How To Suffer Well [Part 3]

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. —1 Peter 1:13

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again” (1 Peter 1:3). God might not put you on Wheel of Fortune. But if he causes you to be born again, he has shown you a great mercy. Without it, we are dead and damned. We might be religious. But without a new heart from God, we haven’t really changed. I hope you have accepted Christ. Please accept Christ! But being born again is deeper. Only God can do that. We didn’t control our first birth, and we can’t control the new birth. Our eternal destiny hangs on something we cannot do. Only God can awaken us. Have you humbled yourself before God to say, “I’m dead toward you. When I do feel something toward you, it ranges from apathy to hostility. I feel more intensity about money and health than I feel about you. Have mercy on me”—have you said that to God? He will hear your cry.

All over the world today God is showing this great mercy. He is creating a new community of born again people. Here in the South, God is having mercy, especially through new (and renewed) gospel-centered churches. He is replacing Bible belt religion with born again reality. What is Bible belt religion? It is sincere morality. But it’s what we can do. Do you have anything inside you beyond yourself? If all you are is a sincerely moral person, you are far from God. What is born again reality? It is a new heart that only God can give. To be born again, Jesus said, is like the wind blowing our way. We don’t cause the wind. Jesus said, “So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Why does being born again even matter? For starters, because Bible belt religion cannot help you when you suffer. Suffering is, by definition, coming to the end of ourselves. If all you are is you, and then the you that you are is crushed under sorrow and loss, what is your hope then? What is to become of you, when you have no you left to go on? What is to become of you, when you are too disillusioned to remain a sincerely moral person? When your one chance at happiness is collapsing under forces beyond your control, and all you have left is the accusing voice within telling you what a weakling and a failure you are— that’s where Bible belt religion will abandon you. But God, in great mercy, rebirths weak failures as new creations by his power.

I’m excited about that. Everyone who has experienced it is. Peter starts out with his own enthusiasm: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again” (1 Peter 1:3). God enters into our despair. He doesn’t wait for permission. He flies in under our radar and explodes the gospel in our hearts and makes himself real. Heaven becomes real. And not even our own sin can take that hope away, because it comes with forgiveness. Born again people experience God in a new way, like this: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). That’s what an awakened person feels. And they know it’s the most sacred thing about them. It’s where their hearts are most alive. And they just want more.

In verses 13-21, Peter helps us get there. Let’s be completely open to God now. What does the mercy of God awaken in us? Three things: eagerness (verse 13), holiness (verses 14-16), tenderness (verses 17-21).

Eagerness 

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. —1 Peter 1:13

The key word is “fully”: “Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you.” The gospel does not give us a moderate hope. It gives a full, wholehearted, eager hope. Bible belt religion creates foot-draggers. The gospel creates sprinters. Bible belt religion says, “Sure, it’s nice going to heaven. Sure beats hell. But you might want to cover all the bases. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Don’t get radical. For sure, don’t give that money you’ve been saving for that trip to Paris to some missionary. You just never know how things are going to work out.” That is a moderate hope. And so many people live just that way. How do born again people change? They set their hope fully on the future God has promised. They say No to lesser things, in order to say a wholehearted Yes to Christ. But let’s take the verse phrase by phrase.

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action.” Literally, as you see in the margin of your Bible, “girding up the loins of your mind.” What does that mean? In that culture, people wore long, flowing robes. But you can’t work out in a robe. You can’t travel in a robe. So when they got active, they tucked their robes into their belt, to be unencumbered. That’s the image. Today we say, “Roll up your sleeves.” It’s what born again people do in their minds: “preparing your minds for action.”  The Holy Spirit creates a new attitude, a new eagerness and urgency to strip down and live with intentionality. Peter is not giving us a petty list of rules—Do this, Don’t do that. He’s calling us to a mentality of resolve: “Preparing your minds for action.” A church is not a debate club. A church is where the Holy Spirit makes us decisive and active for Christ.

“Being sober-minded.” Sober, as opposed to drunk and unthinking. And people don’t get drunk to feel things more keenly but to feel things less keenly, to become numb. What neutralizes many people today is not blatant sin but just numbness. It comes not from open rebellion against God but just trivial lifestyle choices that won’t matter one nanosecond into heaven. If we won’t care about it then, why are we living that way now? For example, is it your mentality to work in order to earn money and time off, so that you can travel and play and amuse yourself? Or is it your mentality to take time off and have fun, in order to rejuvenate yourself so that you can re-enter the struggle with fresh energy? Are you living with a Christ-centered purpose? It’s the difference between spiritual numbness and spiritual alertness. Do you need to sober up with new seriousness?

