others, if we lie to make ourselves look better or others look worse, if we give in to the temptation to undermine others and tear them down, if we nurture grievance and bitterness in our hearts, Peter tells us, we’re wasting our lives.  None of these things is ever from God.  They are of the life of this world, they serve only the purposes of this world, and none of them will endure, for he will blow them away like dead leaves in a hurricane.  It doesn’t matter what our reasons might be, treating other people this way never pleases God.  Bitterness, malice, deceit, envy, slander, and spite are all completely alien to his character; they arise from hearts which are focused on the things of this world rather than of God.  This world is temporary.  We have been born again, we are no longer of this world.  In Christ, by the Holy Spirit, God the Father has given us his life and made us permanent.  Peter challenges us:  live like it.
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