Here’s what clear-headed believers do—they set their hope fully on the grace running our way at the second coming of Christ. Isn’t that fascinating? Jesus is coming back. We’re banking on that. And when he comes, what will he bring to us? Grace. He doesn’t change the ground rules along the way. He started in grace, he goes all the way in grace. He is not coming back to embarrass us. How could we set our hearts on that? He is coming to show us more grace than we’ve ever known. We will become like him, for we shall see him as he is. He will descend from heaven with a cry of command, we will be reunited with dear ones who have died in Christ, and we will be together with the Lord forever. The dead will be raised imperishable, we will be changed, we will become immortal. And for the first time ever, we will feel fully alive. We will feel forgiven. We will feel loved. We will feel freed. That’s something to look forward to. God isn’t ordering us to get excited. He’s promising us what we can’t help but get excited about. Eagerness for Christ is an unmistakable evidence of being born again.

You may be thinking, “But Ray, I’m not like that, it’s not my way. It’s not my nature to be enthusiastic and wholehearted.” Of course not. You are a sinner. You’re completely undone by your sin, and you’re telling God what the standard should be? Your attitude may need to change, or you risk wasting your life in tragic littleness. You may need a new work of God in your heart today. That’s why we’re all here in church today. We all want a change only God can give.

Let me speak to you men for a moment. There is something magnificent about men who are sure of God, men who aren’t thinking, “I’ll save face, I’ll keep a low profile, I’ll wait and see,” but men who are wholehearted for Christ because they believe the gospel. Are we weak? Yes, we all are. But the Bible says, “Be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1). If after Jesus died for your sin, you are still saying, “Oh, I’m so broken, I’m so broken,” get over yourself. Your life is not limited to you and your past. If a new you has been born of God, are in Christ now, with his expansive salvation redefining you with a new destiny. I love that old hymn: 

Rise up, O men of God.  Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and soul and mind and strength to serve the King of kings. 

Holiness 

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” —1 Peter 1:14-16

Obviously, the key word is “holy.” What does it mean to be holy? It’s right here in verse 14: “As obedient children….”  It doesn’t say, “As degraded slaves….”  The word “children” tells us it’s all about being born again. We’ve been reborn into God’s family as his children. Let’s show the family resemblance—obedient holiness. You’ve been loved, you’ve been forgiven and accepted and included and adopted. God cherishes you as his own dear one. No one has ever loved you the way God loves you. And now his call on our lives now, as we grow up, is both negative and positive.

Here is his negative call: “Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.” We’re under pressure every day to fall back into our old patterns of uncomprehending self-indulgence. But God has given us new eyes to see ourselves. Now we know that our inner life, without God, is like living in a house full of snakes and scorpions—our former passions, before the Holy Spirit entered in. But now we’re learning.

That’s his positive call: “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” Isn’t it striking that God gives us both a negative call and a positive call? What does that tell us? It tells us that accepting Jesus is not just adding Jesus. Accepting Jesus, as the Bible says, is turning from our idols, our former passions, to serve the living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:9). Here is the difference. You and I are not by nature integrated, unified, whole persons. Our hearts are divided. It’s as if there’s a boardroom in every heart. Big table. Leather chairs. Coffee. Bottled water. Whiteboard. A committee sits around the table deep inside us. There is the social self, the private self, the work self, the sexual self, the recreational self, the religious self. And the committee is arguing and debating and voting. Rarely can they come to a unanimous decision. We tell ourselves we’re split up this way because we’re so busy. The truth is, we are so unholy. That kind of person can “accept Jesus” in either of two ways. One way is to invite him onto the committee. Give Jesus a vote too. That’s Bible belt religion. But then Jesus ends up as just one more complication. The other way to “accept Jesus” is to say to him, “My life isn’t working. Please come into me and fire my committee, every last one of them, throughout my entire life. I hand myself over to you now. I’m your mess now. Please run my whole life for me.” And he will! That is not complication; that is salvation. “Accepting Jesus” is not just adding Jesus to the passions of our former ignorance. It is holy new obedience to our new Father. 

And in case you might be thinking, “Holiness? That doesn’t appeal to me. It sounds like stained glass religiosity”—well, don’t be worried about becoming too holy. I don’t think you and I are in any danger of that. And the truth is, holiness is attractive, because it comes from God. The real saints of history have always been the most fun and human, the people you’d love to hang out with—C. S. Lewis, for example. He was a holy man. One of his close friends called him “the most thoroughly converted man I’d ever known.” That is exactly the call of God to us today. Holiness.

Tenderness

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.  1 Peter 1:17-21

The key word here is “fear,” in verse 17. The NIV translates it “reverent fear,” because that’s the point—not paralysis, not dread, but revering Christ as our priceless treasure. That kind of fear doesn’t run us down. It does keep us tender toward the Lord.

We never have to fear that God might turn on us and hate us. The gospel is the end of that fear. But here is a new kind of fear, a good kind. God our Father, verse 17 says, is our impartial judge. Do you see the present tense “judges”? It’s not a future judgment. It’s what God is doing, as our Father, in our lives right now. He doesn’t play favorites, one child over another. He judges impartially. He doesn’t flatter. He doesn’t tell us we’re doing well when we aren’t. He deals with us honestly. God our Father does so many things for us. He comforts us, he provides for us, he protects us. He also judges us. It’s his love at work at all levels of our need. He doesn’t laugh at our sins, just because we’re his children. We need our Father to train us, coach us, discipline us. He does it personally, with each of us. Do you see in verse 17, “each one’s deeds”? Just remember this. In judging us, our Father doesn’t give us what we deserve; he gives us what we need, in order to keep growing in eagerness and holiness and tenderness.

What helps us to stay low before the Lord, open to him, tender, not stubborn but bendable and teachable—what helps us to stay in that place of blessing? The key is the word “knowing,” at the beginning of verse 18: “…knowing that you were ransomed… with the precious blood of Christ.”  Before we were born again, we did not prize the precious blood of Christ. We lived unthinkingly in the flow of our cultural tradition. Peter calls it “the futile ways inherited from your forefathers.” We didn’t know another way to live. And the ways we inherited were basically about money—what Peter calls “perishable things.” And that lifestyle never worked for us. It’s not as though, if we just hit the jackpot and got enough money, we could cash in on happiness. The truth is, the more money we hoard, the more unhappy we become. But Jesus shed his priceless blood to rescue us out of that. I can’t think of a passage more relevant to Nashville. We have too much perishable money and not enough priceless blood. It is a fearful thing to be rushing toward eternity and love money rather than the Lamb. It is a fearful thing to be so buried in our tradition that we don’t see and admire Jesus as foreknown before the foundation of the world and made manifest, after so long, for our sakes. It is a fearful thing to trivialize something so vast, ancient and glorious. It is a fearful thing to put our faith and hope in our cultural moment rather than in God. Jim Elliott summed up the way born again people live: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Let me conclude this way. In verse 13, God calls us to expectation: “Set your hope fully on the coming grace.” In verses 14-16, God calls us to imitation: “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” But in verses 17-21, God reminds us of substitution: “…the precious blood of Christ.” Expectation and imitation are our part, by his grace. Substitution is his part alone. And substitution is how God loves us most deeply.

Maybe you remember that scene in A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. Sydney Carton takes another man’s place at the guillotine. He’s about to die. And a young girl, also to be executed, realizes that Carton has changed places with the condemned man. In that terrible moment of suffering, when that girl comes to the end of herself, she looks up into this other man’s face and says, “I think you were sent to me by Heaven.” Dying love comes from heaven, not from this world. Let’s all look to Jesus and say to him, “I think you were sent to me by Heaven.”

Look at him. By faith look at Jesus, shedding his blood for you on the cross. What is it worth? His blood is flowing down into pools at the foot of that cross. But it doesn’t lie there in waste and loss. It flows out toward us—guilty, sad us. His blood flows out toward a woman who has shamed herself in a desperate need to be loved.  His blood washes her shame clean off her. Then that shame flows back to the cross, where it shames Jesus and is no longer hers to bear. His blood flows out toward a man held in bondage to lust. He has discovered too late that there is no comfort there. But the blood of Jesus flows out to that man, cleanses him entirely and takes that painful wrong back to the cross where Jesus suffers for it as his own wrong, freeing that man forever. The blood of Jesus is flowing out to sinners of all kinds, giving them a new hope. That is how God loves us most deeply. Will you believe it, and trust in his love for you and give yourself to God? If you will, his love will make you eager, holy and tender.

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